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Friday 15 December 2017

The mother of all dilemmas about having kids

A FUNNY thing happens when you get married; people ask about the ring, the dress you wore - and when you're going to start having babies.

The first two are just social pleasantries, but the last one is such a personal question that it never ceases to amaze. One may as well be asked 'So, are you fertile?', 'Your husband isn't firing blanks is he?', or 'How often are you having sex then?'.

At some point in every woman's life she will have to field the baby question from all but strangers. Of course, we have these conversations with our partners and close friends, but why people feel it's an appropriate topic to bring up with someone they may not know that well is baffling. It's not as if we need reminding!

Whether we realise it or not, women are judged throughout their lives on fertility; teenage mothers are vilified, those who put it off for career or financial reasons are made to feel selfish, and those who have kids but go back to work, guilty.

And then women who don't have kids for whatever reason - because they left it too late, perhaps didn't want them, or heartbreakingly did, but couldn't - are pitied and talked about in hushed tones.

It's a divisive issue that elicits strong opinions. But opinions are just that, personal beliefs, not facts. It's a fact that women are having babies later in life, the average age of a first-time Irish mother is now 31 years old.

It's a fact that Irish women are having more babies than they have done for many years. But it's an opinion that everyone should be doing it.

Telling someone you don't want children often provokes a response akin to having said 'I hate children'. Will it ever be okay to say you don't want kids, that it's just not for you?

As a new generation of women trying to have it all, children are not as much a 'given' as they once may have been. But of all the women I know who think they might not want children, not a single one would admit (publicly at least) to 'never'.

Just 'not yet'. But the trouble is, nature hasn't caught up with 'not yet', and an increasing number of women are turning to fertility treatments when the time is right.

Of course, there are many reasons why couples seek fertility treatment, and not all are age-related, but the majority of women undergoing IVF in Ireland are over 35 which is when fertility levels have started to slide.

You could argue that such treatments are science's way of catching up with nature; after all, men can father children up to pretty much any age, and as women still live longer than men, don't older, wiser mothers make sense?

During the making of my recent RTE documentary From Boom to Maternity, I met all sorts of mums and found out there are all sorts of ways to have babies. But I also found out there are all sorts of complications if you leave it too late.

So for me? Well, for many reasons the time is not right now. But, at 36, I know there is a biological glass ceiling that I will hit sooner rather than later. Time to stick some eggs in the freezer.

Janine Curran (35), from Maynooth

Janine is a freelance TV floor manager

Kids were always in my mind from when I was very young . . . I adore them. I actually thought I would have a heap of them. I thought that, at my age, I would have a few children already and, of course, I worry I only have a few years left. But I feel now that if it's meant to be it's meant to be. I don't feel under specific pressure from friends, but from society (and I guess nature) that there might not be much time left. You get the odd sly comment from people, 'God, you'd better get moving', which can be really annoying!

I have a really busy job as a TV floor manager, and I work between TV3 and RTE. As a freelancer, money would be a concern. At the moment there's no way I could afford a baby, or risk taking the time off and finding my position is filled by the time I was ready to go back to work. I have plenty of children in my life. I have two godchildren and I adore minding them, but the relief in handing them back means I have the best of both worlds. I have a career I love, an amazing set of friends, a great lifestyle, am really independent and always busy. I go wherever I want, when I want; what's not to love about that?

Edel O'Reilly (33), from Galway

Edel is a HR manager

I did things the wrong way around really. I always wanted kids and had planned for them, and then did an about turn at 31 and became all about my career. I was in a relationship for 10 years and, if I'm honest, I was an underachiever in work as I expected to get engaged, married and have children and have to give it up anyway.

Then, when I was 30, we broke up and suddenly I was faced with an unknown future. I realised that I could throw everything into my own life and not wait for someone else to come and make decisions for me.

I threw myself into work and it felt great. It was my eureka moment! Now I can see I was coasting for years, waiting for someone else to tell me what the next step was. Now, just two years after my break-up, I have accepted a big job in Hong Kong and feel like my real life is just beginning.

Maybe I will have children one day, maybe I won't. It doesn't feel like the be-all and end-all anymore. For now, I'm just so relieved that I didn't settle for the life I had, because knowing what I know now, I don't think it would have been enough.

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