We are already in the second year of our study, and we are currently doing interviews with participants who are now pregnant, and soon we will start interviewing participants who have given birth. We have also been interviewing the parents and grandparents of our participants, in an attempt at understanding intergenerational accounts of having children.
One of the key things that has come up time and time again in our interviews is the expectation that heterosexual couples will have children. Many of our participants – both men and women – have spoken to us about the questions that were asked of them in regards to having children, often as soon as they were married or when they started living together. A consistent finding of our research is the normative expectation that children constitute part of a heterosexual relationship life course.
Although for some of our participants the questions asked of them by family members with regard to fertility planning were light hearted, for many there was considerable pressure placed upon them to have children. Whilst potentially a world away from the lives of our participants, the current season of Real Housewives of Melbourne shows a similar experience of one of the women – Jackie Gillies. In the second episode of season three we see Jackie and her husband Ben receive a visit from Jackie’s mother. The purpose of the visit, we learn, is for Jackie’s mother to ask when they will be having children.
Just as was the case for Jackie Gillies, many of our participants situated the demands placed upon them to have children in a range of contexts: particular cultural expectations, others’ perceptions that our participants love children (and hence should become parents), and the ever-looking ‘biological clock’ (the latter concern also expressed by Jackie Gillies). Whilst these are relatively common narratives used to justify questions about fertility planning, our broader interest is in how others’ expectations potentially play a significant role in the decisions that some heterosexual couples make about having children.
Certainly some of our participants have resisted the pressures they have experienced, and others have spoken back to those attempting to pressure them. In the episode of Real Housewives, Jackie certainly speaks back to her mother. Yet like most of us, there is a clear tension between resisting the expectations of others, and the ways in which such expectations can creep into our thinking, subtly influencing the decisions we make.
Part of our interest in conducting this study was to explore how heterosexual couples make decisions about having a first child. Many of our participants have, at times, struggled to describe precisely what has led them to decide to have children now, with many participants resorting to the language of ‘natural’ or ‘innate’ to describe their desire for a child. A focus on the pressures that others exert, however, adds another dimension to the story, suggesting that the normative expectations of others can play a significant part in both the decision to have children, and the time at which this occurs.