“Why I chose love over ba­bies”

When Katherine Bald­win, 45, fell for a man who didn’t want chil­dren, she had a choice: love or moth­er­hood. Some­times life’s ques­tions have no per­fect an­swer…

Red - - CONTENTS - Katherine Bald­win is a writer and dat­ing and re­la­tion­ships coach; Kather­inebald­win.com

When Katherine Bald­win fell for a man who didn’t want chil­dren, she had to make the hard­est de­ci­sion of her life

Per­haps when Bill said, “I can’t prom­ise I’ll change my mind about kids,” I should have paid more at­ten­tion. We’d first got to­gether at a mu­sic fes­ti­val nearly two years ear­lier. Right from the start, there was a spark – he was tall, and broad-shoul­dered, with a kind face – but it was just a brief fling. I knew from friendly chats chil­dren were not part of his life plan. They were very much part of mine and, at 41, I couldn’t af­ford to mess around.

I thought that was the end of it, but when we met 18 months later on a group cycling hol­i­day in Guernsey, the feel­ings were still there. As we toured the leafy lanes and stayed up late talk­ing in our tents, I be­gan to won­der if our re­la­tion­ship de­served a shot.

Here was a sin­gle, 47-year-old man who, like me, loved ex­er­cise and be­ing out­doors. One I had a con­nec­tion to. By now, I was 42, and the quest to find a part­ner and make a re­la­tion­ship work had over­taken my life. I was plagued by end­less ques­tions: is it too late? Am I still fer­tile? Will I re­gret it if I miss the chance to have a baby?

Sur­rounded by women in the same po­si­tion, I de­cided to write a book about what I called ‘the baby gap’ – that pe­riod of un­cer­tainty that kicks in when we start to won­der if we’ll ever give birth, and what it will feel like if we don’t.

I talked to fer­til­ity doc­tors and coun­sel­lors, women who were child­less and liv­ing with re­gret, those who’d worked through their grief, and those who were child­free by choice. I met women who’d frozen their eggs, shopped at sperm banks and adopted on their own.

I pored over sta­tis­tics and stud­ies and even tested my fer­til­ity – marginally bet­ter than av­er­age for my age – but I wasn’t ready to go it alone, even though I was no closer to meet­ing some­one I wanted to spend my life with.

Ex­hausted by it all, I made a choice: I de­cided to shelve the baby ques­tion for a sea­son, have some fun, and see where things went with Bill.

What fol­lowed was a happy haze of camp­ing week­ends, cycling trips, swims in the sea and pic­nics on the beach. Once, we spent three days in a field in north Wales as rain lashed our tiny tent. On the long drive south, we both shared how, to our sur­prise, we’d loved every minute of it.

We started to talk in a ten­ta­tive, jokey way about for­eign hol­i­days and shared homes. But as I got in deeper, I needed to know if chil­dren could be part of that pic­ture, too.

I AS­SUMED THAT SINCE WE’D GROWN CLOSER, HIS FEEL­INGS FOR ME WOULD HAVE SOFT­ENED HIS OP­PO­SI­TION TO KIDS,

but he hadn’t changed his mind and said it wouldn’t be fair to hint that he would. I told him that many men were re­luc­tant dads un­til they held their new­born baby, but “a life­time of par­ent­ing”, as he put it, wasn’t for him.

“Just give it time. He’ll come round,” ad­vised one friend, preg­nant at 42 with a man who’d been against a baby at the start. “I don’t have time!” I replied.

Or did I? I’d of­ten quoted sta­tis­tics that gave women my age a 5% chance of get­ting preg­nant every month, but more re­cently, I’d read an ar­ti­cle by US psy­chol­o­gist Jean Twenge who pointed out those stud­ies dated back sev­eral cen­turies, to a time be­fore elec­tric­ity, an­tibi­otics or fer­til­ity treat­ment.

I knew from my re­search, though, that re­ly­ing on data or test re­sults was a dan­ger­ous game – we were all unique. And while wait­ing had worked for some,

I’d met sev­eral an­gry women who’d stayed in a re­la­tion­ship, hop­ing in vain their part­ner would change his mind, only to split up when it was too late. I didn’t want to go down that path and end up re­sent­ing Bill – and my­self.

But what about the women who hadn’t had chil­dren and had never looked back? There was a part of me that started to see the up­sides of a child-free life with Bill: road trips across the States, wind­surf­ing hol­i­days in Greece, cycling tours across the Alps – no school runs or catch­ment ar­eas.

STUCK AT A CROSS­ROADS, TOO SCARED TO COM­MIT TO EI­THER PATH,

I rang up a ‘maybe baby’ coach I’d come across while re­search­ing my book – some­one who helps oth­ers de­cide whether they want chil­dren or not. Cal­i­for­nia-based Randi Buck­ley sug­gested I vi­su­alise meet­ing my fu­ture self in 10 or 20 years and ask her ad­vice about the path I had cho­sen.

