So, are you thinking of having kids?

I imagine a hierarchy of the painful scenarios around the issue of having children, and I consider where it’s fair to place myself, and I always conclude it’s somewhere near the bottom.

I can’t compare the pain of not knowing if you want a baby to the pain of knowing you want a baby and not being able to have one.

I can’t speak on behalf of the second group. I've been close to lots of people in it, and I ache for them, and I can’t imagine it.

I am in the first group.

I can tell you that not knowing if you want a baby, for me, is painful, confusing, and shameful, and that society makes it worse. It’s a different sort of pain, but it’s pain nonetheless.

I am 33. Like many women my age I was told the story all my life about the switch that just flips inside you when you want a baby. I was 27 when I got married and that’s the first time I really started worrying about the switch.

As I approached 30, the switch remained unflipped, and I started to panic. My sisters both had their first babies by the age of 30. 30 was supposed to be the “have it all figured out” age. Why was my switch not flipping? Was there something wrong with my switch?

When I approached the conversation with friends and family, the tale of the switch was replaced with something new. Having been conditioned all my life to expect to just wake up one day wanting a baby, I was now told “you’re never really ready”.

But I'm the wrong sort of "not ready". I'm the kind of not ready that isn't ready to let go of the need to feel more ready than this, and isn't ready to give up either.

I’ve become an expert in spotting the signs of other people's pregnancies: The sudden onset of absence from social media. The excuses for not coming to social events. The clear, ambiguous drinks when they do - something chosen to look like a gin and tonic which could just as easily be a sparkling water. The out-of-the-blue invitation to catch up, with partners in tow. The hum of silences, overflowing with the unspoken thing that’s about to be spoken. The cue you give them. “So what have you been up to?” or “Can I get you a drink?” is all they need. The briefest exchange of glances before one of them says “Well, actually…” and the announcement that follows.

And I smile and I hug them and I tell them how excited I am for them. I ask them when they found out; how they’ve been feeling. James squeezes my hand. And as soon as I can I go somewhere quiet, and I sob and I hate myself for it.

I’m 33 and I don’t know if I want children.

I don’t know if I’ll get to decide, or if time will decide for me, or if something I don’t know about already has.

Being undecided sounds like a neutral thing, but it’s not. Not for me, anyway.

For me, ambivalence is a torturous, insidious thing wrapped in layers of fear, and self-doubt, and shame, and warring parts of me that paddle frantically in opposite directions to save themselves as the lifeboat - me - slowly sinks.

I feel like I’ve failed. I’ve failed to develop that maternal instinct that’s expected of women and I’ve failed to commit to being childfree by choice.

And I’m stuck. I feel like an insect in amber, not quite sure how I crawled in here, and now suspended in indecision as the resin solidifies around me. I feel like I’ll never get out.

Most of the time the idea of having children terrifies me.

I imagine it, and what it would take, and what it might cost me, and I tell myself (as I always tell myself) that I'm just less capable, and weaker, and worse than everyone else, and that I couldn't cut it.

That's settled, then.

But then...

Just once in a while I’m hit with a vision out of the blue, of me, holding a baby to my chest, and breathing in her smell. And in those moments, just once in a while, I want it so badly that it knocks the wind out of me.

And then it’s gone again.

And I’m left wondering if she’s in the life that’s waiting for me, or the one I’ll never have.