You’re in a committed relationship, but your finances could be better. Your career’s on track, but the maternity benefits leave a lot to be desired. You like the idea of having a family, but don’t feel like a natural Mary Poppins with other people’s kids. You feel like there are still more fun carefree days to be had, but are acutely aware of nature’s biological clock.
I’m scared witless about the prospect of having a baby.
Much like the stereotype of a prospective dad, I’m worried about being wholly responsible for a red-faced, wailing, wriggling, little pooping machine. How do I hold it whilst supporting its head? How do I know what’s wrong when it cries? What if it doesn’t stop crying and people think I’m a bad mother? What if I don’t have the natural charm of one of those people who effortlessly coos at and tickles a baby whilst each seems to derive mutual joy from the interaction? I’m not that person! I’m awkward, self-conscious and afraid to hold babies. When I have managed to overcome my reticence and hold a baby that doesn’t immediately bawl its eyes out on contact, my interest in its tiny fingernails, tiny eyelashes, big eyes and chubby little cheeks swiftly wanes after about 10 minutes. And I’m more than happy to hand it back (quickly, before it dribbles on my top). I’m just not that into babies and I’ve never imagined myself with one. First thing to get straight – just because you’re a woman doesn’t mean there’s a magic gene that turns you into a cooing Julie Andrews at the sight of a baby.
Although the idea of having a baby freaks me out, I’ve always loved the idea of having a family. I imagine a picture perfect scene of family dinners round the table. My Family with 2.4 children, a witty, handsome, cleanly-shaved husband, and I’m a serenely calm, smiling mum looking on at my happy family. Oh wait, it’s not me, it’s Lynda Bellingham. It’s 1987, I’m in the Oxo family ad and I’m holding a steaming shepherd pie. And I recognise that DILF, I’m sure he’s usually seen shaving with a ‘best a man can get’. My ‘ideal’ family scenario seems to be a mash up of adverts and sitcoms that I’ve grown up with, but that’s all I know. That’s why I can’t imagine myself with a baby, only with a set of older kids or teenagers and that hunky neighbour with the golden blended coffee. Next thing I know, J R Hartley will be turning up and helping his grandchildren hang decorations on the Christmas tree by giving them the yellow pages to stand on.
There will always be a reason why you can’t afford a child.
Don’t even get me started on the squeezed middle classes that are delaying having children and having fewer, whilst some women, supported by our welfare state, are popping them out like ping pong balls and then complaining about the size of house they’re getting or wanting IVF treatment on the NHS to have their 11th child. Like many people, me and my partner both work full time and earn a decent combined wage. Although we have enough, money is tight and my company offers nothing more than statutory maternity pay (SMP which is currently set at 90% of your salary for the first 6 weeks followed by £136.78 for the next 33 weeks). I’m also the main earner in my household earning double my husband’s salary, so if I take time off (which I would definitely want to) after the first 6 weeks of maternity leave our household income is going to plummet. So how is it going to work when the combination of my husband’s income and my SMP only just covers the mortgage and utility bills? Well, if I do get pregnant any time soon I’ll be saving money on my monthly wine bill (and social smoking habit). I’m also not buying any new clothes based on my current shape (until there’s a bump that starts to make more of an appearance) as my body is likely to change permanently. The only thing I can do to subsidise my drop in income during maternity leave will be to save like crazy beforehand to top up the paltry SMP and child benefit payments (currently £20.30 a week so long as neither you or your partner earns over £50k a year) I’ll be getting. There’s nothing like a looming sense of urgency to expedite saving, so it’s lucky that a pregnancy is 9 months really isn’t it?! After the baby is born we’ll be swapping after work drinks and socialising for nappies and breast pads. Some of the natural changes to a more home based lifestyle will naturally even themselves out financially I suspect, and in the meantime, we best get saving.
My biological clock is ticking
Apart from getting physically older (and hopefully a little wiser each year) we don’t change much after our mid-twenties at which point studies have shown our personalities are pretty much set. I still feel 25, but I’m not. I’m 33. I have x number (totally unknown) of potentially fertilisable eggs left before my supposed purpose as a woman withers away. It’s a pressure I’m overtly aware of. But every woman is completely different and we shouldn’t feel we have to conform to social norms of the right age to conceive. At the end of the day the ideal biological age to conceive (late teens and twenties) does not match the ideal socio-economical age to conceive (early thirties) – so stuff it, there’s not too much use worrying about it. There are no guarantees. What will be, will be. However, if I don’t start getting a move on, I’ve got a long time to wait until my Oxo family dinners haven’t I?
What’s the best age to have a baby? asks the Huffington Post (It’s older than you think)
I don’t feel like a maternal earth mother
It’s part of our psyche to have self-doubt over our capabilities. Although I know I’m never going to be singing on the mountains with other people’s rug rats, I know I do have some decent qualities that might make me qualify for being good with my own kids. I’m an encourager and believe people can do anything they want to if they put their mind to it. I’m never going to tell my kids that anything is beyond their reach (apart from all the valuables that will be safe from sticky hands on a top shelf somewhere). I’m an optimistic pragmatist. All my clouds have silver linings and I always think there’s a solution to every problem. I ask a lot of questions. I think it’s healthy to be curious and explore the world, and know that life is not black and white but full of colour and complexity. Perhaps these qualities will help me through the trial and tribulations of family life and pass on some fairly sensible guidance to my mini ME’s. How hard is it really going to be anyway? After all, my kids are going to be model children. Not like those screaming brats you see at the supermarket (acting unwittingly as natural contraceptives to millions of childfree couples at check outs the nation over). Mine will be polite little angels who always say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and eat all their greens… Did I mention I’m an optimist?
Don’t you just ‘know’ when the time is right?
Did you just ‘know’ you’d met the love of your life the moment you met your partner? Or did your relationship grow and develop and evolve into the partnership you have today? Did you just ‘know’ you’d walked into the house of your dreams and that you must live there? Or have you created a home in a place that was the best you could afford at the time, in which you share your dreams every day? Life isn’t about being 100% sure of everything you do. It’s about making decisions that feel right at the time and then showing commitment to your choices. I’m not a believer in ‘just knowing’. That’s kind of annoying and smug, and makes the rest of us doubt ourselves when we don’t ‘just know’ any damn thing.
When I think about starting a family, it’s not about having a baby, it’s about bringing another person into the world and giving them the best of myself and the best of their dad and helping them grow into the person they want to be. Ultimately that feeling that grows within my heart is how I know that I might be ready for a baby. Although I don’t exactly know what happens next, I’ve got my eyes open. I know the journey ahead isn’t necessarily going to be easy. But I do know that the world would be a slightly less shiny place if I don’t at least try and brighten it with the continuation of my genes. I owe it to the world to produce an heir! And perhaps a spare….?