How do you know when the time is right to have a baby? For some women, like writer Victoria Stokes, the pressure to procreate has only intensified during the pandemic.
How do you know when the time is right to have a baby? I’ve been pondering this question for the guts of a year (between baking questionable batches of Rocky Road and attempting to tint my own eyebrows) and I can’t quite land on an answer. I always thought it would be an easy yes; a decision you land on not so much as a matter of consideration, but from a place within. No pros and cons list required.
But as I approach my 33rd birthday I feel I need to make a decision, and soon, and the pandemic has only made things more complex. I’ve lost a year of debauchery, been robbed of boozy weekend brunches with the girls and yearned for spontaneous trips abroad. I’ve missed date nights with my partner and romantic weekend breaks that don’t require a babysitter. And now I’m worried I’ve missed my chance to do those things again.
Motherhood feels like it’s peeking at me from around the corner but I can’t look it directly in the eye while I’m still fantasising about my social re-entry wardrobe and the G&Ts I’m going to drink when this is all over. I thought I’d feel more… ready – less bothered about nights out with the girls and more consumed with an undeniable urge to swap my freedom for responsibility. But I don’t. And now I worry: Do I need to start thinking about having a baby before it’s ‘too late’?
While I’ve been worrying about the perfect time to become a parent, I’ve joined a growing consort of women. The average age of first-time mothers in England and Wales has risen in recent years to 28.9 according to the Office for National Statistics, and women over 40 are now having more babies than women under 20.
I’m not alone in delaying motherhood to prioritise things like career, social life, and travel, and I feel somewhat vindicated that I’m not the only one my age not rushing to the maternity ward. I’m not selfish or irresponsible; I’m in line with current trends.
Lucy, 45, now a mum of three and the founder of the We Are Geriatric Mums Facebook group, delayed motherhood to the age of 34 after an unviable pregnancy made her realise she wasn’t ready to become a parent and wanted more time to – in her words – “go to gigs, stay up late, and have fun”.
“I realised through that horrible experience that I was not ready to be a mum. I was 32,” she tells me. “After travelling, [my partner and I] carried on having fun, living the London life.”
When Lucy got pregnant a year later, she was excited about the experience. While she loves being a mother she admits that motherhood initially felt like being “plonked into another world”.
“Everything changed when I became a mum,” she muses. “Financially – because my money is no longer just mine – and socially, because I can’t and don’t want to go out as much, and I no longer have the independence I once had. Another human can’t be carted around while you hot-foot it around the country or from pub to bar and most things need to be planned in advance.
“I miss the spontaneity of being Lucy in London,” she admits. “I miss casually walking home, popping out for a bite to eat, hooking up with a friend just because. Those things do not happen anymore.”
While I’ve been weighing up the pros and cons of motherhood, it feels like everyone else I know has jumped in with two feet. Birth rates during the pandemic have reportedly fallen overall, but my Instagram feed tells a different tale, crammed with scan photos and pics of new arrivals, posted by my peers. It’s like everyone else is racing ahead with their lives and I’m getting left behind.
The people I used to party with have now moved into an altogether more adult zone than the one I currently inhabit. Do I try and catch up or do I wait it out? Do I accept that my days of carefree socialising are coming to a close or continue to enjoy my independence as the biological clock ticks?
I have considered that, in all of my debating, maybe I’ve missed the point.
Maybe motherhood and mischief can co-exist, and one doesn’t necessarily need to come at the expense of the other? Perhaps as women, and as mothers, we really can have it all, just like the Instagram captions have been telling us? It’s surely not a stretch to say women can be mothers while also being avid travellers, successful career women, and the first to suggest cocktails too.
Lucy reminds me that we always have the choice to do things on our own terms. There are no set rules when it comes to how we do motherhood, and each of us can choose how we want to parent. There’s a balance to be struck, and options like IVF and egg-freezing have made delaying motherhood a more viable option for some.
“Although I am not hitting the tiles every night with three kids and a pandemic ongoing, I have got my life into a balanced place where right up until March 2020 I didn’t feel guilty for going out,” Lucy says.
“I know that I need to have fun, to see my friends, to go to a gig, to stay in a hotel and not feel bad about it. My diary from the end of May is booked up with girly meet-ups, hotel get-togethers and I’m ready to hit purchase when the right gig tickets come along.”
So, if the pandemic has made you feel extra pressure to settle down and start a family before you’re ready and, like me, you’re looking for permission to delay motherhood for a little longer, consider it granted. I don’t know when I’ll be ready for a baby (34? 35? 40?) but I do know this: Right now I’m still enjoying the dregs of my youth, and I’m making no apologies for it.