Neither of my parents went to university, instead they started their lives at 18. During the three years I’ve had my head in books, they were out working, buying a house and reproducing around the age that I graduated. Our parents are our role models and when I was younger I always imagined that by the time I was in my early twenties I would be a mother like my own. There are a number of reasons why this hasn’t happened; people say that while women occupy the workspace they delay pregnancy in fear of killing their careers. With the rise of house prices, tuition fees and the cost of weddings – inflation in general – young couples are waiting longer in order for child-bearing to become financially viable. Or perhaps there is a cultural push for women to start their families later.
So why do we aspire to have kids at all? Despite all these components there is still the overarching social pressure on women to have children. The problem is, while some aspects of our lives point towards women having a steady career and individual interests, we still can’t escape the pressures that were always engrained. The whole way society is structured is with small units of nuclear families, even if we are not directly told, “you must reproduce”, we know that if we are unable to conform to these lifestyle guidelines then we fail. If the only reason women are having children is to fit some sort of mould then aren’t we having them for all the wrong reasons? With global population on the rise, why is it an abomination if we fail to reproduce – but irresponsible if our third world counterparts do? Let alone the global population, the UK is the fastest growing population in Europe; with the country expanding by 400,000 people each year. That’s the size of Bristol. Is it a selfish endeavour to be contributing to this vast expansion that is arguably a burden to the country?
Oprah, Jennifer Aniston and Zooey Deschanel are just some of the many celebrity women who decided not to have children. The latter was quoted, when asked on the matter, saying: “I’m not going to answer that question. I’m not mad at you for asking that question, but I’ve said it before: I don’t think people ask men those questions”. Deschanel hit the nail on the head. Women, indirectly, are constantly having regular social dynamics reinforced. Yes, women have to carry the child, but people aren’t talking about the paternal instinct. Why is it that women are the ones who are burdened with the prospect of parenthood? Last time I checked, it took two to tango before you could have a baby.
We throw around terms like “biological clock” and “maternal instinct” as though they are concrete ideas. In reality, our “biological clock” is not only society’s pressure forcing us to consider reproduction, but it is also another term for menstruation. Lack of menstruation doesn’t necessarily mean zero possibility of rearing a tot; there are 70,000 orphans in the UK under the age of 18. ‘Maternal instinct’ is talked about as though there is a ubiquitous definition of the word. There is not. Maternal instinct just refers to the strong bond between mother and child, and some women after birth seem to find they don’t actually have one, and that is ok. All maternal feelings are intimate and personal and yet we judge those who either can not or do not want to experience those emotions.
Childbearing and pregnancy should not be the next step of life’s ladder. Instead, women and couples should start assessing what’s right for them, not what’s right for society. If there is a maternal instinct, society won’t be quiet enough for us to actually listen out for it. Pregnancy. Life. Love. It’s all organic and natural. We have to stop compartmentalising our lives into stages and instead just listen to what our minds and bodies are telling us to do. Not what other people are telling us we should do. We should be content with our decision, whether it is to have children or not. After all, think of the downsides, they are many and unforgiving; from sleepless nights with a new born to drug use and school suspension with teenagers. One might recall Dame Helen Mirren on being asked about being asked. She quipped in Vogue 2013: “It was only boring old men [who would ask me]. And whenever they went, ‘What? No children? Well, you’d better get on with it, old girl,’ I’d say ‘No! F*** off!”
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