One to One Coaching

I offer free 30 minute telephone/Skype consultations for people wanting to find out more about coaching on the 'baby decision'. Email me at and assistant Laura will respond and arrange an appointment with you. Visit for more information about my coaching services.

Saturday, 20 April 2019

Doubt & the baby decision: Learning to trust ourselves

'I'm always doubting myself.  Every day I have contradictory questions and worries.  Would I be a good mother? Could I be happy without children? What if I make a terrible decision and regret my decision?'

Many people trying to make the 'baby decision' feel racked with doubt.  Many of my clients tell me that they constantly question themselves and feel that they have lost the ability to trust any decision they could make.   This leads to a huge worry that their decision - whatever they decide - would end up in disaster.

It could be that it is a lack of confidence in themselves to make the decision.  But I think it's also a lack of trust in themselves that they can  cope with the challenges that they would face of whatever choice make.

Articles such as The Confidence Gap  in The Atlantic Magazine written by the authors of  the book Womenecomics point to the fact that women in the workplace often lack confidence and doubt their abilities daily in the world of work.

The shortage of female confidence is increasingly well quantified and well documented. In 2011, the Institute of Leadership and Management, in the United Kingdom, surveyed British managers about how confident they feel in their professions. Half the female respondents reported self-doubt about their job performance and careers, compared with fewer than a third of male respondents....We also began to see that a lack of confidence informs a number of familiar female habits. Take the penchant many women have for assuming the blame when things go wrong, while crediting circumstance—or other people—for their successes. (Men seem to do the opposite.) David Dunning, the Cornell psychologist, offered the following case in point: In Cornell’s math Ph.D. program, he’s observed, there’s a particular course during which the going inevitably gets tough. Dunning has noticed that male students typically recognize the hurdle for what it is, and respond to their lower grades by saying, “Wow, this is a tough class.” That’s what’s known as external attribution, and in a situation like this, it’s usually a healthy sign of resilience. Women tend to respond differently. When the course gets hard, Dunning told us, their reaction is more likely to be “You see, I knew I wasn’t good enough.” That’s internal attribution, and it can be debilitating.

As the article quoted above points out above, women have a tendency for assuming blame when things go wrong but at the same time, they credit circumstance for when things go right.  How does that work when thinking about the people making the decision to have children or not?  In my clients worse fears and fantasies, they put themselves fully as the person who could cause chaos by making the decision to either have or not have children.  But they rarely credit or see themselves as a person who can cope with challenges and deal with challenging or difficult situations that might occur in the future.

One woman might worry that not having children would meant that she might end up lonely, not trusting that she has the ability to create a rich and vibrant life that was different than others.    Another woman might be anxious and doubt her ability to be a good mother.  She may imagine that she could probably has some innate flaw that would also impact the life of her child.

So how can we learn to trust ourselves - trust our ability to make this decision now AND trust that in the future we will to be able to cope, be resilient and deal with any challenges that we might face, no matter what choice we make? 

I encourage all my clients to find different ways to do this.    One  method I often use through using a creative visualisation.  I ask clients to shut their eyes and focus their awareness on their breathing.  After 5 minutes relaxation, I ask clients where trust lives in their body and what it looks like?  Is it small? Is it hidden?  Some clients see it as a ball of energy or light, some have seen it as a plant or other image.  Usually it's smaller and seems fragile.  I then ask clients to visualise doing something that nurtures trust.  What is does it feel like when trust expands throughout their body?

I ask clients to connect with this feeling throughout the week before we meet again.  Generally clients feel more relaxed, confident and more able to access that feeling of trust that they can cope and that they can deal with any challenges that will occur.

Friday, 22 March 2019

Will I fail at being a mother ? The ideal mother & the comparison trap

Image by Photos by Mahin

Are you haunted by images of the perfect mother?  Glossy hair, successful career and endless time to make cupcakes with their children?  Or maybe you remember the time and care your own mother gave you as a child but wonder how you could ever live up to her?

In 2019, images of  mother as both the domestic goddess and successful career woman are ubiquitous.  Women are exhorted to 'lean in' and embrace both motherhood and work.  At the same time, Daily Mail headlines warn that poor mothering is responsible for everything from obesity in childhood to their children's sexist behaviour.   Along with the pressure to live up to the image of the ideal mother,  the consequences of not living up to this ideal seem to be severe.

Naomi Standen explored this in her wonderful book What Mothers Do... Even When it Looks Like Nothing .  One of the causes of a phenomena of maternal ambivalence (where mothers of babies feel ambivalent about being a mother) is the disconnection between the idealised version of motherhood that is so present in our society and the reality that it is often boring, difficult, challenging etc.  Women report a huge mixture of emotions and feelings about being a mother that often do not match this idealised version.  This is particularly acute in mothers of children of a year or under where the demands of babies and in particular the lack of sleep and sleep deprivation, often put enormous strain on mothers - both the physical strain but also the feeling of failure that one is not living up the image of beatific mother earth mother hood.

“Babies of around one year old are often active by day and wake frequently at night, for no obvious reason. Then a mother can feel desperate for sleep yet equally desperate to comfort her baby when he needs her at night. I have spoken to many mothers who have sacrificed their own sleep, waking up numerous times every night because their babies cried for them. It seems terrible that these hardworking women think of themselves as failures as a result. Surely a mother who has chosen to sacrifice her sleep deserves respect and admiration for her generous mothering.”  Naomi Standen, What Mothers Do

Many of my clients come to me expressing their belief about motherhood as a black and white polarity.  On one side is the ideal mother.  She is fulfilled, successful, calm, present for her children, able to juggle work and do the domestic chores.  One the other side, is the failing mother.  She is a mess, chaotic, not able to cope with the sleep deprivation of having a new born and, she lets her children down.

