Navigating ambivalence, with clarity coach Keltie Maguire

Navigating ambivalence, with clarity coach Keltie Maguire

How to feel confident in your childfree choice, and still leave the door open to possibility.

Keltie: Within having children and not having children it seems to be very definitive for most people. Other women that I talked to who didn't want kids would say things to me, like, “Oh no, I definitely don't want kids” or like “I really don't want kids” or “Ugh, being a mom”. And I didn't really relate to that in a lot of ways. And yet I also didn't relate at all to these women who would say like, “I've always wanted to be a mom", “Ever since I was little, I wanted to be a mom”, like, "This is my dream - to become a mom”. And you know - bless them, wonderful for them - I don't identify with that at all. So, I wouldn't say I ever had a desire to be a mom. I think I just assumed that someday I would want that and it would happen, and then the wanting never arrived.

Zoë: Hey lovelies! Welcome back to We are Childfree, a podcast that celebrates childfree lives and shares our stories. Today I'm talking to Keltie Maguire, a clarity coach who's originally from Canada and now lives in Germany. I've been wanting to get Keltie on the pod for a while, and we've been swapping DMs for months. As childfree women both nearing our 40th birthdays in a pro-natalist paradise, we've had plenty to talk about! The timing of this conversation couldn't be better. It's only in the last six months that Keltie's reached a 95 confidence in her choice to be childfree. That last 5% is super important to Keltie, because she isn't someone to fully close the door on any possibility, preferring to live the most dynamic life possible. You'll hear about how for Keltie, like so many of us, the desire to be a mother simply never arrived, and how she found her way through this ambivalence, towards a joyful, fulfilling life. This one's a must-listen if you aren't sure whether you want children or not, as Keltie and I swap strategies for finding clarity and feeling comfortable with the life path you're currently on. You'll find links to the role models and research we talk about in the show notes. I hope this helps you find your own road to happiness! Here's my conversation with clarity coach Keltie Maguire.

Keltie: I suppose I've always thought of it as a choice. I never felt like I had to have children. But at the same time, I never really questioned that that's what most people do. And so, for me, I feel like it's something that happened really gradually in the sense that I always thought, “later, later, later someday”, and then someday, it never come. And I was so for so long, so anxious around this decision of, “Should I have children? Do I want children? Is this the right path for me?”, that I finally in my early 30s, got to a point where I said, “You know what, I'm just going to forget about this, I'm not going to wait it out anymore until I'm 35”. Because as a lot of us women hear 35 is sort of that like timeline that “Hey, you know, once you hit 35, your fertility starts declining, you're gonna have trouble getting pregnant”, all these stories are told, many of which I believe are totally falsehoods. And of course, 35 came, and I still didn't really want kids. So then it kept kind of getting pushed out. And I'm turning 40 in May, and I still don't have the desire to have children. And I would say I've really just come to terms with that. And I feel like I'm more able to definitively say, I don't want kids, probably just in the last six to 12 months.

Zoë: Oh, wow. Okay, so pretty, pretty recent.

Keltie: Yeah. And it's funny talking to you today, because I feel like it's gonna be probably a bit of a therapy session for me. I know, you may not be equipped for this role, but I'm throwing you into it. But, you know, it's been a topic I've given so much thought and consideration to over these last several years, and even to come on here and definitively say, “I do not want children”, it's difficult for me in some ways, and we can talk about why that is. But I almost feel like this is sort of like a coming out day for me, like coming out as like, "I am a proud childfree woman”. Because I've always allowed that little seed of doubt to creep in both in my own mind, as well as I think in other people's minds.

Zoë: Oh, you're not alone in that. I think there is a lot of power when you can actually just state it out loud, one way or the other. You know, there is no perfect choice - everyone is different and every path is different. But when you get to a place where you can just vocalise something like that, I know myself, I felt a million times better when I could just say to people, “I don't want children”. And I didn't have to go into a big spiel about you know, the reasons, and it gives you strength. Because you're right, there is an inner turmoil that many of us can go through in this process. Because, let's face it, we live in a culture that puts pressure on us from a young age to conform, to live a certain life, and having children is absolutely at the top of that list. Did you feel that pressure as well, growing up?

