Fertility rates are dropping around the world, according to new research. But has the pandemic changed the way some women feel about their decision to be child-free? One writer, who never seriously considered having kids, shares how the current climate is making her think differently.
“Part of my casualness with the question of having children was that I sensed how lucky I was that I could one day have the choice if I wanted. I liked that that day was very far off. The distance felt luxurious.
“I had secretly judged women who regretted never having children and were no longer of the age at which they could have them. I judged them, perhaps, because I feared becoming one of them. But now, at 38, my time was beginning to run out. I still didn’t want a child. I didn’t know what I would do with a child if I had one. But I missed having that open space before me in which I decide.” - The Pisces, Melissa Broder
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I think about this passage from Broder’s novel a lot. I remember, in the run-up to my 30th birthday, reading it over and over again, annotating the dog-eared book page with inky red exclamation marks. I nervously talked about it with friends at book club, worried about coming across as flippant and privileged. But I was relieved to learn that many of them shared my thoughts. I felt seen and understood; finally, I could make sense of how I felt about the question of having children.
You see, I haven’t decided to never have a baby; it’s just something I always said I’d make a decision on “later”, if ever. I won’t justify my reasons for this here, I know I can do what I want with my body without explanation. But I will say that I’m not a maternal person. The thought of having a child mostly fills me with dread, rather than the anticipated joy that many of my friends have about it. And this, along with other factors, makes me question if I want kids at all.
That said, I understand life takes us on inexplicable turns, and one day I might wake up feeling completely differently about everything. I’ve been living in and making the most of the “open space” that Broder mentions, where it seems anything can happen and I can ponder the possibilities.
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But there is a completely unpredictable yet extremely influential factor that she doesn’t explore in her words: how do these thoughts change during a pandemic? As if there weren’t already enough societal pressures on single women’s wombs to “act fast”, the idea of losing months – even years – of dating and relationships is a mind fuck. Because the fact is that, when it comes to fertility, time is something men have a lot more of than women.
I’ve been in lockdown mostly on my own, suddenly feeling new twinges of jealousy over Instagram photos of friends spending quality time with their kids. I’ve read the heartbreaking reports about women who have had to delay their IVF treatment. The prevalent reminder of mortality has made me engage with my mind and body more, questioning what I really want from this short life. The “open space” I used to have is closing in on me fast, quite literally. Maybe this is my “later”.
This week, research by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation found that fertility rates are drastically dropping around the world. According to the BBC, this is “being driven by more women in education and work, as well as greater access to contraception, leading to women choosing to have fewer children”. Although it’s great news for women, it also made me question things once more.
I’m still content with the idea of always being child-free, while also being confused by those fleeting thoughts of “but… what if?” during this high pressure time. But the report reminded me of this: there are so many other women in the world who are going through the same motions. We do not need to declare if we want to have kids or not to anybody, especially ourselves.
I might end up having a child, I might not. I don’t need to know what I’m running towards in the open space, but I know there are women out there with me, giving out some serious high-fives. Because we’re all just getting on with this funny old life the best we can.
Hollie is a digital writer at Stylist.co.uk, mainly covering the daily news on women’s issues, politics, celebrities and entertainment. She also keeps an ear out for the best podcast episodes to share with readers. Oh, and don’t even get her started on Outlander…