Kate Lawler: Women not wanting children is still taboo – and that's got to stop
“Sometimes I’ll be like, do you know what, let’s do it, let’s do it next year. And then within 24 hours I’m in the supermarket and I’m witnessing a child having the biggest meltdown and I’m like, no. It’s not going to happen, actually.”
Kate Lawler is “parentally undecided”. Or rather, she is in a relationship that is parentally undecided. Her fiance, Martin, or Boj, as he’s known, really wants to have children; she always thought she was sure that she doesn’t.
But the idea of women choosing not to have children is “still seen by many as taboo, and it shouldn’t be” she says, despite the fact it’s 2019. “And I think that’s got to stop.”
So Lawler, a presenter for Virgin Radio, has launched a podcast, Maybe Baby, to open up the discussion. While there are plenty of podcasts out there to guide parents through all the trials and tribulations of pregnancy and birth and raising children, Maybe Baby aims to help those who are still unsure, and also break down the stigma that is still attached to women who opt out.
It is clearly an issue that gets people talking. After the release of the trailer in July, at one point it was sitting at number two in the UK podcast chart. And three episodes in, Lawler has had a huge response. Here, she speaks to Sky News about the tricky subject of not having that maternal instinct – and why she wanted to share that with the world.
First of all, can you tell us a bit about what Maybe Baby is all about?
It’s a fun podcast, interviewing lots of celebrities who have had kids, some who haven’t, about the highs and lows of what it’s really like to have a baby. Hopefully it’s going to help us make an informed decision.
At the heart of the podcast is a serious issue. I feel like we live in a society where women who are open about their desires not to have children are judged. There’s a real stigma attached to women who decide not to have children and I think that’s got to stop. It’s 2019 now, women are more in charge of their bodies than they’ve ever been before – except in America – and we are doing what we want to do and what’s right for us. But that’s still being met with criticism and people judging you.”
You’re engaged to Martin, who really wants children, and you never have before. How does it work?
We are really happy together. We’ve got two dogs, Baxter and Shirley, and that’s our family. I’m so content with where we are right now in our life that I don’t feel like I need to add anything to it and I don’t want my life to change. I know that if we have a baby our lives will change; not necessarily for the worse, but I’m not sure if I’m ready for any change.
But, he really wants a baby. He asked me to marry him last year. I said yes and then I started panicking, going, ‘Well hang on a second, what are we doing?’ He’s always been convinced that I was going to change my mind.
I’m not sure if I ever will be ready. I certainly have thought about it a lot more since I’ve been with him… but I’m still not there yet and I just don’t know if I ever will be. So we’re asking ourselves a lot of questions. I’ve never wanted kids, for as far back as I can remember I’ve never been maternal. I’ve never, ever had that ticking biological clock. I’ve never had that instinct, that maternal instinct inside me going, ‘I want a baby’. Even when I hold babies, I just don’t have that desire to have one of my own.
What about The Conversation – what happens if you never change your mind?
It was always the same answer: we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it… up until just the other day. He said he wouldn’t leave me if I do decide I don’t want kids. And that’s the first time he’s ever said that to me.
So after years of talks about it that ultimately ended with no resolution, the podcast has helped in that respect?
I thought it was lovely of him to say that and I do think that it is because of the podcast. I think because we are actually being so honest with each other about it and he really knows how I feel. I don’t feel like [having children] is what I was put on this planet to do. I feel like I’m a great mum to my dogs and that’s all I ever want. I want to be with Boj and the dogs.
What are the most annoying or frustrating things people say to you about having children?
When people talk to me about, ‘Oh, but what about the future, what about in 10, 20 years’ time?’ You cannot look at it like that. You cannot have a baby because you are worried about the future. When people ask who is going to look after you when you’re older? There are no guarantees! When people do say that it gets my back up a bit… that’s no reason to have a kid.
My friend asked me the other day, do you not feel like you’ll need anything else? I honestly can’t say, but the people I’ve spoken to who are older than me and have chosen not to have kids still don’t regret it.
And when people say you don’t know what you’re thinking. ‘You’ll change your mind.’ That’s actually quite insulting.
You speak to a range of women, and men, about the various stages of parenthood, from conception right through to dealing with grown-up children. What about the other point of view?
I wanted to interview somebody who hadn’t had kids and was happy with their decision and we spoke to Angela Barnes, she’s a comedian. She’s great. A very honest and straight-talking person who’s never ever felt that biological clock ticking, like myself. I loved speaking to her about it.