The fear of being a failure as a mother who lets her children down that can haunt women trying to make this decision.  Often I've heard from my clients that it is this fear of failure that most worries them and causes them anxiety.  When we unpick this fear and look at it closely, we find that the client often has an inner saboteur (i.e. an inner critic) that is very harsh, that is constantly encouraging the client to compare herself to the ideal mother. 

So, how can you address this fear and escape the comparison trap?

1.  Take 15 minutes to write without stopping about what your saboteur has to say about how you could never be an 'ideal mother'.  Let all the negativity out on the page.

2.  After doing this, take a moment and shut your eyes.  Imagine the saboteur in the room and then imagine you can do something to reduce it's power and silence it's voice.  Perhaps you sprinkle water on it and it shrinks.  Or you could imagine throwing it out the window!

3. Psychologists have a concept called 'the good enough mother'.  Coined by Winnicott, the 'good enough mother' has her flaws - as all humans do - but she provides good enough parenting to for her child to flourish.  What would being a good enough mother be like for you?   Write about all the ways you can imagine being a good enough mother.  If you are struggling, read up about what a good enough mother is.

If you are stuck in the comparison trap and trying to decide whether to have children or not, it's so difficult to see a way forward.  By challenging the voices of the saboteur that seeks to make us feel inadequate, we can start to break free of the trap and be able to see our decision more clearly.

We may still decide not to have children - it may not be the right thing for us but by acknowledging we don't HAVE live up to an unrealistic image of the ideal mother, we can know that we are making this decision from the best possible mental place that we can.

Friday, 1 March 2019

Swimming against the tide

'Everyone in the small town I grew up with has children.  I live in NYC now - but when ever I go back, I feel so strange.  And Christmas is always difficult - I always get an air mattress in a corner while my brother and his family get the best bedroom. It sounds like I'm being petty - but I'm not upset about the sleeping arrangements.... I feel like I'm the 'odd one out' and no one knows how I fit.  I don't think I want children ... I don't have a strong desire to have kids... but I think having children would mean that I felt more a part of the community and like everyone else.'

It can feel uncomfortable if you don't have children, particularly as you get older.  Having children is still seen as 'the norm' and for many women,  this makes the decision to have children or to not have children very challenging.  As the quote from one of the women that I interviewed for my book shows, if you don't have children, you can feel sidelined.   This is more acute depending on where you live.   Fore instance, working with several clients in France, I'm aware that French culture is extremely family focused - more so than in the UK.

Swimming against the tide generally doesn't feel good or comfortable, particularly when we aren't sure ourselves of what we want.  Even if we  have a value of  'being independent' or 'doing things differently or 'being unique', it's very challenging for to do or believe something different than most of the people around us.  This is called 'Groupthink' and it is a powerful psychological tool that is very hard to resist. 

I work with clients to explore what their reactive pattern are under stress, pressure or conflict. When we are operating in our reactive pattern, we are mostly concerned with safety.  We seek safety through approval, or control.  The easiest way to get approval from our friends, family and peers is to conform to group norms.

But there is a huge cost to conforming.  It takes energy to pretend to want the same thing as those around us and to suppress our own desires and needs.   There can also be a sense of precariousness - and a belief that your membership as part of the group will be threatened if you don't conform. But the question is, how true is this belief?  Would we really be rejected, are we really outsiders if we follow our own path?   Or is this a fear that we have - in part - created?

An exercise that I think can help is to re-look at the situation with our friendship groups when we are feeling less stressed, when we are feeling calm and centered.  When we can 'recover to our centre' - we can experience how much better we feel when we challenge our usual reactive pattern. When we centre we can feel more at home in ourselves, more confident, more able to move forward and make difficult choices, even is they mean that we are going to follow a different path than our peers.

So try this right now:

1. Take a breath.  As you breath in, imagine the breath travelling up your body from your feet and then as you exhale, imagine the breath travelling back down you body, back down to your feet.

2. Imagine that you can expand your energy so that is becomes a bubble that surrounds you.  This bubble extends about an arms length all around you.   Now imagine your worries and anxious thoughts as if they were small paper balls that someone is flicking at you.  As those paper balls land in your bubble, the energy holds them so that they are just pieces of information that you can assess and then let go of.

3.  If you are holding any tension in your shoulders or jaw, just notice that and then allow that tension to flow out of your body.

4. Think of a quality you would like more of - it could be 'calm' or 'peace' or 'lightness' or 'ease'  or any word which is a quality you think would help you at this current time.  Now how the questions 'What would it be like if I had alittle bit more of my quality [insert name of quality] in my body or being right now?'

Once you have done that, look again at the situation you are in and what it would be like if you did choose not to have children; choosing a different path than many in your peer group or community.  Is there anything different in how you are feeling about this choice now?  Do you feel that you could make this choice and still be accepted?

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

Baby or Not? Reflections on the Baby Decision

Struggling to decide whether to have children or not?  My friend and writer Michelle Hebert-Boyd responded to my invitation to write about personal reflections on the decision that she and many women struggle with daily: choose children and motherhood... or choose a child-free life.  

I recently listened to a Guardian podcast  called “Maybe Baby: Should I Have a Child or Not?”. In it, the host Leah Green spoke to various people (women, for the most part) to understand how people come to the decision to have a baby or to remain child-free. As someone who struggled to become a mother and has since struggled to raise a child with special needs, I found myself nodding my heads to the points raised in this podcast. Where were these questions a decade ago, I wondered, when I was ready (or not) to have a baby? Why aren’t women better supported in making what is, arguably, the biggest decision they can face? As with any type of choice that relates to women’s reproductive health, it seems the discussion of whether to have a child or to remain child-free is still one that is based on rigid gender assumptions, and gets talked about mostly in whispers, amongst other women. This podcast gave me hope that we can raise the discussion above a whisper, and start to explore the options in front of us with confidence and support.

