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.

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Christmas Time and Not Having Children

Christmas has been and gone for another year.  I hope wherever you are you have had a restful and relaxing time. I've been enjoying having a complete break for a few days after what has been an exceptionally busy few months for me.   I am aware I haven't been posting on this blog as much as I have been intending.  One of my New Year Intentions will be to write weekly posts again - I know from the messages I get that people do appreciate and read the posts here so I will be redoubling my efforts in 2017.

I'm very aware from working with coaching clients that many people making this decision can find this time of year to be a challenging one.  If you are in the midst of trying to decide whether to have children or not, being surrounded by others in traditional family arrangements can be stressful.

As I wrote in a blog post last year, you might have found yourself in an uncomfortable and 'less desirable' sleeping arrangement in the family house (see my post Relegated to the worst room in the house ) than siblings with children.   Adverts on the TV focus on traditional families with parents and children abound.    It can feel like the only way to be a 'proper' member of a family is to have a child.  And yet, many people around the world and throughout time do not have children - either though choice or through circumstances out of your control.

It's a particularly difficult time for those people who do want children but find themselves in a situation where this will be a challenging choice.  I have clients who constantly find themselves on the receiving end of advice and pressure to have kids and at Christmas, this pressure combined with the prevailing view of conventional family arrangements can be overwhelming.

I was recently talking to a woman who really would like to be a mother but she is finding herself 'Childless not by Choice'.   One of the topics I will be exploring more of in 2017 will be the challenges facing this group of women.  Whether because of fertility or because of having partners who do not want children, being in a situation where you find yourself childless not by choice is one of the most challenging positions I think it's possible to be in.

If you have felt out-of-sorts this holiday, I encourage you today to go out and embrace something you LOVE to do!   What is the one thing that you enjoy more than ANYTHING else?   Go do it today and remind yourself how fantastic you are!

Monday, 28 November 2016

Stop asking us when we are going to have children!

A common theme I hear from most of my clients is how difficult it is to deal with intrusive questions about children. It is very strange that someones parental status seems to be an area that seems to be fair game for others to comment on.   It's a particularly painful question for those people who do want children but whose partners don't.  Many people will not be telling their friends and families that they are arguing with their partner about the baby decision or that they have decided not to have children because their partner doesn't want kids.

I recently read an article, published in the Metro that  lays out all the reasons to STOP asking couple when they are going to have children.

'There are a number of different reasons why posing this question casually is akin to walking on to an emotional minefield. Mines such as not actually wanting children, not being able to conceive or having marital problems, all of which hurt when stepped on.'

When I work with coaching clients facing intrusive questions and comments, we usually work on ways that clients can be clearer with their boundaries.  Often thinking through a good and strong response can help.    Being honest about how difficult and painful the question is can be a good strategy.  You don't need to go into detail but a statement like 'This is actually a difficult topic for us and we would rather not discuss it.' can put an end to the questioning.

Monday, 31 October 2016

No Maternal Desire But Still Thinking About Motherhood

Many women are ambivalent about having children, many women are not sure they  really want to be mothers.  And yet, there is still pressure on women who feel little maternal desire to have children. I often have clients approach me for coaching because, although they don't have a strong desire to be a parent, feel that they should children.  Many of these clients feel under pressure to have children for a range of reasons including:  feeling like they 'ought' to want children, worries about regretting not having children, having friends who are mothers talk about how wonderful being a mother is, and feeling as if they would not be a 'real' woman if they didn't have children.

This weekend, a friend sent me a link to this article Modern Love - My Biological Clock Can't Tick Fast Enough . I thought this was an honest, poignant, and authentic account of someone in this situation.   She talks about going through the process of trying and failing to have children, while all the while not being convinced that motherhood is something she wants.

People sometimes commend me on how “brave” it was for us to not have children. I laugh, because to my mind, I arrived at it in just about the most cowardly way: I lucked into childlessness (if having a defective uterus can be considered luck). Deep down I didn’t want to have children, but I kept limping toward motherhood anyway, because I thought I should want them until, in the end, my anatomy dictated my destiny.

What would it be like if we lived in a world where women felt they really were able to make a positive choice not to have children?  How great would that be to be able to make that choice without all the guilt, stress and shame?   Part of what I do as a coach is help people let go of these unhelpful feelings so that they can make a truly life affirming choice.

Friday, 21 October 2016

When is the best time to have children?

It's definitely autumn now in the UK - the nights are getting dark earlier and earlier.  Today happens to be Apple Day! In celebration of this great day,   I thought I'd post a photo from The Orchard Project of some beautiful apples at a community orchard!  It's amazing that there are so many orchards in cities - I had no idea before I started to do some work with this fantastic charity.  If you live in a city,  why not take a moment to appreciate any fruit trees growing near you?

So, back to the topic of this blog!  This week, someone asked me the question which is the title of this blog post - Is there a 'best' time to have children?  Is there a right age to have children?      A few years ago, commentator Kirstie Allsopp caused controversy when she said that, with all the problems associated with fertility, women should consider starting a family as early as they can ( see this article in the Guardian Kirstie Allsopp tells young women: Ditch university and have a baby by 27 ).

Personally, I think that there isn't RIGHT age to have a child but there are pro's and cons to having a child at each age as I've outlined below:

20's - The big bonus to having children in your 20's is that your fertility is more likely to be in a good state during this time and you are more likely to get pregnant than if you waited.  You are also more likely to have more energy and need less sleep!  The downside is that if you are not yet established in your career which may make taking enough time off for maternity leave tricky. If you are in your early 20's, you might find many of your friends are travelling, socialising and doing very different activities that you are able to do as a mother

30's - In your 30's, you are more likely to feel like 'now is the right time'. You'll have more life experience and will probably feel like you are ready for a new phase of life.  You will be more established in a career or work path and feel able to take time off from work without it damaging your career too much.  The downside is that if you are in your late 30's, you may find yourself facing some fertility issues.  Another issue has been highlighted in this short article 'It's a Tough Time: Challenges for Women in their 20's and 30's' - as the author points out, this is a time women can feel overwhelmed by the many life choices they have to make.

40's - You are likely to feel as though you have the life experience and maturity to be a mother.  You might be more senior in your work which can make it easier to organise flexible and family friendly working.   You may also feel more financially able to have children at this age than when you were young. If you are considering having a child on your own, you may feel that you have the means and ability to do this now.   The downside of having children in your 40's is that it may take longer to get pregnant and that you might feel more tired and have less energy than when you were younger.

I think the important thing is to start considering whether we want children or not as early as possible. Particularly when we are looking at choosing our life partner we need to consider whether they are on the same page in wanting or not wanting children.

Friday, 14 October 2016

Are More Women Deciding To Have Children Today?

I've had a couple weeks off from the blog - with the colder weather, I was struck down by a wretched cold which meant I had a backlog of work when I returned.

I was wondering today about what statistics there are on the numbers of women who are thinking about and planning to having children.  I had assumed that, because of the falling birth rates that more women continue to make a decision to be childfree. However, when I went to look into this question, I found an across an interesting article by a writer called Megan Thielking,  More US Women Plan On Having Kids in the online magazine Stat saying that current research is showing that more women are planning on having children than they were a decade ago.

