• arekidsforme

Podcast Episode #4 - Ciara Meehan

In this episode, I speak to Ciara Meehan. She is an historian, lecturer, and author who is childfree by choice. She speaks about being very sure of that and what it's like feeling excluded from society where the focus is on motherhood and families with children. She shares some great insight on how to support yourself in this. You can follow Ciara on Twitter - https://twitter.com/CA_Meehan





Episode Transcript:


Margaret O Connor

Welcome to the Are Kids For Me podcast. This podcast is for you if you have ever asked, or are currently asking yourself this question. It's a big question which can be hard to answer for lots of reasons, and I am hoping to provide you with some information that can help. In each episode I will speak to people with personal and/or professional experience in this area. My own name is Margaret O Connor. I'm a counselor and psychotherapist who offers specialist counseling on this topic. I conducted my master's research on how women in Ireland make the decision to become mothers or not. And I really really love talking about this topic. I hope you find it useful.


Today, I am speaking Ciara Meehan. She's an historian and author, a lecturer, and is child free by choice. She's originally from Dublin and works in the UK with very regular visits back here. Ciara was really honest about her experience as a child free woman and explained how you can be very happy in your own decision to be child free, while still feeling excluded from society, where the focus is generally on motherhood and families with children. She shares some really good advice about ways to support yourself in this and to work against the stigma of being child free, which includes not apologizing for yourself and your decision. I really hope you find this discussion useful.


Right so I just want to thank you very much for agreeing to take part in the interview Ciara. So it's really lovely to talk to you. We were just saying there's about since 2017, that we met last so it's really nice to catch up, thanks very much.


Ciara Meehan

Thanks for invite, I'm really pleased to be asked to do this. Thanks a million.


Margaret O Connor

And so I suppose what I'm doing with most people as I said, I'm kind of starting off just asking, if you remember was it kind of a gradual realization or a specific decision around choosing not to have children for you?


Ciara Meehan

It definitely wasn't a decision for me. And I suppose it was more of a gradual realization. When I look back, I can't identify a single moment in time where I said, I'm never going to be a mother. And in fact, my mom talks about when I was little, and I never really played with dolls. I mean, I played with Barbies and so on, but I never played mother with dolls. You know what I mean? And I don't know whether that was just a preference for particular toys as a child or was it an indicator of what was to come. But I can't honestly say that at any point in my life, I thought I was going to grow up and be a mother myself. And and gradually as I came into my 20's and then into my 30's, it was just something I took for granted. I know that I don't want children, and I don't necessarily know why I don't want children if that makes sense. But it definitely wasn't a decision I took consciously in any particular moment in time.


Margaret O Connor

Okay, that's really interesting. And I suppose was that challenged at any point along the way, you know, that maybe you felt kind of oh I actually have to make this decision now?


Ciara Meehan

Ahm, you know, what, with a lot of things I'm quite agreeable to people. So, I'm very easily talked around, but there are certain things that I have a hard line on and being a mother has been one of those things. You know, you hear the usual questions about who will look after you when you get older. And you know, who would you leave your money to, provided I've not spent at all (laughter), but I just don't think having children to look after me in my later life is a good enough reason to to bring a child into this world. And so while people I suppose, have questioned why I have continued along that path, it's not something at any point that I have said, maybe I should rethink this, or maybe I should give more time to it, you know, I've always been quite clear that this is my decision. And, and that will be it.


Margaret O Connor

Okay. Because I think, you know, it's funny you say that I think for some people, it's like, we almost expect that we'll wake up one day and like, you know, when we turn 30, or when we turn 35, or whatever, we go, oh, it'll jump out of nowhere, but you didn't expect that? (laughter)


Ciara Meehan

I don't think so. Because when, certainly when I was in my 20's and people would say to me, oh, you'll change your mind when you meet the right person or the biological clock will start ticking and and then you know, you'll get this realization. And part of me always knew that that wasn't going to happen. The biological clock wouldn't kick in. And I was fairly confident that would be the case. And as I said, now that I'm in my late 30's, it hasn't kicked in for me. And, and, you know, I've just always been quite adamant that being child free was how I was going to live my life.


Margaret O Connor

Okay, okay. And can I ask, is it like a defining part of your life? Or is this one part of your life that you, you may not actually pay that much attention to, whereas others probably pay more?


