Can't women be childless and happy over 35? Amanda Cassidy spoke to those who feel pressurised to reveal their baby plans and asks if this is the final feminist battle?
Just when we think we’ve come a long way when it comes to accepting women being differentiated from baby-carrying vessels, we hear about situations where married-a-few-years couples or single women of a certain age are still getting cornered about their baby plans.
Eve is 39 years old. She’s been married for two years and says she is pretty tired of having to explain her life choices to randomers. “I’m actually shocked at how insensitive people can be. What if we were having trouble? We are not, as it happens, but we have our own plans when it comes to our family, I don’t want to share them with someone who is just being nosey. Like, back off.”
“I don’t think men receive the same scrutiny over their biology”.
No child, no problem?
However, it isn’t just strangers who feel the need to probe into why someone isn’t rushing towards life in the Mothercare aisle. “My friends have children and it is a frequent topic of conversation about how my husband and I shouldn’t be delaying starting our family, explains Eve.” It is also my mother’s favourite subject to bring up when we are out. I don’t think men receive the same scrutiny over their biology. Plus, it really isn’t anyone’s business but our own.”
“Why does being single and childless still equate to social failure?”
This is an issue explored by a new Channel 4 programme called I am Hannah. It charts the life of a 36-year-old girl who is single, showing her depressingly unsuccessful online dating. Her mother pressures her into freezing her eggs, even though she isn’t sure if she wants children at all. The theme is that nobody can accept that Hannah’s situation is simply her life – everyone is trying to rush her towards something she isn’t even sure she wants. Why? Why does being single and childless still equate to social failure?
And then there are those who feel isolated by their choices. They don’t have children yet they feel a disconnect from all those around them that do. They feel obliged to always make the effort with their friends who seem too busy to instigate plans. It gets exhausting.
One way street
Emer is the youngest in her family. She is 35 and in a relationship, but wonders why she has to put in all the effort with her siblings who have families. “It is always me suggesting meetups. If we do meet up, it is based around playgrounds or picnics and sometimes I just want to see my sisters and not have it to a background to wailing. It makes me feel guilty to say that because I love my nieces but at the same time it seems to be a one-way street.”
There is a misconception that those without children lead less meaningful lives – that their time is less important, their commitments fewer. Life without children is quieter, definitely, but not always emptier.
“Aren’t we at risk of hamstringing ourselves by setting out dainty milestones that smack of traditional patriarchy and then convincing ourselves that it was our idea in the first place?”
Emer can relate; “Everyone tells me, there is no love like it and I’ll understand when I have children. But to suggest that I won’t feel the true meaning of love without procreating is just insulting and patronising.”
Which brings us to success and what it means for a woman? Is it to have the perfect family? The perfect waist? 2.4 children by the age of 40? Aren’t we at risk of hamstringing ourselves by setting out dainty milestones that smack of traditional patriarchy and then convincing ourselves that it was our idea in the first place? What happened to charting our own badass course.
Children bring joy – nobody is disputing that. But the opposite isn’t always true either. Society has long taught us that marriage and kids lead to ultimate happiness, but new studies by UK behavioural scientist Paul Dolan says that the traditional markers used to donate success aren’t as relevant anymore.
In fact, his research found that unmarried, childless women are the UK’s happiest subgroup.
Having children or not shouldn’t define us. Nobody should be judged or pressured into feeling ‘less than’ or ‘unsettled’ because they haven’t procreated by a certain age.
Or worse, pity…just because you choose a different course.
Image via Unsplash.com
This article was originally published in April 2022.