They are solely dependent on you for nourishment, protection and shelter. And that’s just the plant. If you’re wondering how you’ll ever be able to look after a tiny human, you’re not the only one…
It’s shrivelling up in the hallway. You had an inkling something seemed amiss but amid all the late night stumbles to your bedroom and bleary-eyed crawls to the bathroom it just escaped your notice. But judging by the number of brown leaves now collecting on the floor, even you can tell that the hardiest of house plants (you asked in the garden centre specifically when you bought it) might have seen its last.
It’s another sure sign that you’re really, really not cut out for looking after anything, isn’t it? If you can’t keep a yucca, how on earth do you have the skills for a human? Don’t get us wrong, we’re not on a mission to tell you you should have children (we’ll leave that to your dear mother).
We know many women choose to remain child-free (recent Office of National Statistics figures pointed to a huge social change: 10 years ago, one in nine women hadn’t had children by the time they were 45, today it’s one in five). But for many of us the prospect of children would be amazing if it didn’t require us to focus on something other than our busy lives.
Charlie Daly, a 37-year-old marketing manager from Oxford sums it up perfectly: “How on earth could I look after a baby when I can’t look after myself? My homemaking skills are seriously under par. Sometimes I go for days just surviving on wine, crisps and chocolate. I look at my friends who are mums, with their feeding schedules, lugging around these huge bags full of equipment and just think, ‘That is TERRIFYING. I could never be that organised.’
Meet the plant killer – the modern, professional woman who’s so busy with her work and social life that she kills any type of flora that dares enter her home. We all know one, perhaps you are one – I know I was. My despairing parents dubbed me ‘Black Fingers’ due to my uncanny ability to kill anything green in my vicinity. My father, a keen gardener, would regularly visit my London flat, sadly collect up the wilted, brown cuttings he’d given me and rush them back to his greenhouse for resuscitation. I was in my early 30s and my lack of horticultural skills seemed symbolic: I was clearly not the nurturing, maternal type.
No Nature To Nurture
A generation ago, most women in their late 20s and early 30s would be having children without giving it much thought – it was just what you did in a settled relationship. Now, however, there’s a sizeable group of us who could feasibly produce offspring but just don’t feel grown up or maternal enough. How many times have you had discussions with friends about whether you’re ‘ready’ or indeed if you’ll ever be ‘ready’?
“Not all women get broody at a young age,” says fertility coach and author of Right Time Baby: The Complete Guide To Later Motherhood, Claudia Spahr. “But saying that, a lot of women in their late 20s and 30s are ready to be mothers but the pieces aren’t in place. We’re all grown up kids in a way. Life is too good. We’re having fun. And having children means you’re not number one any more. It’s a responsibility that both men and women are scared of taking on.”
Money, of course, is a major issue. The recession means that many people are less solvent than the previous generation. Young people tend to live at home with their parents for longer; they’re in more debt thanks to tuition fees; they find it hard to get on the property ladder. I have a friend who is adamant she won’t – can’t – have children with her lovely, broody boyfriend until she has enough money to buy a family house and pay for a wedding – as the years tick by, she’s still nowhere near those milestones.
Feminism is, of course, an excellent thing, and has meant we’ve spent more time in the workplace and less time darning socks and polishing the silver at home than our mothers, about which I, for one, have no complaints. But when we start associating those traditional home-making skills that many of us are rubbish at or have no interest with motherhood, then we come to the conclusion that we’re not ‘the maternal type’.
Hannah Doyle, 30, is a freelance journalist and despite being married and hearing the “dreaded ‘you’ll be next’” every time a small child comes in to view, she’s yet to be convinced. “I’m not ready! I like my life as it is. I like drinking wine on Saturdays and spending Sundays carb-loading on the sofa. I’m also not very good at nurturing. Every week, I trot home from the supermarket with a pot of mint, smugly planning to make my own mint tea for the foreseeable. But it inevitably shrivels and dies, because I’m too busy to water it. “For now, I like my selfish life and I simply don’t have the headspace to look after a being even more needy than me.”
Then there’s the way we live today: many of us reside miles away from our families, revelling in city life, spending our time exclusively with other people who enjoy the same lifestyle without ever venturing anywhere near a baby. Most of my professional friends with young children had practically no experience with children until they had their own baby – the old proverb “it takes a village to raise a child” simply isn’t true anymore.
And when you don’t spend any time with babies, you don’t feel you have the right credentials to become a parent. Becoming a mother is a monumental shift but being anxious and inexperienced isn’t the same as being incapable. “The nurturing instinct is quite amazing,” reveals Spahr. “Children were not a priority when I met my husband when I was 37. I was a party girl. I wasn’t a motherly type. But you grow into the role of a mother. Pregnancy is a very transformative experience, if you’re not sick all the time or have complications. But becoming broody and nurturing doesn’t happen overnight. And also what you have to remember is that the profile of modern motherhood has changed – we’re not all making pastry and sewing quilts.”
