It’s days like Saturday that I wonder how much I really want a child. I slept until after 10am because I hadn’t set an alarm because I didn’t have to get up for anything. I spent nearly two hours in the bath watching TV on my iPad because there was nothing else I really needed to do. Last weekend, I went away with some friends. I didn’t have to tell anyone, or arrange anything, or worry about whether I should be spending the money on something else, or saving it.
I don’t take any of these things for granted. How could I? When I’m surrounded by parents who I know will have been up several times in the night; who count 7.30am as a lie-in; who barely get time to piss on their own, let alone take a bath; for whom a weekend away is a logistical and economical nightmare, fraught with guilt and anxious phone calls.
I wonder whether, being the age that I am, having seen the way children disrupt my friends’ lives, I know too much; whether I’m simply too selfish to give up everything that I have for the messy, chaotic, time-consuming, financially-draining stress that is a child. Because I love my freedom. And my work. And my friends. And – most of the time – my family. But the question I always come back to is “Is all that enough to compensate for it being just me?” And I’m not saying it will always be “just me”. I don’t know if I were in a relationship and that list read “I love my boyfriend/husband. And our freedom. And my work. And my friends. And – most of the time – my family” I’d still be wondering “Is all that enough to compensate for it being just us?”
But I do know that when I was at my lowest point ever, the weekend after I found out that S was seeing someone else, and had been for about a year, which made me realise that we were never getting back together, that what flashed through my mind was this: “I have my flat, my work, my friends, my family but I’m not sure that’s enough for the next 40+ years.” And, while I’m not prone to “just knowing” or “having a feeling”, I did “just know” that this wasn’t just about S, or being single. (Although I don’t want you to think that I didn’t care deeply about losing the man I loved. The moment the penny finally dropped, when I realised this wasn’t a phase he was going to get over, that the life I thought we’d have together, he was probably going to have with someone else, it caused me actual physical pain. The sort of pain that people far more eloquent than me have described as emptiness, or heartache. The only way I can explain it is to say that, a few years on, it might have diminished but it hasn’t entirely gone away and it can still make me cry just thinking about it.) But I did “just know” that the sense that I had that everything else wasn’t “enough” was a lot about not having a child.
And it was that which led to me freezing my eggs. And thinking about having a child on my own. Let’s be brutally honest, there are quite a few problems with this train of thought. And, because I’m totally prone to overthinking things, I have thought about them. A lot. The first and most significant one being that, were I ever to have a child, that’s a fuck of a lot of pressure to put on one human being. The second being that contemplating doing it on my own leads to all sorts of other complicated trains of thought that I still haven’t resolved. And the third being the fact that on dates I look at men and think “Would I rather raise a child on my own than with you?” which is both practical and fucked up in equal measure – and if the answer is “on my own” I think it’s probably not worth seeing them again, but am simultaneously tortured by all the tangential trains of thought referenced in the previous sentence.
If at this point you’re sitting there thinking “What sort of mad-ass stupid bitch are you to have spent £14,000 freezing eggs when you’re still wondering – practically, ethically and emotionally – if you even want to have a child?” I totally sympathise. There’s part of me that wonders the same thing. But I suppose what it comes down to is the fact that, loath as I am to admit it, I’m petrified of having a child on my own, in a way that I wouldn’t be if I were in a relationship. Again, if you’re sitting there thinking “Well, durr”, I sympathise.
Maybe I’d feel differently if society – and specifically my group of friends – was a little more diverse. The only templates I have are of couples (whether or not they stay together) having kids. Which makes it hard to know whether you want that because everyone else wants it and that’s what you’re expected to want, or whether that’s what you really do want. I remember T, a friend of mine who’s about ten years older than me and single, with no children, saying “I thought about having a child on my own, and then I realised, I didn’t want a child, I wanted a family.” And, really, that is what I, for whatever reason, want too. That’s no surprise. I’ve always said that the reason I froze my eggs rather than trying to have a child on my own with donor sperm when I was 36 was because I still hadn’t given up hope of “having it all.” (In this context “all” is a partner and a child, the career goes without saying, what do you think this is, the 1970s?)
But my fallback was always that if I didn’t meet someone, I could do it on my own. Which was reassuring. Until I realised that that does feel like second best. For me and my hypothetical child. And I’ve never ever wanted to settle for second best. Better cross my fingers that tonight’s second date goes well…