In the brilliant show Catastrophe, Sharon (age 44, two children, both conceived post-40) discovers she has low ovarian reserve. She’s depressed afterwards and moans:
“I just found out I’m, like, 99% barren… I’m just an old crone… I should start figuring out if I wanna be buried or cremated… I’m getting so old… my eggs are dead”.
She worries about her husband getting the urge to have more babies: her eggless body won’t be able to provide them and he’ll leave her.
“I’m rotting!” she says.
These very feelings hit me too, like a sledgehammer, but I was 37. Unlike Sharon, I had zero kids. Obviously I wasn’t dying or anything but it felt like I’d suddenly been fast-tracked right to the end of my life. It didn’t help that my mum had died at 39 and I couldn’t see past that age.
I saw a counsellor. It went something like this: I have accidentally found myself ensconced in a career that saps the life force out of me. I can’t seem to break free of it. Now I’m told I don’t even have the option of children. What road do I take now? I’ve lost my compass. Where’s all the meaning gone? I’m half-dead. Help.
Her only advice was to wear an elastic band around my wrist and ping it whenever I felt panicky.
I hit a cul-de-sac after fertility treatment and let inertia take over. I coasted for a while thinking families had it better than me, with their purposeful hustle and bustle, and that I’d die lonely. I was plagued by the thought that I should be doing something big and impressive with my life, like Oprah, because I wasn’t raising children.
Then one day I just wasn’t receptive to these feelings any more. I’d moved on. Goodbye childless, hello childfree.
The inertia about my still-dreary career remained. though. I was free to do anything with my future: take risks, change direction, go anywhere. Luxuries many parents don’t have, not to mention folk in direr straits than me. Only now I’d accidentally hit my mid-forties and … my mind was blank.
What do you do when you still don’t know what you want to do?
I know I don’t want to stay in the workplace I’m in. Nor do I want to move on to more of the same. My stern career coach chided me to “think long and hard about leaving a permanent, pensionable job!”. I racked my brain for ingenious ideas and new fields, until it creaked. Then I just carried on carrying on.
How do you snap out of safe and easy routines that you are sleepwalking through day after day, when you don’t know what the alternatives are, or whether there are any left, now?
Where’s that goddamn elastic band?