Keltie: I feel really, really lucky in the fact that I wouldn't say I felt immense pressure from anyone in particular, I didn't really feel that for my family. I didn't feel that for my peers. I'm sure I felt that on a societal level, just because that's what most women do. And to be honest, that's what all women I knew did. I had a conversation with my mom, probably last year, when I was really digging into all this and thought like, “I just need to definitively make a decision around this". And I said to her, “Do we know any women who were 50, 60 plus, who don't have kids?” And she said, “That's a really good question. Well, I had one friend when I was younger, who didn't think she wanted kids, but then she had kids”. And then I said, “That's the only person we know, that is the only point of reference I have for being a childfree women?” And that's not a criticism of my mom, or our family or the people that we associated with, but I think for me, the only pressure was, that's just what I saw everyone do. And I think part of the other challenge for me was, and this is part of why I really want to talk to you about this, and I think this may be something that some of your readers and listeners and followers can relate to, is within having children and not having children it seems to be very definitive for most people. Other women that I talked to who didn't want kids would say things to me, like, “Oh no, I definitely don't want kids” or like “I really don't want kids” or “Ugh, being a mom”. And I didn't really relate to that in a lot of ways. And yet I also didn't relate at all to these women who would say like, “I've always wanted to be a mom", “Ever since I was little, I wanted to be a mom”, like, "This is my dream - to become a mom”. And you know - bless them, wonderful for them - I don't identify with that at all. So, I wouldn't say I ever had a desire to be a mom. I think I just assumed that someday I would want that and it would happen, and then the wanting never arrived.

Zoë: I mean, talking about that kind of desire, that ticking clock that you know, you'll hit a certain age and a switch will be flipped - I mean we all are told that. Really, I was waiting for it as well, even though I knew that I didn't want children, I was still wondering, “Will this happen to me? Will I hit my mid-30s and I will just suddenly see a baby and go ‘Okay, I'm going to forget everything and just go for it?’” And obviously that didn't happen, and the more I read up about the biological clock and all of that it entails, the more I think we are maybe fed a lot of half truths, maybe even lies. The biological clock, that came to be in the 70s when women were wanting to have a career, maintain their jobs and they were putting off having children and the patriarchy, the capitalist society, it kind of got very scared about women deciding to have a career instead of having a child. And really this idea of a biological clock was put to them saying, “You can have it all, and this is going to happen to you at a certain age”, as a kind of a way to encourage people to go, “This is biologically inside, it's going to happen, I just need to go for it and have a baby”. And I think I could see how it could encourage people to have children even if they didn't actually feel any kind of switch flipping or anything. What do you think about this term, the biological clock? what do you feel about it?

Keltie: I feel like it's super dangerous in a sense because it leads, or it has the potential to lead, women to feel like there's something wrong with them. And that is one thing I definitely felt and I am happy to report I am past that now, but I felt less feminine. I felt less of a woman. I felt like there was something inherently wrong with me, because I didn't have this urge or desire. And if we're all being told, "This is what you want" or "This is what you will want" and somebody is going to flip a switch... And, you know, these things that women say like "Oh my ovaries, when I hold a baby" - and by the way, I love holding babies and I feel like "Oh my heart, this little tiny human, it's beautiful." I feel it even more intensely when I see a puppy or like a small animal! To me it's just this urge, maybe it's a nurturing sense, this feeling for love when something's cute, perhaps that is a biological drive to reproduce, I don't know - but to have this notion that we're going to feel this, and to not have that come, I think it can lead women who don't experience that to feel like they're broken. I don't think it serves any purpose except as you as you say maybe for the patriarchy to then determine and decide how we're going to feel at what period in time so we will procreate.