The podcast included interviews with people who explained their choices and how they arrived at them. I was struck by the fact that the voices of all of those interviewed – whether they’d had a child or had chosen to remain child-free – held a fear that their choice would be judged. It’s clear that judgement and societal expectations play a huge role in influencing how these decisions get made, and that it’s typically women who feel they have to defend them, even if a couple has reached the decision together.

As one woman in the podcast says, the realization that having a baby or remaining child-free is actually a choice is life-changing.  Yes, most of us have access to birth control, and we’ve given thought to preventing pregnancies. But it’s most often with the notion that we’re merely putting something off, and we’ll get around to having a baby sooner or later, at some point in the dim future.  Having a baby is an idea to which girls are socialized for from the earliest age, with baby dolls and nurturing role-plays. But the idea that we might not only just put the decision off, but make a completely different decision…well, that does fly in the face of how most girls are still socialized. Having a baby is the just the default expectation society holds for women – especially for cisgendered women in heterosexual relationships. People still assume that if you don’t have a baby, there must have been a medical reason that prevented you from doing so. It’s not typically seen as a choice.

Many women are sure, from an early age, that they don’t want to have a child., for a whole constellation of reasons. Still, as the podcast points out, they are often told they’ll change their minds; they just haven’t found the right person, or ‘those hormones’ will kick in eventually and they’ll be full of regret. This is, frankly, sexist crap, and assumes that there is only one way to be female. Just because you have a uterus doesn’t mean you need to use it to grow a baby, any more than having hair means you need to grow it into a long braid.

We are more than the sum or our organs. We’re the sum of our choices.

For others, the decision to have a child or to remain child-free is harder to make. We struggle because many of us haven’t found the tools to help work through this decision. It’s a choose your own adventure book, and the stakes are high. Both paths are filled with uncertainty. Happiness isn’t assured, either with children or child-free. And once we’ve made our choice, we don’t get to relax, because the paths aren’t straight or smooth. It’s just a lot more decisions, a lot more obstacles, either way – that’s life. That’s why it’s so important to be clear about what choice you want to make, and what is important to you, before choosing either adventure.

Having a baby or deciding to remain child-free is a very individual choice, and there is a story behind everyone’s decision. There’s no magic formula to tell us what to do. For someone who is as much of a planner as me, that was unsettling. I wished I could shake my Magic 8 Ball and get definitive advice. I wish, in retrospect, that I’d had access to a life coach like Beth Follini.  Beth’s coaching fills a unique niche – she helps people work through the choices in front of them where having a baby is concerned, helping them to ultimately understand themselves better and to find the path that is right for them. Using evidence-based tools, Beth leads her clients through self-inquiry, exploring their fears, hopes, and goals. She doesn’t steer them in any one direction; the choice is the client’s to make. Beth stands with people, encouraging them and challenging them, while they stand at the cross-roads.

I’ve stood at that crossroads myself, although the paths weren’t as well defined for me. I don’t think I even knew what questions to ask. Maybe I didn’t know that I could ask questions. I was in my mid-30s, and felt the pressure of social expectations and my own biology. I felt I didn’t have a lot of time to make a decision. To some extent, more than a dozen years ago, I didn’t really feel there was a decision to be made. Most people I knew had children. The few who didn’t were perfectly happy and fulfilled, but it was still very much seen as an ‘other’ choice back in the early 2000s.

My partner and I had talked about having children, before we got married. Neither of us felt strongly it was a must-do thing. Nor did either of us feel it was a must-avoid. We were somewhere in the middle, bobbing in a sea of ambiguity and expectation. We’d only just gotten married. I had a job I loved, and for the first time in my Gen X life, I had money to travel and have fun with. I wasn’t sure, really, how a baby would fit into that mix. I remember feeling a bit resigned to it…like, “If that’s what fate has in store for me, fine; if not, fine.” It was the biggest decision I’d had to make in my life, and I felt completely unprepared to make it. Looking back, I wonder if I understood that it really was a choice.

I’m a planner and a journalist. I like to research things, to ask questions and make lists of pros and cons. I prepare cost-benefit analysis spreadsheets for the most mundane of things. Beth Follini would say I approach things from my head. For a variety of reasons, over the years I’ve learned not to trust the advice my heart gives me. The head is about facts, and logical arguments, and data. The heart, I’ve found, can lead to Really Bad Decisions. It’s the one whispering in your ear, telling you to hurry up and decide before it’s too late. It’s the one that taunts you with FOMO, regret, and all the ‘what ifs’. Its whispers can be very loud, especially in the wee hours of the morning, when the head isn’t sharp enough to fight back.

I remember being on a business trip a week before my 34th birthday, feeling quite consumed by the choice in front of me: baby or not? What did I want my life to look like? After my meetings one evening, I found myself wandering into a bookstore, drawn to the huge section on all things baby-related, hoping to find something – anything – that would help me clarify my feelings. There were hundreds of books in this very-large section. There were books on fertility, pregnancy, baby names, infancy, toddlerhood. There was a much, much smaller section on women’s health. But there were no books, at all, about actually deciding to have a baby or to remain child-free. There was lots of advice on how to get pregnant and what to do after that. There was nothing to help me figure out if that’s the path I actually wanted to take.

I bought a book about fertility and a copy of I Don’t Know How She Does It and walked out of the store. My head felt defeated. My heart felt triumphant.