Ciara Meehan

I think that's a really interesting question. And it depends on the people that I'm around at any given moment. It's not particularly a defining part of my identity for me, but it can be with others. So in a past relationship, for example, it became a really big issue and ultimately led to the end of that relationship. And within my friendship group, my friends are all absolutely fine with me making that decision or making, you having that choice, they don't query it at all. But I am known as the friend who isn't the one who you know, to show the baby photos to and things like that. I will look at them. And don't get me wrong, it's not that I dislike children, but I won't be the person who will say, can I see your latest photographs? You know? And so I think that's an identity, is one that comes from other people as opposed to one that I imposed on myself.


Margaret O Connor

Yes. Okay. Do you think it has influenced your life, has it led you in particular directions that you might not have gone in otherwise?


Ciara Meehan

I'm not sure that it's influenced my life, but it certainly has created opportunities I mightn't have otherwise had. So for example, you know, I'm born and raised in Dublin, but I now work in the UK, and I've been there for seven years. And when the opportunity came to take up my job in the UK, I didn't have to think about anybody but myself to make that move. And that's not always the case. You know, I know of other colleagues who perhaps haven't pursued academic opportunities because they don't want to disrupt their children from school or from their friends and so on. And, and, you know, I don't have those types of restrictions in my life. So it's, it's let me do things that I might not otherwise have done. And even in terms of living in the UK, I still try to go home to Ireland every three weeks or so outside of the pandemic, obviously, but in normal circumstances, (laughter) and again, that ability to move back and forth between the two countries is not something I would be able to do as easily. Because again, I'd have to think about whether it's appropriate for the child to be missing school or, or take them away from their friends or their activities at the weekends. And, and although I'm loath to use the expression and it allows me to live a sort of selfish life, to an extent, and when I say selfish, I mean, I'm at the centre of it, and I query the use of the word selfish, if that makes sense.


Margaret O Connor

But it can be a very loaded word. And it's often used with negative implications. I guess, but for you, it's more of a positive thing?


Ciara Meehan

Yeah, it just means that my decision making is, is about me, essentially. Now, obviously, when I'm making decisions about going back and forth between England, I do think about my friends and family who are in Ireland and who I miss, you know, a huge amount when I'm in England. And, and that influences my decision to come home so regularly. But when I made the decision to move to England, I knew that they would still be here that I could still come home to them and so on. Whereas, if I had children or a child, I'm not sure I, you know, I couldn't have had that degree of flexibility, I don' think.


Margaret O Connor

Okay. And it was, it's something I'm curious about, and in the podcast, I think from talking to clients, there's a very, I want to say maybe, prescribed idea of what happens when you have children. Prescribed mightn't be the right word, but I suppose time tends to fill itself, there will be lots to do and there you know, you have a 20 year, roughly, (laughter) plan of, these are the things I'm going to have to do. Whereas if you don't have children, for some people, it can feel like it's almost like a void, like, what do I do? I'm going to have all this time. This is why I'm really interested in what people do actually do with their lives when they don't have children. So I suppose what does child free life look like for you?


Ciara Meehan

Sure. And so there's, there's different components to it. You know, as I've already mentioned, there's the regular travel back between Ireland and the UK, which, you know, takes up quite a bit of my time. But I'm also you know, I would consider myself as something of a workaholic as well. And so whether that is direct teaching or my research, and I'm quite fortunate, I think in my career in that, you know, I'm now an associate dean and a reader at my university, which is the Irish equivalent of associate professor. And again, I am not sure I would necessarily have got to those stages if I'd had children, because the weekends that I spend writing or the evenings spent answering emails and so on. I mean, they are my, that's my decision to do that. And I'm not saying it's the right way to go about work or anything like that. But I have the space and the time to be able to do those things, which other people with more demands on their time wouldn't have been able to do. And so I do, I do sometimes think that what I've achieved in my career is a consequence of being child free.


Margaret O Connor

Okay.


Ciara Meehan

Sorry, can I get across you as well. I would also say in a more lighthearted note, that while I don't necessarily think I have any maternal instincts, I do describe myself as a fur mother to my dog, (laughter) which I think a lot of childfree people will do as well. So she takes up a lot of my time too in that respect.


