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 mailto:beth@ticktockcoaching.co.uk and assistant Laura will respond and arrange an appointment with you. Visit http://www.ticktockcoaching.co.uk/ for more information about my coaching services.

Monday, 11 December 2017

Thinking about having a baby? Some stats for you to consider

I love info-graphics and a friend drew my attention to this which was published in the Guardian last week.    Read This Before You have a Baby

The article is full of relevant stats and data about the impact of having a baby and this is presented in a very attractive way.  What is very obvious from this article is the very different impact that having a child has on women as opposed to men.   As the writer Mona Chalabi says,

'The conclusion is pretty stark: if you’re a woman who enjoys paid work or relaxing activities, having kids will cramp your style. Being married with kids also isn’t looking like a great idea according to the numbers.'

Women who have children spend much less time on leisure activities and work related activities.  For men, the impact on their lifestyles is very different.

This data backs up what many of my clients know intuitively from watching women friends struggle - particularly in the early years.    They know that it will be them - and not their male partner - who will have to do the bulk of the child-care and child-rearing and they also know that support for working mothers in the workplace is often not there to the extent that it could be (see my last post on Iceland for an example of a country that seems to have got it right)

However, despite all the compelling evidence that having a children does impact your leisure and work time in a negative way,  many of us are still draw to having children.  Looking at the cold, hard stats and your head would say 'no'.  Yet, our heart is often saying a different thing all together. 

When working with a client who is struggling to reconcile the tension between the head and heart, I often get clients to look how, with full awareness of the facts, they might begin to create a life that avoids some of the deep traps of motherhood.  How can they discuss the issues with their partner and how can they negotiate  a more equal parenting arrangement?   Importantly, what are the ways that we can still live our values of independence and freedom - despite the changes and responsibilities that motherhood will bring?   It may be that the small ways we can do this can help us through those difficult early years when our time is much more restricted.

In the New Year (I can't believe it's almost 2018!) I will be putting on the blog a through review of the wonderful book by Denise Carlini and Ann Davidman Motherhood: Is it for me?  .  I've been wanting to put a review on the blog for a while but I really want to give it the time and space it deserves.  It's wonderful to have more resources for women who are struggling to make this decision!  

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Lessons from Iceland

In my last post, I looked at recent reports that fewer women are not having children than a generation ago.   This research was carried out in the UK and I'm not sure if it holds true in other parts of Europe.

Iceland has higher birth rates than other European countries.  It also has a high divorce rate and many children are brought up by single parents or in step-families.

Over the last ten years, the fertility rate in Iceland has been around two children over the lifetime of each woman. In 2014, the average European fertility rate was 1.58 children per woman—lowest in Portugal, Greece and Cyprus.  In 2015, 30.1 percent of Icelandic children were born to married parents, 52 percent to cohabiting parents, and 15.3 percent to parents neither married nor in long-term relationships. By comparison, of the 28 European Union countries, around 40 percent of children were born out of wedlock. After Iceland, the second-least-likely countries for children to be born to married parents were Bulgaria (58.3 percent), Slovenia (58.3 percent) and Sweden (54.6 percent).  At the other end of the scale, only 2.8 percent of Turkish children were born to unmarried parents and 8.2 percent of Greek children.  From the website Icelandic Review

 Yet in Iceland, this is not a cause of stigma or disapproval.    Interestingly, Iceland also has a high rate of happiness and well-being. 

In this fascinating article on Iceland and what makes Icelanders so happy, John Carlin came to the conclusion that one of the main reasons was the acceptance of different forms of family AND a high level of governmental support for family through good parental leave, childcare and schooling.

When a child's birthday comes around, not only do the various sets of parents turn up for the party, the various sets of grandparents - and whole longboats of uncles and aunts - come too. Iceland, lodged in the middle of the North Atlantic with Greenland as its nearest neighbour, was too far from the remit of any but the more zealously obstinate of the medieval Christian missionaries. It is a largely pagan country, as the natives like to see it, unburdened by the taboos that generate so much distress elsewhere.

So it would seem that is the decision to have children as much less stressful and fraught than it is elsewhere.   I'm sure that there still are women in Iceland who are struggling but it appears that without the worry and stress of judgement coupled with generous government support makes it much more acceptable for women to have children in a range of different situations.

If you were free of all society expectations of how you should have children and what your family should look like, would you find the decision easier?


Monday, 27 November 2017

Number of childfree women has doubled within a generation

Figures released this week show that the number of women who have never had children has doubled within a generation.  While this may seem like a surprise to others, this does not surprise me, judging my the numbers of women who have been approaching me for coaching on whether to have a child or not over the last ten years.

 "While the two child family remains the most common family type in England and Wales, with 37 per cent of women born in 1971 having two children, the prevalence is below the peak of 44 per cent for the 1950 cohort.

"Families with no children or families with one child were the next most common for women born in 1971 at 18 per cent each. 

"Only 1 in 10 women born in 1971 had four or more children, compared with nearly one in five in the 1940 cohort."

The ONS report tracks women born in each year to examine how many children they have and when.

It also found that women have become more likely in recent years to have had a child before they turn 30.   While the average age of childbearing has increased, women born in 1987 were slightly less likely to be childless at 30 than those born the year before. '   (From the Telegraph )

I was asked today by a radio interviewer why I thought this was? My reply is that I don't think there is one answer to the question.

I do think we have had a major sea-change within a generation in our choices around women's choices and the shape of our families.  It's no longer a given that women must have children and couples who decide not to have children are not so very unusual.   This has allow for many more people to see being child-free as a valid choice.    However, there is still pressure from society and families to have children and when I'm working with a woman who does feel she wishes to be child-free, we will explore and look at how she can deal with this pressure.

In addition to women who are choosing not to have children and who embrace being child-free, there are also a group of women who are child-less not by choice.  Factors which impact this group of women are:
  • Wanting children but being with a partner who doesn't want children
  • Having left trying to have children till their late 30's due to various factors (one can be not having found the right person to have children with) and then finding it difficult to have children naturally.
  • Feeling like they need to choice between their career and independence with having children.
The reality is that even in 2017, it isn't easy to be a working mother.  Many of the clients I do work with report that they see their colleagues with children struggling with child-care and all the other responsibilities that working mothers face on a daily basis.   

