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, 30 May 2017

Encounter with a coaching skeptic

I attended a fantastic wedding this weekend. My friend, the bride was born in the UK but her family is originally from India.  Her husband is  French and the wedding party was a wonderful mix of people from different countries and cultures.  It reminded me why I love living in London - this beautiful diverse multicultural city where, for the most part, everyone gets on.  I always feel a sense of acceptance.... or perhaps it's benign indifference - from Londoners.  People don't bat an eyelid at people in eccentric or unusual clothes on the tube for instance.

Even so, it can be very difficult to explain the work I do and how stressful it can be for many of my clients who are struggling to make the decision whether to have children or not.   I was reminded of this when I struck up a conversation with a wedding guest who I didn't know at the wedding reception.  We were having a great chat - about London, about diversity, and about our mutual friends who were getting married.

Then we started to talk about what we do for work.  My new friend told me about her interesting work in the field of medical research.  She then asked about my work.  When I told her about my work coaching women who were trying to decide whether to have children or not, she looked very surprised and said forthrightly.

'Honestly, I think if someone needs a coach to help them with that question, then the answer is no surely?  Either you know or you don't know right? I didn't want kids and I haven't thought much about it.  I really think it sounds like something for people I would call the 'worried-well''

I explained that while for some people - like herself - the question is indeed straightforward that for many people, the question is far more difficult and stressful.  

She still looked very skeptical and I plowed on.  Nothing I was saying was resonating very much until she made the point that it must be something that just effects a tiny minority of women as most of the world women are just having kids unless they can't.

'Ah, but that is because in many parts of the world, it's still not seen as a choice.  Think back to when our grandmothers were younger.  The idea that you could choose to be child free and decide not to have children was unheard of.   Now, we have made huge advances mainly down to the hard work of the feminist movement.  We have many more possibilities and choices.  But those choices have led to un-intended consequences.   Because we have choices, because we know that we can be in charge of our future, we can feel over-whelmed by making such a significant life choice.'

My new friend agreed with me on this point  and said she saw this was true very much in her family. but said she was still sceptical about the value of coaching. So, I made my final argument.

'Everyone has things that stress them out, fears that are blocking them from making a decision... something you find straightforward, someone else will find difficult or stressful.  We all have areas where we feel unsure and vulnerable.  I see my role as a coach to help people listen to their own voice of intuition - to be more confident in making the decision that is right for them.'

It was then time to toast the bride with champagne and we left our conversation to drink and dance the night away.   Perhaps she will still be skeptical  about coaching but I'm hoping she will have more compassion and understanding about friends and colleagues who she might meet who are worried and stressed about making the decision to have children or not.

Friday, 12 May 2017

It's Mother's Day.... but I'm not a Mom

It's Mother's Day in North America this Sunday (Mother's Day has already been and gone in the UK). If you aren't a mother for a whole host of reasons including that you are trying to decide whether to become a mother, you're trying to get pregnant but haven't had any luck, you do want a child but you can't because you're partner said no, or you have simply decided that you don't want children, Mother's Day can feel a bit exclusionary.... particularly if most of your friends are mothers.

I've been looking at a number of blog posts and other articles on the topic.  This one from That Girl called Mother's Day When You Are Not A Mom  had some good practical suggestions and some amusing of what to do on the day itself including:

Baby sit – I know! You are confused! (There is a reason why this is #13). If you have a single mom in your circle of friends who really deserves a quiet day to herself to try any of the above activities offer to take her kids for a few hours! You might even end up with your own waffles or refrigerator art at the end of the day!   Cat Wilson, That Girl Blog

Jody Day, founder of Gateway Women (for women who are childless not by choice) wrote this powerful piece for Red Magazine What Mother's Day Feels Like When You are Childless    In it, she talks about the importance of owning and accepting the range of feelings you might be feeling today - the full range from sadness to anger to bitterness.  

Anger has vital work to do, if only we’d let it. I think bitterness probably has a lot more to do with not allowing ourselves to take the actions and have the conversations (both individually and culturally) that anger wants and needs us childless women to be having!

Silencing ourselves for fear of sounding bitter is much more likely to make us bitter. We need to understand that anger is an entirely valid emotional response to the unfairness we’re forced to make our peace with.  -  Jody Day

This week, I also had a discussion with an older Gay Anglican priest who made a wonderful point.  In the Anglican tradition, Mothering Sunday is sometimes seen as an opportunity to celebrate anyone who has taken a mothering role in some aspect of life.  This might be a teacher, a minister, a favorite aunt, a volunteer and so on.  This article echoes that view

If you are reading this and feeling down about Mother's Day, perhaps this is a chance to reflect on some of other people's ideas about the day.  Take some time to just acknowledge and be with your anger.. but then, perhaps there is a way you can celebrate your 'inner mother' - the part of you that is nurturing and caring.... whether you have children or not.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Maternal Ambivalence

Last week on the blog, I talked about the role that ambivalence plays on us when we are trying to work out wither we want to be parents, whether we want to have children or remain child free.  Today I want to look at the topic of maternal ambivalence which effects new mothers.