Margaret O Connor

I've seen her on Twitter and she's a very cute, yes. (laughter) Okay, so and yeah, very important. Absolutely..I've forgotten what I was asking you now...Yes, around the creativity part. So you are an author and you write and research, do you have any idea because sometimes there can be a bit of a, I suppose a discussion around the ability to be creative and be a parent. So, do you think it has helped you again, just having that time and the space to kind of dedicate to thinking and writing, is that important for you?


Ciara Meehan

Yeah, I definitely think so. One piece of advice I always give to my students whose dissertations or thesis I'm supervising, is that thinking is as important as writing, and that the urge is always there to try and get words onto the paper and make your word count, but actually stepping back from what you're writing and spending time thinking through your arguments can help crystallize your thoughts and so on. And, again, because there's, there's no distractions around me, you know, I have the space to sit there and think about those. That's not to say that people who are parents don't do that, of course they do as well. But I just have a bit more of luxury of time to be able to do things like that.


Margaret O Connor

Okay, so travel, work, writing, are some of some of the things that take up your time. And then we've touched on it a little bit, but do you tell people or you know, because sometimes we've been discussing with people like, you can be asked in the most random scenarios, whether you have children or not, how do you deal with it, or does it happen to you?


Ciara Meehan

Yeah, so, I think looking back when I was in my 20's, I didn't necessarily declare it and it didn't really come up. But now that I'm in my 30's, and particularly in my late 30's. And it's a time when most people in their life would have children or are thinking about it. And it's become more of an issue. And so I'm finding myself being more upfront about it. And that partially is the consequence of the breakdown of the relationship I mentioned earlier. And so, you know, I'm quite clear now that it is a hard line for me. But I also, yeah, I think I'm, in a way, I'm kind of lucky, because in the academic community, a lot of women colleagues don't have children. I mean, some of them do, but then there are a lot of women who don't make that decision. And so I suppose I work in a climate where people are less likely to ask about my situation, if I was in a different line of work, perhaps. But when people ask me about it now, you know, I'm honest, I don't make excuses in the way that I used to. And I don't apologize for myself anymore, either. And previously, when someone would say to me, you know, do you have children? And I say no, when the inevitable conversation follows, I would find myself saying things like, oh, but you know, I really love children. And I love having my godchild around me and so on. And those things, you know, they're not lies by any means by saying it, but I always felt that I needed to make up for not having children or wanting them in some respect by acknowledging how wonderful children can be. Whereas now I'll just say, nope, I don't have children, no plans to have any, end of conversation. You know, I don't feel the need to justify it anymore.


Margaret O Connor

Okay. And has that changed how people react do you think?


Ciara Meehan

I think so. To an extent, I guess when you when you show you're not willing, I suppose to continue the conversation, it doesn't leave people anywhere to go with us. And and it's obviously a clear indication that that is the end of the story. So yeah.


Margaret O Connor

That is interesting, I think, yeah, there can be a lot of funny stories...or not always funny (laughter). And I'm just wondering, I suppose do you have any advice? Because I think people maybe struggle with those aspects like, do I tell people or what do I tell people, or just generally how to maybe try and become a bit more comfortable that if they are thinking actually, this is the decision that I'm going to take or have taken that I'm not going to have children, do you have any advice for people about how they can become more comfortable with it?


Ciara Meehan

I suppose I'll start by acknowledging the privileged position I'm in i f I can use that expression, and I say that purely because my parents are completely supportive of my choice. There has never been at any point, any pressure put on me or comments made about it, so that has made life a lot easier for me. And, you know, I come from a point of support and love, and that makes it easier. And I think though just in terms of giving advice to people, if it's in a relationship in terms of being, you know, up front about it, and, but also just remembering, and it's easier said than done, that you can't make other people happy by doing things that make you unhappy, if that makes sense, that in other words, trying to make other people happy won't work for you. And that at the end of the day, the decision is what works best for you. And and that isn't something that you should ever apologize for. Because we can only live our own lives. We can't live for other people. I know that sounds very happy clappy, sort of cliched and so on. But the best piece of advice that I've ever been given and I try to apply this to other aspects of my life is, you know, when you stop making other people happy or trying to make them happy, that's when you make yourself happier. And, you know, that was a counselor who told me that, and it's made such a huge difference to how I approach so many different parts of my life now as well.


