So my last post, Dating with baby goggles on, got me thinking. Hopefully it got a few of you thinking too, but it’s definitely got me pondering the whys and wherefores of life, relationships, motherhood and all the rest of it. And it’s left me with a few important questions to ask myself and to try my best to answer. For example, what’s really behind the baby urge? Is it just Nature doing her thing or am I, deep down, looking to fill a bit of a void? That same void I filled quite successfully in my younger years with food, alcohol, partying, men, travel, achievement and a high-adrenalin career.
Maybe I just think it’s the natural next step: I gave up a lot of my other fillers a few years ago. I slowed everything down and stepped out of the rat race. I stopped running, literally and metaphorically. And I’m in the process of creating a life for myself into which children would fit really well, not intentionally, but because my mind and body forced me into it. I work for myself, I can work at home whenever I like and I generally end up in the gym or the park when all the mothers and babies are there. The only problem is I’m not quite making enough money to support myself, never mind anyone else, but I’m sure that will come. At this stage in my life, I can’t say I relate to the women in this Grazia survey, reported in the Daily Mail, who worry about the effect a baby would have on their career, body or lifestyle.
But is there a void there that I’m hoping to fill? Well, I guess my answer is of course there is. I’m not sure if anyone else is as prone to existential musings as I am but I seem to be constantly wondering what it’s all about. Why am I here? What’s it all for? On my good days, I can just about answer those questions. I feel a sense of purpose. I feel I have God-given gifts and talents that I’m meant to be using to live my life to the fullest and serve others. I get all fired up, excited and determined. I go to the gym and feel strong and able or I take a walk in the park and watch humanity pass me by in all its diversity and richness. I feel grateful for who I am and all I have.
On my bad days, those questions become more frequent and more poignant. And some new ones come along. What’s the point? Why bother? And then, as those questions start to scare me a little, I do my best to grab back on to the thoughts that keep me afloat: the friendships, fun, joy, gifts, talents, sunshine, sea, love and all the rest of it.
I guess my point here is that I know very well there is a void and I also know I need and deserve to fill it from the inside before I make the mistake – which I’ve made before – of thinking something on the outside will do the job for me. And that includes children. Jody Day, the founder of Gateway Women, an organisation that supports, inspires and empowers childfree women, makes the point brilliantly in her blog What Talking Heads has to do with being childfree. It’s also a message she’ll be sharing in her Saturday morning London workshops (check out her site for details). Jody writes: “I got my mojo back because I understood it wasn’t motherhood I craved, it was meaning”. We all need a why. A purpose.
And I guess, right now, I’m struggling with my why, primarily because of my work. Freelance journalism and writing is a frustrating, solitary existence. I’ve always been a team player, a great lover of team sports and team endeavours. I’ve loved that sense of working towards a common purpose. And I’ve particularly liked being the leader or captain of a team. I don’t have a team or a sense of common purpose right now. I had it when I worked at the Mexico City Times – one of my first journalism jobs. We were a small team on a fledgling newspaper in Mexico’s crazy capital and we wanted to make a big impact. It was all hands to the deck. And, at the time, I loved it. Working at big organisations like Bloomberg or Reuters also gave me a sense of being part of something bigger than myself, of working towards a common purpose, particularly when reporting on big stories like the Asian tsunami, the London bombings or the Haitian earthquake. But the daily grind eventually wore me down and that sense of being a team player grew less and less, outweighed by the sheer size of the organisation, the hierarchy of bosses and the diminishing opportunities to get out to the big stories.
But right now, at work, I’m a one-person team and I’m not loving it. The same goes for my personal life. I’m a one-person team there too. And I guess what I’d love is a sense of partnership at home as well as work, a sense of common purpose, which I imagine would come with a partner and children.
Oprah Winfrey talked a lot about her team in this Facebook Live interview the other day. She also talked about purpose, of being of service to yourself and others and of connecting to our inner selves and God within us through stillness. “Fundamentally you need a belief in something greater than yourself,” she said. “I know my greater purpose … I see the bigger picture.” She leads an “intentionally, purposeful life”.
I believe that is the path to contentment and to filling the void, but from my experience, it’s easier said than done. My mojo, my why and my sense of purpose seem to come and go a lot these days. But maybe the answer is in something as simple as habit or routine. Oprah said she’s introduced periods of quiet time into her organisation, twice a day – time when her staff get to meditate, or connect to themselves, to God or to whoever or whatever gives them a sense of peace and self-awareness. I try to do that in the morning and evening but don’t always succeed. But I know it’s the right way forward. A routine of getting out to a shared office space and regularly doing exercise would also help. Which is why I’m off to a yoga class shortly. Group exercise is a good start.
