Friday 24 November 2017

Why you don't have to listen when that body clock keeps ticking

As Jennifer Aniston enlists the help of Hollywood's top fertility coach, Deirdre Reynolds talks to women who have said no to having children

Jennifer Aniston
Jennifer Aniston
Deirdre Reynolds

Deirdre Reynolds

She's got the looks, the body, the bank balance and a little black book with the digits of Hollywood's hottest bachelors -- at first glance, Jennifer Aniston seems to have it all.

Since her high-profile split from Brad Pitt five years ago, however, there is one question which never fails to dog the actress in interviews.

While baby-making machine Brangelina consider adding a seventh stripe to their rainbow brood, 41-year-old Aniston remains conspicuously child-free -- despite making no secret of her longing to be a mum.

Now stoking tabloid obsession with her biological clock, Aniston has promised to do "everything in her power" to have a baby by the end of 2011.

In an upcoming issue of style bible Harper's Bazaar, the single star reveals how she's refusing to give up on motherhood.

But with the search for Mr Right unfruitful, she's enlisted the help of a baby coach to help fill the bambino-shaped hole in her life instead.

Jen has hired top Hollywood baby coach Suzannah Galland -- whose past clients include Demi Moore and Gwyneth Paltrow -- to egg her on.

And though keeping mum about the mechanics of how she'll make her baby dream a reality, the actress vowed to be elbow deep in nappies within 18 months -- advancing speculation that she's in the process of adopting, like pal Sheryl Crow.

"So many of my clients are walking around with a big hole in their hearts if they don't have a family," says Galland, a life strategist who teaches A-list clients from actors to politicians to shape their destiny.

"Many of them think that because they can't have a family the traditional way it won't ever happen -- they don't consider other viable means."

Of course, Aniston isn't the first freemale in her 40s to be taunted by the tick-tocking of the fertility time bomb.

In Ireland, the average age for a woman to have her first child is now 31 -- up from 28.8 in the 80s. More than a 10th of Irish women who gave birth for the first time in 2007 were over 35, compared with 9pc in 1999.

Meanwhile, the growing trend of women adding to their families well into their 40s led the ESRI to declare that "delayed fertility has become the norm".

"I never said in my life I didn't want to have children," Aniston has protested in the past. "I did and I do and I will! The women that inspire me are the ones who have careers and children; why would I want to limit myself? I want to have it all."

Yet, for real women, the reasons for procrastinating over parenthood run much deeper than the usual trite Career vs Motherhood debate.

A recent UK report found that one-in-five women now remains childless, citing the pressure to be "perfect", expense and perceived lack of freedom as off-putting factors.

And increasingly, women at a procreational crossroads in their life are turning to baby coaches to make peace with their decision not to have one.

"Some of my clients have just been told they can't have a baby and are trying to come to terms with that," says life coach Jenny Grainger of the Irish School of Life. "For women who've always dreamt of becoming a mother, it can be like a bereavement."

"Others are facing that ticking clock and the panic that sets, but still aren't really sure what they want."

She adds: "One of my clients recently had a light-bulb moment in the middle of a session when she realised that she didn't actually want to have children at all. Up until that point, she had been really focusing on motherhood because, as a woman in her late 30s, that's what she thought she should do.

"It's vital to recognise what's important to you -- not your mother or your partner."

For those who aren't willing to put their bodies through a battery of brutal treatments to have a baby, societal acceptance can be an even greater hurdle than self-validation.

Sassy, stylish and successful, Cork woman Deirdre Waldron is unapologetically child-free.

And the 44-year-old says it's other people who seem uncomfortable with her life choice.

"It's in our DNA to expect to have children at some time and growing up I never considered that I wouldn't," reveals Deirdre, who runs Fuzion PR with her husband Greg.

'I always thought that by the time I got to 40 it would feel like something was missing if I didn't have kids, but I'm 44 now and have no itch to have a baby.

"Sometimes when I tell people that I don't have any children, they look embarrassed for asking and almost apologise. Often, I feel like I have to give them an explanation so they're not uncomfortable."

By putting parenthood on the backburner, women are narrowing their options, warns counselor Angela O'Mahony of the Cork Fertility Centre.

"There's a saying in fertility: 'Now is your best time'," she says.

"You're only born with so many eggs and they're ageing all the time.

"Generally, when couples come to us they've already decided to try to conceive. Others -- who maybe got married in their late 30s and tried to get pregnant for a couple of years themselves -- had been sitting at home thinking 'We really should do something'. So they can be shocked to discover that by the time they come to us it's straight into IVF -- or that parenthood might not even be possible for them."

Deep down, however, those seeking the assurance of a baby coach may have subconsciously made up their mind about child-free future already.

"Some couples will say 'We never consciously made a decision not to have a baby -- it just hasn't happened'. But when you sit down and talk with them, often there's a reason why they've arrived at the age of 40 without a baby," explains psychologist Angela.

"It's quite a primitive urge to want a baby -- couples who resist that may subconsciously be making a decision."

"For me it was always 'someday'" agrees Deirdre Waldron of becoming a mum. "So although I never made a conscious decision not to have kids, I'm still not ready."

"I even went as far as getting a check-up to make sure there were no health issues preventing me from getting pregnant. I got a clean bill of health -- it just wasn't meant to be.

"Now the business is my baby. We recently won a big Excellence in PR award and I'm as proud of that as my sister would be when one of her kids graduates college.

"My logic is that I'm very determined and usually get what I want -- so if I really wanted a child, I would have made it happen by now."

And with exception of a passing existential crisis, Deirdre says she has no regrets over missing out on motherhood.

"Recently, I did get a 10-minute freak out about being 'childless'," she confesses. "My mum passed away a few months ago and a few weeks later my siblings and I had to go through all her possessions like photographs, cards and jewellery -- each with their own memories.

"When I got back home, I suddenly felt very upset at the thought that I wouldn't have anyone to clear out my stuff after I'm gone. But then my other half Greg reminded me of all the people in my life who love me like they are family.

"I don't feel that I missed out by not having kids," Deirdre adds. "And I plan to hold on to my jewellery for some time yet!"

Irish Independent

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