Perhaps if our government and society made it easier for working mothers, the choice wouldn't be as difficult as it currently is?   In my next article, I'll be looking at the birth rate in countries like Norway and Iceland where government support towards working mothers is much higher. 

Monday, 20 November 2017

The Culture of The Family

As most of my readers will know, the making the decision whether to have children or not, is a difficult one.  And, it can be even more complicated and stressful if the culture you grew up revolves around family.

I was interested to read this article Childless in a Houseful of Children in the New York Times from a woman who is actually based here in London.

My childlessness in a family full of offspring would be poignant, tragic even, were it not by choice. I alone among eight siblings have decided not to breed — a choice that baffles and mystifies everyone in a family as fertile as mine.

My Bangladeshi heritage doesn’t help matters. With values more suited to Victorian England, my parents raised me with one overarching objective: to marry well and raise a family. Shirking this responsibility is an aberration in our culture that tends to provoke questions.

I have worked with clients from different cultures including clients from India, Italy and from small town USA, where the concept of choosing not to have children is not understood and often looked down upon.     Often people have been brought up with cautionary tales about maiden aunts 'Poor Aunt Mary.... she never had children and lived and died alone.'   Unpacking these family stories reveals some new truths.

'I had been brought up to think that my Aunt had a lonely life with her flat in the City and always travelling alone. Now I'm looking at her life and thinking 'Wow, what adventures she had, what an amazing woman!'  an interviewee for my book Baby or Not

In coaching, we can begin to re-examine and 'unpack' these old family stories and beliefs that we have inherited.  One of the best coaching exercises for this is to look at the topic from different perspectives or mind-sets.   When clients do this, they often (like the interviewee above) find themselves challenging old beliefs.

What's is the family belief that you need to challenge?











Friday, 27 October 2017

Step-parenting and the baby decision

The step-parent can be a difficult role in a family.  I've worked with clients who have come to me because they have felt unsettled and unsupported in their role as the stepmother .  This is particularly true as  'wicked step-mom' is a negative stereotype that is still ever present in fairy tales, stories and movies.   For many of my clients who are stepmothers, the additional stress is that they often would like to have children with their partners but, their partners aren't keen because they are parents already. (I also wrote about this issue a year ago in a post Being a Step-parent - Without Having Kids of Your Own)

Some of the issues faced my my clients in this situation are:

- Feeling that they are 'on the edge' of family life.
- Not knowing what their role in the family is.
- Witnessing her partner in a good relationship with his children which can spark resentment about         wanting a child with him as well.
- Having to cope with hostility from his ex-partner

One of the things that can help a great deal is to look at what you are bringing and contributing to the family right now.... even if you are feeling under appreciated at the moment.   Another important thing to do is to talk to your partner to look what your shared vision is for your relationship - as a couple together and how to create that.  And, if a child is an important part of your vision of your relationship together you, be clear, upfront and positive with him about how a child could fit into your family life.    Try see if you can discover what his fears are and how you could both address those fears together.   (note: I'll be writing another blog post soon on the thorny issue of what to do if you want a child but your partner doesn't. which will address more of these issues)

I recently read this very moving and personal account in this article The Day my Step-son said I Love You from a stepmother who charters the complicated life of her relationship with her teenage stepson which I've linked to below.  It show how loving and mothering can exist in this sometimes difficult and always complicated relationship.

'Already wholeheartedly in love with the boy’s dad by then, and knowing how close they were, I wanted to build something special with him too. And, I wanted his approval. I wanted to be part of their existing family.

But, relationships aren’t made; they are nurtured. A seed is planted in fertile soil, dirt with: compost, clay, worms, oxygen, nitrogen, grass clippings, bugs, things I can’t name, things I don’t understand, things I may not even like. Without it, there is no growth, there are no flavors to smell and savor.'

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Is the gap between mothers & childfree friends so wide?


Mind the gap.... between parents and non parents!  Everywhere we are told that these two groups of people are oceans apart with much mis-understanding and prejudice on both sides of the gap. It's true that  tensions between parents and non-parents do exist.  These often show up in the workplace.  This article in the conservative Telegraph newspaper Women Without Children Work Harder in the Office points to some of these tensions.

'A major new survey has found that four in 10 working women without children believe that they work harder than their female colleagues who are mums. In a further sign of the two-tier workplace, forty-two per cent of British women polled who aren’t parents, are also angry that their mum colleagues’ holiday requests take priority. This tension, usually a taboo topic in the office, reflects the ongoing row in Westminster about whether to give all employees the right to request flexible working.'

I've had some clients talking about the sadness they feel when they become the only one of their friendship circle not to have children.   'I sometimes get left out of things that they all do with children, like picnics or trips to the playground, although I always get invited to birthday parties.  It's hard though to do without a child and other moms... who I don't know ask which child is mine.'  And for those women are contemplating motherhood, there is often the fear that they will loose their identity and old friendships completely... they will be just 'somebody's mother' and be stuck in an endless circle of mother and baby groups.

But is the divide between mothers and those who are child free so wide in reality? Can we find and meet in common ground?

That's the question that this article Choosing to have children, choosing not to seeks to address.   It's a very personal look at how two friends - one with children and one without live their lives.  It's also a positive affirmation of the way that women in different circumstances can support each other and their life choices.  In this excerpt, the two women go dancing and the different ways their morning will unfold are described.

'At 2:00 am we left the dancing behind .....We went our separate ways, back to different houses and very different lives. I would be woken in the morning, too early, by the scurrying of feet and the tips of my daughter’s hair on my face. She would be stirred by an alarm clock, perhaps, or by the rhythms of her own body. My day would unfold, for the most part, according to the needs of people other than myself, with all of the beauty that entails. She would rise to a day of her own choosing, with all of the beauty that entails. And we would both be happy.'


Friday, 29 September 2017

Selfish vs Selfless: Reframing the Way We Talk about Motherhood & Not Having Children

One of the curious and frustrating ways that the choice to have children or not is contextualised is through the lens of selfishness/selflessness.  I've had clients in tears because they have been told my unthinking friends or acquaintances that if they were to not have children, they would be selfish.