Margaret O Connor

No, I think that's brilliant advice. And because yeah, it was, I'm always struck by you know how personal and intimate a decision this is. And yet there's so much external ,or it feels like there's an awful lot of external involvement, just like there's messages going from everywhere, that you should be having children or will be having them and want to have them and all those things. So that's really good advice.


Ciara Meehan

I actually, I heard an awful story from a friend who, once she got married, her and her husband have made the decision to wait a few years before they had their first child, and an older colleague had actually left a a leaflet about infertility on her desk in work. And she thought she was doing it in a supportive way, in case, you know, my friend was struggling with having the conversation but as far as she was concerned, this was just an older person making assumptions, and interfering and inserting herself into her life in a way that wasn't wanted. And I have to say a few people.. I know that's an extreme case, but I've been really fortunate that I've not encountered anything even close to that.


Margaret O Connor

Okay, brilliant, that is really good. Yeah, I think.. I think that's really really good advice. And again, I know we've we've touched on this a little bit, so you don't feel that it has impacted your family or friends.. relationships. It hasn't become a barrier or anything like that for you?


Ciara Meehan

Not within family and friends. And you know, I am extremely fortunate with my parents and it could have been very different because I'm an only child as well. So my decision not to have children denies them any grandchildren at all. And my godson is lucky in that respect, because he sort of fills the void there and gets all the benefits that my children otherwise would have (laughter). And but no, they've been, they've been absolutely fine with it. And, and in terms of my friends and my, my circle of closest friends, and only one of them actually has children. And so I'm sort of lucky in that respect too, and yes, so I've been really fortunate. And I think that's, that's made it just easier for me, to live.


Margaret O Connor

Yeah.. Did that impact on your decision? I suppose the fact that you're an only child, was that something you thought about?


Ciara Meehan

I don't think so to be honest, again, you know, to go back to what we talked about at the start, I don't remember a point where this suddenly became the guiding principle of how I was going to live my life, I think because I grew up and became a teenager and into an adult not expecting to have children, it meant that I never had a period of reflection really thinking about it. And if anything, you know, with my dad, for example, I've joked that I've immortalized the Meehan name anyway, through my publications (laughter). In terms of our legacy, it feels not us, well, not that many people read, you know, the types of history books I write, but that's not the point (laughter), you know. So, you know, and we're not really a family that's too concerned with carrying on the family name and things like that. Anyway, so yeah, it's..it's not something I've thought about that much to be honest.


Margaret O Connor

It's really interesting because I do, you know, the whole idea of legacy can be very influential for some people. And again, for some people, I suppose they see children as being the legacy and and the family name and family traditions and all of that stuff. So.. you've kind of said it there.. for you legacy can be your books, your research your work, so they will outlive you.


Ciara Meehan

I also, I suppose when I was, when you invited me to do this, I thought a little bit more about my relationship with my godson as well who will be 18 in September. I'm not sure where the time has gone! But I wonder a little bit has.. subconsciously has his existence made it easier for me as well. Now, um, I think I'm a good godmother, in the sense that I, you know, I will remember birthdays and key moments and things like that. And but, you know, when he was a baby, when he was a toddler, I never babysat him. I didn't do the changing of nappies or anything like that. And the one time, I will never forget, is that he was left on his own with me, he tripped up and got carpet burn. I'll never ever forget the trauma of the one time I minded a child's on it's own! But yeah, I don't know when, you when you talk about legacy and and things like that in terms of what I do with my money if you know if I have any when I pass away, I just assume it'll all go to him. And so in a way maybe he acts as a surrogate child for me without any of the responsibilities that comes with it. I don't actively think of him in that way, you know, but I don't know, maybe there is, if I were to really dig deeper you know, in a counseling session or something, maybe I'd discover that he is, he's part of that process. And but sorry, I'm going round in circles here now but yeah, I suppose his his existence answers some of the questions for me about later in life, and lets me off the hook of having to think about it.


Margaret O Connor

Okay, no, that's interesting. Yeah, okay.


Ciara Meehan

Oh, sorry, I'll just say if he is listening in on this, you know, good luck to looking after me later in life (laughter)!