Zoë: Yeah, I think you have to take it with a pinch of salt. I could see how on one side we could say “Okay, we are just built in this way and there is a biological genetic makeup that makes us want to procreate”, or I could look at it in that maybe we've just been so conditioned and maybe evolved into being more of a carer because we've had to, because men told us that we have to take on this role. So we just did it and you end up sacrificing your life and then, your daughter does the same and they have babies, they sacrifice their life and you just end up with a cycle of we are the caregivers always. So yeah, it really makes me so sad that to think that there are many of us out there who feel like there is something abnormal about us or, like you said, that we’re broken. And we need to stop that when you know we're all different people and I really do believe this we're all on a huge spectrum. Like you said some people desperately want children, some women know from an early age, like 3, 4, or 5, that they don't want them, then there are women I think like yourself who, it's not so clear cut and that's absolutely fine and normal. There is no abnormal, there is no one way to be, but it's that external pressure from outside that tells you, “You fit in this way, into this one box”. And if you don't fit into it, of course that causes you so much more pressure and upset. You know, did you have anyone who you could talk to when you were going through this process that, you know, you could find anyone who you could seek support from?

Keltie: Yeah, it's been interesting. And I, of course, like many of your guests have to shout out at the childfree community because I so much appreciate listening to your podcast episodes and reading your features and articles about these different women. And it's definitely been a huge help for me and I think, you know, there's other childfree communities out there as well, where I feel like I found some solace in that certainly. Having conversations with other friends of mine who are childfree, and have chosen to be childfree has been really helpful, but I would say even within that it's been interesting or challenging. Because, you know, I'm of that age where I think those people, let's say this a lot, not all, but a lot of the childfree women that I know - and it's not even a huge number, but let's call it like 2, 3, 4 girlfriends of mine who are childfree by choice - they still have their own ambivalence and uncertainty. And I think I have this sort of hidden fear inside of me that they will have children and then it's this sense of like, “Yeah, I was unsure just like you, but I had kids and look, it's amazing”. And I have seen that happen. I've had that happen with friends who have told me like, “I'm very ambivalent about having kids, I don't think this is something I want”. And then they go and have kids and of course, it's wonderful. And, you know, luckily, they've been forthcoming enough to share that, “My life was also good before so it's not like you're missing out per se”. But I think that's always my secret fear talking with other friends of mine. I had a conversation with a friend of mine who's also listening to this podcast the other day, and I said, “Okay, so how sure are you that you don't want kids?” And she said, “Oh, probably about 80%” I'm like, “Well I'm about 95% or 97%”. And so there's that camp and then there's also women who I feel like I've tried to kind of ask them about it or inquire, but I almost feel desperate because I want to bring it up every time, like every time I see them I kind of want to reinforce like, “So you still don't want kids, is that right?” And they're like “Yeah, no, I'm good”. And you know, I almost want to dig into it more so, I would say there's some people I've been able to have conversations like this with, I really would love to have an older person in my life who has more life experiences, in that next stage of living, who could help me - or not even help me - but who would be able to reflect back in a way that perhaps people who are in this boat with me can't do yet.

Zoë: Yeah, I think having that kind of representation and those role models, it is so important. I remember my 20s I, like you, I didn't know anyone who was childfree, I didn't know any role models, so that gives you more fear because if you're not seeing someone out there who's made that decision who's happy, who's fulfilled, living their best life. You don't see that, you obviously think there's a reason for that, people aren't choosing this path, there's a reason for it. So it makes you question yourself so much more, and having other people out there who are doing this in the older stages of their lives, where they say there's no regrets… And I mean, this podcast is amazing because I get to speak to so many different types of people, in ages, and you know, I've spoken to Marcia who is 78 and she has absolutely zero regrets and other women - it makes you just feel a bit more comforted that it is possible. And this is why it's just so important to get stories out there, especially like yours, because I really truly believe while it feels like maybe you're in a smaller camp of women who are ambivalent and not sure, I still think there's actually a large amount of women like you out there - you just don't have a dedicated like Instagram. Obviously it's easier to have an Instagram about childfree by choice or childfree by circumstance, or I'm a parents blogger, those are very distinct ,defined camps, and I think your camp is a little bit more on the fence, so it's hard to have that representation just out there saying, “I'm not sure”. But I do believe from the messages that I get I think there's actually a lot of women out there who are like you, who are going through that journey and having that representation I think would help so much. I also don't know any - I'm trying to think - I don't know any women in my own friendship group who are in the 50s or 60s who are childfree, everyone in my family had kids and it's unusual, I guess obviously women back then, it was more, it's what they did, having children wasn't really a choice for my mum. She's kind of said to me, it wasn't a choice. What about your mum? Did you ever talk to her about this actually?