This shouldn’t just be a podcast trying to convince me. We’ve got to flip it on its head, because there are pros and cons. I don’t know what the pros and cons are of having a baby because I haven’t had one, but I can tell you that obviously when you don’t have a baby there’s more time for yourself, you have more time to travel and not worry about looking after another human being.
You have way more time to focus on your career. You’re not going to have to spend as much money on another person, because having a kid is expensive.
What do you want people to take away from the podcast?
I just want people to realise that not every woman wants to be a mum and that’s okay. Maternal ambivalence is on the rise. More women are choosing a career over motherhood, more women are freezing their eggs, or at least waiting until their late 30s, early 40s. But there’s still this attitude of, ‘Ooh… you don’t want to leave it too late’. How about: I don’t want a baby at all.
In your twenties, it was, ‘Oh, you’ll change your mind’. In your thirties, ‘See how you go, you obviously haven’t met the right person yet’, and in your late thirties, people want to debate you about it.
It’s centuries of women, of the social norm, being: go to school, get married, you have a baby. But the world’s changed. We have changed, social norms have changed. I would love us to just live in a society where people championed others for their decision not to have a baby rather than scrutinise their decision.
And if you do go for it, it’s forever…
It is forever. Well, for at least 16 years, right? Martin is just like, you are always thinking of the negatives. What about when you see them walking for the first time or saying “Mum” for the first time. And when he says things like that I think, yeah, that would be cute…
It’s the most torn I’ve ever been about anything in my entire life because I’m with a man I love, who I want to spend the rest of my life with and I would love to have a baby with him. I would. As in I would love to want to have a baby with him.
And I also feel a lot of guilt. When you hear of women who can’t get pregnant and you’re like, is there something wrong with me? I feel guilty when I see people trying for a baby who can’t get pregnant.
Sometimes it can be a funny conversation. Other times I get really upset and I’m like, what’s wrong with me? Is there something wrong with me? Why do I feel like this? Am I going to regret it? A lot of people say you’ll regret it, that you never regret having children but you regret not having them. Not true! I’ve found loads of articles online.
That is a really taboo subject, isn’t it, regretting having children. Have you spoken to any parents who admit that?
So I asked this on Instagram and Twitter. I said I’m not going to read any of your emails out but I’m just doing a bit of research for a podcast coming up, and I’d love you to email me if you regret having kids and why. I did get a few emails. Not many, but a few. And the internet is full of people who regret having kids. I can find those stories.
This guy emailed me. He was anonymous. He sent me a really lovely email and he said, ‘I can’t imagine my life without them but sometimes I do think my whole life has been dedicated to raising them, and actually I do think a lot about what my life would have been like if I had just waited a bit longer. I sometimes feel like my whole adult life has been being a parent’.
Most stories I’ve read about regrets are from people who’ve had children when they were young. So that makes me feel better about my situation because I think, well, I’ve done all the partying, I’ve had enough relationships that I can safely say I’m done. I do think if I did have a baby in my 40s there’s no FOMO (fear of missing out) there.
So far you’ve spoken to reality TV stars Spencer Matthews and Vogue Williams, who have a baby son, fellow podcasters the Scummy Mummies and TV presenter Alison Hammond. What has the response been like?
Well, I had two messages yesterday, both so different. Here’s one: ‘Loving Maybe Baby. I have a 10 week old and I tell you now hand on heart I was terrified of how I’d cope but my God it’s been amazing.’
So that was nice. And then, two minutes later: ‘Kate it’s so good to hear your Maybe Baby podcast. I feel the same. Pregnancy creeps me out and giving birth is not something I wish to experience at all. All my friends are pregnant or trying to get pregnant, while I have no maternal feelings. Quite the opposite in fact… It’s good to hear I’m not the only one who’s not desperate to grow something inside you, push it out your vagina and then be stuck with it for the rest of your life.’
I’m actually pleasantly surprised [by the reaction]. You still worry about saying the words out loud and I still feel uncomfortable saying it now, which is so weird – that I don’t want kids, or that I don’t know if I want kids. I still feel uncomfortable saying it because of the reaction you get, but a lot of women have got in touch and it’s really nice to know that there are other women feeling the same.
We’re just trying to do this podcast to help us and to help other people, we don’t want to offend anybody. But everyone should respect that not all women want to be mothers and that’s okay.
Finally, has the podcast made you any closer to making a decision?
I’m getting married next year and I’m going to be 40 next year, so I’m going to have to start thinking about it seriously. Maybe when I turn 40, or get married, that maternal instinct will kick in. Who knows?
- The latest episode of the Maybe Baby podcast, with TV presenter Alison Hammond, is out now