This few is often confirmed by society and leaders.  A few years ago, the Pope made a speech where he described people who didn't have children as a symptom of our selfish society saying:

“A society with a greedy generation, that doesn’t want to surround itself with children, that considers them above all worrisome, a weight, a risk, is a depressed society... The choice to not have children is selfish. Life rejuvenates and acquires energy when it multiplies: It is enriched, not impoverished.”

Yet, there are many people who do not have children who live their values of service and generosity.  Ironically, many of those serving the Catholic Church do not have children, having made a choice to serve God and their community instead.   Clients who do not have children often have more time and energy to put into their community, volunteering or helping elderly neighbours. 

 And for women considering motherhood, the image of the motherhood as sacrifice can be off-putting and burdensome.   Karen Rinaldi, in her opinion piece in the New York Times called Motherhood isn't sacrifice but selfish  aimed to debunk the myth of motherhood as a sacrifice.

'Motherhood is not a sacrifice, but a privilege — one that many of us choose selfishly. At its most atavistic, procreating ensures that our genes survive into the next generation. You could call this selfishness as biological imperative. On a personal level, when we bring into the world a being that is of us, someone we will protect and love and for whom we will do everything we can to help thrive and flourish, it begets the question, How is this selfless? Selflessness implies that we have no skin in the game. In motherhood, we’re all in.'

In many ways, it is helpful to embrace the notion of the choice to mother as being a selfish act.  I talk to many clients who feel critical of choosing to have children 'just' on their desire to have a child.  'But, it's selfish... how can I bring a child into the world when it's selfish.'    I always say that no one ... not even people who adopt or foster ... ever makes the decision to have a child for purely altruistic reasons.   I'm always saying to my clients 'It's ok to want to have a child because you desire it!'

Personally, I'd rather we not use terms selfish or selfless to describe our choices.  They are really loaded terms that imply judgements.   When we talk about wanting to be in a relationship or friendship, do we talk about our choice to have a partner or not as being a selfish choice .... or a selfless choice?  No.  We say we really desire a relationship or we want more friends.  Let's  find new ways to describe our choices of having or not having children -using more positive terms with less judgement.

Monday, 18 September 2017

Acceptance: Knowing When to Let Go

I'm very pleased to be speaking at the Annual Conference for Childless Women and Men happening in the UK on Saturday 14th October.  As I mentioned in my last blog post, many people who are childless by circumstance feel isolated.  This conference is a fantastic opportunity to come together with other childless people ... most of who will be childless not by choice and discuss their situation and challenges they share.

The topic of my interactive session at the conference will be on  'When to stop trying? Making the decision and accepting it.'

Over my time coaching women on this issue,  I've found that it can be very important to give some focus to letting go (or acceptance) to help some of my clients make the baby decision. I've found that this is particularly important for people that I work with who have been struggling with trying to decide whether to continue with more complex options to have children including fertility treatment, adoption or surrogacy - either with a partner or on their own.

Sometimes I've had clients who have said that they have invested so much time and money into pursing an option like IVF, they feel that if they give up, they are someone admitting that they made a mistake in the first place.  Other clients feel that if they don't pursue every option, (even if they are struggling with that option) then they might regret it when they are older.

But options like adoption or having a child with donor sperm as a single parent might not be the right choice for everyone.  It's ok to say 'You know what, I have wanted a child but... it's too much for me at this point in my life to embark on fertility treatment/adopt a child/consider having a baby on my own.'   And if you have spent money and time on fertility treatment, it's ok to 'draw a line in the sand'.
When we do this, we do have to confront our sadness and mourning of the end of a dream.  When we are continually looking and exploring options we can hold back that sadness.  Part of letting go dealing with our sadness and accepting that life has not turned out how we had hoped or desired.

I'll be exploring this at the conference in October as I do with clients and hope to take participants through one or two practical coaching exercises to help them explore whether they are ready to stop trying and, if they might be, how can they move forward towards a state of acceptance about this decision.

Monday, 11 September 2017

Looking after each other - Getting Older Without Children

One of the common fears of my clients is that they will be lonely, un-cared for when they get older if they don't have children.   Getting older without children is a big concern for those people who don't have children - either by choice or by circumstance.   We live in a world which assumes that if you are older you will have children or younger relatives who will help you - take you to the doctor, ensure you take medicine, and generally keep an eye on you.  At the same time, society has become more fragmented and there is a sense that neighbours don't know each other as they used to. (However, this could be nostalgia)

 According to recent research carried out by the Campaign to End Loneliness:

17% of older people are in contact with family, friends and neighbours less than once a week and 11% are in contact less than once a month (Victor et al, 2003)
Over half (51%) of all people aged 75 and over live alone (ONS, 2010)
Two fifths all older people (about 3.9 million) say the television is their main company (Age UK, 2014)
63% of adults aged 52 or over who have been widowed, and 51% of the same group who are separated or divorced report, feeling lonely some of the time or often (Beaumont, 2013)
59% of adults aged over 52 who report poor health say they feel lonely some of the time or often, compared to 21% who say they are in excellent health (Beaumont, 2013)
A higher percentage of women than men report feeling lonely some of the time or often  (Beaumont, 2013)

In the UK, an organisation was set up to address this issue.  Called Aging without Children, the group says that:

Our vision is “Ageing well together without children” and our mission is “campaigning, information and support for people ageing without children”.campaigning, information and support for people ageing without children”.

Our  aims are threefold:

Illuminate – to generate greater awareness and understanding of this segment of the older population and of the implications of ageing without children for public services and society more broadly.
Connect – to build networks, connecting and enabling locality-based and online communities of older people without children.
Innovate – through working in partnership and stimulating action by other entities, to facilitate the development and testing of new services and initiatives that meet the needs of older people without children – and, more broadly, of our ageing society.

Other groups of adults without children are getting together to address some of these issues in practical ways.   In the article While I'll be spending my golden years with my golden girls, Kiran Sidhu writes about her and her friends light-hearted plans to buy a house together to live in and support each other when they are older so they will never be lonely.