I found this surprising, as it appears that more and more women in the US, Canada and Europe are choosing to be childfree.  Some statistics put the number of childfree women at around 1 in 5.  And, according to the 2014 US census, 47.6% of women between 15 - 44 have never had children, which is the highest it has been.  (Huffington Post A Record Percentage of Women Don't Have Kids ).

The Stat article points out that the birth rate fell dramatically in 2008 when the US and other countries were experiencing a major recession.  

'Having kids is not an inexpensive life decision,” said Dr. Hal Lawrence, the executive vice president of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. “When people are concerned about the economy, they shy away from having children or more children.”

Fertility rates fell dramatically in the US in 2008, which experts have said was closely linked to economic insecurity brought on by the Great Recession. But as unemployment rates continue to fall, Lawrence said, potential parents could be growing newly comfortable with the idea of having children. And indeed, in 2014, for the first time in seven years, the birth rate increased in the US.'

The articles author Megan Thielking, points out that other factors in the US might also be at play. When Obama Care was brought in, it made health insurance more accessible, taking away some of the strain of the worry about the cost of giving birth.

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Having Children Later in Life

As many women and men delay making the decision to have children or not, one of the fears I hear from clients is whether it is fair or desirable to have children later in life.   One of the women I interviewed for my book said:

'It's getting to the crunch point... I'm 42 and my husband is in his early 50's.  He really worries about being an older dad.  He doesn't think he will have the energy.  And I am aware that it's not ideal for me to be having a child now.  I do feel that, although I know I will have less energy and I know that I will be the mother of a teenager when I am nearing 60, I also feel like I am very established now.  I have a good career, we have secure finances.  And, more importantly, I feel like I've done everything else I've wanted to do - I've been a night owl, I've travelled extensively.  
When I was younger, I felt like I would be giving up too much.  But now, I feel that I won't be missing out on anything if I do have children.'

When I was researching this blog post, I came across a number of very negative articles on older parents which contained a number of judgements against having children later in life.  A common one is that it's not fair on children who have older parents - mainly due to the embarrassment factor of having an older parent AND due to the fact that an older parent is more likely to die earlier in their child's life. I can speak from personal experience.   My partner is 20 years older than I am and he is often mistaken for my son's grandfather.

And yes, this can cause some embarrassment.  My son is also more aware of his father's mortality and is likely more aware of the possibility of the death of his father than he would if his father was younger.    And, I do think in many situations children have to face embarrassment and worry about their parents - no one is immune.  I did find this excellent article Me and My Old Man which interviewed adult children about growing up with a father who was significantly older than parents of their peers.  This is a lovely quote from the piece which very much sums up my thoughts.

 'For all the fuss about older parents, age is just one risk factor when it comes to life and death. No parent can honestly promise to be there for his or her child, regardless of when they conceive. I watch my cousins and friends who have lost fathers younger than mine, and I feel guilty, and grateful, that he is still here. I think my dad does, too. But they also show me that the relationship between father and child cannot be measured in years spent together. That’s not how love works.'

There has been much less written about older mothers - a few years ago I reported on a study about older mothers  in a blog post Women Feel Judged for Leaving Having Children Till Later in Life. I'm on the lookout for any other articles or research on older mothers and hope to write more on this subject soon.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

What is the point of raising a child?

One of the reasons the decision to become a parent or not is so difficult is the different, paradoxical issues that the nature of parenting and raising children raises.

Although I think this has always been true, it's only recently that we have begun to discuss and unpick some of the paradoxes and ambivalence that go along with parenthood.  In the past,  having children and becoming a parent was just something that everyone did - it wasn't thought about or mulled over.  It was just something most people did.

A book has been published in August called the Gardener and the Carpenter.  While it is aimed at parents I think many of the key messages in the book are relevant to people trying to make the decision.  As this Guardian article by Alison Gopnik points out,  it addresses that age old question - What is the point of raising a child? 

'Why is taking care of children worthwhile? It’s hard work, badly paid if paid at all, and full of uncertainty, guilt and heavy lifting. And yet, at least to most of us, it seems like an absolutely fundamental, profoundly valuable project. If you asked most parents about their deepest moral commitments, and most agonising moral dilemmas, about what gives their lives meaning, they would talk about their children. But caring for a child is very different from any other human relationship, and the standard ways of thinking about morality and meaning don’t apply very well to being a parent'. 

What is very interesting and relevant to those making the 'baby decision' is that implicit in some of the arguments made in favor of having children is having children is part of making the world a more caring and nurturing place.  However, as Gopnik points out, people can be caring and loving towards their own children and at the same time be indifferent towards other people's children.   And many people who choose not to have children are caring and nurturing in other ways. In my discussion on Women's Hour a few years ago with Christine Odone, one of my arguments was that just because people who choose not to have children, it doesn't meant that they are not living values of caring and nurturing in their lives already.   Having children doesn't imbue people with a more altruistic nature - we can point to many dictators or tyrants who have had children who were still able to be callous to other people and other people's children.

Friday, 26 August 2016

How to maintain friendships across the 'Baby Divide'

Another sunny week in London!  In London, everyone seems more relaxed and happy - the pavements are full of people relaxing and socializing.  I've also been finding myself meeting friends more often as the nights are lighter and the warm weather makes for relaxed and easy socialising.

Thinking about friendship and the importance of friends in my life has sparked me to explore a difficult issue on the blog today - what happens when a friend has a child.  Does it impact a friendship negatively?  Is there indeed a divide or barrier that can be put up between parents and non-parents?

This article recently appeared in the Stylist magazine Female Friendship and the Great Baby Divide - written as a one person story from a new mother on the impact that having a baby had on her and her friendships.    One of the key factors the writer talks about is that  of suddenly being in a very new and different situation from friends without children means there is a need to connect with other new mothers.

You’re at your most vulnerable post-partum; your relationship feels like it’s taken a battering, your body is a mess, and your mind has scarpered to some far flung place. And yes – you desperately want to tell your child-free mates the initial horror of it all. But you don’t want to scare them off the locomotion of tears, Teletubbies and tantrums. Equally, you don’t want to dish out the breast pump blather – they’re too sassy, they’re lives are too polished for this social lumber.

I really could relate to this very well. As many of my regular readers know,  I came to coaching women on the baby decision due to my own indecision.  After a year of wrestling with my own ambivalence I decided to have a child and I had my boy Sam.

However much I thought I was prepared, I wasn't.  I found the first year very difficult.  And what I hadn't anticipated was would be the distance I would feel from old friends of mine.  I had someone entered a very different world - one where I was perpetually tired, obsessed with nappies and sleep routines.  I also found my ability to travel round and get places with a baby very limited.  I moved from being as someone used to hoping on and off public transport with ease to cross London to visit friends to being someone who rarely left her neighborhood.   Looking back, I can see how difficult to understand my limited availability was to my friends without children.  Like the author of the Stylist piece, I also didn't want to burden my child-free friends with boring and obsessive baby musings.  But I also treasured those occasions of being with my friends without my child - of being able to meet for coffee without a baby to worry about, to be able to go see a film or have a drink.  And as my child grew older, these became more and more frequent.  Now that my child is more independent, I feel as though I have gotten most of my old life back - most of my ability to socialise freely has returned.

For those without children, it can feel like you've been abandoned.  Many of my clients say that they end up feeling isolated - particularly if they are the only one of their friendship group who isn't a parent.  Sometimes they find themselves excluded which can be hurtful - for example when children's birthday parties are held and only the parents with children are invited.  