Keltie: Yeah, I have talked to her about it. And I have to say, she's been a great supporter. Like I never ever had her making comments like “When are you going to have babies? When are you going to give me grandkids?” - and people get that a lot, I would say virtually every woman I know gets that from their mother, maybe not everyone, but like most. And I think these types of comments can be hugely influential. Interesting with my mom, because my mom was a stay-at-home mom. She was trained as a dental hygienist, she did that work for 6, 7 years, absolutely hated it, had other sorts of career aspirations for herself like writing and fashion design, but that just wasn't really what you did. She was encouraged by her parents to take a traditional route and dental hygiene was considered a good, relatively well-paying profession, so she did that, hated it, stopped that once she had children and was in a position where she didn't have to work, she supported the family and my dad who was working, and there were 3 of us. And she was, I don't want to say she was this perfect homemaker in the sense that she was always baking cookies and sewing her own clothing. Like she wasn't really that, but she was amazing as far as silly things like I'd mentioned to her “Oh, there's these cool gel pens that all the girls at school have”. And the next day she'd come home, she'd say, “I went to 4 different stores and you know, just to try and find the pens that you'd liked”. And so, she always was going that extra mile to take care of us, to provide for us, etc. and having children, she has told me has been the greatest thing she's ever done. You know, she absolutely adores us kids to the ends of this earth. We are her whole world and so we can talk kind of more about that, what that dynamic is like, and maybe in a way, how that sort of informed my wish and desire not to have kids. But it's interesting, because she very, very much wanted and loves her children. Interesting though, when I asked her about the choice to have kids, she told me that she also never had this real, like, burning urge or desire to have children. But she remembers her and my her and my dad had been married for 5, 6 years at that point, which at that time, was quite a long time. Like they were in their late 20s. They've been together since they were in their early 20s. And they were walking on a beach in Hawaii on holidays and people were there with their children and their families. And her and my dad kind of looked at each other. And it was this feeling of like, “You know, this is the next step for us”. Not necessarily that there was pressure, but they just felt like it's time you know, “It's been enough just you and I, or dad and mom, you know, they were tired of each other's company”, but I also know their lives look very, very different than my life looks today. And so, you know, it's comforting to know, it wasn't this huge urge and burning desire. And actually, my mom, she told me, she wasn't 100% sure about it. Despite contraception, she fell pregnant with me. And she thought, "Okay, well that's it, we're now having a family” and she was happy about it, but it kind of forced that choice that she was uncertain about. So, it's interesting because she loves it. She says it's the best thing she's done, you know, she wouldn't trade it for anything. And yet, when I talked to her about my own choice, she's very supportive. And she I think, very much understands where I'm coming from. And she says that she probably would have the exact same reluctance as me, based on the state of our world, the state of my own life, you know, the reality of the way things are today.

