You know, it's really starting to bug me this thing that scientists and commentators and doctors keep going on about: women are putting their health at risk by choosing to have babies later. You've read the headlines and the smug, patronising text. You've observed the soft focus picture of a woman cradling a bean-like baby in her pink arms placed hard next to the life-style shot of the be-spectacled woman in her Reiss suit, streaking through some crowded city street looking harassed and bleak.
All over the country, middle-England is clicking their tongues at us unmarried, unbabied 30-somethings and saying: oh ho, and you thought a career would give you what you wanted, did you? before dipping a hand into little Molly’s nest of curls and reminding themselves of how simply amazing having children is.
Well, smug, smug, smug smugger. Stop it.
These articles read as though we're all lying in bed with our beloveds, Persona stick in one hand, Extra Safe in the other, coated from head to toe in spermicidal jelly and sternly reciting the rules to the Rhythm Method. Good grief, a baby? Perish the thought. Babies don't come in twenty different colourways in leather, nubuck or faux-beaver. How are you expected to drink cocktails until dawn at the Electric if you’ve got a mewling cabbage to return to? Hah! And what about my career?
Which is stupid.
Thinking that all these 30-somethings feel like that is like reading Lassie Come Home and thinking that every other collie you meet has the ability to communicate effectively through barks and will win a Victoria Cross for valour.
Because we’re not all like that. Of course there are some who are putting it off for the reasons middle-England claim, especially those who work in male dominated environments where maternity leave is seen as a weakness. These women are perfectly right to do so because it’s their choice.
But there are a huge number of women who are not ‘putting off’ having a baby until later. They simply haven’t got the choice.
And this is the bit that riles me.
Most of my friends, had they settled into a satisfying, equal, healthy relationship in their early twenties would be spawning by now. But they didn’t. Only a handful have found that ‘special someone’ and the vast majority of that handful only found them in the last few years. Men and women are as cautious as each other when it comes to having a kid. It’s not like years ago when you met your husband at 20, courted for a year and then got married in your local church and went on honeymoon to Broadstairs. We’re reminded all the time of the destruction wrought upon children of broken homes – why would we want to add to the statistics by making a rash, time-related decision?
And what about my single friends who are in their 30s, wanting children but meeting useless men who need more care and tolerance than your average toddler? Who can call these women selfish? Surely you’re not happy to scare these women so much that they go down the popsicle route if the right man doesn’t seem to be appearing as fast as 34 is looming?
Add into that the fact that we have so much more freedom when it comes to our jobs. We can swap around, try jobs out, see what’s going down in the world of work. It’s not that we don’t want to have a baby now, it’s that we haven’t been in the job long enough for us to get the right maternity benefits. Or we’re freelancing – try explaining to yourself that you won’t be in the office for the next three months and perhaps you should get a temp in.
If I’d had it my way, I would’ve had babies years ago. I’ve always wanted them. At 14 I had my life plan written down: married at 21, first baby on the eve of the Millennium. Then another two years later: April and Chloe. (Note the distinct lack of any career plan there. How very 50s!) Anyway, by the time I was 21 I was engaged. By the time I was 23 I wasn’t. Then single and a little too free in my attempts to find love in all the corners of West London until I met my current beau of two and a half years – off and on, I know, it surprises me too – when I was 27. But despite the eternity we’ve been together, neither of us is in any position to breed. We’re just not ready yet.
So will you please stop telling me how selfish and medically dumb I am and, instead, applaud me for considering my future children’s welfare and not pumping them out to appease the scaremongerers who just don’t understand?
This isn’t choice, it’s circumstance and if I'm dealing with it, so should you.