I swore I never wanted a husband or a baby – now I have both

Annabel Fenwick Elliott with her husband and baby
Annabel Fenwick Elliott: 'I stand before you a happily married mother who can concede that I was wrong'

I haven’t been sure about much in my 37 chaotic years on this planet – having switched jobs, countries, friends and hobbies countless times – but for a long time, I was certain about this statement: I will never be a mother and I will never be someone’s wife.

Within two years of a chance encounter with Julius, a German helicopter pilot six years my junior, we were married with a child. I still don’t find other babies cute, I should point out, and I still think weddings are a pompous waste. Indeed, no one is more surprised than I am (except for a few of my ex-boyfriends, perhaps) that I so narrowly avoided realising my spinster dreams, especially given how many other women are choosing this path in today’s world.

Marriage rates in the UK fell to their lowest on record in 2020, according to the Office for National Statistics. As for fertility, that has been sinking worldwide for more than half a century. In 1950, women birthed an average of five children. By 2021, that figure had dropped to 2.3, the United Nations Population Fund reports – and in Britain, the rate is now 1.49.

Why? That’s easy, I would have said a few years ago. What’s the point in getting married when nearly half of these unions in divorce? And have you seen how expensive it is to have kids these days? The vast majority of working mothers I know didn’t keep their jobs because they wanted to after having a baby, but because they couldn’t afford not to. What’s worse, most of their salary now goes into childcare – an equation that always struck me as ludicrous. Gone are the days of one-income households, manageable mortgages and mothers raising their children in villages. All I saw were both parents working fiendishly in careers that didn’t interest them so they could afford to cover rent and nursery fees. No thanks.

While I still don’t put much weight in marriage (Julius and I wed three months ago, largely for bureaucratic reasons) and we had to drastically re-arrange our home set-up in order to raise our son the way we wanted to; I stand before you a very happily married mother who can concede now that I was wrong when I said I never wanted this.

Julius, Jasper and Annabel
Julius, Jasper and Annabel

I wasn’t always such a pessimist. Like most girls, I was raised to romanticise having a family. I used to make scrapbooks about how I wanted life to turn out, filled (very optimistically) with images torn from Boden catalogues and Knight Frank brochures; a handsome father in a suit reading his broadsheet, a mother with a Tiffany engagement ring caressing the Aga, a gaggle of serene toddlers with ribbons in their hair, a golden retriever and a Burmese cat.

This trailer started to lose its Disney-sheen when my own father left and emigrated to the other side of the world. My heartbroken stay-at-home mother was cast back into the workforce and we moved from a big house into a small flat. It got worse as my brother and I entered the turmoil of our teens and wrestled with severe mental health problems. A string of terrible relationships persisted into my twenties (often with much older married men) and by the time I reached my thirties, I was convinced that my once coveted scrapbooks were nothing more than silly fairytales.

Perhaps it is no coincidence that I fell out with my best friend around this time, just as she was settling down and I was heading off on my latest new career path as a solo travel writer. Her wedding was one of the most painful, discombobulating days of my life. Part of me was baffled by the absurd theatre of it all. She used to be the most genuine, wry, intelligent and pragmatic person I knew; yet here she was, an atheist, standing in a church in a dress costing thousands of pounds that she would only ever wear once, promising a God she didn’t believe in and a chapel full of people she didn’t particularly like that she would never break up with her boyfriend. The other part of me, in retrospect, was just bitterly sad that I couldn’t have the same ending.

When it came to the prospect of children, I was less conflicted. First and foremost, I didn’t like them. While I could objectively see the appeal of the very clean, quiet symmetrical-looking ones in photo albums, I had no desire to spend any time with them. As for the snotty, loud, peculiar-looking variety? They made me recoil. I have never been very good at arranging my facial expressions into the correct shape for specific social situations. My idea of hell, therefore, was other people showcasing their offspring. I was hardly mother material.

The most significant turning point in my life came when I was diagnosed with raging, top-end-of-the-spectrum ADHD at the age of 31, and put on medication. It was like all this time I’d been driving around in the dark with an upside down A to Z, and then someone switched the light on and installed Google Maps on my phone. I still had the same personality, but at least now I could find my way.

Next came Julius. He wasn’t my type and I wasn’t his. Where my exes had generally been grumpy, cerebral, dark-haired and at least a decade older than me, he was bright, effervescent, sporty and not yet 30. We met in Santorini at the most inconvenient moment, just as borders were about to close in response to the pandemic. For whatever reason, though, it worked. Before we knew it, we’d both beaten our previous relationship record of two years and then, at the tail-end of the Covid shutdowns, came our son Jasper, who neither of us knew we wanted until after he was conceived – and not how intensely until he was born.

Julius and Annabel
Julius and Annabel met in Santorini

It was time to turn my attention back to those scrapbooks, and the swatches I wanted to save. It didn’t matter that Julius wasn’t interested in broadsheets and I had no desire for a Tiffany ring. But I still never wanted to end up living in a flat, working from an office to pay for strangers in a nursery to raise my child. Even though I genuinely loved my job, writing on staff for this newspaper in London, I had to go freelance to be remote, and we had to move very far away in order to fund the life we wanted.

We now reside in Mauritius, where we can afford to rent a villa with a pool and a big garden, a cleaner and a nanny for four hours on weekdays. Julius has a job flying helicopters on a cruise ship that sails around the world, which takes him away for six weeks at a time and I write from home part-time. We’re a long distance from our families and we all miss each other when he’s gone, but the sacrifices are worth it.

Annabel and Jasper
Annabel and Jasper

In December, we were married by a local clerk in our kitchen, with our landlord as witness (mostly for visa and health insurance reasons) and I love that I can call Julius my husband and no longer my “partner”. Yesterday, I baked cookies for Jasper, now 19-months-old, in the shape of stars, from scratch (though sadly not in an Aga). Later this month, we’re getting a golden retriever.

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