Margaret O Connor

There will be payback! (laughter)


Ciara Meehan

He will earn his money! (laughter)


Margaret O Connor

And again, as this is a question that people.. maybe it seems like they obsess about this a lot. And I'm curious, too, it sounds like maybe you don't think about it too much, you know, the idea of later life like, people do ask, I suppose.. who is going to look after you? So if you don't have children of your own.. is it something you think about


Ciara Meehan

Yeah, in a weird way, which seems to contradict everything I've said, so far, it is something I think about because as an only child, I'm very conscious that as my parents get older, it will be my responsibility to care for them. Now, they'll always say themselves that they wouldn't expect that burden, as they call it, to fall on my shoulders. But of course it will, you know, and I don't see it as a burden. I see it as me, you know, giving back for all the years of support that they've given me. But equally, thinking that way, the logical extension of that then is well, when I'm in the same position who will be there for me? And I joke about my godson and and equally I wouldn't expect him to do it, and so I don't really know, I suppose what happens and that's, that is a bit of a scary prospect and but you know whether you think of homes or whatever the case is, I try to, I'm trying to I should say, you know, live along the principle of one day at a time, rather than looking too far ahead into the future. And that's probably the best answer I can give you at the moment. And, yeah, so acknowledge that it is something I think about but I don't have an answer to.


Margaret O Connor

Ok, yeah. Well, it's quite a hard thing to answer because you're trying to predict the future but yeah, yeah, it's interesting. Okay. And, yeah, do you feel because, I suppose it's really great to hear that you feel quite supported within your family and friends, but within kind of wider society, do you feel kind of alone in your decision? Do you know other people? Or you know, do you feel supported or kind of seen by wider society?


Ciara Meehan

That question about being seen is a really great one. And the answer is absolutely no, I don't think, I don't feel seen at all. And I'll just give you some recent examples. During the COVID crisis, there have been numerous surveys that have come around, where the author's of it want to better understand how to support and make sense of the experience of mothers who are working, or parents who are working, which of course are important elements of society to think about, but I haven't yet seen a survey for people who live alone, for example, and how they're negotiating their work life balance in this new environment. And that's not to say such surveys don't exist, but they haven't made their way to me. And I'm also conscious, and this is not a criticism of my employer by any means, but I'm also conscious that I hear a lot of talk about family policy. And that's, that makes me feel very much on the margins of things. And there was an email a while back, that I was copied in on that talked about open days at a university on a Saturday for example, and it had a line reassuring colleagues who had children and so on, that their needs will be taken into account when allocating what days we would be doing. And now there was no mention of those who, who don't have children, and for me, the implication of those type of messaging and those type of policy, is that those of us who don't have children are expected to do more. That isn't, that isn't always the case. And often it isn't the case. But very rarely is the language thought about. It's about protecting the family unit. And sometimes I think as a person in my position I, I find it really difficult to insert myself into those conversations and say, actually, you know, there are more people working for you than those who have families. I actually, at a meeting, in work, recently, very inarticulately, tried to make this point, but because I was so concerned about insulting my colleagues who do have children, it came out really backwards. And I just, it just didn't make any sense. I was trying to say, thankfully, another colleague who could understand what I was trying to say stepped in and said, I think Ciara means this, but I don't feel seen at all. And it's very hard to make that point, because I'm afraid that if I make the point it will offend people who do have children.


Margaret O Connor

And it's even, you know, that idea of family. So the assumption is that people with, or family means people with children.


Ciara Meehan

Yeah, exactly. Yeah, precisely. I mean, I've got, and they won't thank me for saying this, but I've got two elderly ish parents, you know, And who might you know, my dad was cocooning at one point as well. And so while I may not have young children to look after, when dad was cocooning, I was the person who took my mom to the supermarket and things like that. And without me they wouldn't have those, you know, the possibility to do stuff like that. So, yeah, family, family has a much wider meaning than just having children.


Margaret O Connor

There is a really good.. well, I follow them on Twitter, it's 'Aging Well Without Children' in the UK, and they do really good research and they've been raising that point a lot, with the assumption that everybody has family who will look after them, you know, in lock down and things like that. So, yeah, it's I suppose we maybe don't always know what those words, you know the, assumptions behind all those words and family is a big one. Because I was curious, I was just double checking something. So in the UK with the population statistics family assumes that there are children as part of it, whereas actually in Ireland, they don't, which is interesting. So assumptions again are there. And yeah, so what impact does that have? So that idea of not feeling seen or maybe not having your needs recognized?Does it have an impact on you?


