Some women know from a very young age that they want children. Others are hit by that realization at 30 or 35. And others still are quite certain they don’t want a baby but then in their late 30s or early 40s suddenly doubt that decision and find themselves desperate to have a child after all.
Men are all too familiar with the phenomenon of a woman feeling the pressure of her ticking biological clock. They tend to back away when they sense the urgency in the all-too-palpable longing for motherhood, which frequently leaves men feeling they’re being sized up, less as human beings and more as sperm donors.
How do we explain the broodiness which can hit a woman seemingly out of the blue? We tend to put the whole thing down to biology. Since the human species is programmed to reproduce, the emotional drama associated with the question of bearing children is often attributed to hormones and hard-wired biological impulses. But is that really all that’s going on?
When women dare to get very honest with themselves, they often discover that the yearning for a child isn’t just a matter of physiology – it’s intimately linked to psychology and the thoughts they’re believing. Some women want to get pregnant because they’re hoping it will force the man in their lives to commit or because they’re hoping it will solidify a shaky relationship. Other women fear being alone and imagine having a child will ensure there will always be someone there to love them and look after them. Whilst others want a child simply because they fear missing out and worry that someday they’ll regret not having had one.
It can be painful to look at the reasons we want children that, far from being rooted in love, are in fact fear-based and fueled by our hopes of getting something rather than giving something.
In a recent workshop I attended, a happily married woman in her 50s talked about her decision not to have a child. She spoke about how she’d noticed the issue of having a baby always reared its head at the time she was facing some sort of crossroads in her life. Since the prospect of what lay ahead felt anxiety producing – stepping into her power and authenticity often meant stepping into the unknown – she’d find herself fantasying about having a baby. Why? Because in her mind, having a baby brought with it an in-built structure, purpose and direction to her life.
She was speaking to something that rarely gets mentioned – that women sometimes think motherhood will save them from the difficult questions in their lives. What am I passionate about? Why do I feel so inadequate? What do I dream of doing but am scared I’ll fail at? They picture some idyllic scenario of bonding effortlessly with their baby, or being provided for by doting husbands, and hope the busyness of being a mother will cover over their insecurities or nagging concerns.
Of course whilst certain questions might get temporarily shelved, in reality parenting tends to amplify the fears and doubts we have about ourselves and our relationships. As most mothers will testify to, parenting is akin to spiritual practice. Day in, day out a mother is asked to stay open to the needs of another – even when she’s exhausted, overwhelmed or has an ever expanding to-do list. In fact, motherhood is perhaps the ultimate test of whether we have learnt how to surrender and how not to get taken over by the mind’s continuous barrage of thoughts questioning whether we’re doing it right and whether we’re good enough.