My chat-up line? I want your chil­dren

When jour­nal­ist Lisa Brinkworth’s bi­o­log­i­cal clock started tick­ing loudly at 37, she de­cided it was time to re­write the tra­di­tional dat­ing rules…

The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - BODY & SOUL -

Imet my hus­band eight years and three months ago. We’ve spent eight of those years mar­ried — the three months prior to our 2005 wed­ding was the sum to­tal of our courtship. So brief was our en­gage­ment that my ring wasn’t ready un­til was preg­nant with our first son.

There were 12 weeks be­tween our head-on col­li­sion in a Moroc­can restau­rant and our wed­ding in a pub­lic park. On the night we’d homed in on each other, he called his cousin in Swe­den to tell him he’d met his fu­ture wife, while I was op­ti­mistic that I’d met The One. He pro­posed on the third date and I ac­cepted. By this time, we’d both de­cided that we were ready to set­tle down and start a fam­ily. When I said I’d rather do it sooner than later, he told me he was only too happy to oblige.

I feel com­pelled to ad­mit that our com­ing to­gether wasn’t solely down to Cupid’s in­ter­ven­tion. I am a ro­man­tic at heart but sim­ply didn’t have the time to get in­volved in an­other re­la­tion­ship which might or might not lead some­where. With my 38th birth­day ap­proach­ing, the time had come to hit ‘fast for­ward’ on the track of my stuck love life.

The truth is I had reached a stage when I could no longer re­press my long­ing for chil­dren. I had al­ways wanted to be a mother, but was distracted by my ca­reer as an in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist. Liv­ing out of suit­cases or in safe houses was in­com­pat­i­ble with hav­ing chil­dren and I had to prove my­self twice as hard within a male­dom­i­nated en­vi­ron­ment. How­ever, hav­ing ini­tially felt de­serted by fel­low ca­reer women who took con­sec­u­tive pe­ri­ods of ma­ter­nity leave, I be­gan to see they’d got it right. My sim­mer­ing dream of mother­hood ig­nited into a burn­ing de­sire. I was tired of be­ing with men who would avert the ‘chil­dren’ sub­ject at all costs. Given my age there was a very small win­dow in which to ex­plore my op­tions. I didn’t ex­actly have a queue of keen fa­thers beat­ing down my front door so I ad­ver­tised my crav­ing for chil­dren to all po­ten­tial suit­ors, my fu­ture hus­band in­cluded.

In 2011, jour­nal­ist Kather­ine Bald­win, then 40 and sin­gle, wrote about how she aban­doned her ‘baby gog­gles’ — through which ev­ery man ap­peared as a po­ten­tial fa­ther/hus­band — believ­ing that men were re­pelled by the idea of be­ing prospec­tive sperm donors.

She, wrongly in my opin­ion, sus­pected that her baby gog­gles were sab­o­tag­ing her chances of mar­riage. I must con­fess that if it weren’t for my own gog­gles, I would not now be a ful­filled mother of three sons. At the mo­ment of meet­ing some­one promis­ing, I would mea­sure up ge­netic ma­te­rial, in­tel­li­gence and earn­ing po­ten­tial, then de­duce within three dates his readi­ness to make a life­long com­mit­ment. The night I met the fa­ther of my chil­dren — now seven, six and three — my baby gog­gles were so vis­i­ble that I might as well have been star­ing at him through the lens of a tele­scope. The only dif­fer­ence be­tween this and other promis­ing en­coun­ters was that he didn’t drop his drink in alarm and scarper to the near­est exit. Don’t get me wrong: I wasn’t out to grab the first man who’d agree to im­preg­nate me. I wanted to raise chil­dren within a loving fam­ily unit, al­beit one whose foun­da­tions wouldn’t be built un­til af­ter the onset of par­ent­hood. If I went at my usual ‘rules girl’ pace of pre­tend­ing at first to be un­avail­able, then em­bark­ing on an end­less cat-and-mouse game, I would miss the boat.

I set my­self a dead­line. If, by my 38th birth­day, I hadn’t at least em­barked on a re­la­tion­ship that promised to re­sult in mar­riage and pro­cre­ation, then I was off to Brazil to de­vote my life to street kids, with whom I’d forged a bond when film­ing for a BBC doc­u­men­tary. Hav­ing a fall-back plan pre­vented me from be­ing des­per­ate, but be­fore buy­ing my oneway ticket to Rio, I had to be sure I’d left no stone un­turned in my quest for mother­hood.

