Saturday 14 January 2023

The Panic Years, Nell Frizzell

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The Panic Years - often the period covering their 20s and 30s for many women where every decision made feels dominated by the question hanging over them - do you want to become a mother? Navigating this question is difficult in and of itself but has wider implications on a woman’s life. Often, they will get stuck in a job, not wanting to move to a new role where they’ll lose their accumulated maternity rights, put off retraining with the knowledge they might not be able to complete, or worry about spending too long building a career that it’s too late to get pregnant, yet needing to progress enough to make childcare affordable (why this pressure often falls solely on the mother is infuriating and baffling. Frizzell unpacks many of the social and political reasons why the burden of making decisions about parenthood so often falls on women).

Frizzell’s own panic years were exacerbated by becoming unexpectedly single in her late twenties. She knew she wanted a baby and that her mother had experienced a fairly early menopause. This inspires a flurry of activity both professionally and sexually. She writes with honesty about the complex feelings she experiences when close friends announce pregnancies and engagements, the feeling of it being a race, as though other people reaching these milestones somehow made it less likely that she would.

She explores the unhealthy obsession people have with others’ lives, the jealousy of seeing happy family photos online yet acknowledging that the reverse is also often true with young parents scrolling enviously through child-free holiday pictures. This culture of comparison and the curated, filtered life that we expose to the world serves no-one. In reaction to a lack of commitments tying them to one place, Frizzell and her partner Nick move to Berlin for a summer with another couple. She admits to posting online about the experience with some desire to cause jealousy in those that she is jealous of.

Her fear of exposing her desire for commitment and a child finally breaks and she begins to pressure an uncertain Nick about trying to get pregnant. It makes for uncomfortable reading at times but she makes the valid counterpoint that somebody else’s indecision should not force her to use contraceptive methods that are ultimately detrimental to her wellbeing. They do eventually decide to try to become pregnant and succeed quickly, but she admits that trying to bend Nick to her desires gave her time to test out her reasoning, to really be ready herself.

The visceral description of her multi-day labour does not shy away from the difficulty of it yet manages to be beautiful and empowering, When her baby finally arrives she is honest about the struggles of being a new mum, the exhaustion, isolation, and worry. This is the key to this book, Frizzell never hides the less than flattering sides of her experience, admitting to jealousies and spite. She tackles difficult topics such as how long it takes to like, let alone love, your offspring, how in the endless sleepless nights you wonder if you made the right decision. This honesty is useful not just for those who are considering embarking on the journey of parenthood, but also for those who have had these same feelings and felt ashamed. She validates the turmoil of emotions that so many struggle with daily.

In the book’s conclusion she examines the positives to come out of the panic years, the focus and drive it instills, yet admits to not being out the other side of it just yet. An interesting, emotional read that can be a comfort in acknowledging you’re not alone in the flux, or an enlightening revelation for those close to people going through it.

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