If you’re on social media, I’m sure you haven’t missed the recent wave of back to school photos. Blazers, shiny shoes, pigtails and bobs.
Each time the obligatory photos are posted, I know it’s not my day for Facebook. I take a step back, and wait for the news feed to balance again. I shall never be the person to add a photo. Instead, I live on the periphery. I hang out on the sidelines, often floating, mute, above conversations, in person and on WhatsApp. I’m the one in my group who isn’t a mum. It can be isolating – especially when it’s your choice.
At 42, I know I don’t want to be a mum. As I’ve seen friends and family have their babies and those babies turn into toddlers and teens, I’ve wondered if that would be something for me, too. But I am sure, now, that it isn’t. And it leaves me as the “non-mum”, surrounded by mums and “mum chat”. There’s a strange feeling of being on the outside, looking in, of knowing the intricate details of being a mum from so many angles, part of the discussion but at the same time, completely left out of it. I am in WhatsApp groups that descend into mum chat despite being called things like “dinner” rather than “NCT”. Recently, I even considered saying “Please @ me when the mum chat’s over!” It felt like I was the child, causing a fuss and being unsupportive.
I’m not alone. There’s a new podcast about being childfree by choice, called “Ladies we need to talk“, and there’s a new book, “Childfree by Choice: The movement redefining family and creating a new age of independence” by Dr Amy Blackstone, which came out in June. This is less a complaint or demand for things to change, and more a musing on how my choices have affected my position among friends. I cannot join in with the eye-rolls about kids waking you up first thing, or the dismay at having a mum tum (yet I do have a similar body to many mum friends. It leads to jokes about my “booze belly”).
I feel quite foolish, sometimes, like I’m trying to ram a square peg into a round hole, chiming in with sentences such as “My nephew did the same thing!” or showing pictures of him and my niece. I hold them up as a parent would, my only point of reference to this world where we talk about little people all the time. Social events, for me, are often planned around accommodating childcare and it becomes a “girls-only” party because the men will be “babysitting”. Over dinner, the talk usually turns at some point to kids, parenting, the ups and downs. The sighs as they debate everything from nits to smart phone demands and ear piercings.
One day, I’d like to move out of London, find a house in the home counties, or even further afield, and fill it with dogs and very tall houseplants. To try and cement that decision, my partner and I did a days’ recce to the countryside. As estate agents went into every viewing mentioning the local schools, it left us realising that “out of London” is actually “family county” – a place where, because we wouldn’t be in NCT classes or school gate queues, we’d have to find other ways to make new mates.
Celebrity-culture and TV shows leave me feeling on the outside, too. From those who coo about motherhood being a feeling like no other, to shows such as Big Little Lies and Deep Water. I loved Big Little Lies but following its opening scene at the school gates, I knew none of the women in it would be “me”. Motherland is a classic, as is Catastrophe, but they’re all centred around parental struggles. I have joined a sitcom writing course in my endeavour to make a change to that one day.
Support free-thinking journalism and attend Independent events
I’m not berating my friends – I know we all lead our lives as we wish, and I love them and their children dearly. But it doesn’t stop me feeling like the odd one out.
And because it’s my choice not to be a mum, I feel I have to keep quiet – after all, I could have chosen to join their gang, right?