It wasn’t until my first pregnancy ended in miscarriage that the questions came into focus for me. The miscarriage had been emotionally devastating and physically exhausting. Like the decision to have a child or to remain child-free, miscarriage isn’t something that gets talked about as much as it should. I am someone who has succeeded at most things I’ve tried, so I felt like an enormous failure for not being able to do this most basic human function. There was always innuendo from others about what I’d done to cause it (it’s possible I imagined some of that innuendo, since I was so good at blaming myself for what I might have done or not done). Then, there was the inevitable comment, most typically from older relatives:

“At least you know you can get pregnant. You can always try again.”

If I’d felt ambivalent about having a baby, the miscarriage forced me to examine my feelings. Did I even want to try this again? Was I willing to risk that a miscarriage might happen again? If I said no…how would that feel? What would a child-free future look like?

For the next few months, my partner and I talked through all these questions and more. We decided that if we couldn’t have a child, that would be fine. We weren’t going to pursue IVF or adoption. We wanted a baby, but not at any cost. We decided that we’d be okay with whichever path opened up in front of us.

With my biological clock ticking loudly, I revisited the question just a year after my first child’s birth. Should I have another? Time was running out. There was another, more difficult miscarriage. My second child’s birth resulted in a life-or-death situation for both of us, and a warning that I shouldn’t have any more children. I remember feeling relieved that the decision-making was taken out of my hands. I was done.

There were times, over the years, that I’ve questioned whether the path I chose was right. Like the women interviewed in the Guardian’s podcast, I could list a dozen reasons why daily life with children felt kind of awful, sometimes. But also like the women in the podcast, I was ultimately happy with the path I’d taken. Both my head and my heart were sure, though, that I would have been equally okay with a child-free path. Having the opportunity to explore those questions and personal values was critical to finding peace.

Another issue that features heavily in the podcast is one that parents are sometimes loathe to admit: the fear of risk. The fear that Something Will Be Wrong. The fear that the future we’ve envisioned as a happy family with happy, perfect children won’t materialize. And what will happen then?

I can attest that children with special needs take a real toll on parents’ emotions and well-being, as well as their relationships. There is a higher rate of divorce and relationship breakdown among families with kids with special needs. The financial and emotional burden can overwhelm you.

And yet, there is no such thing as perfection in life, no matter what path you choose. You just never know. You might have a physically ‘perfect’ baby placed in your arms seconds after birth, but you don’t know what’s going on in that baby’s brain. Brain-based diseases, mental illnesses, and developmental issues may take years to show up, requiring you to become a completely different parent than you’ve been. You throw the script out the window and start over.

This doesn’t mean there isn’t risk to remaining child-free, of course. Relationships still break down. One of you can become sick or injured. Life is rarely what we think it will be, no matter how much planning or thought we put into it. There is no ‘safe’ road.

Yet, when the podcast’s host asked parents of kids who had mental health challenges or special needs whether they had regrets, they said no – not regret, really; more of a reflection that life could be easier than it is. As a parent of a child with special needs, I understood this. There is a peculiar sadness, almost a nostalgia, for what life could have been – for the typically-developing child in the happy family that could have been. Do I regret my choice? Overall, no. But would I have chosen THIS? No, probably not.  Few of us willingly choose the difficult paths. Most of us aren’t given the tools to think through everything eventuality in front of us. That’s why the work that Beth Follini does to help people sort through their feelings, hopes, and preparedness is so critical. It’s not about making people choose one path over another, or scaring people with worse-case scenarios. It’s about helping people feel as prepared as possible to make informed decisions about the road ahead, and to own those decisions with confidence – no matter what life throws at you.

The Guardian podcast is one of the few forums I’ve heard raise the issue of whether a mother feels mentally okay to have a child. After that first miscarriage, the hormonal flood from pregnancy and the miscarriage left me with a debilitating, month-long migraine. That gave me a lot of time to lie in bed and think. One of the things I thought about was whether I was mentally healthy enough to be a parent. I’d had an eating disorder in my 20s and had fought hard to maintain recovery. Would pregnancy’s changes to my body set me back? What if I didn’t lose the weight after pregnancy – was  I prepared for that? What if I passed the eating disorder (which has a strong genetic component) along to my child? I remember hoping I didn’t have a girl, so that the body image issues wouldn’t be as strong. (Spoiler alert: my first child is a girl, and my second child – the boy- is the one who is more prone to body image issues. The universe mocks me, truly.).

We owe it to ourselves, as women, to recognize and talk about the choice to be made. We need to think hard on those choices and evaluate our options. We need to be able to reach the best, most informed choice for us – not for our partners, not for our parents or friends, and not for society. Because at the end of the day, during those long sleepless nights (or the long stretches in the psychiatric emergency room with a child in distress), it’s us, not society, who is raising this child and living through the experience.

I haven’t heard many honest discussions about the decision to have a baby or remain child-free, to be honest, and I found this one quite balanced (although it was presented from a fairly cisgendered perspective, and there was little mention of the gendered parenting roles that may play into women’s decisions around having a baby). More voices from the ‘child-free’ path would have been helpful. Just as there is no one typical experience in having a child, there is no one typical child-free experience. People who make the choice to remain child-free are too often viewed as selfish or flawed. Hearing more about their stories and choices will help remove that stigma, which then frees women to truly see the choices in front of them. Discussions like this one hosted by the Guardian shine a spotlight on the real lack of support for ‘choice’ women have in making decisions about having a baby.

At the end of the day, the decision whether to have a baby or to remain child-free is one with no easy answer. With either path, there’s no way to know what it will look or feel like, whether we’ll have regrets, or whether we’re up for the challenge. But that’s life. The uncertainty is what makes it equal parts awful and exhilarating. The choice is a very personal one, but needs to be seen in the context of the broader social discussions about how women are valued and expected to behave in society.

