I turned 37 last week. Bit of a nothing age isn’t it – the mid to late 30’s are nothing really to rave about. Back in the day, I used to love love love birthdays. All were marked in a suitably messy fashion – on my 21st birthday, my friends had to drag me away from a rather shitty nightclub after I had downed one too many bottles of Smirnoff Ice. That party attitude to marking the day I was born continued until fairly recently. So, why did it change? Was it old age … or something more than that? Am I older and wiser?

The big day

Birthdays, like any notable date on the calendar, bring about a time for reflection. These days, they are an opportunity to look back on the recent past to assess what has – or hasn’t – happened since the last excuse for cake had rolled around.

As a little girl, I didn’t give much thought to future me. I wasn’t one of those girls who dreamed about getting married, having kids, driving a flashy car etc. But as I got older, those things did start to matter to me. Such things as having a successful career and an active social life became badges of honour. They are the barometers of success in life so far.

But, does that all shift when you make drastic changes to your life halfway through it – like I did? I ditched the diamonds on my left hand, the nice house and the ‘traditional’ family life in pursuit of happiness elsewhere.

To the outside world and on that barometer of success, I fell down a few rungs on the ladder of life in order to chase that dream. Yet looking back, I have ticked more of the important stuff off my to-do list in recent years than I did in the decade which went before it. That’s definitely made me older and wiser.

So, why in some ways do I feel sad when 25 February rolls around again?

Small things

Even in 2020, women can feel the pressure to procreate. It’s in our biology – and you can’t mistake that (tenuous Girls Aloud reference, sorry not sorry). We can be made to feel that we haven’t reached a pivotal life goal if we haven’t grown a brood. It took me a long time to decide whether I wanted to have children. I have absolutely no regrets about having my amazing TJ. But I never took that decision lightly. So, what if I want more?

As I am now 37, society also makes us feel that if we haven’t had all of our kids by the time we’re 35 then it’s basically game over. In fact, mums-to-be who are over 35 are officially classed as geriatric. Thanks for that, world. Modern society is proving that this is largely bullshit – we’re having kids later and later and the human race is surviving.

Yes, there’s more risks but no pregnancy is risk-free. So, we shouldn’t be landed with the increased stress that older mums-to-be could have huge health complications. I don’t know if TJ will have a brother or sister but I don’t want to have to worry that it could be a struggle if I do decide that it’s the right thing to do.

Big picture

The house, the job, the finances, the relationships – they are all doing OK. That failed marriage is now behind me as nothing more than mostly painful memories and awkward exchanges at TJ’s handovers. Sadly, the single mum stigma will probably last forever even when really it should be celebrated. Of all the things which I have achieved in my 37 years, raising TJ is the one which makes me the most proud.

I am also proud of all the things which come along with that. That includes running a home, paying the bills, keeping TJ happy and entertained, developing our strong relationship and balancing my own life alongside it. However, it does all sometimes take a nosedive and I sleep for 15 hours straight.

Rebranding

Single mums have a rough reputation when really we’re changing the world. That includes our world, the morals being ingrained in the worlds of our children and, hopefully, the world outside of our front doors too. We all fight to shake off the negative connotations of single parenthood and yearn to be celebrated for the hard work we do instead. One in four of us is a single parent so we shouldn’t – won’t  – be ignored.

Divorce brings its own stigma too. Failed relationships can be viewed as personal failures through a weakness in your own skill set. Well, I beg to differ. Divorce takes courage. Walking away and starting your life over is not for the fainthearted. Knowing when you’re not being treated properly and demanding more is not a personality flaw, it’s a character strength. It’s a sign that your morals and values are in exactly the right order and that you’re not accepting anything less than that from other people, no matter the cost – financial or emotional. It’s building yourself as a relationship expert by experience and knowing not to make any of the same mistakes again.

Divorced people make great partners. My new yet blossoming relationship can testify to that as we’ve both been hitched before. There’s levels of respect, appreciation and understanding that may not have been there otherwise and that’s something which will never go unnoticed.

Celebrate good times

So, I raise a glass to 37. In fact, I raised several glasses to it on 25 February. I spent the day with my wonderful best friend and her beautiful newborn son in Camden visiting the small but perfectly formed Vagina Museum and drinking white sangria (amazing). Then, I ate well with the best adult man I think I have ever met in the restaurant where we had our first date a few short months ago.

I have come a long way – both since 1983 and particularly more recently. Although there’s still (thankfully!) much ground to be covered, I will remember the milestones which have led me to where I am today. Older but wiser is still up for discussion. In true Pocahontas style, I don’t know what’s around the river bend. I’m not sure that I really want to know anyway. But I sure as hell do know that I did the right thing by not masking reality and sticking with what could have been the smoothest course. A steady road is a boring one and, currently, life is anything but.