'My friends and I have come up with an alternative way to live out our golden years. When the time comes, we have decided that we will pool all our resources and buy a property that we will live in. According to Age UK, more than 2 million people in England over the age of 75 live alone, and more than a million older people say they go for more than a month without speaking to a friend, neighbour or family member. With our alternative old-age plan, we hope to avoid that loneliness. We will all live together and be each other’s carer and emotional companion.'

The Older Women's Housing CoHousing network saw the fruition of their dream realised this year when their co-housing project was built.  This was a great achievement and shows how a multi-generational community, a community where you will grow old with others of different ages, together.



Monday, 21 August 2017

Modern Families


Our preconceptions of what a family 'should' look like can contribute to our difficulty making the decision to have children.  Our society is much more inclusive  of different family compositions today as opposed to 10 years ago and TV programmes like 'Modern Families'  are mainstream and popular.

Yet, change comes slowly and there is still stigma faced by those that don't conform with conventional norms. Some clients who come to me are struggling with a desire to have children with the desire to have a child in a traditional two parent family.   But you might not be in a position to have a child in your 'ideal' family situation.   You may be single or you might have a partner who definitely doesn't want children.    Or you or your partner might want children but might feel that you need to have a child that is yours biologically.  This can set up a tension within us which can feel impossible to resolve.

I love collecting first person stories of people who are creating families in a different ways.  This story recently published in the New York Times Modern Love: Four Castaways Make a Family came from a woman who always knew she wanted to adopt and whose choice didn't resonate with most of her friends.

As far as I knew, I was capable of getting pregnant. I just didn’t want to. There were half a million children in foster care in need of an adoptive parent. And I wanted children, so this made perfect sense to me.

It didn’t make perfect sense to my friends.

“Aren’t you afraid?” they asked.'

If your worries about having a children in an unconventional context is contributing to your struggle to decide whether to have children or not, things you can do to help include:

  • Looking for examples in magazines, newspaper and online of different types of families.
  • Talk to people who are single parents, adoptive or foster parents.
  • Write down all your fears and worries about having a child in a non-conventional family setting.  Put it away for a week and then re-look at it.  Do those fears still feel so powerful?  If there are still fears that feel powerful, do some writing on how you could address or deal with those fears.
At the end of the process, be kind to yourself.  You might decide you don't want to have a child as a single parent, you might decide you don't want to be a foster or adoptive parent.  These are challenging options and it's ok to also say that that's just not right for you.   I've worked with coaching clients who have decided to go ahead and adopt/foster/have a child on their own and I've worked with those who decided not to.    The process of coaching allows all these clients to explore and challenge their fears.  Whatever decision is made afterwards, these clients know that they are making it with fuller awareness and are not simply being led by fears or beliefs/stereotypes.


Friday, 11 August 2017

Are you shocked by women who regret motherhood?


View of Halifax, Nova Scotia
I hope everyone is having a good summer..... even those of you in the Southern Hemisphere where I know it's now winter.  I have a number of clients in Australia and New Zealand and I am forever having to remind myself that the seasons are reversed!

Last week, I returned to a rainy UK from my annual summer visit to my homeland of Nova Scotia. The weather there was beautiful and sunny while it has been rainy in the UK so I'm feeling very grateful that at least I have enjoyed some summer sun.

This week, I've been struck by the number of articles and writing on mothers who regret being mothers.  It's almost as if the media has just discovered that some mothers might experience a sense of loss of their identity and sense of self when they have children!  As I've mentioned elsewhere on the blog, it's a topic of concern for many of my clients.

I do find the way the debate is often framed highly problematic however. This article recently published in Australia called Anyone Shocked by Women Who Regret Motherhood Isn't Listening  made many interesting points about the structural nature of discrimination against mothers.

In the article, writer Amy Gray looks at the response to some of the recent writing on women who regret becoming mothers.

'Reaction to this [mothers who regret becoming mothers] has been mixed – a combination of recognition and personal revulsion towards the women. When we hear something veer off from society's tightly-held script, there's always an immediate emotional reaction which seeks to minimise the shock. Surely there is something wrong with these women, hushed shock that anyone could question the benign glow with which we paint motherhood.

Invariably, these women are painted as mentally ill, because people can think of no other reason they would find fault with motherhood. It must be the mother, who must have post-natal depression that has somehow lasted for 9 years or more.  It's the mothers who are judged, and not the systems that oppress them.'

As I wrote about in an earlier blog post called Regretting Motherhood, writer Rachel Cusk also talks about how the adverse reaction to her seminal book 'A Life's Work' which was one of the first books to talk about the issue of regret in mothers, was very judgemental of her.

As Amy Gray points out, the reality faced by many mothers is that they find themselves responsible for.....

'doing the majority of child rearing and home chores. You won't be paid for it, you won't be respected for it and it won't pay into your super [pension].... Not only are women expected to do this, they're expected to love it. This is despite the fact women are often unsupported and feel isolated if they don't fit the ideal picture of motherhood – the woman who can attend school meetings at 2pm, has a clean home, dotes on her children and anyone passing by. Who wouldn't be isolated by an identity that ignores who they are but continually judges what they can do for others?'

I think it's very important as a coach to help my clients challenge and disrupt these assumptions and 'norms' of what motherhood should look like.  This is because I think that what women are regretting is not having children.... but having accepted society's uncomfortable vision of motherhood.

 We want to examine the 'tightly-held script' that writer Amy Gray describes, look elsewhere and see if we can create a version of motherhood that is more realistic, that is away from the ideal picture of motherhood.  If you were to do that, is becoming a mother a decision that seems more plausible and less fraught?





Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Decidophobia: Are you afraid of making the wrong decision?

Princeton University philosopher Walter Kaufmann in his book Without Guilt and Justice looked at the fear that many people have of making decision.  Written in the 1970's Kaufmann coined the term 'decidophobia' to describe the fear some of us have of even making the smallest of decision.

I only recently discovered Kaufmann's work through this Forbes article which mentions him in passing in this article Overcome the Fear of Making Decisions.  I was drawn to him as he articulates one of the key reasons I've thought that many of my clients get stuck around the baby decision.   That is being stuck because of fear of making the wrong choice.  Many clients have said to me that if they didn't have a choice - for example if they either found that they were pregnant by accident OR that they were infertile and couldn't have children, they would feel a sense of relief as the decision would have been made for them.  As Kaufmann states in the paragraph below, the guilt and fear that comes from making the 'wrong' decision can often feel overwhelming.

