So I caught up with an episode of BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs yesterday. I have to say I don’t normally listen to it but I wish I did. It seems like a thoroughly pleasant way to spend a bit of time. Kirsty Young’s voice is very soothing and the show has such an air of gentleness about it. For anyone who’s not familiar with the show, Kirsty invites a well-known person to choose eight songs they’d take with them if they were a castaway on a desert island. Interspersed with the guest’s chosen tracks is some gentle probing of the castaway’s private and public life.
With this site and blog in mind, a friend suggested I listen to the episode featuring the designer and queen of floral prints Cath Kidston from April 24. You can listen to the broadcast on the show’s archive. I was particularly interested in and moved by Cath Kidston’s comments about never having children and what that meant to her. She describes how, after getting treatment for breast cancer in her mid-30s, she was told by doctors that having children soon afterwards would be high risk. She decided, with her partner, not to take that risk. Later on, she saw another specialist who said it was a shame she hadn’t had children as it reduces the breast cancer risk. “It’s very difficult … really hard decisions,” she says. While she describes how wonderful it has been to help bring up a stepdaughter, who is now 18, she talks with sadness about never having given birth. Here’s an extract from the interview:
“I never imagined I wouldn’t have children so it’s very hard if I think about it, but I would never, I’m sure, have had my business if I’d have brought up children. In a way my business has been a bit like a replacement child. I’ve had to do that to fill that gap and it served me that way. And I’m sure, if you said to me now what would you have rather done, I’d of course, as a woman, I think, said I’d have rather had children. I don’t know the experience of what I’m missing out on luckily and anybody I talk to who’s had children will say they wouldn’t exchange it for anything, but I think I’ve been able to fill that gap by running a business and having this sort of, in a sense, extended family within the business.”
I don’t know why I was surprised by what she said. Maybe I wasn’t prepared for quite so much honesty. I think I’d been expecting her to say that she didn’t regret not having children, that her business was enough. I’m not sure why I thought she was going to say that as I know I would feel exactly the same way if I ended up with a hugely successful, global business empire but without any children. I’d exchange the business, the success, the achievement, the renown, whatever it was, for a child of my own in a flash. As I’ve written before, particularly in my Just As I Am blog post ‘The Baby Gap‘, I know some women who have happily chosen not to have children and have no regrets. But I know many more who are struggling to get pregnant and going through a really tough time or who are processing their grief around the fact they never did have children.
Cath Kidston went on to say: “It’s very primitive, isn’t it, underneath? We think we’re really sophisticated and are off buying all these fine things and doing this or that but at the end of the day we’re animals, I think.”
I agree, for many women, it is primitive. It may sound like a cliché but many of us do feel a biological urge and if it isn’t satisfied, there is bound to be grief that needs processing – not for all, of course, but for many.
However, I can’t help feeling the whole baby thing is a huge conundrum, particularly for women today. On top of the urge to give birth, many women (and men too of course but I’m sticking to what I know for today!) also have huge passion and drive to accomplish things, to be known, to use their skills and talents for a good purpose, to be a catalyst for change, to nurture, to create, to help and support others. And today, so many women have the opportunities to do all this and more. No wonder we’re so busy! But when do we take a break from all the accomplishing, achieving and pursuing our passions (our professional and creative passions rather than our romantic ones) to have a baby?
Some women are lucky enough to have had children and been able to pursue their professional dreams, by doing so in a particular order or managing to do both at the same time. But for others, things haven’t worked out like that, for various reasons. Maybe we focused too much on our careers, maybe we kept repeating unhealthy relationship patterns or maybe we were stuck in some addictive behaviour or other.
Even if we were pretty much sorted, we can’t just stop at 35 or 38 and say, right, I think it’s time for a baby now if the right guy isn’t around, unless we’re brave enough to go it alone, as indeed many women are. But what if we don’t want to be a single Mum and we’re 35 or 37 or 40? Well, we just have to wait, hope and pray, I guess.
Of course, so many women have gone before me and have probably worked this all out. They’ve had careers and babies and have either lived happily ever after as a strong family unit, broken up with the child’s father or stayed with him in a less-than-satisfactory relationship. But, at 40, the whole thing seems like such a big conundrum. Could we have done things differently? Should we have done things differently? Do I think too much?!
I was chatting the other day to a lady I know who, I think, is in her late 20s. She was talking about going off travelling and following her heart, rather than sitting around waiting for her boyfriend of several years to commit. Excellent idea, I thought, especially if you’re not sure you’re with the right guy. And you have to follow your dreams and explore your passions, even if you are with the right guy. But I admit there were some other thoughts running through the back of my mind. Should I tell her not to wait too long or travel too far? Should I say follow your dreams and your passion but make sure you stop at some stage and make time for babies? Should I tell her that I’d travelled the world and lived abroad for ten years but was now 40 and wondering if I would have a baby of my own. I didn’t say anything because I know we can’t plan our lives like that. We can’t engineer the right guy to come along just at the exact time when we’re ready to have a baby. We just have to get out there and live.
So what’s my conclusion? I’m not sure I have one other than the fact that the whole thing is a conundrum and if I sit here trying to work it out, I’ll go nuts! I suppose my lessons to myself on this topic are to trust, trust that God will either bring the man and the baby or will give me the courage and wherewithal to be happy, content and fulfilled if things don’t pan out that way. The other advice I’d want to give to my younger self would be to try to end a relationship sooner if it looks like it’s not going in the right direction rather than hanging on in there out of fear; be proactive with dating or activities that get you out there meeting like-minded people; pursue your dreams but keep your eyes open along the way; get to know yourself better and learn to love and take care of yourself first (maybe even start with a plant or a cat!), and finally, to remember to do the footwork, but also to remember to surrender the results.
Any comments on this conundrum would be gratefully received – I know I’m not alone!