Ciara Meehan

Yeah, it does. And it feeds into, I suppose, broader issues that I deal with as an individual as well. What I am going to say is going to sound really silly because they're not major issues, but all combined, they become it for me. So I also don't drink alcohol. And in England, I get all the jokes of what you're Irish etc. And, and I'm a vegetarian, right. So not drinking alcohol, being a vegetarian, not wanting children, you put all of these things together and I just become more and more removed from what the kind of traditional normal expectation is of life right. Now, again, I have to stress before anyone listening to this thinks, oh, they're such first world problems. I know their first real problems, but they do have the combined effect of making me feel very much like an outsider. And I'll be extremely honest about this because I think counseling is important. I have been going to see a really wonderful counselor for years. And, and we have spent so much time talking through my feeling of being an other, you know, on being on the margins of society. And, and it has taken me a long time to get to the point of accepting myself for who I am, rather than trying to bend to other people's needs or requirements. And it was that counselor who made the point I said earlier that, you know, you can only make yourself happy when you stop trying to make others happy. And so yeah, you know, the lifestyle that I lead. And I know I chose it, you know, nobody's forcing me not to have children, but it has combined to this feeling that I don't fit in or I don't belong anywhere.


Margaret O Connor

Hhm, oh ok, I'm really sad to hear that, it's not a nice place to be, or it's not nice way to feel.


Ciara Meehan

Yeah, I mean, you know, there are times where it's easier than others. And as I said, I've been doing an awful lot of work myself. And and it is, it does get easier. But you know, and I don't think I could have had this conversation last year with you without crying. You know? Yeah.


Margaret O Connor

I mean, that's really, I was saying to you beforehand is really kind of the point of this podcast is, I hear that from people. So from clients feeling very isolated, and really unsupported, which really makes them question like, why am I doing this? Or should I, you know, that question of well do I want children? Or should I have them? And even if I don't want them, will I just have them anyway? Or will I just have the one as is sometimes suggested?


Ciara Meehan

Yeah, it's interesting. I do know people who've had just the one, because they feel that that's, you know, what's expected of them. And, and I'm not just saying this to flatter I promise, but you know, meeting you in Waterford a few years ago, was a really meaningful thing for me, because it was one of the first times I've had a very honest conversation with somebody about choosing not to, or you know, not having children, and then following your Twitter account and, and others on Twitter as well that I've seen tweeting about not having children. It does make it easier. And I think, I don't know, maybe it's because I'm consciously looking for it, but in the last few weeks, last month, a couple of months or so there seems to be more conversation on social media about it, and that definitely makes life easier, I think.


Margaret O Connor

Yeah, it's been brilliant. I don't know what it is. Definitely the last month or six weeks there more, there was a series in The Guardian and just yeah, things popping up, which is lovely. And yeah. So..


Ciara Meehan

It's like mental health issues in a respect, that the more we talk about it and normalize it, the less of a big deal it is. And I think, you know, the more we have podcasts like this and people talk about being childless, it normalizes that as well.


Margaret O Connor

And that's definitely the theme that's coming up, is the need for connection even if it is virtually but just knowing that you're not the only one seems to kind of lift a burden for people so that's, thank you for sharing that. And this might follow on, do you have any kind of childfree role models? Is there any anyone you look to or know of even?


Ciara Meehan

Yeah, I do. And again, I think this is why I'm fortunate. She's not a famous person by any means. my godmother. She passed away sadly in 2010, but she was childfree. I actually I don't know the ins and outs of why she didn't have children. But she didn't, her and her husband didn't. And, and they had a very happy life. They had a wonderful marriage and, and my favorite story is, about the first time my mom left me with her as a baby, and she forgot to feed me (laughter). It was only for a little while, but mom came back and I was bawling, apparently, you know, because Margie had forgotten to feed me. And I think that that is the classic, if I if I were left with a child, it's the type of thing I probably ended up doing. But you know, even though she's gone now, I still look to her and think well, you know, she had a very happy life. She had a really wonderful marriage. And, you know, she was, she was happy despite not having children. And I don't know, maybe she was a wonderful godmother as well. So I try to replicate that with my godson, too, you know? And so yeah, she she has been my role model in that respect.