So how can you maintain your friendships across 'The Great Baby Divide'?

Remember that the 1st year is the most difficult and absorbing for new parents.   If you are the friend of a new parent, you will probably find yourself making more of an effort to visit and travel to meet your friend and her baby.   You'll probably have to listen to many stories about baby-hood that seem boring but know that this is just a phrase and it will pass.

New parents can remember to connect with old friends even though you will definitely need the support of new mom friends whom will sympathize with current struggles.   Sometimes just acknowledging the situation and that you are aware that for a while you might not be as available but as soon as you can you will be up for a trip to the movies/dinner/a drink.


Friday, 19 August 2016

How do we determine our life path?

I've been having a break from the blog as I have been on vacation - I had a lovely time in Canada (in beautiful Nova Scotia actually) visiting friends and family.  And I then flew down to one of my all time favorite cities, New York!  London and NYC are the same kind of world class, cosmopolitan, diverse city.  And yet, there is such a different energy about each city - NYC has a particular vibrancy about it. London is still my home and it's nice to be back in the UK and back to the old routine.  I've been coaching a number of clients from different parts of the world over my vacation  - what is great about Skype is that I can still coach clients whether I'm in Nova Scotia, NYC or London.

Today I am thinking about purpose - and what it means to live our live on purpose. Many of the people who come to me about the decision to have children or not also find themselves questioning the idea of purpose.  'If I don't have children, then I want to be leading a life with meaning and purpose?' is often a question posed by my clients..

One of the points I always make about purpose and the 'baby decision' is that I don't think that having children gives you your life's purpose although for some people, this may be the case.  However, in addition to my 'baby decision' clients, I see many clients for general career and life coaching who are also parents.  Many of the parents I see are also struggling with the concept of purpose.... and the questions they are coming to coaching include: how can we live a live with purpose, how can we make a difference in the world and have an impact?  Something I learnt from the wonderful US coach Dave Ellis who works with high-net worth individuals is that someone might have all the material wealth and success in the world but if they are not living life on purpose or making a difference in some way, they will not feel fulfilled.

I came across this very thoughtful piece in the Guardian from early this month  by Oliver Burkeman called Misery, failure, death and a slap in the face.   The premise of the book, written by James Hollis is we need to look beyond the ego - or the surface part of us that wants to be happiness.  Most techniques for happiness and becoming happy, claims Hollis, are bound to fail because we are staying on the surface level of the ego.  We need to listen to what Hollis called 'the forces of unconscious' want from us.   I love this because part of what I try to do as a coach is help people get underneath the surface of the ego and find ways to tap into our intuition.

Hollis had a wonderful question - which I think of as a coaching question - which he felt would help people who are at a crucial crossroads of their life.   The question is  'Does this path, this choice, make me larger or smaller?'    Usually, at some point during my coaching with baby decision clients, I tend to ask a similar question.   Because a question about happiness - whether the decision will make me happy or not, never has the same resonance.

Friday, 15 July 2016

My Week: Interview on BBC Radio & Jennifer Aniston hits back

Following on from my last blog post on  women are judged for their life choices around having children or not, I was invited to speak on the BBC radio tees radio show to discuss the issue. (And the next day, Andrea Leadsom resigned - probably not in response to my radio show!)  Prior to my interview, the show featured an older woman who had decided not to have children but she felt that she was often subject to comments and felt sometimes like a second class citizen.  I concurred that judgements are still made towards women who do not have children and that unthinking comments such as those made by Leadsom are still all too common.  Leadsom has said that she did not have any malicious intent and I do believe that this is the case. But many of my clients report that friends and family members still make unthinking comments that are hurtful.  I think that we all need to challenge our own assumptions about mothers and women who are not mothers - that's the only way to start to have better conversations about the choice to have children..... or not.

This week Jennifer Aniston  also spoke out about speculation that she may be pregnant in this article for the Huffington Post For the Record   This is a particularly brilliant quote:

'Here’s where I come out on this topic: we are complete with or without a mate, with or without a child. We get to decide for ourselves what is beautiful when it comes to our bodies. That decision is ours and ours alone. Let’s make that decision for ourselves and for the young women in this world who look to us as examples. Let’s make that decision consciously, outside of the tabloid noise. We don’t need to be married or mothers to be complete. We get to determine our own “happily ever after” for ourselves.'

On Sunday, I was reminded of the power of determining our own happily ever after.  I had brunch with a friend who is in her mid 50's.  She never had children and it is a choice she is positive about. She also has good relationships with friends children.  She is aware that not having children has allowed her freedom and ability to do more with her money than she would have if she had children. Unlike the woman interviewed on the radio show, she didn't feel that she was often judged for the choice she made - but she did feel that not having children meant she would face particular challenges as she got older.  This is one of the structural issues that we have to address as a society.  As I have mentioned elsewhere in this blog on a post called Aging Without Children, assumptions that older people who go into hospital or care will have adult children to support or advocate for them are prevalent and we need to look at new paradigms which address older people's care and support.

Saturday, 9 July 2016

Why are we still judging women on whether they are mothers or not?

This is the headline article in the Times today.  In the piece, Ms Leadsom (one of the two candidates to be the next leader of the Tory party and ultimately, the next Prime Minister) says that she thinks her rival Theresa May must be really sad not to have children.  She goes on to say that Theresa May 'possibly has nieces, nephews, lots of people. But I have children who will be directly part of what happens next.'

It's very dispiriting that with all the progress made for women in our society that personal lives and personal decision of women are still used against them in work and in personal life.  It's an issue that is never relevant for discussions of the suitability of male politicians - and it would be laughable if this statement had been made by a male politician.

Women are often judged and regulated by their personal choices in a whole host of areas.  For example in terms of personal appearance do they wear too much makeup? Or not enough makeup?   Judging women is a past-time of the tabloid press and popular magazines - commenting upon women celebrities bodies and life styles with vindictive glee.

Women who are mothers and enter political life often find their commitment to motherhood challenged or questioned.  And if they don't have children, then as has happened just now, their suitability to lead is also questioned!  The implication is that a woman who doesn't have children is slightly suspect - they are not as rounded or able to connect with the public as those with children in public life.    Another implication is that women who don't have children are in some way selfish

Last year, I took part in several radio debates when the Pope made comments saying that people who did not have children were selfish. (see Are people who don't have children selfish? ) My position  is that there are many, many ways for women and men who are not parents to be connected and to have a stake in the communities they live in.  Often people without children have more time to dedicate to volunteering in their communities, they may be also looking after elderly relatives, they may be spending time connecting and sustaining community groups and organisations or they may simply be doing what they love to do in work and in leisure time.
What I think needs to be pointed out time and time again that this debate is another way in which women and women's choices are regulated - in particular the choices we make in our personal lives are used to restrict and regulate us in the workplace.  Sadly, this is something that women can do to other women - when we've challenged our our internalised sexism, we might find a way out of this trap.

Friday, 1 July 2016

Moving forward in uncertain times

'There is now a great need for bridge-building, for reaching out to one another in love, trusting that below the political differences lie a shared humanity and a wish for flourishing communities.' - From Quakers in Britain, Building Bridges after the Referendum

Living in the UK at the moment, the political energy feels very uneven and unstable.  Whether you voted to leave or remain in the European Union, one thing is undeniable: This is a time of great change.  And with change comes fear, anxiety and worry.