For more information on coaching support for your baby decisions, contact Beth Follini at and visit her website at

By Michelle Hebert Boyd

Michelle H├ębert Boyd is a writer, editor, and social policy consultant based in Nova Scotia, Canada. She blogs about parenting, mental health and gender issues at You can find out more about her writing services or hire her as a writing coach at  Michelle Hebert Boyd

Friday, 28 December 2018

'We're still expected to conform' - Lessons from a decade of Maybe Baby coaching

Throughout this year,  I've written an occasional series on this blog on the lessons that I have learnt in over a decade of coaching people who are struggling with questions such as:

  •  How do you know if you want a baby or not? 
  •  How do I know whether I want to be a mother?
  •  Do I want children?
  • Will I regret not having children?
If you aren't in this position, it can be difficult to understand why people struggle so much with these questions.   But if you are ambivalent with the idea of motherhood, there are many underlying reasons why you will feel so stuck. 

One of the main factors I've come to realise is fundamental to many of my clients is the pressure that they feel to conform to society norms - both of gender norms of what it means to be a women and how we should live as adults.  

'We are still expected to conform' said one client to me one day.  She had been struggling with the decision of whether to have children for several years before coming to see me.  We were looking at her feelings that she would be inadequate as a woman if she didn't have children.   And it became clear that she had 'absorbed' many of messages and beliefs from society, her family and community. 

Many of us unconsciously absorb beliefs that aren't ours.  It's how we as humans become socialised.  Socialisation isn't all bad - it's how we learnt right from wrong.  We learnt about taking turns, being polite, how to negotiate the world.   But sometimes, it isn't until we go to another culture that we realise that our beliefs which we have taken for granted are not shared everywhere and importantly, they are not innate. 

Looking at a simple example of lining (or queueing) for a bus or at a take away.  When I first came to the UK, I wasn't very aware of the British etiquette of queueing.  Now, after 30 years in the UK, I find myself feeling mildly uncomfortable when I'm in another country and the British rules of queueing are not observed or if I can't work out where the line is and who is next. 

'It's only the British that have such a strict approach to lines Beth.' my German friend said after observing me stress out when people at the bus station in Spain seemed to be randomly approaching the ticket seller.  'In many countries, people take the attitude that when there is a 'gap' that needs filling, we move in.' she explained.

I realised that I had become socialised into the British way of lining up (or queueing).

When it comes to expectations of having children and motherhood, then the beliefs are harder to identify because, we seem to have progressed a great deal from the 1950's were stereotypical images of woman and motherhood were more explicit.   Advertising has moved on since the days of 'Mad Men'

And yet,  many of my coaching clients say that they feel underlying pressure to conform to a vision of womanhood that involves being a mother.    This pressure contributes to the ambivalence towards having children that many of my clients feel.   Why would anyone want to have children just because they feel pressure to do so?   But.... if it was only pressure that my clients were feeling, then they wouldn't be feeling stuck.  I've spoken to child free women who are aware of society expectations but don't feel any pressure because they don't feel any ambivalence - they know they don't want children. 

But you are already feeling ambivalence around having kids, feeling the pressure to conform and make the decision doesn't help.   It can cause you to be stuck and paralysed. 

When I work with clients, I help people step back and separate out the beliefs that they might have inherited from their beliefs and feelings.  Then we can look at what we really want and at questions like how could I be a mother and not conform to stereotypical images of motherhood? If I didn't have a child, how I can I keep shaking off the stereotypes of what is expected of me?  Whether we have children or not, we don't have to conform to narrow beliefs of what it means to be a woman or a mother. 

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

How I (finally) made the decision

I’m often asked how I made the decision to have children.  While I’ve often talked about how my indecision often lead me to coach women on the decision to have children or not, I haven’t often talked about how I made the decision myself.

I was never someone who grown up seeing myself as having children someday.  I had been a shy and awkward child and teenager and while I always had friends, I never had a boy or girlfriend. I think that I found it difficult to imagine myself in a romantic relationship and being a mother. In university, I started to address some of my issues and began to … finally … feel at home in my own skin.  I had a couple of non-serious relationships before meeting my current partner of 19 years when I was 29 years old.

There is a significant age gap between us and he already had a 18 year old son.  Soon after we started the relationship, he said although he wasn’t keen on having children, he would revise this decision if I really wanted children.  ‘Oh no.’ I said.  ‘I definitely don’t want children.’ That was true for me at the time. 

Time went on and, after a few years past,  I spent a week vacation with my cousin and his three children.  It was chaos but fun and something in me was triggered.  ‘Actually’ I thought ‘having children might not be so bad and maybe, I might want to be a Mom’

I was completely shocked by this.  For months, I kept this to myself, not sure if it was a fleeting desire or something more solid.  Finally, I brought it to my partner, who understandably was not thrilled.  For the next year, we discussed the issues with my partner putting all the arguments against having children but my feelings about having a child grew stronger and stronger.

As this was in the day before Google (it’s hard to imagine!) I turned to bookstores and libraries for help but nothing seemed relevant to me.  All the resources were polarised – either aimed at mother or those that were trying to get pregnant.  OR, there were books aimed at the determined childfree.  Nothing seemed to be relevant to me or someone in my situation who was just unsure.

