It sounds like a midlife crisis so visit your GP and focus on what you’ve achieved – not what you haven’t, says Mariella Frostrup
The dilemma I’m a 49-year-old woman. I work hard, own a home and live a fairly good life. My problem is that I can’t help but feel regretful that I never had children. I can’t quite believe this is how my life turned out. When I was younger I ached for my own child.
I have a partner currently. We don’t live together, he’s younger than I am and quite possibly the loveliest man I’ve been in a relationship with. It’s too late for me to conceive now and IVF isn’t an option as we don’t have the money. He says he doesn’t care, but he dotes on friends’ children and I fear that when he’s older he’ll feel regretful, too.
In previous relationships I’ve had two abortions and two miscarriages and I’m not sure I ever recovered emotionally. I somehow got my life back on track, though I suffered another miscarriage along the way. Those losses left me feeling numb and I pretend to others who ask that I made positive choices. I feel ashamed, guilty and cowardly.
I want to know how to get through these next few years unscathed. I’m too serious, anxious about money, the environment, everything. I suppose I am a typical spinster cat-woman. I fear the emotional wrecking ball of the menopause and want to move on and to not think about what could have been – but it’s getting worse, not better.
‘I fear the emotional wrecking ball of the menopause and want to move on.’ Photograph: Getty Images
Mariella replies Don’t panic! It sounds like you are living through a full-blown midlife crisis. No one wants to think they are just a number, but sometimes it’s easier to navigate life’s difficulties when you know you’ve got company – and companions with similar concerns are one thing you won’t be short of as you hit 50, brimful of anxiety, regrets and melancholy. There’s no shame in seeking help and the best place to start is with your local GP, provided they have menopause experience, so they can sort hormonal bedlam from mental wear and tear.
You’ve reached the first age of reckoning and you’d be one in a million if there weren’t plenty of choices you’d love to rethink with the benefit of hindsight. I’m afraid that has to stop. There is no gain and a lot to lose in looking over your shoulder instead of keeping your gaze firmly forward-facing. The past is a place to mine for happy memories, not dwell on for those that are less so. It’s easier said than done, but it’s definitely possible. Dwelling on the many things I could have done better, some major, some minor, would definitely flatten me.
Write a list of amazing things you can do and start to tick them off
I’ve front-loaded on the negativity because, quite honestly, the future is far brighter than you envisage. I understand your regrets about not having children and agree the likelihood of getting pregnant now is extremely slim. You can sit around and mourn or consider the surfeit of opportunities offered by not being responsible for anyone but yourself. Whether it’s relocation or re-education, your bucket list is far more achievable than if you were a parent saddled with the cost of an umbilical connection you can’t shake off.
A close friend, like you, wanted children, but didn’t have them. Quite honestly, it’s her unfettered lifestyle I envy most when my teenagers make Harry Enfield’s best caricature of adolescent angst seem normal! Instead of rueing your misfortune, write a list of all the amazing things you can do now you’re mature and solvent, grab your younger man and start ticking them off.
What’s predictably human is that despite the much longer list of achievements you have to celebrate – a good job, trophy boyfriend, decent lifestyle, own home – you’ve zoomed in on the one ambition you have not succeeded with. They are not minor details to be shunted aside, but amount to the very things that most kids hope one day to achieve.
If, despite all my encouragement to count your blessings, you still feel your life requires a child, then there are around 6,000 children a year desperate for a secure home, and nearly 50% of them are school-age siblings, which means in adopting them you’d have a ready-made family. Bearing your own biological baby may be a natural impulse, but the enormous gift you can give a child who needs parenting is well worth considering, and not as a second choice. It sounds to me like you tick all the boxes for an acceptable adoption prospect so a life with children to rear and rage at you is in reach (contact gov.uk/child-adoption).
Whatever you choose, the life lesson remains the same. From now on it’s imperative to be grateful for what you’ve got, not preoccupied by what you haven’t. And finally, the menopause… well that’s a whole other conversation, but a good place to begin is on BBC iPlayer with my documentary The Truth About the Menopause. Reaching midlife is a time for contemplation, but also for positive action. With half your life left to live there are options aplenty and inspiring ways to move forward. You just need to review your perspective.
(Source: The Guardian)