So I’m sitting on a friend’s balcony in Manhattan overlooking Central Park. And blogging. This is fun! I finally get to imagine myself as Carrie Bradshaw from Sex and the City.
Ok, so I may not have written about sex as yet but I’ve written about one of the by-products of it: babies. And I may not have a column in a New York daily but some people are reading this blog, and commenting on it, and that’s lovely. It’s lovely because I’m loving writing it, so it’s just great when something I love doing touches others, even if it’s only a few people or only in a very small way. This reminds me of the Frederick Buechner quote that defines the mission of the non-profit organisation Could You?, which I wrote about in my post ‘Do more of what you love‘. Buechner said: “True vocation joins self and service; it comes from the place where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.” That is, if we find the intersect between our passions and a need in the world, we’ll be both fulfilled and have a positive impact. Now I’m not saying the world has a need to read my blog – that would be a little pretentious – but I truly believe that if I follow my passion, something good will come out of it, both for me and for others.
On that note, I was really touched and moved by some of the comments on my post ‘The baby conundrum‘ a few days ago. I was touched by people’s honesty, their willingness to share and their desire to pass on their experiences to others. If you haven’t already, I’d encourage you to take a look at the readers’ comments at the end of that post, but I’ll summarise them here (I feel sometimes comments can get a little lost at the end of posts, which is a shame, because I really value them). I was particularly moved by what Joanna Goldie wrote. She shared how she lost her first child eight weeks after he was born and how she then went on to have two children, at 36 and 40, but how she also feels a sense of loss around not having a full-time career. She describes the baby conundrum perfectly, through the lens of a mother. She went on to say:
“When my son died and it then took almost 2 years to conceive again, I felt and still feel strongly that I want to tell younger women not to leave it too long. Women assume that they will be fertile and that a positive pregnancy test means a live baby at the end, and those are very big assumptions which all too often do not come true. People can only make good decisions when they have full and accurate information to base them on, and if we who have been there do not pass on the information we have learned, how can other women make their decisions for the best?”
I agree that by sharing our experiences – whatever they are – we can help each other to learn, to grow and to lead more fulfilling lives, which is why I’m so passionate about this site. This also means, perhaps, that some of the pain we’ve gone through isn’t wasted. It can be turned into something positive. On the baby front, however, I’m also reminded that we can’t force things, we can’t make things happen if they’re not happening. Although we can make choices and decisions along the way.
The comment by Claire highlights the relationship conundrum. Does a woman who wants children wait until the man she is with is ready, while potentially running the risk of running out of time, or does she move on? And I was touched by sallyenfrance’s description of juggling money worries and responsibilities to ageing parents and inspired by how she is finding purpose through doing work she enjoys and looking after others.
However, I was also reminded in the past few days that it’s always worth questioning our motives for having children. Yes, some women have a biological urge but how many of us are conditioned by society’s expectations, which then become our own expectations? Is it the thwarting of our expectations that causes the pain or is it biological – or a combination of the two? It’s an interesting one. Personally, I feel that I have a mother in me, but that mothering instinct can definitely find many other outlets if the baby thing doesn’t happen. There are plenty of opportunities to nurture, to mentor and to care for others that bring joy.
Today, though, I can glady accept where I am in my life. I can rejoice in the fact I’m free to come to New York for a friend’s wedding, that I can stay in another friend’s apartment overlooking Central Park and that I get to hang out this week with lots of other wonderful, passionate, inspiring ladies who are in a similar position to me. Life is good.
So, on to the ‘bodies’ part of this post. I haven’t written much about my body image struggles for a while but there’s something about coming to New York (and I’ve been here a few times over the years) that makes me want to be thinner. Now, I know a lot of readers will think that sounds a bit nuts but others might understand. New York seems to have a concentration of slim, sharply-dressed, beautiful women and I can sometimes feel inadequate here – too white, too Anglo-Saxon, not toned enough, a little scruffy and unfashionable. Although I dare say I might feel similarly inadequate if I spent more time in London’s wealthier suburbs like Chelsea or South Kensington (why do wealth and good looks so often go hand in hand – is it the good genes? the good nourishment?). As I pondered this on the flight over, I remembered that feeling not good enough on the outside is simply a symptom of not feeling good enough on the inside and it’s the insides that need the work in my case (although a little bit of physical exercise and toning never goes amiss!). That’s why I’ve always struggled to pack light for a trip, despite all the travelling I’ve done. I’ve always felt that if I just had all the right clothes and shoes for every occasion, I’d feel good enough.
But with my 40th birthday behind me and my Just As I Am self-acceptance blog written, I know it really is time I stopped wasting my energy and thoughts on trivialities like how toned my upper arms are or whether my bum looks big in this and focused on building up my sense of self-esteem, peace and serenity on the inside – through meditation, affirmations, prayer, fun, friendship, or anything else that works. It’s time to embrace my body, my looks, my hair, where I am in my life, and to live freely. After all, life is good.
So I’m determined, on this New York trip, to live in the now and to cherish every moment. Every time I get a thought about what I feel I should have done or where I think I should be or what I think I should look like (I’m banning the word ‘should’), I will notice it, maybe even give a little smile of recognition (there’s something so comforting about the familiar) but then I’ll let it pass on by. I’m going to accept that I am who I am and be happy with being me. Of course, that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy fantasising now and then about being Carrie Bradshaw – a successful writer with tonnes of beautiful clothes, shoes and lots of handsome men in her life! Maybe I’ll even run into a Mr Big while I’m here, or preferably an Aidan. I always did prefer Aidan. But then he was the good guy – and in my younger years I wasn’t very interested in the good guys. For some of us, I think that comes with maturity!
To close, an off-topic addendum. I was delighted to hear Cath Kidston say on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs she’d take a hot water bottle to the island as one of her essentials. A woman after my own heart. I take one everywhere. I took one camping in Wiltshire in April, packed into my bicycle panniers. My fellow campers mocked me as we went off to our tents to sleep but they weren’t laughing when the temperatures plunged overnight. I take one to Africa, no matter the time of year. And I’ve brought my hot water bottle to New York. It may not be very Manhattan, but it’s very me!