I've been trying to write a blog post every week on my Children or Not Blog . My intention is to write posts that resonate with people wondering whether to start a family, who have doubts about their choice to have children OR to not have children, who are feeling unsure whether they want children enough to go it alone as a single parent or go through the stress of IVF.  I know how stressful and anxiety raising it is trying to make this decision. And so far, touch wood - it's been working.

But in this past week, with so much upheaval and anger and uncertainty, I've really floundered to bring my attention and energy back to the topic of this blog.  I found it very hard to focus my attention - I've felt scattered and unable to bring my focus back and be present.

Then last night,  I had dinner with a coach friend of mine.  A wonderful, lovely energetic lively coach working with women in the corporate sector.

She was telling me how the political uncertainty has impacted on her clients and the businesses they work in.   No-one knows what the new reality means for business and people are holding off making business decisions until there is more certainty.  But when will that come? And how can we move forward in uncertain times?

After we spoke, I realised that these are the same issues and questions that are facing everyone out trying to work out whether they want children or not.  Even if we don't see ourselves as very political or that don't take strong opinions or positions, the EU referendum has had a huge impact on the wider system we are living in by bringing us all into an uncertain era

So,  how do you move forward on the decision to have children when faced with a wider system where many things seem uncertain, unstable and unreliable?

1. Find ways to connect with your inner wisdom/centre/Wise Self .  When we breathe and centre we can connect to the 'bigger picture' and we can feel more trust in our ability to move forward.

2. Think about times in your life when you have been challenged or experienced difficult periods in your life.  How did you move past through those times, what did you learn about yourself?  Now imagine that you have stepped forward into the unknown - what are you taking with you from the past? What do you now know about yourself and your ability to deal with the unknown that will help you face whatever the future brings - in a future with kids or without

3.  Have compassion for yourself.  Find ways to be kind and compassionate when you are feeling angry or frustrated at yourself.  And then, find ways to be compassionate to other people - to stay open and in connection with others even when you are feeling like closing off.  This is particularly important if you are in a disagreement with your partner or husband about having children.

Monday, 20 June 2016

Having kids: Does it pay?

Everyone knows that having kids costs money!  Estimates vary but it's in the region of between $150,000 - $400,000 from birth to 18. When we look at the figures so starkly, having children can seem like a terrifying prospect. How does anyone ever find the money to raise children?  And when faced with such a huge financial burden, why would anyone choose to have children?

However, maybe someday it could pay off financially to have children.  In the article Parenting: It's Payback Time journalist Douglas Fraser looks at some economic research that poses some interesting questions for our assumptions about finance & child-rearing.

'What if the choice of having children were an investment decision? What if you could have offspring, spend a huge sum upfront on rearing, feeding, watering, and educating them, and then, hand them the bill?'

That does seem ridiculous of course.  Untill, as economists Juan Carlos Córdoba of Iowa State University and Marla Ripoll at the University of Pittsburgh argued in their research, that in the early part of the 19th Century, parents were paid the wages of their children.  When child labour was outlawed, then fertility rates went down.

Today we don't make our kids go down the coal mine or up chimmey's to help the household income - so how can having kids pay, asks Fraser.

'So, what about payback time? The researchers say the present value of the lifetime earnings of a low-income child are £460,000. A profit of at least £56,000. For higher income couples, the investment is significantly higher, and so are the returns'

Unfortunately for parents, adult children tend to spend their earnings on themselves and their own children (if they have them).  The researchers suggest that there could be some sort of smoothing where the grown up children hand over some of their earnings to ease the process of old age.

Of course, the above is really one of those theoretical arguments that economists love to have.

At the end of the article, Fraser makes a very important point that I would concur with.

'It's just my hunch, but most parents seem to choose to have children because it seemed like a good idea at the time, or because it was a bit of an accident. Not many consult their financial adviser on parenting as part of a balanced investment portfolio.'

Even clients who come to see me, who are trying to take a very balanced view, do not end up deciding whether to have children or not purely on the finance.   As one woman I interviewed for my book said:

'Money is part of it - but I think at the end of the day, we'd manage - loads of people manage to have kids who live in all sorts of situations and I think if I wanted kids, we'd cope as well - but do we want to?

Monday, 13 June 2016

Making a decision on children your future self will be happy with

One of the real difficulties for my clients is that they are often trying to make a decision in the present time that their future self will be happy with. All my coaching clients don't feel 100% sure of what to choose.  And some feel happy now ..... but they are aware that, because of their age, they need to make a decision now, because in 5 or 10 years they may not have the luxury of choice.

I recently saw a fantastic TED Talk by Dan Gilbert called the Psychology of Your Future Self which I think points to why the baby decision is so very difficult.   AND, it shows to me the important role of coaching techniques that help clients imagine a different 'future self' (or wise self), that helps clients see how what they want or will be like in the future will inevitably change.

'At every stage of our lives we make decisions that will profoundly influence the lives of the people we're going to become, and then when we become those people, we're not always thrilled with the decisions we made. So young people pay good money to get tattoos removed that teenagers paid good money to get. Middle-aged people rushed to divorce people who young adults rushed to marry. Older adults work hard to lose what middle-aged adults worked hard to gain. On and on and on. The question is, as a psychologist, that fascinates me is, why do we make decisions that our future selves so often regret?'

Gilbert explains that we continually under-estimate how much we will change in the future.  We see ourselves as finished, as everything we have experienced as contributing to our 'finished selves'.  We somehow find ourselves unable to imagine how we might be different in the future - how our values might change, how our likes and dislikes might be different in 10 years - just as they were different 10 years prior.

I find it very fascinating because it supports some of the exercises I do with my clients.  Many times in coaching, my clients feel stuck because they can't imagine what it might be like with a child in the future.  Often they focus on feels of anxiety or worries of what they will lose from their current life.  An example is freedom and independence.  When we get to our 30's, we can feel like we've achieved a certain freedom and independence - we have ARRIVED! And having a child can feel like a threat to this.  But what if our sense of freedom and independence was always in flux - what if it would change even without having children?   OR what if we could expand our imagination to move past a feeling of worry that we might feel unfulfilled if we don't have children to imagine our future selves as living a full life but perhaps a different fulfilled life without children.

I use a creative visualisation that helps clients move past their rational minds to imagine what this future self might be like and might be enjoying from life.  I think why this is so powerful is because it does what Dan Gilbert in his TED Talk says we find hard to do - it gets us to stretch our imagination.

Another exercise I use is to ask clients to reflect on their past and look at all the changes that have happened in the last 10 - 20 years.  I ask them to think about key experiences in their lives where they have overcome challenging situations and what they  have learnt about themselves.  I then ask them to take everything they have learnt about themselves in the past and think about how they will take that learning into the future, to approach and deal with new challenges - whether they have children or not.

One thing is certain - whether you decide to have children or you don't, change is part of the experience of being human.  You'll change whatever decision you make!

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Will having kids effect my relationship? Questions to ask your friends who are parents

New research shows that having children leads to problems in marriage.  ( see this article published in the Guardian Want to save your marriage? Don't have Children )

It's something that I often hear from clients who can't decide whether to have children and it's a big question.  If we are happy in our relationship, why chance it by having children?  As a woman from the USA, who interviewed for my book said:

'We're really enjoying our life and our relationship.  We travel - we are going on a 2 week trip to Europe in the summer which we are excited about.  My husband has his own business which is going really well and I am working part-time and am doing volunteer work as well.   When I go to visit friends with small children, they seem so stressed! I notice them snapping at each other, getting really cross.  And everything revolves around the kids!  All they do on Saturdays is run around and take one to baseball and the other to ballet.  On Saturday night, they were so exhausted that we all just stayed in and watched a DVD - and they went to bed early.  It really seems like a lot of hard work - and I worry that we will lose the enjoyment that we have for being in each other's company.'

