Channel: Oh No They Didn't!
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Journalist Kate Spicer:'Any woman who says she's happy to be childless is a liar or a fool'


Not so long ago women without children, like me, were pitied. But now the world has caught on to the fact that, on the surface at least, we don't have such a hard life.

Take this week: I spent a few days on a friend's sailing boat in Italy, sun-bathing, drinking rose, talking, laughing and dancing until dawn.

Back at home after my break, I slept for hours, ate breakfast in bed, and stayed there reading until well after lunchtime. I couldn't be bothered to cook, so I went out for a Thai meal, bumped into a friend, went to the cinema and then out for drinks.

At the weekend, I stayed with friends with children in the countryside where I found money worries, toddler tantrums, conflicted step-parental relationships, and an all-consuming fractious energy caused by Mum and Dad having not slept more than five hours a night for months.

Unlike the child-free trip to Italy, where we drank for pleasure, this time wine was part of the coping process.

The children were lovely and polite - to me. But anyone could see that underneath the outward manners and helpfulness, Tolstoy's maxim applied: 'Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way'.

Earlier this week, a broadsheet newspaper ran a triumphalist piece by a 42-year-old who claimed she was wilfully and joyfully childfree. The writer was one of a growing number of women, she claimed, who believe having it all means not having a baby. I call them the Motherhood Deniers.

To an extent, that writer is right. Unburdened by motherhood and the personal sacrifice it requires, a woman can dedicate herself to her career and create a home with all the delicate ornaments, sumptuous fabrics and hard edges that have no place in a family environment.

Where a decade ago, just one in nine women remained childless at 45 and were considered rather peculiar at that, now that figure is closer to one in four. For women with a university education, like me, that figure rises to 43 per cent - an extraordinary figure which signifies a seismic social change.

Among my friends, relatively ordinary women as opposed to media types, I am not alone in being childless. And there are many more examples in the realms of the super-successful, from Oprah Winfrey and Cameron Diaz to Helen Mirren and Theresa May.

Of 192 female directors among 1,110 FTSE 100 board members, it is estimated that just under half of them are childless.

I had an intern recently, a 21-year-old Oxford graduate, who told me confidently she never wanted kids because it would get in the way of her career. I told her she was mad. While a child-free life looks fun on Facebook, no number of career highs, nights at the theatre, weekends away or adult pleasures can disguise the fact that it feels - there is no other word - empty.

Between today and the end of my life, I hope there are a few more decades. But, as time goes by, the idea of dying without children feels unnatural and sad.

Statistics do not reveal whether the 43 per cent of educated women who are child-free are so by choice or by circumstance, but I believe the Motherhood Deniers, waving the flag for the childless life, remain in the minority. Admittedly a far more confident, glamorous, and witty minority than they once were, but a minority nonetheless.

For the rest of us, childlessness is a source of sadness and regret. Most of those 43 per cent will have gone through fertility hell, or never met the right guy, or left it too late, or have any number of unhappy stories.
Few would say: 'I don't want, and never wanted, children.'

Both Theresa May and Helen Mirren - frequently held up as role models for the childless - say they weren't against having them. Mirren has said: 'I kept thinking it would be, waiting for it to happen, but it never did.'

May put it thus, 'It just didn't happen... you look at families all the time and you see there is something there that you don't have.' Which is pretty much how I feel; sad but philosophical. I was in charge of my life. I should have put having a child first. As a young girl, having a family was something I dreamed of and assumed would happen. But then the education system swallowed me up, and nothing in it tells you that having a baby any time soon is a good idea.

My parents' divorce put me off too. I had ants in my pants during every relationship until I finally met someone I could trust at the age of 40. He wasn't going to start making babies straight away. So I waited. I was 43.

What then but to rush into the arms of the fertility industry brandishing my credit card? I did, but it didn't work. Now, at 44, adoption is always at the back of my mind, but there is some distance to go before I feel my relationship will be ready to take on that challenge.

Motherhood Denier, I am not. If I could teach a class to 16-year-olds about the importance of having a baby while you've still got energy and fresh eggs in your ovaries, I would.

I might get them to talk to my friend, Penny, 45, who has had to admit that she has missed the motherhood boat. 'My mother kept saying to me, 'Quick, have a baby'.
'When she died, mixed up with all the other grief was that realisation that I was the end of the line. Ten years on, I can barely think about that, it makes me too sad. I spent a lot of money on fertility treatment, but in the end, I realised I didn't have the energy to be a mother. My lifestyle is good, it's a sort of compensation.'

As for me, I feel an excruciating awkwardness around new mothers, whose total intimacy with their child leaves me feeling like an outcast, not least because it exposes the ties of friendship as thin and practical.

There is, as one specialist said to me last year, a near to zero chance that I will get pregnant naturally and, he admitted, a fairly slim chance that IVF would work either, given my fertility history and, yes, my age.

Meanwhile, have you read Aldous Huxley's Brave New World with its population graded from the top, Alpha, down to Epsilon? If educated, successful women like me don't breed, are we gearing up for a generation of Epsilon-minus semi-morons?

Social mobility is stickier than ever, so let's not leave breeding to the idiots.

Then again, while women who don't have kids often flag up how wonderful it is to have so much time on their hands, I can't help noticing it's women with kids who get the most done.

My sister-in-law has written two books, has three kids, and a much bigger home than me. JK Rowling was a single parent, and she's done all right.

I sometimes lie awake full of dread about the time approaching when my parents are no longer around. To give or to receive unconditional love is a deeply rare thing.

As a rule, flawed as all parties may be, the parent-child bond is the commonest and most reliable form of that love. Sitting writing this at my mother's desk, surrounded by my grandmother and great-grandmother's things, I feel acute awareness that as my life enters its final half, it is with a diminishing circle of love.

On my mum's desk at her home in Devon are two cards, one from me, one from my brother, signed with messages of 'all my love'. When Mum and Dad are gone where will that love go?

The Motherhood Deniers are terribly excited about their friends. None of whom will be able to wipe their own bottoms in 40 years time, let alone those of their chums. And we all know nephews and nieces are not in the business of dedicating their lives to maiden aunts.

I have never met a woman who regretted having children. She surely exists, but not in my experience. I have met, however, older people who lament never having kids, for whatever reason, and I suspect some of the noisy Motherhood Deniers will eventually join their number.

For them, there are dogs and cats, and when they no longer have strength to pull the foil off a tin of Caesar, it's pretty likely there'll be branches of Dignitas in every shopping mall where the old and unloved can go when there's nothing left to live for.


Do you want/plan to have children? Do you feel pressured to have one?

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