There’s an interesting piece in Time magazine by 57-year-old Stephanie Zacharek which I can relate to a lot. Zacharek was never wholly convinced about having children but found herself trying to conceive in her 30s in an attempt (I think) at ‘just in case’ parenthood:
When I reached the age when I was supposed to be desperate to be a mother–early to mid-30s–I didn’t feel desperate; I only felt unsure.
Although she would have happily fallen into pregnancy if she hadn’t had problems conceiving, she felt little affinity for those who were desperate to have a baby at any cost:
I’d seen other women who wanted babies so much that they almost seemed to be erasing a part of themselves with their anxiety.
She wishes that she had trusted that life would be OK with or without a baby, but that’s hard in your late thirties when your window of opportunity is rapidly closing and you feel like a ticking time bomb. Like me, she knows a number of younger women who wonder whether they really want a child (a couple that I know are sure they don’t, but still have The Fear).
Should they try to have one anyway? And if they don’t have one, what will their lives be like?
Although at 46 I never actively wish that I had offspring – apart from some abstract anxieties about feeling left out in the future when all my peers are banging on about their grandchildren, and about dying alone (but don’t we all?). Company is important to me, but it’s usually good adult company that I crave.
I’m aware there is still a perception that non-parents over 40 are somehow tragic, especially if they are single: I’m sometimes guilty of this bias myself; it’s an entrenched notion that will only change with time.
So many accounts of lives without children–lives like mine–are met with reactions like, “How sad! This is all she’s got?” But to paraphrase John Wayne in one of my favorite movies, Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo, that ain’t all I got, it’s what I got.
With the rising cost of living, the enhanced focus on the impacts of climate change and the general awfulness of the world today, we may see a change in attitudes towards older non-parents sooner than we think.
And this Christmas, a tipsy family member aged 67, a grandfather of five, said something to a room full of people that surprised me and warmed my childless cockles:
“I spend X-amount of time with all my grandchildren, and I spend X-amount of time going on holiday with my wife, and I have to say that I enjoy the holidays more”
Featured image: Chiara Zarmati for TIME magazine