Margaret O Connor

Okay, um, that's lovely. That's really nice. Because yeah, it was.. when I think about that I tend to think about celebrities, but obviously they're detached. It's lovely to know somebody in your own life.


Ciara Meehan

And yeah in a way, I wish she was still here because now, especially in my 30's, where it's, it's the time in my life where I probably should have been having children, it would have been nice to have her around to have those conversations with and but as I said, the memory of the way she lived her life is is quite comforting too I think.


Margaret O Connor

That's lovely, that's really nice. And, and we again, we have touched off this, do you believe in that kind of biological clock /maternal instinct? And do you think they exist? Do you think they're socially constructed? Or what's your opinion on it?


Ciara Meehan

Because I've never experienced it, that leads me to think that it is a social construct, right? But then I'm only one person so who am I to say that somebody else doesn't feel those biological urges, but I don't know, I I can't help but feel that there's a little bit of housewive's tail, sort of you know that once you hit a certain point that's when the longing begins. And I can't honestly say that I've even had a twinge or a hint of it. And again, maybe it's because you know, I never grew up expecting to have children so this is just what my life has always been.


Margaret O Connor

Yeah. And I just wanted to touch off maybe your your research, because you do look at history and you look at gender issues and history, is there anything kind of relevant to this that you're working with?


Ciara Meehan

So I work on.. but one strand of my research is on the everyday lives of, of women. And, and it's interesting, you know, in context of what we've just been talking about, because that in a way, as much as I love my research, it also feeds into some of the difficulties I have with myself. Because when I'm looking at representations of women in society, for example, they're typically represented as the housewives and the mothers. And when I'm teaching these different sources to my students as well, I very rarely identify myself within sources. So it's my work in a way, unhelpfully reinforces my feeling of being the other. And you know, I think about, in the course that I teach, for example, when we come to the week looking at popular culture and we look at novels and plays and so on and even films and from the mainstream. Far too often, I think, the arguments or the the storyline, the narrative has often been single woman, career driven, doesn't want children, then falls in love, accidentally gets pregnant, for example, and suddenly discovers that motherhood was what was missing all along, right. And again, I'm not criticizing that for people for whom it works. But why does the narrative always have to go that way? And, and it's interesting, you know, I think it's, it brings up some really fascinating conversations with my students in class as well. And I'm always open with them about what my background is and where I'm coming from. And, you know, as I was saying to you before we started the recording, and because I teach in England, and some of my students still have a very traditional view of Catholic Ireland, they'll say to me, what your Irish what your Catholic that, you know, they make the assumption, and, you know, just do people not say to you what's wrong with you? (laughter) So, yeah, it's in a way, my research.. it helps my research because I'm always looking for the non typical woman in the sources, and to try and write them into history in the way that other historians have been doing. And, but also my research, as I said, then, reaffirms, sometimes the negatives feelings I have about myself. Hmm. That's interesting, isn't it, in the in the light of this conversation, there's a real contradiction coming out of what I'm saying. because on one hand, I'm very clear and adamant that I don't want children. But on the other hand, you know, it obviously is bringing a degree of negativity with it.


Margaret O Connor

Yeah. And I suppose I am struck, I am struck by that. And I can relate to that because.. I think just because maybe sometimes there's a lot of focus put on the decision. And maybe there's an assumption that if you make that decision, then everything is fine, which it's not necessarily, because if you make that decision, but you're still living in a wider context where you wouldn't be the minority, because that's just the way it is, and that's fine. But yeah, there is there is an ongoing impact. And I think it's important to acknowledge that actually, and it's not necessarily that's straightforward.


Ciara Meehan

I think I really felt that a few years goes well after the end of the relationship, and because I didn't want children, and I won't go into all the ins and outs, because it's not fair on the other person, but I would say that I was upfront from the start with him, that I didn't want children. And, and we were still together for quite a while. And when the relationship ended because of that reason, I did, you know, I did say to him, but you knew I didn't want children. And, and his response was, I thought you'd change your mind. And, and, fair enough. I mean, the reverse argument is, I knew he wanted children. So why didn't I end it earlier, you know, and but.. that line of 'I thought you'd change your mind' really annoyed me in a respect, because that's, again to go back to my research, that's the narrative that comes through in so many of the sources, that eventually you will just change your mind and have this moment of realization that this is what's missing out of your life. And again, you know, someone that I, I suppose she's more an acquaintance than a friend, but on social media after she had her first child, I saw her post that now her life was complete, because she had a child. And again, I wouldn't want anyone to think I'm criticizing her. But it's like the earlier discussion we had about family. What does family mean? But also what does complete, completeness mean, as well?


