Lucy Mangan

“Brace yourself – it’s time we had the baby chat”: Lucy Mangan on why it’s fine to not want children

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Lucy Mangan
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Happy International Women’s Day, everyone! I hope you’re all having lots of empowering fun and Being Bold For Change, in accordance with this year’s theme? Perhaps you’re making a big statement (throwing up your job in order to work for a refugee charity or something else that feels suitably commensurate with these grimly momentous times), going on (yet more) marches, or having that confrontation with your boss that you’ve been putting off for months. You’re not? Don’t worry. One of the boldest announcements I heard recently was much quieter than all that, though it came, unsurprisingly, from one of the boldest of women around – Oprah Winfrey.

In a recent interview, Winfrey said: “I didn’t want babies. I wouldn’t have been a good mom for babies. I don’t have the patience. I have the patience for puppies, but that’s a quick stage!” It’s a rare and valuable corrective (especially from a figure as high- profile and influential as Oprah, and as Oprah knows herself to be) to the insidious assumption that all women should be having babies and that we will all regret it if we don’t.

We are always being told – usually by people who trill while tilting their heads sweetly to the side – to make sure that we and any prospective life partner are “on the same page” about children – but what the trillers usually mean is, “Make sure he wants them too!”. Yet before you have that conversation, there is a much more important conversation to have: one with yourself. And not just once, but often, over the years. Partly because it takes time to know yourself, and partly because it takes a few goes just to get the vision of your mother’s imploring face out of your head as you do.

I had it with myself a lot. A LOT. In my 20s I was always sure I didn’t want children. And in the first half of my 30s. Then I started getting a vague feeling that on my deathbed, I would probably think I would rather have had one than not. But it wasn’t the overwhelming urge I had been taught to expect, so I ignored it. Until I realised that I am not the kind of person that gets overwhelmed by a desire for anything and that this was my equivalent of maternal instinct. So I went ahead. But I was both very close to being derailed by outside expectations and to being entirely happy with a puppy instead.

You want to be bold today? Ask yourself if you want children. Then ask yourself if you really want children. Then put aside all thoughts of your parents’ hopes, your babied-up friends’ hopes and the expectations you grew up with, and ask yourself if YOU really want children.

You may well do. Which is great. You can swim with the tide and I hope that you conceive quickly and easily whenever you choose.

But you may, if and when you stop to think about it, not. You may find your fingers curling protectively round your packet of Cilest, or stroking your implant site fondly, or whispering sweet nothings in the general direction of your IUD instead. And then the boldest, bravest thing you can do is make no change at all.