As Matthew D Johnson, author of the Guardian article and the book points out, young children put a great deal of stress on relationships.

'It seems obvious that adding a baby to a household is going to change its dynamics. And indeed, the arrival of children changes how couples interact. Parents often become more distant and businesslike with each other as they attend to the details of parenting. Mundane basics like keeping kids fed, bathed and clothed take energy, time and resolve. In the effort to keep the family running smoothly, parents discuss carpool pickups and grocery runs, instead of sharing the latest gossip or their thoughts on presidential elections. Questions about one’s day are replaced with questions about whether this diaper looks full.'

Recently, a writer published an article in Self magazine I've Choosen To Be Childless and It Made My Marriage Stronger  - it outlines her experience of having a happy and fullfilling relationship without children.

Another interesting perspective on the issue is that many people report that despite the stress in the beginning, they still report that they glad they had children.  This is backed up by other research showing that parents do have similar satisfaction levels to their pre-birth levels. This study Having Children Later Makes You Happy? also takes into account other factors which can influence parent satisfaction levels. Interestingly, the study shows that people who have children later in life, the more satisfied they will be.

Research reports can provide some interesting information and context to make your decision but many people don't find them extremely helpful.

One thing that clients of mine have found helpful is to find out more about their friend's experience of having children - particularly if they are able to 'get beneath the surface' of their friend's decision.  I have a questions that you can use to do this which are:

1) What unexpected joys/pleasure do you get from being a parent that you didn't realise before?

2) What do you miss from your life before children? Both as an individual but as a couple?

3) What would you like more in your life now?

4) How do you negotiate childcare and household responsibilities? [note: This is a big area of disagreement for parents!]

5)  What, if any, would you think is the 'pay off' in having children?

Find out as much as you can - and try to talk to several couples if possible!

Friday, 20 May 2016

Getting Older Without Children

This morning I was interviewed for BBC Radio Tees on the issue of getting older without children.  Aging without Children, has been raising this issue in the press ahead of their June Conference - both to the wider public and policy-makers on the issue of aging without children.   Many of my clients who are coming to me for help with  the decision to have children or not,  express anxiety about what will happen when they get older if they don't have children.  It is a big fear for many people who come to see me for coaching.  (You can also read more on a blog post What will happen when I get older? I wrote about this last year)

As a coach, one of my roles is facilitate my clients trust  their ability to deal with life challenges.  One of the ways I do this is through developing skills that will help them develop mental resilience or the ability to cope with stress and life challenges.  As the report produced by Community Links Looking Forward to Later Life states, by encouraging older people to develop their mental resilience, we will be encouraging greater mental well-being.

From the age 70, rates of depression  rises sharply.  This  has a strong impact on mortality rates.  A key risk factor for mental health problems in later life is lack of social ties and relationships. Protective factors for mental health include living in a supportive and enabling physical environment and having social ties.

When I work with someone who is worried about getting older without children, we'll explore how they could start to build their mental resilience now and importantly, how they might begin to build up some of those aspects of life which support good mental health and happiness in later life.  Social ties, relationships and contentedness is absolutely crucial - and some of the ideas that clients come up with when we explore this issue have included:

- Nurturing relationships with children and young people of friends and family.  Many young people love to have adults in their lives you are non-judgemental and who they can turn to.
-  Brainstorm clubs and activities that we either engage in now OR that we might wish to get involved in when we are older that engage people from across generations.  Choirs, church groups, residents groups, etc.
- Considering our living arrangements and thinking about where we would like to live in the future that would nuture inter-connectness and feeling part of the community.

Some of the work I do with clients to help them with stress which include teaching them simple reduction techniques and tools can help people deal with stress and depression at difficult transitions at certain points in our life.

Alongside working with people individually, I  very much agree with  people from AWC that the government and society needs to take on work the issues. As the Community Links report states that as a society we need to develop structural tools to help older people (and older people without children) in particular navigate the transitions and challenges of getting older.

'We have suggested the need for insitutions to help us plan for our choice years, to support social connection and meaningful contribution, to guide us through transitions and to reduce health inequalities as we age''

Their report proposes a number of practical interventions that the government could make - encouraging the establishment of what they call 'Ready Institutes' to support older people in this transitional period and which would create networks of support.

Similarly, Aging Without Children want to:
- Set up local groups where people ageing without children can meet together to get support
- Ensure that people ageing without children admitted to hospital or residential care have someone to   speak up for them if they need it or are unable to do so themselves
- Work with other organisations, the NHS and local government to ensure that people ageing without    children are not forgotten or ignored when services for older people are being discussed and      

I wonder if we lived in a world where the elderly were cared for and looked after by the whole community, would there be such a fear of not having children in old age?

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Regretting Motherhood

A few years ago, I took a short course with the a charity for parents in the UK called the NCT that supports new parents. The course was for people who wanted to be trained  to support women who were in the post-natal period.  There were a few reasons for this - as a coach coaching on the baby decision I thought I would be a good idea to have some further training and expertise in the challenges that new mothers face. I was also considering facilitating Post-Natal groups or courses that are offered by the NCT.  But my main reason was personal. As some of you know, after a couple of years of trying to decide whether to have children or not, I did decide to have my son Sam (I write about how this process led me to coach women on the this decision in this article on my website Why I Decided to Coach on the Baby Decision  

I was spectacularly unprepared for the mixture of emotions I had just have birth in those first few weeks.  I had expected this to be a glowing, wonderful period of calm and feeling happy.  Instead, I felt anxious, worried and very ambivalent about being a new mother.  In fact, on my third day of my son's life I wondered quietly to myself if I had indeed made a terrible mistake.   I thought I was very odd, maybe the only one who ever felt this way.

 But it turns out that I was not an unusual case.

Rachel Cusk was a trailblazer in talking openly about her experience of maternal ambivalence in the Book 'A Life's Work'   In this article I was only being honest written for the Guardian in 2008, she writes about her shock at the extreme negative comments she received.

I was accused of child-hating, of postnatal depression, of shameless greed, of irresponsibility, of pretentiousness, of selfishness, of doom-mongering and, most often, of being too intellectual. One curious article questioned the length of my sentences: how had I, a mother, been able to write such long and complicated sentences? Why was I not busier, more tired? Another reviewer - a writer! - commanded her readers not to let the book fall into the hands of pregnant women. The telephone rang and rang. I was invited on the Today programme to defend myself. I was invited on the Nicky Campbell programme to defend myself. I was cited everywhere as having said the unsayable: that it is possible for a woman to dislike her children, even to regret having brought them into the world.

Recently more media attention has been given to the issue of maternal ambivalence - shadow side of motherhood.  As the article in the Guardian Love and Regret points out, more research on women who do regret being mothers has been done in different countries around the world.  Interestingly, all the research shows that the women still report loving their children while regretting motherhood.