Humanity craves but dreads autonomy. One does not want to live under the yoke of guilt and fear. Autonomy consists of making with open eyes the decisions that give shape to one’s life. But being afraid of making fateful decisions, one is tempted to hide autonomy in a metaphysical fog and to become sidetracked and bogged down in puzzles about free will and determinism. It is far easier to define autonomy out of existence than it is to achieve autonomy in the very meaningful sense in which it can be attained. The difference between making the decisions that govern our lives with our eyes open and somehow avoiding this is all-important. 

I love how he describes the paradox between us as humans wanting and asserting our autonomy while at the same time fearing it. What we are fearing is the enormous responsibility that autonomy gives us.   In an article I was quoted in about 10 years ago in the Economist called The Tyranny of Choice

We've grown up with a lot more choice than our mothers or grandmothers; for them, being child-free wasn't a choice, it was pitied,” says Beth Follini, an American life coach who specialises in the “maybe baby” dilemma. “The anxiety comes from worrying about making the wrong choice.” Having options seems to make people think they can have control over outcomes too. Sometimes, says Ms Follini, choosing is about learning to live without control.

How can we overcome this fear? One way is through looking at and addressing this self-sabotaging fear head on. When I work with a client who has an overwhelming fear of making the decision, we often look at what their saboteur or inner critic is saying.  Often, the client might have a very perfectionist saboteur and a belief that they must know, that they must have knowledge that theirs is the 'perfect' decision - the right one.   When clients can begin to reduce the power of this saboteur, then clients find that the overwhelming pressure begins to lift and they can begin to trust themselves to know that they can move forward and make the baby decision.


Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Childless by Circumstance - A Conference for Women and Men

I'm so pleased to be speaking at this Annual Conference for Childless Women and Men.  It's happening on Saturday 14th May in Birmingham and it promises to be an event to explore many of the issues and concerns facing women and men who do not have children.

Conference organisers describe the purpose of the event as a chance for all those who are childless by circumstance to get together in a safe environment and listen to the most phenomenal speakers and build on our supportive community.

Although I mainly use the term child-free in much of my writing on this blog, it doesn't adequately describe women and men who are childless by circumstance. Many of the clients I have seen fall into this group and the circumstances that face people in this situation include:

- having a partner who doesn't want children
- fertility issues
- being single and not feeling able or wanting to have a child as a solo parent

Kerry, the conference organiser describes some of the reasons behind organising this event.

When I first realised I was not going to have the children I had hoped for I was angry at first that I had, just prior to that moment, thought I was going mad. Grieving for something that had never breathed life. Only to then find out I was not the only one, by a long way. 1 in 4 women of child-bearing age have not given birth. Yet where were we all? We are 'hidden' within our own Culture  and dealing with others' often intrusive questioning was exhausting and stressful.

The intrusive questioning and assumptions made by others is something I have heard again and again from clients.  Our culture seems to assume that individual circumstances of fertility and child-bearing is something that we can all comment on  and this lack of understanding and sensitivity is incredibly painful.

That's why it's so wonderful to see the energy gathering to bring people together to talk about and explore many of the issues faced by women and men who are childless by circumstance.   I'm looking forward to meeting everyone there and discussing more of these issues together.
Hello, my name is Kerry and when I first realised I was not going to have the children I had hoped for I was angry at first that I had, just prior to that moment, thought I was going mad. Grieving for something that had never breathed life. Only to then find out I was not the only one, by a long way. 1 in4 women of child-bearing age have not given birth. Yet where were we all? We are 'hidden' within our own Culture  and dealing with others' often intrusive questioning was exhausting and stressful.



Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Do I want a baby enough to go through IVF and ongoing fertility treatment

For some of my clients, deciding whether to have a baby is complicated by problems with fertility. According to the NHS website, around one in seven couples may have difficulty conceiving. This is approximately 3.5 million people in the UK.  That's a lot of people who do want child but who are struggling.

I've sometimes worked with clients who, if they could have gotten pregnant naturally, would not be struggling with the decision.  But the stress and heartache of IVF forces people to ask themselves the question.  Do I want to go through IVF? Do I want a child enough to go through what can be a long and difficult process?  Will I regret it if I don't do everything in my power to have a child?

This article Motherhood and Waiting Takeover explores the journey of IVF and how the waiting takes over your body and your life.

'It is not just the takeover of your body that makes IVF so challenging, but the takeover of your schedule, your life. Every-other-morning appointments, waiting by the phone for news about the results of blood draws, timing injections precisely, ordering more medication or procuring discounted or free leftovers from women finished with their cycles: it all takes time'

Clients who have tried to have a child naturally and are now facing the decision to go through IVF often feel guilty and worried.  A common theme is 'I've wanted this and now that there are some challenges, I'm questioning whether I do want children because if I really did, I would go through anything.'

 I believe that it's important to give ourselves permission to make the choice not to go through with a difficult and stressful medical procedure.  Many times clients say that they are not keen to go into IVF but they feel that they should, that they should try everything or else they will regret it.  Yet, when we are kind to ourselves and give ourselves permission to let go of guilt and the 'I should'  we can make the choice that is right for us.  

When clients do this, sometimes they realise that it's ok to make a decision based on the context.  It's not giving up to say that in this circumstance, I have decided not to have children.   And then, sometimes  sometimes they decide that they will try IVF but without the same negative feelings of guilt or worry pushing them to do so.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Why would I want to bring a child into this world?

It's been a heartbreaking couple of weeks here in London.   As some of my readers may know, I sing with Borough Market Choir.  My practise room where I see face-to-face clients is just 5 minutes walk from London Bridge and Borough Market.  It's my neighbourhood.  The photo above is of one of many moving tributes for the victims of the attack that have sprung up all over the area.

And then, two nights ago a terrible fire in West London in a tower block.  The horrible images of people being trapped  including the desperation of parents trying to escape with their children is almost unbearable.

When terrible events come close to us, it's frightening and disturbs our sense of security.   It can bring a sense of despair.