Margaret O Connor

Okay, so the implication is that there is something missing.


Ciara Meehan

Exactly. Sorry, that was a totally random tangent I went off on there (laughter).


Margaret O Connor

No, it's very relevant! I think..I suppose I know in today's world it's very easy to be accused of being oversensitive and reading into lots of things.. But that is the dominant narrative, so around what family means, around the idea of what being a real woman means..and I'm air quoting here furiously (laughter). We hear this all the time. And I know this is random..but I like tennis. I watch Serena Williams and she's amazing. But everything has become about now she's done this as a mother, and she won a tournament when she was pregnant, and of course that's amazing. But she was also amazing beforehand as well. Now that's the dominant thing because she's doing this as a mother. It's just amazing anyway to me, (laughter) sitting on my couch watching it.


Ciara Meehan

And it's really refreshing to hear you say that, as well as, because again, I am reluctant to articulate those feelings, because I really don't want to insult women who have made the decision to be mothers. I don't want to ever to give the impression that I think they've made the wrong choice or anything like that, but it can be it can be hard to articulate those views around Serena Williams and others, and those narratives. Because the implication is that you don't want the emphasis put on their motherhood. Does that make sense?


Margaret O Connor

It does. And I was really struck when I did my research. So I spoke to people who hadn't had children yet, trying to figure out how they would make the decision and what came out out was that nobody felt support. Whether they were planning to have children, or if they weren't. Because the assumption is that you just would that it actually wasn't given enough emphasis, or enough practical support for people who chose to be parents. I thought that was so interesting because I hadn't thought about it that way before, by assuming that that is what everybody would do, it takes away some proper recognition of what it does involve to be a parent. So yeah, it can get a bit complicated.


I was going to ask you something about your research but it's gone out of my head... Nope, it's definitely gone. Okay. Is there anything else you think you'd like to include or anything we haven't covered.


Ciara Meehan

No, I think that's it. We've covered quite a lot (laughter). It's been really cathartic to have this conversation actually. As I said, with the benefit of being able to follow people on Twitter with shared values and so on, just having the space to be able to talk it through, and to articulate things that are in my head, but I don't necessarily say out loud. It's been great, thanks so much for the opportunity. As I say it's been a really cathartic to do.


Margaret O Connor

And thank you for being so honest, because I think it's brought up issues that maybe even I didn't think of, and the importance of connection, finding like minded people, either virtual or in real life...I don't know how to say it ..but maybe do you think even to expect that it might be challenging at different times in different ways. It's not just I've just decided so now everything's fine. It could be like that for some people. But you can still have an impact in different parts of your life maybe.


Ciara Meehan

Yeah, I think so. You're absolutely right. It's not a static element of your life. As you progress through your life cycle, and other external factors come into play, like the COVID crisis, for example, and other things that are just part of everyday life, it will change how you feel, how you feel about yourself and also how you see your place in the world around you. I go back to that earlier point, in the way we're starting to normalize discussions around mental health, to normalize discussions around being childless would have a big impact on how people negotiate their place in society as well.


Margaret O Connor

Yeah, I think that's a lovely way of putting it, negotiation, finding what fits for you. As opposed to other people. Hopefully it might work for other people as well. But primarily the emphasis being on you and your place and your comfort. Okay.


Okay, Ciara Thank you so much, it's been brilliant to talk to you.


Ciara Meehan

Likewise. Thanks for having me.


Margaret O Connor

Lovely thanks a million.


Thanks very much for my guests for taking part and for you for listening. I'd love to hear your feedback. Any suggestions you have for other topics you want covered in this series. I would also love to build a community of like minded people, so please follow the Are Kids For Me pages on Facebook and Instagram if you want to find out more on this topic. I look forward to hearing from you. Watch out soon for the next episode.


Transcribed by https://otter.ai


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Margaret O'Connor MIACP      ©2018 by Are Kids For Me. 

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