Oh, that Kirstie. She does talk some crap. True fact: I once emailed a woman’s mag and moaned about how, in an article on ‘The Perfect Christmas’ she’d suggested that it was a good idea to keep £60 (£60!) Urban Outfitters vouchers in a drawer in case guests with teenage children dropped in unexpectedly and you needed emergency gifts. She was, I wrote, completely out of touch with the real world. They never emailed back.
And now, a lot of people are suggesting that she’s completely out of touch with the real world again, because of this:
“I don’t have a girl, but if I did I’d be saying ‘Darling, do you know what? Don’t go to university. Start work straight after school, stay at home, save up your deposit – I’ll help you, let’s get you into a flat. And then we can find you a nice boyfriend and you can have a baby by the time you’re 27.”
There’s something about the way she uses words that grates. It’s an interview with The Telegraph, don’t forget, and Telegraph readers love terms like ‘nice boyfriend’ (I’m surprised she didn’t say ‘chap’). Personally I’m offended by the way she says ‘get you into a flat’ as though a flat is a mental institution for the prematurely broody.
Anyway, let’s run with the bad stuff, now we’ve started with it. She’s clearly writing from a position of immense privilege. Sure, she’s in a position to help her daughter with a deposit on a flat, but are most people? I doubt it. There’s the way that she makes finding a nice boyfriend sound like something she’d send Phil Spencer out to do when he had a spare hour or two (although actually, I’d totally trust Phil’s taste in men) and, given the fact that this advice is based on her own life experience, she’s assuming her daughter will want to make the same life choices she has.
None of the above though would have made me write this post. She’s a bit irritating, sure, a bit detached from reality but so what? Especially as what’s she’s saying is that she personally wishes she’d had children earlier. You can’t pull the woman up on her hopes and regrets with regard to her own life.
One of the things I’ve learnt over the years is that the reason something riles you will be completely different from the reason it riles other people. There are literally dozens of reasons why this piece will piss people off. Women who don’t want kids are likely to be irritated by the fact that this seems to be saying that all women ultimately do. Others won’t like that it gives 35 as the moment when fertility ‘drops off a cliff,’ when some research suggests that’s not the case. More still will resent the fact that Kirstie’s opinion on this stuff is worthy of printing just because she’s rich and famous.
But I can only talk for me. And the reason it riles me is because it’s a subject close to my heart, and one that scares me, too. Massively.
I want babies, and I have done for years now. And by want, I mean WANT. In my early twenties, I ripped an article out of the paper about a single woman who’d hit 35, bitten the bullet and gone down the sperm donor route, and I filed it away, while my mum looked on in horror. I guess I never was an optimist. Thirty-five became my cut off point, too: the age at which, if I hadn’t met someone I could have children with, I’d have them anyway.
The older I get, the more I try not to think about that decision. I don’t want a baby any less, but life experience brings with it new concerns: wouldn’t having a baby by yourself be terribly, terribly lonely, not to mention hard work? Is it fair to deliberately set out to have a child with just one parent? Could I cope? Would it happen naturally? My cycle is all over the place, perhaps due to years of disordered eating and anxiety, but possibly because of something bigger than that. And because I swing between burying my head in the sand and lying awake worrying about it, yeah, I kind of wish Kirstie hadn’t brought it up. Plus, 35 is gonna come round quick, I can tell.
It’s not just fear though. Twenty-seven seems damn young to me, and I know that if I’d have settled down and been ready to have kids by that age, it wouldn’t just have been a formal university education I’d have been missing out on/postponing. Much of my sexual, social and body confidence has come in the last three or four years, and yes, having children would have changed that.
And, finally, as a friend pointed out, there’s that potential sense that, if it doesn’t happen – if you don’t meet someone and have those babies you so desire – you’ve wasted 15 years of your life when you could have been studying a subject you love and climbing the career ladder. 35- 40 seems late to start on that route if your Plan A hasn’t worked out. I guess for me, that’s the crux of it – I’m lucky enough that my education and career progression feel largely within my control, whereas meeting a man I want to have children with feels much more flukey, and I’m not sure I’d be willing to put other aspects of my life on hold in the hope that it’d all figure itself out in the end.
This is already much longer than most of the stuff I write, and I think that’s pretty telling. What Kirstie’s saying isn’t wrong – she’s speaking from personal experience, she’s talking about being more honest with women, about widening the debate. The problem isn’t what she’s saying, it’s the way that she says it. And more than that – the fact that it hits a nerve.