And as I wrap this up, I’ve realised that, after all my musings on motherhood, I seem to have come full circle. I know what I’m meant to do. I’m meant to get on with my life, my work, my fun, my travel, my joy, my exercise, my dancing, my cycling, my friendships and my relationships. That doesn’t mean I should try to suppress the feelings of anxiety or grief when they come or that I should ignore my heart’s desires or do things to deliberately thwart them. But there’s a difference between pondering life and living it. And while I’ll always ponder it and probably always write about it, it’s good to remember to live it.
Thank you for responding to my post with such a beautiful piece of writing. I’m sure you speak for so many women your age right now, and you deserve to be read by all of them. This is such a hard topic and there is so much wrapped up in it, yet it is hardly touched upon. I believe so many women are turning 40 at the moment and wondering what the hell happened that it’s not going to be a ‘niche’ topic much longer!
Thanks for mentioning the Gateway Women Group – there are still a few places left if anyone’s in Notting Hill on a Saturday morning and wants to join!
Thanks again, Jody x
Thanks Jody, I agree it’s a tough and complex topic and there’s so much to say. It’s great we can swap ideas around this and look forward to meeting you and doing so in person!
Hi Katherine. I love your writing – you write about a difficult topic with such heart. But it does make me sad that two columns in a row you’ve said you can’t afford to have a child alone (or certainly implied it). Most people (in our out of couples) never have a good time to have a child financially. Somehow, having a child just forces you to make it work anyway. I’m not saying that you should necessarily think about having a child on your own, but if you realise too late that this was what you really did want to do and you used money as an excuse, I think you’ll regret it so much. Sorry if this is unwanted advice, but sometimes when you read something someone you don’t even know writes, your can see between the lines so much clearer.
Thanks so much for your comment. I guess my current financial insecurity is shining through my writing right now! The overdraft is looming large and the freelancing is going rather slow.
But you make a good point. I know deep down I could afford to have a child on my own. I’m probably in a better position financially than many people who have children – owning a flat in London for a start! It’s actually not the money that stops me.
At this stage in my life, I’m not ready to have a child alone. I’m not even sure I’m ready to have a child, despite all the blogging about it! But then, who is ever ready? I don’t know if I ever would have a child alone. I can imagine how hard it would be. But if I did feel that way, I might prefer to adopt.
I think it’s a partnership that’s more important right now. And I would hope, from that partnership, a mutual desire for children would grow. That’s my current thinking. Maybe it doesn’t always come across that way. And it could all change!
Thanks again for taking the time to comment.
Best wishes, Katherine
Hello, thanks so much for this!!! You have eloquently captured what a lot of people are feeling (including me) – and you are definitely not alone in your existential musings 🙂 I think many people, both male and female, are exhausted by the constant striving and activity and are now looking for a different, and more meaningful, way to live. I look forward to the next blogs!
Thank you, Susan. I’m pleased people can relate. Otherwise I’d be even more worried about myself than I already am! A different and more meaningful way to live, indeed. I’m hoping to do some research into that and publish my findings at some point in the future!
Great blog Katherine, and you’re so right about the void that drives so many of us to meet one goal, then strive for yet another. My own feeling is that we all yearn for purpose and belonging, which of course motherhood gives us. But these needs can be quite intense and can be experienced by everyone, regardless of age and gender, which leads me to believe that happiness is relevant to our own personal situation, at the time that we experience these needs. As what makes one person happy, may not work for another. This is what makes life so interesting and fulfilling, and yet at the same time so despairing and futile, as we search to find what we think we need, and it is not forthcoming!
So many of us are being affected and restricted by lack of money at the moment, that is also impairing our productivity and creativity. But we have to find a way to emotionally and mentally survive these gloom filled times, which I think we are starting to learn how to do – albeit reluctantly and fearfully! We all need to find and believe in our strengths, as we all have a part to play in supporting each other whilst our world is redesigned. And like others who have commented, I think you’re doing your bit and doing a great job! xx
Thanks so much for commenting, Chrissie, and for your support. There’s a lot of wisdom in what you wrote. And well done for doing your bit too! Best wishes, Katherine x