This is a book that every woman, and man for that matter, needs to read.
The Panic Years by Nell Frizzell will give you all an understanding of a maddingly confusing period time that does effect men as well as women.
From the back….
Every woman will experience the panic years in some way between her mid-twenties and early-forties. This maddening period of transformation and personal crisis is recognisable by the myriad of decisions we make – about partners, holidays, jobs, homes, savings, friendships – all of which are impacted by the urgency of the single decision that comes with a biological deadline, the one decision that is impossible to take back; whether or not to have a baby.
But how to stay sane in such a maddening time? How to know who you are and what you might want from life? How to know if you’re making the right decisions?
I imagine there will be a lot of people who read that blurb and think, yup, that sounds familiar.
I’m thinking about this book after attending a baby shower.
Now I’m all for celebrating at any opportunity but there is something about baby showers in particular that I struggle to get on board with….
Why as women do we feel the need to mark every occasion with a series of “whacky” games? This is why I’m desperate to go on a stag do….i want to understand what it is men do when they mark these things, I assume it’s just get pissed with no element of organised fun.
I feel I have spent far too much time in the past decade deciphering what brand of chocolate has been smeared on to a nappy.
I’m pretty sure if I were pregnant the last thing, I’d want is 20 of my closest friends guessing how fat I’d got over the proceeding 8 months.
I also would in no way want to hear about everyone else’s horror birth stories or about the parenting nightmares others have had knowing I was weeks away from it – seriously why do we insist on terrifying mothers to be with our own tales?
As you get older and the pool of other women who are still child free at these events begins to shrink (there were two of us at the most recent), the whole experience can feel very “othering”.
The further you get through your thirties as child free, the more you’re viewed as defective in some way, you’re the mad, flighty aunt (a role I seem to play up to) or your insides are broken.
You’re living very different lives, neither is wrong, but the difference does become starker, that is not to say I don’t want to hear about my friends’ children – I adore and love those little sprogs and love seeing them grow into hilarious little humans.
On the plus side, people stop asking you about babies every 2.3 seconds because they assume there’s a problem with you and of course no one wants to talk about infertility out loud in case it’s catching. I don’t think any of this intentional, after all I’m not friends with a bunch of bell ends, it’s just how society it conditioned….still.
So that’s the background to my social life while I was reading The Panic Years, a book that nails the realities of being a woman navigating her twenties, thirties and early forties, where everyone seems to think they a right to ask you about your womb and has some kind of opinion on your life choices.
The thing is the narrative changes very suddenly at some point in your twenties – it’s hard to pinpoint when exactly – but the advice goes from “if you get pregnant you will ruin your life to if you don’t get pregnant you will ruin your life”. I swear the change is so dramatic, women the world over should be entitled to claim for whiplash.
Statistics show that women in the UK are choosing to have children later, it’s an indisputable fact, lets think about why that is exactly. We’re sold a fantasy that we can have it all, in reality as we navigate our Panic Years, we start to realise that the maths for one isn’t exactly tallying…..
“By telling people, particularly women, that they could have it all if they just tried hard enough, we somehow took the onus off our employers to create workplaces in which that was actually possible.” Nell Frizzell
Nell’s memoir on her Panic Years and ‘the flux’ tackles everything that comes along with making the mother all decisions backed up with facts and data, asking big questions.
Questions around inequality, the realities of fertility treatment and its success rate (spoiler alert, it’s lower than you’d think), the cost of childcare (astronomical), problems around contraception (no, I don’t think the pill is fit purpose), what starting a family means for your career prospects and the often-huge financial hit women can end up taking in the present and future (hello lower pension payments), what it means for your body, your relationship AND your identity.
Let’s be realistic, women still can’t have it all. We’re still penalised for taking a break from careers, still passed over for promotion because we don’t work full time after having a baby (though we’re squeezing five days’ worth of work into four), for many getting on the property ladder is a distant, unobtainable dream….
Woe betides anyone who has a child without owning a home or being financially stable, that’s just irresponsible, regardless of whether life’s given you a shitty hand and your circumstances have changed overnight.
I could go on a further rant here about the rampant inequalities that exist in our society when it comes to child rearing and what systemic changes are needed to ensure a fair and level playing field – believe me, I’m more than tempted, but that’s not what stood out for me in this book.
While Nell addresses these issues, the strength of this book for me was reading about a woman navigating all that, kicking the wheels and truly testing her desire to have a baby. In short….the flux.
The idea that until you take the ultimate plunge, there isn’t necessarily a fixed, set position AND that rings true with every conversation I’ve had with friends, we all have the flux.
This book dissects that, it’s an honest account of the confusing journey through the Panic Years, to her having her son.
Life is rarely a straightforward journey or a set of markers that you reach by a certain age in a certain order, something that should remembered and that’s what makes this a must read for men and women.
Journalist, writer, traveller, music lover, collector of hats, news addict, bookworm