So for those considering parenthood, it can seem as if it is madness to bring a child into the world.  I wrote about this before in a blog post which explored how the concern about the environmental crisis in the world does affect some people who are considering whether to have children.  Why would I want to bring a child into this world? is a question I've heard from clients.  

There is no simple, no straightforward answer.    There are things happening all over the world seem chaotic and frightening.  For me it comes down to a key question.

 Do you want your decision to have children or not to be based on fear? Do you want to you want to give into the standpoint that the world is essentially a violent and hopeless place?

What happens when we tap into the feelings of community, love and belonging that always shines through in terrible times?  We can see people connecting more in the face of tragedy, people donating to charity and volunteering their time.    Maybe bringing a child into this world would not seem so hopeless, maybe we can see how our lives and the world would be enhance.

Or maybe, we would decide we didn't want a child after all.  But not because we were scared or thought the world was a bad place.  But, because it's not right for us - because we could create love and connection in other ways.


Thursday, 8 June 2017

Will I regret having children? Will I regret not having children?

Long-term readers of this blog will note that often I return to this topic of regret.

It's probably the one main driver in women (and some men) seeking coaching on the baby decision. Recently, a client said to me 'I feel trapped.  No matter which decision I imagine making, I constantly feel consumed by the fear that I will regret whatever choice I make.   When I imagine having children, I worry that I will regret this choice.  And then, the consequences of this choice will not only affect me, but it will affect my child and partner.    So then, I turn towards the option of being child-free.  But very soon I am overwhelmed by worries that I will be lonely, that my partner might have died or our relationship will have split up and I will be alone.  He might also regret the choice that I made - and he might find himself longing for fatherhood.'

This sums up the place that many of my clients find themselves in... of being driven by a fear of regret no matter what choice they make.

I think that's what keeps my clients and others in a limbo state - because when you are still deciding, you don't have to face the possibility of making the wrong choice, of regretting the choice you have made.

I've tried over the years to find ways to articulate my thoughts on regrets.  I say to clients that it's a paradox of the decision.  It's a decision that has big implications for our future and yet, we can only make it in the here and now.   In coaching, we work on visioning, looking at how we want to live our life now and in the future... and yet, we also have to be able to let go of the worry and desire to know and control our future in order to make the decision.

I found this short article by Oliver Burkeman Stop Worrying About Future Regrets really spot on about regret.  He references another recent article about parents who regretted having children.  Says Burkeman:

'The worst part about trying to minimise future regret, surely, is that you’ll never know if you succeeded. Who’s to say you’d have felt more or less regret if you’d taken a different path? In a feature in the Guardian back in February, several parents broke a major societal taboo by admitting that they regretted having kids. Obviously, though, they can’t know for sure if they’d have regretted not having kids even more. (The same applies, in reverse, to those who regret being childless.) I suspect what’s going on is not that some choices are more regret-proof than others, but that some people are more regret-prone, given to ruminating on roads not taken. Rather than having made a terrible mistake, maybe those regretful parents are just the kind who tend to regret things.'

I interviewed a woman who had decided to be child-free and she was in her early 60's.  She said that occasionally she felt a pang of regret when she saw a friend with a grand-child.  But she believed that whatever path you choose in live, you will feel regret.  It's part of being human.


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 http://www.wbur.org/cognoscenti/2017/05/12/mothers-day-marjorie-s-rosenthal

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'.



'


Monday, 17 April 2017

Easter Thoughts


Easter weekend has just passed and I'm recovering from eating way too much chocolate!  But, I've decided that I will write a blog post every Monday and so, here I am, with one hour to go till Easter Monday is over.

Easter  is a time of year associated with new beginnings, new life, fecundity and with family.   Perhaps you have just had a gathering with your family over the Easter period and felt the decision weighing down even more heavily than usual.  (for more thoughts on the holidays and the challenges they can bring, go to my blog post on the challenges of Christmas holidays Christmas Time and Not Having Children )  Easter can be a hard time for those who are trying to make the decision whether to have children or not. This can be doubly true for those who are attending church or who are regular church attenders.

If you have a faith, you may find that some religious leaders in your faith encourage you have children as a expression of the values of your faith. (see a blog I wrote last year on comments the Pope's view on being childfree.   I've worked with clients who have found it difficult when have been advised by ministers or pastors to have children as an integral part of their religion even when they aren't sure they want children.  When coaching someone in this situation who feels conflicted about the advice or messages they are receiving from their minster/pastor, I ask this question 

'What do you hear when it's just you and God? When you are alone, perhaps praying, to God?' 

And usually the answer is very different from the message the person has been hearing from their minister or leader of their religion. 

If we have a faith, we know that we can listen to and trust our own relationship with our faith and with our God.  Religious leaders can be wise and thoughtful but they are humans and like all humans are informed by society views and norms on having children. 

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Being a step-parent - without having kids of your own

I recently received an email from someone wanting to know if I could refer her to any articles for step-parents who wanted children of their own but found themselves in relationships with people who already had children and who didn't want any more kids.

I realised that this is an important topic that I haven't covered very much on the blog.  It is something that I have seen as a coach.  I have had a number of clients who have been in a relationship with someone who has their own children and they have found themselves in the step-parent role and part of a 'blended family'  Yet, this can be fraught if you also want children of your own.

Common issues experienced people in this situation include:

- Feeling 'left out' or a 'spare wheel' at family gatherings .
- Linked to the above, having a question about  'what's my role?' in this family (a client explained to me once that if she had a child with her partner she felt her role in the blended family would be more solid)
- Resenting your partner for having a relationship with his children that you wonder if you will ever have with your own.
- Having to take on a parenting role with step-children without being able to have a child of your own.
- Not feeling valued as a step-parent or the role

In a recent article on Huffington Post Help for the Childless Stepmom , author Mary Kelly says

Feeling like an outsider in one’s stepfamily system is to be expected. You feel like an outsider because in a very biological sense, you are.  It is a humbling position stepmothers and especially childless stepmothers find themselves in. It’s hard to not take it personally when stepmothers show real and genuine care for their stepchildren only to have those feelings rejected or pushed away.

So what do you do if you find yourself in a relationship where you are a step parent and you do want children?