I knew that there were many practical reasons to not have children which included:
  •         Losing my freedom
  •          Being tired all the time
  •          Having less money
  •          Feeling that I might be overwhelmed with responsibilities

Yet, I felt that I couldn’t ignore this tugging string of desire.   I felt stuck between the rational beliefs of myself and the rational desire of my partner to not have a child VS this strange and unexplainable desire.  I knew and felt that I would be fine if I didn’t have a child – I knew that I would have a full life without children but I kept finding my emotions returning again and again to thoughts of having children.

So how did I escape from this trap to DECIDE that I did want children after all?

I decided I needed to make the leap and, as corny as this might sound, listen to my heart. I decided that as much as I had worries and doubts, my emotions were becoming so strong that I needed to listen to those feelings and desires above all.    As soon as I made the decision and put my case to my partner, he came on board and supported my decision and agreed to have a child with me.    After a couple of years of trying, we had our son.

I’m happy with my decision and haven’t looked back.  But equally, I strongly believe that if I had decided not to have children or if I couldn’t have had children, I would have been fine.  I would have led an equality fulfilled life but it would have been different.   

Key to my being able to make this decision was being able to trust myself and trust that I could cope and make a good life.  That's what I want for all women - no matter what path they choose.  

Sunday, 18 November 2018

Fear: How does fear prevent us knowing if we want children or not

My appearance on Woman's Hour happened last week and you can listen to the whole show here BBC Woman's Hour Broadcast  Thanks to everyone who emailed me with warm words after the broadcast - it was much appreciated!

I've only been on the radio several times over the years and each time, I've been racked with nerves.  The day before appearing on Women's Hour,  I was filled with FEAR.  I was convinced that I would freeze on air, that I would stumble or make completely no sense what-so-ever.    I was in a state of panic.   I also kept thinking How could I get out of this?  This was very strange as I had yearned and yearned to be able to be on the radio and to get the message out about the struggle that so many women go through in trying to decide whether to have children or not.

So why was I so fearful? Why did I now want to push away something I thought I wanted?   The coach part of me knew that my saboteur (or inner critic) was in complete control - he was hissing that I wasn't worthy and that I was too fluffy, too liable to waffle and talk around a subject for AGES to be able to be a slick and effective radio presenting

One of my coach friends, the fab Meg Lyons offered me a coaching session after I reached out to her. We went through different scenarios which did help calm my nerves a little.  But she mentioned something that had a powerful effect on me which was:

'Anytime we do something outside our comfort zone, anytime we stretch ourselves or try something new, we feel fear... that's a natural response.  The key is to acknowledge it, accept it and then do what we need to do in order to grow and stretch'

Just that knowing that fear is a natural part of this process of doing something outside my normal comfort zone made that fear less powerful. 

And I realised that this is a parallel process to what all of my baby decision clients go through.  One of the reasons that this decision can be so scary and fearful is that it requires us to go outside our comfort zone.   Even if women make the positive decision (as so beautifully described by Dr Ginette Carpenter on the Women's Hour show) not to have children, it's still a decision that is asking us to stretch ourselves.  Why? Because, in this instance, it is asking us to shut the door on a potential future opportunity.  My clients who are considering a child free life say that they are often worried that they are making the wrong choice, that if they decide not to have children that they will be missing out on an experience that they can never have otherwise.  In this age where FOMO (fear of missing out) is becoming a recognised syndrome and cause of unhappiness, it's not comfortable to say that we are going to say no, that we are going to shut a door on a possibilities.  So many times women in their late 30's or early 40's have said that if they were a decade later, they would happily defer the decision because they would like to keep all their options open.

And that's why that for many people this really is a decision they have to make.  On the Women's Hour programme, Jane Garvey said she didn't understand how this really was a decision. For her, it was either something you did or you didn't... not a conscience decision.  I think this is because for Jane and many women who knew they always wanted children,  this was always an implicit assumption that they made personally and that was reinforced by societal norms that meant that they didn't need to think about.   However, to go against the grain, to question this implicit assumption is uncomfortable.  It is pushing against a comfort zone... which can lead to women who are thinking about embracing a child-free life to feel fear.

On the other side, if a woman is considering having children when they already have a good and comfortable life, the fear that we might be taking something on that would disrupt that and that our saboteur says, we might not be cut out for, that we have no experience of,  really forces out outside our comfort zone.  It is a decision that can stretch us and we can, like I explained did with the radio interview, search for many reasons why this decision is not for us.  Even if we have a strong desire to have children, our fear of moving outside what we know can be immense.

That's why, as I said on the Women's Hour show, one of the things I do with all my clients is to get out all their fears.  We need to shine a light on our fears in order to deal with them.  Are they fears led by the saboteur because we are frightened of stepping outside our comfort zone?   Once we bring these fears out, we can grapple with them and we can look at how likely these fear are to occur.  Sometimes I find that just acknowledging a clients fear as normal can take the  power away.

A fear that comes up again and again is that women feel like they might not be the best mother, that they don't feel like they are cut to be a mother or that they don't feel like a natural mother.   It can help just to hear someone say that many of us who are mothers feel like that, many of us feel inadequate and not like the mystical natural mothers we've all heard about.   We can still go forward and be mothers and have ambivalence.  That's normal.  That's what being human is all about.  The myth of the natural mother is not one that is born out in reality.  And in fact, it's when we try to life up to unrealistic myths around womanhood or motherhood is when we fall down - because we can never achieve this, we are being set up to fail.

What I want for all women is that they feel that whatever choice that they make is a positive decision.  Yes, fear is a part of the decision making process.  But fear shouldn't be the reason we make the choice to be either child free or a mother.  We need to trust ourselves to make a positive decision and find ways to acknowledge but then vanquish the voices of fear.

