The coronavirus pandemic has put many of our plans on hold. Here, one woman who froze her eggs last year before losing her job due to the pandemic discusses how she is trying to adapt her plans for motherhood in the midst of our “new normal”.
I always assumed that motherhood would just happen for me, woven automatically into the fabric of my life like birthdays, weddings and funerals.
But I’m now 39 and it hasn’t “just happened”. So last year, with that infuriating biological clock echoing like a gong, I froze my eggs. I thought this would take the pressure off instantly having to procreate should I find a suitable partner, but now I find myself frozen, too. The restrictions that accompany the pandemic have put our lives on hold and for me, this could have far-reaching consequences for my future.
My personal life so far has been a mix of on-off toxic liaisons and a lot of fun – I wasn’t bothered about being in a relationship and focussed on my career as a television producer instead. However, as I watched my friends start their own families I felt ready to do the same. But there was a problem – I don’t like dating. It exhausts my free time (and money) and the outcome is usually unsuccessful. Who wants to put effort into failing? I’m also rubbish on dating apps – inane chat with a stranger? No thanks. This dating aversion means that I haven’t really tried to find “The One”.
Unfortunately my biology wasn’t waiting for me to start the search so last year, worried about my fertility, I froze my eggs. The process was relatively painless, apart from the temporary impact on my hormones and permanent hit to my bank account, and I now have five insurance policies in the freezer. I felt enormous relief that the time pressure to find someone was eased.
However, plan A was still to conceive naturally with someone I loved. During an extended holiday at the start of this year, I decided I would try, really try, to meet someone. I would take up new hobbies. I would get a puppy and talk to fellow dog walkers in the park. I would even try my sworn enemy, the dating apps.
I also had a back up plan: should I be still single at the end of 2020, I would have a baby by myself in 2021. For this I would need money – not only to upsize from my small flat but also to withstand the cost of single motherhood. So I made plans to focus on saving over the coming year. This was about priorities, and my number one goal was to become a mother. I was single and ready to mingle to make it happen.
Then, just as I returned from my trip, the pandemic hit and now mingling is practically illegal. My chances of meeting someone out and about have dropped to almost zero, and the social distancing restrictions that affect us all make dating as we know it almost impossible. Until just a just a few days ago, I could have been fined for physically meeting anyone, and even now I can only see one person, outdoors at a safe distance.
This adds a new layer to dating politics. Do you only meet very local people (a rather limited pool) to avoid needing to travel? Will all our dates be picnics in the park, like chaste Victorian couples? And at what point do you take it further and get physically close – by this, I mean closer than two metres – and risk transmitting the virus? This Pride And Prejudice style wooing is a lengthy process and that’s only if I’m lucky enough to meet someone I like. If not, 2020 will be a series of first dates and it will be 2021 before I know it.
But there’s always the back up plan, right? Wrong. It’s not just my personal life that’s on hold – the virus has called a halt to most of the film and television industry, including my production. I lost my job and income overnight, and have gone from wanting to maximise my savings this year to wondering how I will pay the bills this month. There’s now little chance I could afford to move house, plus I personally believe it would be irresponsible to have a child when I have no income. My life plans have disappeared in a puff of coronavirus.
This loss of control of my own destiny has caused me a lot of worry. Behavioural psychologist Jo Hemmings says this is not unusual. An inability to influence our own lives generates fear, which increases our levels of cortisol – the stress hormone – and can lead to surges of anxiety.
“This has to come out, so allow yourself to be vulnerable and tell people how you feel,” Hemmings says. “It’s OK to say ‘I don’t feel good about this, I don’t see a way out’. There will be days when you feel you can cope and days when you feel overwhelmed. The best thing to do is use what freedom we are allowed to keep moving on.”
We can also take reassurance from one thing – yes, we are standing still while time marches on, but at least we are all doing it together. “It’s like pressing pause on a cinema screening for the whole audience,” Hemmings explains. She advises making plans for the future so you’re ready as soon as we can press play. “You might find a new way of doing things, or something you hadn’t considered before,” she adds. “Be creative and think sideways about how you can still achieve what you want.” Making such plans also brings back control, something we’re all desperate for right now.
Of course, my own worst-case scenarios might never happen. Instead, I might meet my soulmate on a socially-distanced date and enjoy a romantic courtship in the Great Outdoors. Society might return to normal and I may work again soon. But right now I am in limbo. All I can do is try and take small – and legal – steps forward. Join the waiting list for a sperm donor. Be proactive on dating sites and hope that the British weather doesn’t ruin my chances. In fact, I like someone already. His name is Ronnie and he loves walks in the park, chewing my slippers and barking at the postman.
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