To start with, I always encourage clients to do one last push to see if their partner will reconsider having a child with you.  Sometimes, when clients are clear, confident and centered, partners can change their minds.   Particularly if clients can 'speak from the heart' and express from a deep place why children are important to you.  I've worked with clients to help them do this and sometimes, it has worked.

If you have done this or your partner is very firm about not wanting children (and you don't want to leave the relationship), I suggest exploring how you can own and be confident about your role as a step-parent.  I've worked with clients who felt un-confident about their role and yet, the feedback they received from their step-children was very positive.  Sometimes, if you are able to own your importance as a step-parent and give it more value, it can make you feel more positive about your role as step mom.  Unlike the author of the above article, I do believe that you can have an important and positive role in your step-family as a step-mother.  You need to keep talking to your partner and need to keep looking at how you can move from being an outsider to an integral part of the family system - regardless of whether you have children or not.


Monday, 3 April 2017

Does coaching on the 'baby decision' help?



If you are struggling to make the decision to have children or not, you will know it can be isolating and difficult to work it through on your own.  But you might be wondering if coaching on the baby decision could actually help you or how it helps.   Some of my clients have written about what they have found helpful about coaching with me and I thought I would share it with you

'I came to Beth because I was in a panic about the decision to have children or not.  I was afraid to make the wrong decision and regretting this forever.  I have come to realise that there is no wrong or right decision and that I can live with the decision that I make.  I feel that I have fully explored the issue and am relieved to know that I will not look back on this time in my life and think that I didn't have the courage to address it head on.  Taking the time (6 months) to explore the question with Beth was the best thing I could have done to enable me to move forward on the decision.' (Cassie, Central London, 39)

“I initially came to coaching because I was struggling with the decision on whether to have a baby. I did not feel that I had friends and family who would have discussed this topic with me without having their own agenda.  Beth was just what I needed – she was very supportive but provided guidance in a completely neutral way. I eventually understood that the dilemma was actually a reflection of larger issues in my life, and we went about tackling those first. After 11 months working with Beth,  I completed coaching with greater insight on a number of areas in my life, in addition to clarifying the baby decision.” (Crystal, NYC, 36)

'I came to this coaching practice in an utter panic, pushed this way and that on whether to start a family by relatives, friends and my husband, all of whom had definite (and different) opinions on what I ought to be doing. The decision to start a family is extremely personal, yet even strangers seem to have perspectives on it, and it's easy to feel badgered and bullied even by well-meaning people. Beth helped me separate my own feelings from those of the people around me and to assess clearly what I wanted. I found the experience very calming. I would recommend that any women ambivalent about whether to start a family go through Beth's process - particularly if she feels she has no disinterested party to turn to.' ~ Virgina, 38, Writer

"Life coaching has given me the opportunity to reflect upon my life and self  chosen goals. I have made some positive changes, one of which is to  take more risks in life! I am more motivated and confident to change the  areas that I am dissatisfied with.  Beth has been extremely supportive and       with appropriate guidance and homework exercises has allowed me the  opportunity to grow on a personal and professional level. I would  recommend life coaching to anyone who seems frustrated or disillusioned  with the direction that their life is going in. "  -  Penny, 41, Teacher

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Co-parenting with a friend

I often see a number number of women coming to see me who are  trying to decide whether they would want to have a baby as a single parent. Sometimes it can be because they haven't met the right person to have a child with or a long-term relationship has broken up.

This forces many of the women who come to me to look at the option of having a child on their own.  But this can be a daunting prospect.  The emotional and financial burden of being  a single parent can be of great concern to many of my clients.

Co-parenting can seem like a way forward - where the demands of parent hood can be shared.  I've had clients who have approached gay male friends to see if they would be interested in being the father of their child and take an equal role.  The benefit is of using a male friend is generally that there is easy access to sperm.

Interestingly, I didn't even explore the possibility of what having  joint co-parenting arrangement with a close female friend who you are not romantically involved with.  This is exactly what the women in this article did, becoming the first friends to have their parenting relationship legally recognised:

So is  'Is co-parenting the right choice for you?'
Yes if:

- You are looking for more than a sperm donor and want to have the
involvement of the another person - a female friend or male who you are not romantically involved with in your child’s life.

- It’s crucial to you to have the emotional involvement of another parent in
raising your child.

- You feel comfortable and happy with negotiating, compromising and
making decisions with someone else in regards to most aspects of your
child’s life.

The key thing to remember is that unlike donor insemination where the biological
father of your child will have no say or involvement in your child’s life growing up (at
18 years of age children conceived by donor insemination can legally now contact
the sperm donor).  In a legal co-parenting arrangement, the other parent (male or female) will be an equal parent and will be involved in your child’s life.    By law, they are legally the parent of your child and will be entitled to seek access and visitation. If you are choosing co-parenting, you are choosing to be ‘tied’ to your co-parent through your child for a very long time!

I have worked with clients who have decided that in the end, they feel that they would rather be the only parent and not have to deal with the potential entanglements that may come of a legal co parenting relationship.  But for others, the benefits of having another parent to share the load with has tipped the balance in favour of this unique approach to parenthod





Sunday, 26 February 2017

Parents who regret having children


'I was reading this article on the train and my son kept looking over my shoulder - is it true Mum? Do some parents regret having children?' - Mother of a 12 year old in London

I was talking to some mothers I know about this article Breaking the Taboo: Parents Who Regret Having Children which was published in the Guardian weekend section a couple of weeks ago.  I've been meaning to blog about it earlier but life has got in the way.  And, I've been wondering how to blog about an issue which I'm sure worries many of my readers to this blog.  What if they decide to have children and regret it?

The issue that the article raises is at the heart of many of the conversations I have with women (and some men) who are considering whether they want to have children or not.    The parents represented in this article do represent what to many of my clients is their biggest fear - that they might decide to have a children and regret it.   And yet, what was telling in the article was that many of the the parents said that they still loved their children - the regret was often about aspects of motherhood or loss of their identity.

Corinne Maier sends me a long, precise email. She agrees that it’s taken for granted that children make their parents’ lives complete. It’s her job as a writer, she says, to fight the “It’s obvious…” ideas such as, “It’s obvious that my child is the most important thing. I have never said that I do not like motherhood at all; it is just that I sometimes regret having children. That’s enough to trigger a worldwide controversy. A thing a woman cannot say, apparently.” She sees a mismatch between the increased freedom that women enjoy and what she sees as the increased pressure on them to be “good” mothers.