For my work, this issue has very particular resonance as the fear that they will regret their decision is one of the fears about deciding to have children that  I've heard from clients coming to see me.   I've written a number of times about regret here on the blog  (most recently on the topic Will I Regret Not Having Children  )

So what should you do if you are worried that you might regret having a child?

What I do with all my clients is ask them to get out all there fears and tell me what they think they might lose or regret by having children.  I do believe that we are much less likely to feel regret if we have given ourselves the opportunity to really explore and express our fears and worries before making a decision.  There is no point hiding or pretending that motherhood might not come with some loss.    I work with clients to look at that loss - for example, a loss of freedom (particularly in the early years although this gets less as your children get older).  Is it unbearable?   If you knew you would have aspects of your old life back when your children grew, would it be more bearable?  And, if you did have children, would you be embracing?

The more we can get away from the simplistic notion of motherhood as being this wonderful ideal and the more honest we can be about the shadow side of motherhood, the more we can make positive choices that are right for us.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Vulnerability and the baby decision

Most of us will do anything to keep from feeling vulnerable.  For many of us, being vulnerable is associated with shame, embarrassment and being exposed.  Yet as Brene Brown points out,  'Vulnerability is about showing up and being seen. It’s tough to do that when we’re terrified about what people might see or think'. ~ Brené Brown

I have noticed how often the fear of being vulnerable comes up for my clients who are wondering whether to have children or not,   This isn't surprising as the whole issue of having or not having children feels a very exposed place for many of my clients.   One woman I interviewed for my book Baby or Not?

'This is such a personal decision and I feel very exposed.  In most other areas of my life, I feel very in control - if I have a difficult presentation to make to the partners at work, then I know I can stay up late and practice.  I also am confident in my professional skills.  But I have no idea what I would be like as a mother - I don't know how to 'get expert' at being a mother.  If that's what I even decided to do of course!   AND then, I feel I'm already exposing myself to judgement and criticism if I were to decide to be child-free.  Most of my friends either have or are planning to have children and I'm feeling exposed as the 'outsider' in the group.  I want to feel strong but I'm feeling very weak.'

One of the things I do with clients is to look at ways they can - in the coaching session and as homework experience vulnerability.  (I find exploring the polarity of vulnerability vs strength very helpful in this - this previous blog post on freedom vs commitment explains a little bit more how I work with polarity in coaching).  When we actually allow ourselves to 'go into' vulnerability we can find ourselves emerging, with more resilience and less fear.  For my clients struggling with the baby decision, this can result in a shift in how they are able to look and be with the decision they have to make.   The client who was fearful that motherhood might expose her to feelings of dreaded vulnerability can find that actually being vulnerable and not knowing is bearable - although she, like most of us, may still find it hard to embrace fully.  The client who find herself stiffing when someone asks why she doesn't have children yet may find that she is better able to be with that initial feeling of exposure/vulnerability so that she feels more comfortable with telling people she has decided to be child-free.

The poet David Whyte also looks at and explores vulnerability.   I find this an incredibly powerful quote.

'Vulnerability is not a weakness, a passing indisposition, or something we can arrange to do without, vulnerability is not a choice, vulnerability is the underlying, ever present and abiding undercurrent of our natural state. To run from vulnerability is to run from the essence of our nature, the attempt to be invulnerable is the vain attempt to become something we are not and most especially, to close off our understanding of the grief of others. More seriously, in refusing our vulnerability we refuse the help needed at every turn of our existence and immobilize the essential, tidal and conversational foundations of our identity.'

Vulnerability has many hidden gifts - it is a place of richness and exploration in coaching and in our lives.

Monday, 18 April 2016

Book Review: Other Than Mother: Choosing Childlessness with Life in Mind by Kamalamani

Other Than Mother: Choosing Childlessness with Life in Mind (Earth Books) is a book about the intentional choice to be childless or child-free.

In a beautiful introductory paragraph, Kamalanani describes what led her to write this book.

'I was looking for a book capturing the spirit of how I might‘give birth’: giving expression to my nurturing and creative instincts, through living, working, relating, and Buddhist practice. Honoring life, without producing an earthling. Being a woman but not choosing to be a mother. Whilst I found a few interesting books on this subject, they were not quite what I was seeking'

What I love about this book is how Kamalanani explores how giving birth can mean many things - in particular giving expression to nuturing and creative instincts.  She challenges the notion  that choosing to be childless intentionally means rejecting life.  Indeed she looks at how the choice to have children is a life affirming choice.  She explains that while she started writing the book as an exploration of a personal journey, it turned into something which  'explored the relevance of the baby-making decision to the current situation we are in as humans living on planet earth.

Her commitment to Buddhism and the environment played a very large part in her decision. As the environmental plight of the world become more acute, this is an issue that does impact on the decision making of many women concerned about the environment ( see my blog post Can I care about the environment and have children? )

Each chapter in the book is focussed on a different theme or aspect on being intentionally childless or childfree and it is very comprehensive.  She includes exercises for readers to do, to help them work through their own journey.

Towards the end of the book Kamalanani makes a powerful statement, saying that:

'It is not compulsory to have children in order to be an accepted,valid, human being and member of society. I will say that again,because it is so rarely said aloud. It is not compulsory to have children in order to be an accepted, valid, human being and member of society. An important dimension in my post-baby-making decision landscape has been raising awareness about this through research, teaching, writing, and in conversation. Right now, I am particularly interested in raising awareness that it is not compulsory for a woman to have a child in order to be an accepted, valid human being and member of society.' 

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

I can barely afford rent so how can I afford to have children? Is the economy a factor in people deciding to have children or not?

I've said on this blog before (see The Financial Cost of Having Children)  that it's rarely just money - or lack of it -  that is the prime reason for people making the decision to have children or not.   When clients come to me,  I always explore with them in the first or second session what their key fears are around having or not having children.  This is crucial to moving forward.  So often when people are feeling stuck around the decision, there are 'unspoken' or hidden fears keeping them stuck.  The very act of voicing and naming these fears to someone else can help people move forward.  But rarely have clients come to me with concerns about lack of money being the main (or most emotionally loaded) fear

But, I am now wondering if this will soon change.  In the UK and other major centers in the West such as NYC and LA,  there is a combination of factors that I believe are contributing towards economic reasons becoming more of a reason people are delaying and also deciding not to have children.   The housing crisis in London (and in other major centers such as NYC)  the cost of buying a property is now out of reach of many people.  It's difficult to find anywhere in the capital city where a flat is on the market for anything below £250,000.  In the article Young Families Priced out of the Rental Markets we can see how difficult it is for people under 30 to rent a property - never mind buy a property.

Freida who I interviewed for my book Baby or Not? was originally from New Zealand.  She explained in her interview that it was the cost of living in London which was one of the key reasons that she delayed having a child in the UK.

'I grew up in Maori culture where I was surrounded by aunties, uncles, cousins and grannies. If I was sick at school, an auntie would pick me up.I could go to my grandparents house after school.In London, I have no family. Jeffs parents live almost two hours outside of the city.Our friends are scattered all over London and few of them have children. We would be very isolated here but in New Zealand we would have lots of family and friends within five minutes reach.When I think about the quality of life we could have there, the big house, more disposable income, the support network it seems crazy to settle for a tiny flat, financial difficulties and feeling isolated.