For years, psychologists have recognised the existence of maternal ambivalence .  In my experience, it's not often talked about.  But it's surprisingly common and many new mothers will talk about the  they were surprised to experience such ambivalence just after the birth of their child.

'I had an urge when I was out shopping with my new baby to leave her in the buggy in the changing room.... and walk away.  I didn't of course... but to be honest, I'm surprised that more babies are left all over the place, the feeling is so strong.' - A new mother attending a local mum and baby group.

I remember a few days after I gave birth to my son I had an overwhelming sense that I had made a terrible mistake.  I was completely unprepared for this feeling, this ambivalence to being a mother and for having all this responsibility thrust upon me.

Naomi Stadlen is one of the leading professionals ambivalence and identity of new mothers    I always recommend her book 'What Mother's Do...Even When it Looks like Nothing.' to women who are having or who have just had children.  This quote below perfectly sums up my experience:

'First-time mothers usually collect information about babies.  They..... go to preparation classes.  But for many women, even though they have attended preparation classes, the reality feels excessive.  Surely someone along the road would have stepped in to warn them?  They had expected a slight shock at having a baby but what they experienced was a massive shock.'

Stadlen's version of maternal ambivalence is kinder and more compassionate to women than earlier psychologists view.    When we consider the full reality of motherhood and the shift that many new mothers feel in going from a fully independent person who is able to head out the door to see friends, go to the cinema and even for a pint of milk with no encumbrance.  Yet a new mother suddenly finds that she has another person who is constantly dependent on her, and completely vulnerable.

This points to polarity struggle that I sometimes work with my coaching clients - that of independence vs dependence.  If we are used to being and living mainly in the pole of independence, I think the shock of having a baby who is completely dependent on you AND who your ability to move and live is also dependent on, it can feel unbearable.

As I write this, I hope this is helpful for you, my readers who are coming to this blog trying to decide whether you want to be a mother or not.  I think it's important to know that even if you do make the decision to have children, that decision can still contain ambivalence .... at least for those initial weeks and that it is normal.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Accepting Ambivalence

There isn't much room in public discussion on the decision of having babies for talk about ambivalence.  Many of my clients said that they feel odd or isolated for feeling ambivalent about whether they want children or not.   'But surely I should know, surely everyone knows one way or the other?'  is a common question.  When I tell strangers what I coach women on, I'm sometimes meet with incredulity.   'I can't imagine not knowing one way or the other.!'

Yet, ambivalence around whether we want children and indeed, ambivalence around being a mother is more common than we think and more common than popular culture would suggest.   Merriam Webster gives this definition of ambivalence:

1. simultaneous and contradictory attitudes or feelings (such as attraction and repulsion) toward an object, person, or action

2.a :  continual fluctuation (as between one thing and its opposite)
   b :  uncertainty as to which approach to follow ambivalence about their goals

Ambivalence is the main state my clients find themselves in when they come to me.  They are experiencing contradictory feelings/attitudes towards the idea of having children, feeling like they are continuing fluctuating or switching between wanting and not wanting children, and feeling uncertain about which path to take.

I have long been fascinated about an approach to coaching (and life) called polarity & wholeness.  In this approach, we look at poles which represent opposites.  For example, Order & Chaos, Independence vs Dependence, Vulnerability vs Strength.   On the face of it, it seems as though we have to choose between one or the other and that they are incompatible.   Yet, what has become evident to many - from the Taoists who explored the power of the Yin/Yang symbol to Gestalt therapists is that we need to be able to hold the tension or contradictions of opposites in order to be whole human being.    We need to be independent and able to function independently of others.... and we also need to be able to lean on other, to allow ourselves to be dependent.  Too much independence means that we can find it difficult to be in relationships. Too much dependence means that we find it hard to be on our own.

'Philosophers and psychologists have long stressed the importance of dealing with
paradoxical tensions for growth and learning. In his book “No Boundary”, Wilber (2001)
classified all major traditions in psychotherapy as ways to transcend the dividing lines
that we draw between our self-image and our unaccepted shadow parts, our mind and
our body, and our individual identity and the environment. When these lines are taken as
battle lines, with enemies imagined in the other camp, people become tense and unable to
respond to life’s challenges in an effective way' (from the paper 'Polarties in Executive Coaching by Ursula Glunk and Beth Follini)'

All this leads me to believe in my work with clients that one of the ways forward to making the decision is to - paradoxically - accept that ambivalence is often a part of life.  We can never be totally sure we are making the right decision and we can never completely overcome ambivalence.   As I will explore in my next blog post, even when women have children, many women feel something called 'maternal ambivalence'.