One of the other interesting things about the article is that a common theme experience between most of the women which was tension between the ideal of motherhood as being the ultimate fulfilment and the reality that having children often is not the thing that makes your life 'complete'. This chimes with much of what I do with clients - which is to find out what their values are, what they feel is their purpose, what they are meant to bring into the world.   Because while having children can certainly give you a focus, it isn't the same thing as giving you a purpose or total fulfilment.

I think the more we realise that parenthood is filled with ambivalence the more we can have honest conversations about motherhood.  Parenthood can feel like an unstoppable train that you can't get off us and that might take us to a strange and unwelcome destination.    It might not be the train journey for us - we might want to embrace another journey.

 So how did my friend answer her 12 year old's question that I mentioned at the beginning of this blog?  She said 'You know, yes, there are some things I regret and miss from my life before children but as you get older, I can see that I'll be getting some of that old life back  and you'll now be a part of that too.'






Sunday, 5 February 2017

It won't always be that way

One of the fears that women who come to see me is that they might suffer or experience post-natal depression after the birth of their child.  Sometimes a client might have experience of depression or perhaps they have seen a close friend of relative who has suffered from post-natal depression.

Post-natal depression affects up to 10% of women so the chances are that you won't experience full-blown post-natal depression.  I came across this excellent first person report from a woman who discusses her experience post birth.   A Zen Yoga Teacher Gets Real about PostPartum Depression

In this article, that describes an experience of post-natal depression, the author describes some of the experience that many women have after the birth of their child.  The challenge to your identity and the shock that motherhood brings.  Says the author Rachel Meyer,

'I mourned every aspect of life that had disappeared overnight: urbanity and autonomy, cocktails and solitude. Sleep. Teaching. Quiet mornings reading the news over coffee. My sanity-sustaining asana practice, the long creative hours alone, my previous monastic-ascetic writer’s life. The freedom to shower, to brush my teeth, to leave the house.'

I believe that this mourning is often part of having a child and becoming a mother - and it can be a shock, particularly when, as the author points out, you weren't expecting it.

'I was a yoga teacher. I was supposed to weather the storms of parenthood with grace: be positive and perky, measured and resilient, lose the baby weight in a flash, thrive on green juice and quinoa whilst wearing my baby like a kangaroo.'

Yet, what is important to know is that this isn't a state that will last for ever, it is impermanent.   I often work with my clients on helping them access their sense of trust and intuition that they can whether difficult times, even if they do not know what it may be like.   For Meyer, the phrase 'It won't always be that way'  helped her though her post natal depression, allowing her to know that there would be a next stage in her journey once she got through this difficult and stressful period.  This is something that can provide us with reassurance - knowing that even if we are feeling down and worried, that it will not last and that we can move through this.  When we have a sense of this possibility, it can make the decision to have children much less difficult.  


Friday, 13 January 2017

Imaginary Children

I was at a drinks evening the other night for people working in the charity sector.  Although the main thing I do is coaching, I still do some work in the charity and not-for-profit sector to 'keep my hand in' and it also makes a nice contrast from working one-to-one

Everyone was enjoying the free wine and chat. As the evening wore on and people found out about my niche coaching women who were trying to decide whether to have children or not, people began to open up about their stories of making the decision to have children or not.  Two of the people I spoke to spoke very powerfully not having children even though they had always thought they would have children.  One because she had never met the right partner and the other because of infertility.   I often coach women who find themselves in a similar position and then need to decide whether they want children enough to explore options like having children on their own as a single parent, adopt or try more invasive IVF methods.

One of the most thoughtful pieces of writing on this topic is an essay by Bella Boggs called Imaginary Children.  Boggs writes about the the pain of not being able to have children.  As a secondary school teacher, she also explore  how child-less people and couples are portrayed in literature and plays and what impact that has on her students.

It occurs to me how many of the female characters we have talked about most—Hester Prynne, Miss Havisham, Sethe—have been defined by their relationship to children, a subtle reinforcement, for my students, that who they are is at the centre of someone else’s life, their very identity. In reality, this is both true and not-true; some have doting parents, while others have parents who have disappeared into work, addiction, or other relationships. Still, even the most neglected cannot seem to imagine a life that does not involve parenthood as a milestone.

Literature holds up a mirror, reflecting our views on society including women and the family.    And, literature can also influence the views and present an alternative view to the norm.  I'm going to be thinking about finding examples in literature of child free women who present a more positive and affirmative view of people without children.



Friday, 6 January 2017

Are your brain and heart pulling in opposite directions?

Happy New Year to one and all!  Although I do love the laziness of the Christmas holiday's, it does feel good to be back working again.  This week, I've seen several new coaching clients who all have the intention to resolve the 'baby decision'  in 2017.    And a common theme that I have explored with all of my clients this week is their feeling of being conflicted within themselves, as if they are being pulled in two or more directions at once.

This is a very common issue for most of my baby decision clients and it can feel like an overwhelming jumble of emotions.  (A few years ago, I found an article which described this tension very well, it's mentioned in this blog post Why does anyone have children? In  order to help people make sense of this jumble, one place I like to start with my clients is to explore the tension between our head (brain), heart (emotions/feelings) and our core (also known as our gut, in this schema we say that the core is the seat of our confidence and power).   It's a technique I learnt from my teacher Wendy Palmer helps to pull apart the tensions and arguments with us particularly when we are trying to make a decision.

Last month, I came across this write up on the great site Upworthy which was reporting on a comic which was exploring the very issue of tension between the heart and the brain.  The article, describing the work of comic Nick Seluk, creator of The Awkward Yeti 17 comics that illustrate the tricky relationship between your heart and brain. beautifully illustrated the the conflict between these parts of ourself.   As the article points out:

 'When your heart and your brain aren't on the same page, it can feel like the worst thing ever. How can you make a decision when your heart and your head want different things? The escapades of Heart and Brain in Seluk's comics often reflect his own experiences and will likely reflect some of yours too.

I've included one of his comics below that was featured on Upworthy and you can see more by going to his website at The Awkward Yeti.





 '