Its difficult  it's making a choice between possible future risks and the reality of my life at the moment.The question is what is weighing most heavily now on the scales? The scales are tipping in favour of staying in London and not having a child, but in a few years the scales could tip back.Do we continue to enjoy living a life in London unencumbered by the responsibilities of being parents but live with the growing worry that we might be leaving it too late?Or do we go back to New Zealand, where we have support networks and where can actually afford to live, but give up on what we enjoy about our London lives? It's a pretty stark choice.'

In the end, Freida and her partner did decide to have child and did decide to move back to NZ.

Monday, 28 March 2016

Book Review: Couldn't Wouldn't Didn't: Insights into the Lives of Women Who Never Gave Birth

A few months ago, I was sent a copy of this book -  a compilation of interviews with women who never had children.  The author Wilamina Falkenhagen describes herself as a '30-Something Australian woman doing her best to navigate the world of relationships, careers and babies.'

The main question Falkenhagen is seeking to answer - both for herself and for other people is

'What if you never have a baby? Will you live a perfectly fulfilled life or will you regret it?'

Very cleverly, Falkenhagen seeks to address this through looking at the lives of 10 woman -ranging in ages and professions who either through choice or circumstance have one thing in common; they have not had children.   It's an approach I think is a fantastic way to look at the question of regret about not having children.  I also interviewed a number of women and one of my interviewees Margaret who never had children and who was looking back on her life when she was in her 60's had a lovely and poignant story about her decision - you can read about her story here in this blog post on Looking back on a life without children 

One woman featured in the book is Freda who at 95 is still determined to lead an independent life.   Freda explains that she just never met a man she wanted to settle down with.  Did she feel like she missed out, did she regret not having children?  No says Freda, she feels she had a good life and was fortunate to have her own house and was able to make a good living.  She also was able to be involved in the lives of her nephews and nieces.

Another is Sarah who is 54 and who at different points in her life did feel flooded with hormones that did make her explore options for having a baby.  But her initial plans never worked out and when she adopted a puppy, her desire to have a child on her own also died off.  Sarah also describes her life as being lived without regret.  She is involved with the lives of the children of friends and feels very fulfilled and happy with her life choices.

A couple of the women featured did have children that they had adopted or who came via surrogate mothers.  Jade was a foster carer and an adoptive mother.  Although it was challenging, she would not change a thing and feels that there is great fulfilment in providing a loving and caring home to children who would otherwise not experience this.

At the end of the book, we hear Wilamina's own story.  Still undecided, Wilamina is still considering the issue, but it feels that she has more trust in the future, more trust that whatever happens, she will make it work.

I think that this book in an interesting addition to subject of having or not having children.  You can order the book here at Vivid Publishing.

Monday, 14 March 2016

Reflection: Opening our hearts to hear each other

For the past week, I have recovering from a cold and feeling rather miserable about it.  Particularly as I had to cancel two clients on Friday who I was really looking forward to coaching.

And then, yesterday out of the blue, came an email from a client I had worked with a year ago that really shifted me out of my funk!  It was from a woman who came to me feeling like she was in an impossible place.  Her husband really wanted a child but she was very unsure.   While the coaching primarily focused on her,  I also gave her some exercises to work on with her husband.  Often, when people come to me and the crux of the dilemma is very connected to their partner or husband, I have found it is crucial to facilitate my client to find ways to communicate more effectively with their partner.  When we find ways to connect and speak from our heart, then it can allow the other person to do the same, to open their heart and have a real, authentic conversation about their fears around having children or not having children.

What I have found over the years is clients who find themselves at odds with partners around the decision to have kids or not  is that they and their partners get into entrenched positions and it become very difficult to see a way forward.  Sometimes, it may be necessary to see a specialist couples therapist in order to resolve the issue.   In one of my most popular posts on this blog, you can see in the comments section, many women who are in a very painful situation with a partner who does not want children.  And as I pointed out before, loving someone who doesn't want kids (when you do) is a very painful place to be.  On the other side, it can also be very painful if you are the one who doesn't doesn't want children.

But I have found that just giving my clients simple questions to ask each other and giving ourselves the space to truly listen to the other, can make all the difference.  My client who emailed me put it beautifully, 'the questions you had us asked helped ups to open our hearts to hear each other'

What would it if we could open our hearts to hear each other just a little bit more? I wonder how many other problems would resolve themselves if we could do this?

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Delaying the baby decision

I saw this interesting article So Why Didn't I Worry About My Own Fertility? yesterday in the Washington Post - written by a doctor who had a personal experience struggling to have a child when she was in her late 30's.   The author explains why she delayed having children.

'I had a perfectly good reason to delay childbearing, one that would seem familiar to many of my patients: I was focused on my career. My sister and I were the first in our family to graduate from high school and the first to go to college. I just kept going. My medical degree and specialty added 11 more years to my training, and I simply didn’t allow myself much time for meeting a partner. I convinced myself that my career would be enough; my career would be my child. That all changed when I was 38 years old and my now-husband walked into the room. I don’t regret my decisions, and I am grateful for a job I’m passionate about. I’m glad I waited to find my soul mate. I just never anticipated the sacrifice it would require.'

One of the issues that some women bring to me is “when is the ‘right time’ to have children – should they wait till a certain stage in their career?”.   The blogger Grad Mommy addresses this issue in her blog entry on the 20 April 2008:

“There is so much consternation amongst graduate students about   when the best time to start a family is. I’ve heard it everywhere along the grad student - tenure continuum: wait until after classes are done, no, wait until you’ve defended your proposal, no, wait until you’ve landed your first position, no, wait until after you’ve gotten tenure. I remember a professor back in my freshman year of college saying, 'There’s never a good time to get married or have children. Just do it.' I followed his advice.”

I agree with this advice.  I can understand you might want to defer the decision to have children until you are in a better financial position or more secure in your job, but there is a danger you are waiting for an ideal situation that may never materialize

The reality is something does have to give when you are a working parent.  We can all have a working life and a family life.  But I’m not going to kid you.  You’ll have to make a compromise somewhere along the line.  I was speaking to a colleague who has pretty much decided not to have children, but she is interested in fostering.  She asked me if I thought she would have to cut down on her weekend working (she is a trainer who trains often at weekend workshops).  As much as I wanted to say “Hey, no, of course you’ll be able to foster and keep on working as you’d like.”  I had to say yes, if you are going to be a foster parent, it is unlikely you’d be able to work every other weekend.   

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

'Oops... I forgot to have children'

A common misconception of women who are struggling with the baby decision is that they have been 'absentminded' in their planning to have children and have woken up when it is almost ‘too late’ to have kids. For my book, Baby or Not, I interviewed many women who were all too aware of the biological clock and the problems that she might have in conceiving.

“At 32 I wanted to be in the position of at least trying to conceive. It’s a very practical decision – I want more than one child and if we don’t start conceiving the first until my mid thirties, then I will be older when we conceive the second.” Said one of my interviewee’s Janet

 For Janet, the problem is around the unpredictability of what may or may not happen.

“You don’t know how long it will take – it took a friend only two or three months to conceive. If I was to conceive now, it would be too soon. Yet, I know it could take much longer and then if there were complications, we’d have to go for tests and procedures.”

Today, we live in a culture where the concept of “youth” has extended from the teenage/college years right into our mid-thirties and early forties. Clubbing is no longer something that is just done by students – clubbers range in age from 18 to 40.  Walking along my local high street in a boho area of London, I see 30-year-olds wearing the same gear as 18-year-olds at the next table.  Flipping open my Sunday paper, I see that Mick Jagger and the Sex Pistols are still rocking out in their 60’s.