Monday, 5 November 2018

Why I coach women who don't know if they want to be a mother or not

I'm a big fan of the BBC Radio 4 programme Woman's Hour and have been a listener for over 20 years.  In 2018,  I was invited on the show which was hosted by Jenni Murray and this felt like the pinnacle of my career.  (you can listen to that show here Beth Follini & Christina Odone on Women's Hour ).  I've now been invited on again when I will be discussing how women can and do make this decision and to talk about my own personal journey.

Many people have asked me what led me to coach on this specific and very niche issue.  Over the years, I've had comments from people who are very perplexed by what I do.  Usually, they have never felt stuck on the issue - they have always known that they either want children OR don't want children that they can't understand why someone would go to a coach, a stranger for help on this issue.  'If you don't know if you want a baby or not, then you definitely shouldn't have one.' is a comment I've heard several times.

But I know exactly what it is like to feel stuck in the land of indecision around whether to forge ahead and have children (or attempt to have children) or to carry on and live a child free life.

For me, my decision was complicated by the fact that I disagreed with my partner about having kids.  As he already had a grown up child from a previous relationship and was already of an age when he thought he had put all that behind him, it wasn't ideal for him to embark on the journey of having another child.

I bounced back and forth between the options for a couple years  not sure what to do.  I looked for some advice or guidance but didn't find a whole lot out there to help me.

Finally, I felt that my desire for a child outweighed many of the logical and practical reasons against. My partner came on board with the idea and we now have a 13 year old son.

At the same time, I also know that I would have had good and fulfilled life without children - it would have just been a different life.

When I started my training, I realised that coaching would be a great way to help other people who were in the same situation I had been.  Coaching helps people 'get out of their own way'.  It allows us to look at decisions and life choices in different ways than we have been.  I get people to visualise the different parts of them that are in conflict.  A classic tension is between the 'head (logic, reason) and the 'heart'.  So I encourage people to shut their eyes and visualise these two parts.  What does your head have to say? And what about your heart? What would it like to do.

I also get people to write out all their fears on a mind map - their fears and anxieties about having and not having children  And then we look at them  in the 'cold light of day' and find ways we can respond to those fears.  If they are afraid they might be lonely when they get older if they don't have children, we brainstorm things they can do that will help overcome loneliness as they age.  How do they feel about choosing not to have children when they feel more confident that they have other options to deal with potential loneliness.   If they have a fear that they might not be a good parent, I ask them to examine the veracity of that fear - is that just a belief of their inner critic or saboteur?  What happens if they imagine showing the inner critic the door... what do they believe when the inner critic isn't able to speak and wield so much power?    When clients do this, they often feel clearer about their decision and less clouded by fear.

Having coached on the issue for over 10 years now I can honestly say it is still incredibly rewarding.  Particularly when I hear from clients who have been able to move on and feel at peace with whatever decision they have made, whether it be to be child free or to have children.   I feel so privileged to have been able to have been able to walk alongside them on their journey.

Friday, 26 October 2018

Flipping a coin: Leaving the baby decision up to fate?

The subtitle of my book 'Baby or Not' is 'Making the Biggest Decision of Your Life'.   And it is probably the biggest decision you'll ever make.

So how could I even suggest that flipping a coin be a way to make the baby decision? Particularly when I've seen hundreds of people of the year to help them through the decision making process?!?!

This column by the Guardian columnist Oliver Burkman  Find it hard to make a big decision? Don’t overthink it really resonated with me.  Much of what I do in coaching is helping people 'get out of their own way'.    Most people who come to coaching for the baby decision, have been thinking and analysing this decision to the point where they feel completely overwhelmed.   They've been relying on their head/brain to lead the decision.  There is a belief that the answer to any problem will come if we think hard enough about it, if we analyse enough the answer will become clear.

'Hence the paradox: we fret and stew, as if hoping through sheer effort to see into the future. In the worst case, we end up choosing none of the potentially good options, but a definitively bad one – paralysis – instead. That is the fate of “Buridan’s ass”, the hypothetical donkey, positioned equidistantly between hay and water, that is hungry and thirsty in equal measure and stays rooted to the spot, thus starving to death.'

Most of my coaching clients come with that horrible feeling of paralysis.  Paralysis can be a great way to avoid making a decision.  As long as we are in that limbo state, we don't have to make a decision that has the potential to be so life changing.  And, as Burkman points out, it's agonising the constant fretting and worrying about what possible disasters will await us if we make the wrong choice.  I hear it again and again that people feel the weight of making a bad decision - and if only they could see into the future, the could decide.

So Burkman's suggestion that we flip a coin to make these important decision comes from the acknowledgement that many decision we make can't be made with logic alone.   As a coach, my role is to help people find enough trust, in their intuition AND most importantly in their ability to deal with whatever the future holds, whatever road their decision take them on.   In order to get out of the 'flip-flopping' between the option of becoming a parent and staying child free and making that 'sudden, intuitive, semi-random choice' that Burkman points out is a crucial part of the decision making process, many people need support along the way to find ways to quiet their saboteur and listen to their intuition which often has had the answer for us all along.

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

When everyone seems to be having babies.... except you

A few months ago, I wrote this blog post on intrusive press speculation about when Meghan Markle and Prince Harry would be having children.  And today it was announced that the couple were now expecting their first child!

While we all want to be happy for any couple who are having a baby announcements from friends and celebrities who are having children can trigger conflicted feelings because it can seem as thought everyone in the world is having babies .... except you.

As Meghan is 37, it has been suggested that it has been relatively easy for her to get pregnant.  In this article How easy is it get pregnant at 37 like Meghan Markle?   the writer suggests that we need to put an end to scaremongering about women's fertility at later ages.

Professor Geeta Nargund, founder of specialist fertility clinic Create Fertility, says women wanting children do need to be aware of the impacts of ageing, but echoes that this shouldn’t cause panic. 

