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Pressure, obsession and confusion: Turning 35 and deciding whether or not to have a child

Playwright Joanne Ryan said that there can be huge pressure for women to become a mother, adding that it can be ‘wound up in the identity’ of being a woman.

SHOULD MAKING A life for oneself involve making another?

That’s what writer and performer Joanne Ryan asked herself when trying to decide whether or not to have a child in her final fertile years.

Ryan said the issue was creeping up but that turning 35 made her think about it seriously for the first time in her life.

I had no idea what I wanted to do and suddenly I was aware of it as a time issue. I had to think about it or it wouldn’t happen.

Ryan also spoke about the sudden death of her father and how that forced her to confront her own mortality.  ”It made me think about legacy and that sort of thing.”

The 36-year-old wrote the one woman show Eggsistentialism about her experience, and uses comedy to tackle the serious subject.

Joanne Ryan

In an interview with this website, the writer described how it struck her that, “We are the first generation to have this choice, and that is terrifying but also very interesting and exciting – how do you make a choice when you’re first and you don’t know the repercussions.

“And from speaking to people I realised I wasn’t the only one thinking about this.”

‘Pressure and obsession’

Ryan said that there can be huge pressure for women to become a mother, adding that it can be ‘wound up in the identity’ of being a woman.

She said preparing for the play was very revealing and honest and that women opened up about their own anxieties and worries.

The performer also addressed the liberties people feel they can take when asking women about their plans for children.

People just ask without knowing the circumstances when any number of things could have happened … a child could have died but people feel an ownership.

She added that “culturally there are varying levels of pressure and obsession”.

When asked about the constant media circus of pregnancy rumours around Jennifer Aniston, Ryan said, “It happens all the time. She’s not in a vacuum or it’s not just because she’s a celebrity … people are always questioning choices and focusing on female fertility.

“I think one thing that’s implicit in the coverage that she’s speaking out against – is the expectation that having children is something she should do, or something she should at least want to do and that, as she said herself in the Huffington piece, is absurd.

It’s estimated that a fifth of young Irish women today will never become mothers, increasingly that’s the right choice for lots of women and men, but it feels like we haven’t culturally caught up to that demographic reality.

Conflicting information 

The play sees Ryan consult family, fertility experts, fortune tellers, daytime radio and the internet to work out whether or not to have a child.

I was trying to take steps to make things clearer but the more I researched and talked to people – the more complex it became.

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“Some doctors told me to relax and not to think about it and that I has loads of time but others said ‘If you’re even thinking about it then do it now, it only gets more difficult’.”

She described the internet as a “shitstorm of conflicting information and misinformation” while the fortune teller was the “most hilarious but least helpful”.

However, on a serious note, she said she did find the process stressful, adding that she tends to overthink and analyze, “I found it very difficult because you can make either argument convincing”.

Not knowing what the answer is and fearing I’d make the wrong decision and go on to regret it.

Describing her online research, Ryan said that she regularly came across people saying they were going to have children in case they might regret it if they don’t, “that seems to be a key motivation”.

“Writing the show helped give me a sense of peace and figuring out life will be brilliant either way.”

Ryan added that comedy was the natural vehicle for the subject as the “absurdities and contradictions are theatrical”.

“The show is very funny but it’s also touching and moving in places. The dark makes the light lighter – it’s a comedy but it’s also grounded in something that is very relevant for a lot of people.”

The play opens at the Belltable in Limerick 8-10 September and then plays Smock Alley as part of the Tiger Fringe Festival 12-17 September.

Read: The ‘cost of motherhood’ is higher in Ireland than anywhere in western Europe>

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