For a lot of women there’s a deep seated anxiety that the change from non-parent to parent will result in a personality transplant: “A common fear my clients have is that motherhood will change their identity,” says Beth Follini of Tick Tock Coaching, who coaches women who are unsure whether or not to have a baby. “But although your lifestyle changes, the things that are fundamental to you, like your values, won’t change. I say to women, how can you adapt a value that’s important to you? A woman might highly value independence and worry that if she has a baby she’ll be trapped and won’t be independent any more. So perhaps she needs to look at childcare, other support she may have, or have a conversation with her partner about continuing with her work.”
Dr Claire Halsey, a clinical psychologist who specialises in parenting says: “It’s absolutely natural to be anxious before you have a baby – it is a massive life shift. But it’s your world that changes, not your personality. Our priorities may alter but you’ll still be whoever you were. If you were laid-back before motherhood, you’ll still be laid-back. If you were very precise, you’ll still be very precise. Those things won’t be lost.” Both experts agree: if you have a baby, you will adapt your life, but you’ll still be the same person.
“When my daughter was tiny a health visitor told me: ‘Get the baby to fit in with your life and not the other way round’ and that really stuck with me,” says Sarah Williams, 41, who works for a boutique travel company. “Travel is a huge part of my life and I was absolutely not going to give it up. Being a mother doesn’t have to mean clipping your wings, you just have to adapt. When my daughter was three months old I strapped her in a sling and went to Paris for my husband’s birthday. She came on countless work trips with me after that and I was amazed by how easy it was. Having a baby didn’t dampen my ambition and my love for my work; it gave me a daughter to share my passion with.”
The question of when/if we’ll be ready for motherhood is, for many of us, like asking about the length of a piece of string. Many women (myself included) with fulfilling jobs and packed social lives spend their 20s doing anything and everything but thinking about babies, let alone having them. Not a problem if you actively choose to remain child-free, but maybe more so if you’re just ignoring the issue and you do possibly, at some point, want a family. We’re not going to hit you over the head with the same hoary, old, scary stats about infertility and the perils of late motherhood, but, as we all know, the bottom line is this: the later you leave it, the harder it can be. Dr Halsey takes a balanced view: “If you truly don’t want to give up your lifestyle, don’t think, ‘Oh I’m 30, I better have a baby’. It might not be right for you. After all, you can’t just give motherhood a go and think, ‘No, it’s not for me’. If
you don’t feel ready, wait a while and then reassess.” That said, nobody can be totally prepared for the seismic change that happens when you have a family. And there’s more to deal with than puréed carrot covering the microwave. “You’re going to lose that lightness of being,” states Spahr, explaining that becoming more worried goes hand in hand with caring for a tiny human being. “And don’t expect to have any time to yourself. Even with the best time management and a good support system, you’re always busy. As wonderful as it is, it is a great sacrifice.”
Nothing, it would seem, apart from actually having a child can prepare you for the hit. “In the space of a few days you go from sheer amazement and joy to complete exhaustion and realisation that you don’t know what the hell you’re doing,” says Suzann Hetherington, 32, who is mum to nine-month-old Eva. “For the first few months you’re just working out how to survive. I know it sounds horrendous but you get through it; you find a routine. And it’s amazing because you really do learn on the job. I put down the manuals and acted on instinct and I surprised myself – I never thought I would have so much love to give.”
“I hadn’t even changed a nappy before I had my first baby,” adds copywriter and mum of two Helen Burger, 33. "Winging it seems to work, although it was scary at the time. You just have to learn to relax and be flexible. My mantra is, ‘Tomorrow is another day’. If it all goes wrong, and you’ve had no sleep and the baby’s screaming, you just try again the next day.”
But there are a few things you can do now that will give you insight into life as a mother: “Stay in every night of the week even though you’ve got the most sought after invites, try having a conversation with constant interruptions, go for a walk and take an hour to leave the house then stop and look at every leaf,” Spahr laughs. “But in all honesty, my advice is to enjoy every moment now because when the time is right to have a baby, you won’t feel like you’re missing out."
Follini advises women who are still unsure to look to other mothers as role models. “If you don’t want to become the mum figure you have in your head, you can look at how you can do motherhood differently. Find examples. If you travel and don’t want to give that up, talk to women who travel with their babies. If you’re worried about being a dowdy mum, envision an alternative way, the kind of mum you do want to be. Remember you can do motherhood in lots of different ways.”
No-one needs to be patronised when it comes to this decision – different women want different things, and who is anyone to judge? But, a note of caution: if the ONLY thing holding you back from motherhood is this mythical, conventional, idealised image of a mother – frazzled of mind and unable to cope – a woman who is definitely not you, then perhaps it’s time for a rethink. Because you might just surprise yourself – ol’ Black Fingers here now has two small children of her own. And besides, what’s a few burnt fishfingers between friends?