“Fertility rates decline with age. Women under 30 have a higher chance of conceiving per cycle,” she tells HuffPost UK. “Fertility rates decline sharply after the age of 35; however women in their mid to late thirties conceive naturally if they are ovulating regularly, have no known cause of sub-fertility and have maintained a healthy lifestyle when there is no male factor problem. Men’s age also has an impact on their fertility.”

Many of my clients are in their mid to late 30's and I very much agree that we shouldn't scaremonger women into believing that the situation is hopeless.  I have clients who ultimately decided to have children and went on to have children in their late 30's

 However, I've also worked with clients who have struggled with their fertility.   If you have been trying to conceive, it can feel painful when we see celebrities getting pregnant after 35.  Many celebrities many have had access to fertility treatment which will of course not be publicised and which can create a false view of how easy it has been for them to get get pregnant.

Meghan and Harry have also been quoted as saying they are happy to have 'joined the club'.   If you don't have children but want children if you are trying to conceive but are struggling or if you are trying to decide whether to have kids,  the concept of parenthood being an exclusive club that you can't join can feel hurtful.

If you are feeling this way, there are things you can do to help shift your mood and perspective:

  • Remind yourself of the many ways you do belong - what communities, groups and causes are you are part of now.   
  • Have a walk, spend time in nature or do a physical activity that you enjoy.  This will help change your mood and help you be mindful of what is happening in the moment now.
  • Start to keep an appreciation journal.  Note 3 things you have appreciated about your day.  It could be the blue sky, receiving kind words for a friend or for a lovely meal

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Having it all: Is it possible to have children and a high powered career if you are a woman?

In the year 2018,  many of us would have thought that the question of whether a woman could have a family and a career would have been sorted.  In the 1980's, the idea of being able to 'have it all' was highly promoted.

Mothers face disproportionately more difficulty in the workplace than fathers.  Many women who are trying to make the decision whether to have children or not are very aware of the struggles faced by mothers in the workplace.    For women who are in high commitment or high achieving careers which can be all consuming, the idea of adding to that the all consuming nature of having children can be  inconceivable.

A former client who reads my blog sent me a link to this article  Can women really have a career and a family? written by Cosmopolitan magazine editor Farrah Storr.  It's a personal story of how she felt she had to make a choice between a high flying career and having a family.   The irony of her situation was the Cosmopolitan promoted the idea of women being able to 'have it all but when she was offered the position, she felt that she had to close the door on motherhood.

I took the job. It was relentless. In the beginning, at least. The hours were long. The team, quite understandably, suspicious. On my first day, I got word that one of the longest-serving members of the team had resigned. (In protest? I wasn’t sure.) Three months later, almost 80 per cent of the team had followed suit. And so, with just six remaining members of staff I knuckled down, worked longer and harder than I had ever done in my entire career and tried to think: what did young women want today?  I never made the IVF appointment. Instead, I simply went home one evening and nervously addressed my husband. “I’m not sure I want this enough to risk everything else we have,” I said.

He looked at me, touched my hand and said simply, “I’m so glad you said that. Neither do I.”

And so, as I headed into my 37th year, we finally closed the window, pulled down the blinds and laid to rest any notions about a family and thus “having it all”. I could, I decided, be OK with having it all-ish.

For Farrah, there was a sense of acceptance that came with her decision which came with the realization it is OK to let go of the dream of 'having it all'.

It is possible for all women to combine a high flying career and having children and I work with clients to look at how they might make this work.  An important part of this is exploring how they can ensure male partners can be engaged to support them if they decide to go down the route of having children.  The role of men in this question is often not explored and it's something that I hope to address in an upcoming blog post.

Finally, we need to look at what it means to 'have it all.'   Is having it all merely a tick box list of things that we want to have or achieve?  Maybe we need to re-define the term to mean having all the love, acceptance and compassion for ourselves and others around us... a state of being rather than a prescribe list of things that we must have.

Monday, 24 September 2018

Sometimes we need to let go of a dream - What I've learnt in 10 years of Maybe Baby coaching (Lesson 4)

Coaching is often advertised as the way to get the life your dreamed of.  We coaches talk about the power of dreams and of overcoming our inner saboteurs in order to make our dreams a reality. So it feels like it's paradoxical for me as a coach to be talking about letting go of a dream as the way to move forward. Huh?

Sometimes it's the dreams we've held for a long time that are actually holding us back, keeping us stuck.  I realized this early on when I was coaching a client who said that all her life she had dreamed of having children within a wonderful relationship.  For various reasons, she wasn't in a relationship and now, in her late 30's she was feeling despondent and felt like a failure.    She couldn't even contemplate her options which included having children on her own because they didn't fit in with her dream.

As we worked together, we explored ways she could let go of the dream.  It wasn't her fault, it wasn't that she was 'wrong' or flawed.  Life just hadn't worked out as she expected.  In order to move forward, she needed to let go of this dream.

The first stage of letting go involves mourning.  It's important to acknowledge the range of emotions that go alongside the death of a dream.  Sometimes this is about expressing anger at the sheer unfairness of life, sometimes it's about sadness.

But then there is the release.  If you imagined your dream was sailing away from you - like a sailboat - what are your releasing?  What are you allowing yourself to embrace?  What possibilities are now open to you?

For clients who go through this process there is a sense of release and acceptance.  This can allow people to go on and explore other options.  Perhaps it's having a child on their own as a single parent or perhaps it's a child-free life?  Possibilities such as fostering don't seem like poor shadows of the dream anymore but rich and exciting options.  When we let go of a dream that is causing us stuckness and pain, we open up to new energy and new possibilities.