That’s all well and good – hey it’s fun!!  We’re not as restricted as our parents’ generation – we’re not limited in our interests or dress sense.  We can have responsible jobs and feel like we are part of the urban, cool youth street culture!

The problem is while we live in a culture that blurs the boundaries between youth and middle age, our biology hasn’t shifted.  And as another one of my interviewees Emma points out:

“It’s difficult because supposedly we have all these choices – we can do anything.  Yet, ironically we have less choice when it comes to having children.  Despite IVF, our fertility is still as restricted as it was 40 years ago.”

Monday, 22 February 2016

Dealing with criticism from friends and family who think you should have children

One of the key stress points for women who have decided that they do not want to have children is dealing with pressure and criticism from friends and family.  I found a good example of this in this weekend's Guardian in this short letter a child-free women wrote to her mother   This criticism can come from not just close family or friends (this is bad enough!) but from colleagues and even complete strangers.  One client described an incident when her boss had said to her that she would regret it forever if she did not have children!

Why do people criticise women who have decided to be child-free?  I think there are several reasons for this:

1.  Our parents lived in a generation where there were still expectations of women and couples to have children. Particularly if your family comes from a culture where there is a high value placed on family, parents can worry and be concerned about our happiness.

2. Despite the advances of feminism and strides in women’s equality, there is still a great inequality and double standard in how women's and men’s value in the world is perceived.  It is rare, for example, for a man to experience pressure and criticism due to his personal choice to have children or not.  The female identity is still entangled with child-rearing although things are changing for the better.

3. Having a child does change your life, so much that it can be difficult to see an alternative path.  Friends of yours who have had children and feel very ‘in love’ with their new life may have an evangelical fever – similar to those of people who have discovered a new religion or given up smoking!  I also feel that there can be a tinge of jealousy or need to maintain that their choice was the ‘right’ one.  Seeing a friend living a different life to the one which we are leading can be unnerving and can lead people to unconsciously try to ‘convert’ a friend to address this unnerving feeling.

4.  Finally, people can often say things without thinking!  Many of us are caught up in our own worlds and own worries. We all say thoughtless and unfeeling things to others at times.

The other thing that I see happening time and time again is that when clients feel unsure or uncertain about a decision, they can experience more unwanted feedback or criticism from others.  Through working on becoming clearer about what they want, and so becoming more confident about their decision, clients report that they find that they receive fewer negative comments and feedback!  When we are able to be centred and respond calmly and clearly to others, it puts up a gentle boundary – it does not invite further discussion or debate.  It does not invite negative criticism.  If someone does persist (because perhaps they are a very unaware and insensitive person), their words will not have the power to hurt you. In the exercise below, I am going to teach you a simple centring exercise that I teach to all my clients.

Coaching Point: Four Part Centring Exercise

This is a Conscious Embodiment exercise that I learnt from the founder of Conscious Embodiment, Wendy Palmer.  Before we start, pick a quality that you feel will help you both with the situation of dealing with pressure/criticism and generally in life. Qualities include

·         Calm

·         Confidence

·         Peace

·         Ease

·         Clarity

·         Focus

Take your time and say the quality out loud.  When you choose the right one it will really resonate – you should feel a sense of ‘yes, this is the right one.’  If you are struggling, pick the word ease to work with for now.

Now you are ready to begin. Focus your awareness on your breathing and imagine that as you inhale, the breath is going up along your back, through your neck giving you a little bit of uplift and straightness. Then give a nice long slow exhalation.  As you do this, imagine the breath travelling back down your front and then connecting you to the ground.

Now let gravity take the weight of your shoulders and jaw, feel the tension releasing these areas, opening up your upper body.

Now imagine that you are surrounded by a bubble of energy.  Imagine that this bubble of energy is equal all around you – at your front and your back and your left and your right, above and beneath you.  You are totally centred in this bubble of energy and any time you feel stress, negative feedback or criticism coming towards you, you can simply allow yourself to imagine that this stress or criticism is landing on your energy bubble – not within you.

In your mind's eye, hold the question ‘What would it be like if I had just a little bit more of my quality in my body right now?’ Allow whatever answer needs to come – whether it is a sensation in an area of your body or an image or a thought.  Just notice what answer comes to you. Allow yourself to be with this question for a moment.

Return your awareness to your breathing – to the uplift of the inhalation and then to the grounding energy of the exhalation.  Repeat this several times and then slowly bring your awareness back to the room, open your eyes and just notice what you feel like.

You can now use this exercise in your everyday life to help you deal with comments or criticisms of other people.  Whenever someone begins to criticise or comment on your choice to be child-free you can simply imagine that you are surrounded by your bubble of energy.  Imagine that their comments land on your bubble and that they can disappear. Invoke your quality and breathe up and down before you respond.  This should help you to respond in a calm, confident and centred way.  Notice their reaction – is it different from other reactions?  And more importantly, how did you feel?  Did you feel less stressed and less likely to focus on them and their words?

Monday, 15 February 2016

Is egg freezing a solution to the baby decision?

As the technology for egg freezing has improved, more and more women are seeing egg freezing as a viable ‘insurance’ policy just in case their partners never agree to have children and the relationship breaks down. One of my interviewees (Emma) for my book Baby or Not,described how she was considering this as an option, but she was worried that the technology was too unproven and she might be paying a lot of money with no end result.

A couple of years ago, there was much publicity on the decision of companies who said they would fund the cost of women employees who wanted to freeze their eggs.  At the time, I was asked to appear on a BBC radio discussion on the issue and  I wrote about many of my concerns  is a blog post Tech Companies Pay Women Employees to Freeze their Eggs

It’s difficult to judge how effective egg freezing is – some experts such as childcare guru Miriam Stoppard have expressed concerns about the effectiveness of the procedure.  If this is something you are interested in, do find out as much as you can from independent sources (i.e. not from companies offering to collect and freeze your eggs).  A good and impartial source of information is the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority who describe themselves as “the UK's independent regulator overseeing the use of gametes and embryos in fertility treatment and research.”  Their website has a wealth of useful information and resources.

There have been women who have benefited from egg freezing and when I discussed this issue a couple of years ago on my blog, a reader wrote in to say how much freezing her eggs benefited her and how, if women didn't do this, they might regret it later

In London at the end of this month,  there will be a pop-up exhibition called Timeless which explores the problematic issues behind the current trend to promote egg freezing to women.  The organisers say that:

Timeless is a fictional beauty brand created to unlock the facts around egg freezing whilst also raising public debate on how these advances in biomedical science may impact on the world of work, relationships and wider society. 

Could it be as revolutionary to women’s life choices as The Pill? Or, it could become yet another social expectation that reinforces the message that women are solely responsible for fertility? 

'Timeless aims to remove some of the taboo that surrounds reproductive issues, encouraging women – and men – to have informed conversations about an area of life that affects us all. This project is working with expert advisers from Guy's and St Thomas' Hospital, The Oxford Fertility Unit, Progress Educational Trust and The London School of Econmics and Political Science.'

I think these are really important questions - as regular readers of my blog know, I feel it's extremely important for the issue of reproduction, having children and seeing the choice to be childfree as a positive one to be broadened.  It's also imperative for wider conversations that also taken into account the role of men and male partners in the decision.