Youssef showed up just in time, three weeks be­fore my birth­day. It helped that there was in­stant chem­istry. He did fit my phys­i­cal ideal: tall, dark and hand­some with the deep­est, brownest eyes I’d ever seen. He had a quiet au­thor­ity and a wicked sense of hu­mour. No mat­ter how en­tranced I was, I’d quickly have to de­duce whether we were likely to last.

In the pre­ced­ing weeks, I had reck­lessly bro­ken the dat­ing rules and ac­cepted a host of din­ner in­vi­ta­tions at short no­tice. I had ditched all pre­tence of un­in­ter­est and by the time dessert ar­rived I had made it clear to my un­sus­pect­ing date that I saw my­self mar­ried with chil­dren be­fore my next birth­day.

My crit­ics, most of them my friends, felt that I was re­duc­ing the se­ri­ous­ness of mar­riage to a busi­ness ar­range­ment, but I didn’t see it that way. I had fruit­lessly in­vested two decades in men who made it clear that they had no in­ter­est in start­ing a fam­ily. That suited me then, but no longer. If it was ac­cept­able for them to lay down their man­i­festo in such un­com­pro­mis­ing terms, then could I not en­force the same in­flex­i­ble ul­ti­ma­tum?

There was noth­ing cold or cal­cu­lat­ing about dat­ing Youssef. On our sec­ond date we talked about hav­ing chil­dren to­gether, but that only in­ten­si­fied the at­trac­tion for both of us. I was won over by his ab­so­lute con­vic­tion in the things most im­por­tant to him: fun­da­men­tally

fam­ily and loy­alty. He, too, had been hard­work­ing through­out his adult life and achieved his am­bi­tion of set­ting up his own busi­ness as a fi­nance con­sul­tant. He’d trav­elled and par­tied as much as I had. I knew that I risked not see­ing him for dust when I ini­tially told him I in­tended to be mar­ried with chil­dren within a year. Sur­pris­ingly, he told me that he’d been dis­ap­pointed when women had told him out­right that they did not want chil­dren.

What I couldn’t have known the night we met was that he was also wear­ing his baby gog­gles. Months be­fore we met, he had made him­self a prom­ise to find some­one to set­tle down with. Then aged 40, his life had be­come vac­u­ous. He swears he dreamt of me but I imag­ine he was dream­ing of some­one who wouldn’t balk at the men­tion of chil­dren.

Within min­utes of telling my best friend on the phone that I was get­ting mar­ried, she was out­side my door, beg­ging me not to give my life away to a stranger. As hur­ried wed­ding ar­range­ments reached fever pitch, my par­ents de­manded to meet my fi­ancé. My mother, when newly ac­quainted with her fu­ture sonin-law, flung her arms around him and said, ‘You’ll do!’ I think she was might­ily re­lieved that I might give her grand­chil­dren af­ter all.

Baf­fled guests turned up at our wed­ding hav­ing re­ceived in­vi­ta­tions just a fort­night ear­lier. The ma­jor­ity had not yet met the groom, or for that mat­ter be­lieved that one even ex­isted. I over­heard one long-stand­ing friend say, ‘I give them six months, tops!’

We re­cently cel­e­brated our eighth wed­ding an­niver­sary and are prov­ing our crit­ics wrong. Friends’ mar­riages built on seven or eight years of ‘get­ting to know each other’ foundered with the ar­rival of chil­dren. Ours is flour­ish­ing, in spite of the fact we did ev­ery­thing in re­verse. He didn’t move in with me un­til six months af­ter our wed­ding — I was six months preg­nant. It would be an­other 17 months, the day be­fore the birth of our sec­ond son, that we moved into our first proper home to­gether. If we rushed the nat­u­ral course of love at the start, the joy now has come in get­ting to know each other slowly. We have achieved our dream of par­ent­hood and with our chil­dren all now of school/nurs­ery age, we are dat­ing with­out the re­stric­tions of feed­ing times and be­ing too ex­hausted to leave home.

Ev­ery day we re­veal some­thing more of who we are — in­de­pen­dent of our roles as mother and fa­ther. With­out our chil­dren, I don’t be­lieve we would have come this far.

Boys’ club Above: Lisa with, from left to right, Zak, six, Ma­lik, three, and Rocco, seven

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