Collage: Eleanor Shakespeare
Collage: Eleanor Shakespeare


Should I squeeze in all the baby-free fun while I still can?

Marisa Bate is starting to realise that a woman has lots of ticking clocks, not just a fertility one

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By Marisa Bate on

The pictures looked beautiful. The villa had its own pool, overlooking stunning Italian countryside. The beach was a short walk away. It was booked for September, my favourite time of year.

This was the holiday that my boyfriend and I were invited on by a lovely group of his uni mates for a week. We, however, said no. The other three couples have children. By September, one couple will have three of their own, totalling five very little people.

So, why did we say no? Not because I don’t like babies – I actually really do – but when babies are popping up around you, like the miraculous post-Christmas blanket arrival of Cadbury’s Mini Eggs in supermarkets, and are suddenly everywhere, it feels like we should do all the baby-free things we can, while we still can.

And so, when we turned down the villa, I began to think about what we should be doing instead. And that’s when I stumbled upon yet another strange pressure in your thirties, one I’d never really thought of before. I began to realise, as your world splits into two camps – babies and no babies – there’s a now-or-never breeze in the air; an unspoken warning that your freedom is about to expire and you should do everything you can possibly do that you won’t be able to do when you’ve crossed over to the other side and are spending a week in September in a beautiful villa with enough small people to start a five-a-side. “Hurry up!” the world is screaming at you. “Be wild and reckless! Time is running out!” I knew there was one ticking clock for women in their thirties – I didn’t realise there was another one.

The funny thing is that of course I know adventures don’t stop when you have kids. When we were little, my mum drove us all the way down to the south of France in her red Fiat

Yet, there’s a strange twist to these anxious vibrations you feel, radiating around you, that make you feel like putting all your belongings in storage and moving to Columbia. Now, aged 32, things have just started to change a little bit. I really like Friday nights in, preferably listening to the second series of More Perfect, a podcast about cases that have gone to the US Supreme Court. I really like going to an early showing on the Peckhamplex on a Saturday night so we’re home by 9pm. Last weekend, we went on a walking tour of Pimlico to look at trees. My point being is that my sticky-floored, 5am dancing days are starting to evaporate and, in their place, I'm beginning to do the unthinkable: embrace routine, early nights and not follow the chaotic, sleepless jaunt that made my twenties so fun (and so tiring).

Instead, excitement is starting to arrive in other ways – like two weeks in the Nevada desert, a trip carefully planned and saved for, not a spontaneous Friday night at a lock-in. Am I getting old? Maybe, but just as I’ve found peace with slower pace, I’ve arrived at panic stations, which seems to be instructing me to go and do everything I’ve ever wanted to do while I have the chance. As I’m watching the new parents around me navigate the dazzling fog that is bringing a baby into this world, I can sense that the clock – the one you can hear from inside your own body – is running out. And so now, after looking at the pictures of that beautiful Italian villa, I realise I am walking a strange tightrope of being comfortable with my choices, finally, yet also feeling like I should be spending six months experimenting with substances in Palm Springs.

The funny thing is that of course I know adventures don’t stop when you have kids. Mostly, because I’ve been on them as a kid. When we were little, my mum drove us all the way down to the south of France in her red Fiat, my brother map-reading in the front, me sleeping from the heat in the back. We’d weave our way through French towns and pit-stop at motorway services,  my mum’s Sam Cooke blaring from her tape player out into the warm air. Another time, we took a sleeper train to Italy. We shared bunk beds, falling asleep to the rhythm of the trumbling carriages and woke up to the Alps flashing past the window.

As I write this, I am only too aware that this is a conundrum of privilege; I don’t feel pressured to have a family – that will be my choice and I can spend a large part of my child-bearing years at rodeos in the Midwest or roaming Pimlico on cold Sunday mornings looking at plane trees, if I want. It might not even be that we can have children. Yet all this anxiety is hot air made of the ability to have choice and the empowered presumption my life will play out how I imagine.

And so I’m actually really grateful our friends asked us along, not just because it was a nice thing to do, but because it’s opened my eyes to the pre-baby panic and why we don’t actually have to move to Columbia or Palm Springs or anywhere, in fact, unless we reallywant to. As I spend more time with a “3” at the front of my age, I realise the push and pull of “should”, and others’ decisions, is strong, but now is (finally) the time to do what you actually want to do – be it Friday nights in, road trips across the desert or villas in Italy with lots of small people. 


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Collage: Eleanor Shakespeare
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