“This helps you see what you de­sire for your life long-term. It taps into your deeper wisdom,” she said. Once I knew what I truly wanted, I’d find it eas­ier to move for­ward.

I sat down and did the work. I asked my 52-year-old self which path I should take and I ex­plored what was im­por­tant to me, look­ing at ca­reer, fi­nances, free­dom, part­ner and fam­ily. Pretty soon, I had a clear im­age of what I wanted most: to give and re­ceive love – with a man, but also with chil­dren.

It felt free­ing to know what I wanted deep down. But there was sad­ness, too. With Bill, I’d felt loved and able to love. I’d learned to live more in the present and en­joy what I had. But I’d al­ways be wait­ing for him to change his mind about chil­dren – and he’d be hop­ing I’d change mine – and that wouldn’t be good for ei­ther of us. So in a sad phone call, I shared my hopes, he stood his ground, and we agreed to part.

I had no idea whether I’d meet some­one and have a baby, whether I’d come round to the idea of go­ing it alone, adopt or even­tu­ally em­brace a life with­out kids, but I felt proud for tak­ing what felt like a real leap of faith.

Sin­gle again, I threw my­self back into dat­ing but

I kept hit­ting road­blocks – I didn’t fancy the guy who was keen on me and des­per­ate to be a dad, while I felt a mag­netic pull to­wards a man who wasn’t ready for a com­mit­ted re­la­tion­ship.

As time went on, I be­gan to see I was search­ing dat­ing sites for a man just like Bill. I couldn’t get our re­la­tion­ship out of my head. It didn’t help that Bill and I kept meet­ing up at fes­ti­vals and week­ends away with friends, end­ing up kiss­ing every time we did. I didn’t seem able to re­sist him and vice versa. We had fun to­gether and I felt happy and at peace in his com­pany. Then, at 43 and a half, af­ter a sum­mer on my own and sev­eral bad dates, a re­al­i­sa­tion be­gan to set in: it might be too late for me to have kids, but it’s not too late for me to be in love. Why was I wait­ing around for Mr Right and a pic­ture-per­fect fam­ily life that might not be at­tain­able when Bill was stand­ing right in front of me? And the truth was, when­ever any­one asked me what I re­ally wanted, I didn’t say a baby. I said free­dom, ad­ven­ture, com­pan­ion­ship, love, travel and sex. I de­cided to lis­ten to that in­ner voice and take an­other leap of faith, only this time in a dif­fer­ent direction. I took a deep breath and threw my­self whole­heart­edly into the re­la­tion­ship.

I’d re­alised over the years that love in­volves risk, and I had to make a de­ci­sion and put two feet in if I wanted a true part­ner­ship.

I CON­FESS THERE WAS AL­WAYS A PART OF ME THAT THOUGHT I COULD HAVE IT ALL

– Bill and then a baby in the fu­ture – but I’m now 45, and he’s 50, and we’re lov­ing just be­ing to­gether.

And if you ask me what I want to­day, I’d still say a camper van, a surf­board and to travel across Amer­ica with Bill, rather than to get preg­nant and have a baby. So maybe I do just want to live my life, feel loved and be happy for all the won­der­ful things we have, rather than worry about what we don’t.

It’s im­pos­si­ble not to think about ba­bies at times – I see dot­ing moth­ers ev­ery­where and it’s hard not to think I’m miss­ing out on a mir­a­cle of life – but then I could be sin­gle and child­less, lonely as a sin­gle mum or in a love­less part­ner­ship. So I prefer to make the most of my lovely re­la­tion­ship and ac­cept that we don’t al­ways get ev­ery­thing we want in life but per­haps we get what we need.

The thing about choos­ing be­tween a baby and a re­la­tion­ship is that there’s no de­fin­i­tive an­swer – no right path or per­fect de­ci­sion. Both op­tions have their up­sides and down­sides. But if I’ve learnt any­thing it’s to live in the mo­ment, to feel grate­ful for the joy I have to­day and not to miss the hap­pi­ness right in front of me by con­stantly fo­cus­ing on some­thing that may be just out of reach.

The baby thoughts still come and go but, most of the time, I’m de­lighted with our fam­ily of two and ac­cept­ing of not be­ing a mum.

For some­one who strug­gled to find true com­pan­ion­ship for years, be­ing in love like this feels enough of a gift.

“We don’t al­ways get ev­ery­thing we WANT in life but per­haps we get what we NEED”

Katherine and Bill en­joy the up­sides of a child-free life to­gether

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