Zoë: Yeah, I mean, I think you hit the nail on the head about how life has changed for us a lot, from what our mother's lives were like, is completely different to what our lives are like. I mean, I was always very practical when I would think about children I was like, “How would I do this financially? How would I do this with the career that I want to do? How would this actually work?” And I know I think a lot of people don't think of the those things, I think us childfree folks, we think to the n-th degree about, “How does this work, what would our life look like?” and I think that's a good thing. When we think about all of those different ways our life could go, I think it can only benefit us. Sometimes it can be frustrating and it can make you go round in circles for sure, especially if you are ambivalent because, “If I shut the door this way, does that mean I lose something completely, if I go in this other direction?” So there is that kind of like going around in circles aspect, but I do think when we when we look at it practically now - if I come back around to how our mothers had it, it was a completely different way of bringing up children. It’s just you know, the reality is it's much more difficult now to bring up children. I can see that with my friends who, they don't live so close to their family. You know, we don't have this nuclear kind of everyone on the street is looking after children, we just don't have this way of looking after children anymore, and our costs are increasing, and the turmoil with the environment. So, we have all of these other factors, so I think any mother could look at that and go, “I'm not surprised that maybe nowadays women are choosing to opt out of this, or thinking much more about not doing it”, I could see that. And it is frustrating I guess, when I hear from women whose mothers are so pressured on them - you know, they are telling them like we were saying that you know, “There's something not right with you if you don't want kids”. Like, one woman told me she was going to be disowned by her mother and a family if she didn't have children. And it just, I don't understand that thinking because it's not like you have you can have a baby in a bubble - there are, you know, there's elements that, you have to think about this logically. And I feel like yeah, women like you and I, we think about it a lot, right?

Keltie: Yeah, 100%. And I mean, I'm one of those people who I frankly, think there are no real logical or practical reasons for having children, it is a very emotional decision. That said, we live in a world where we need to consider the sort of logical practical, things we just do. And I suppose it's like, a way of looking at things. But you know, as an example, I've had friends say to me recently, “You know, now is a great - now being in the pandemic - is a great time to be having a baby”. And their reason or thinking is - yeah, I know, we'll discuss this in a moment - you know, both assuming you have two-parent family, both people are potentially at home or working from home, or at least that was the case over these last several months. You know, there's more, I think that's the benefit, or I've had people have children in the last year-and-a-half, who say it's been really amazing specifically for, if there's a male partner who often is not at home during the days to be there has been incredible for them. Often I'll come home from having these conversations with friends and say to my husband, “On the contrary, I think this is the worst time ever to have a child, like for I mean, 1000 different reasons”. And again, you can see, that's a matter of perspective. But, you know, as examples, I'm hearing this week that a lot of people are getting more sick this autumn with a common cold, that sort of thing, because we haven't been exposed to germs for the last year-and-a-half. And I think, can you imagine having a 1, 2, 3 year-old child who has effectively never been exposed to anything, who is now going to be walking around, totally vulnerable, immunocompromised state? I didn't see my family for full two years, because they're in Canada, and I'm in Germany. The kids aren't getting socialised properly. And again, anybody listening who has had children, this is not to harp on you and your choice, I understand that. People want to have kids, they don't, they don't necessarily need to put their lives on hold because of a pandemic that will go on for an undetermined amount of time. But I look at that, and I look at so many other aspects of life, you know, the political, the financial, the emotional, the environment, all these things. And, for me, all signs just point to know, from a practical standpoint, and then emotionally, I just don't have that urge or desire either.

Zoë: So then, when you kind of looked at those two sides… because I read books on topics, like ambivalence, and it gives practical advice of, you can look at either side - parenthood, childfree - and you can write down everything for this, and everything for the other. And then you're really analysing your values, who are you as a person, your personality type, and you're weighing them up. Basically, I really think you have to look at the role of mother as a job, you have to really, really look at it, like, “do I fit this role?” So when you were doing this kind of weighing up, and you could see all of the nos, was there any yeses, that you were just like, “Okay, I could see this as a very good, positive reason for having children?"

Keltie: I think there's two potential yeses, and one of them is that future yes, where yes, in the future, if I have children who ended up being a certain kind of person that I have a certain kind of relationship with, and, you know, we both happen to exist, 30, 40 years down the road, like there's a lot of factors. I think a lot of people they envision or maybe they've had this themselves, it's like, the family at the cabin at the lake and everybody's together and it's like, you know, you're in your 60s and your child's in their 20s or 30s, and they bring their partner and you have a barbecue. That wasn't my personal reality growing up. I don't think that's the way most people's families are - some people's are that way, wonderful for them, I feel like that would be nice. That would be wonderful. If that's my reality in the future, wonderful. I feel like it's a gamble and it's me placing bets on something that may never come to pass for a lot of uncertainty and potentially discomfort for myself in the interim. I, of course, have a wonderful partner. We have a great relationship. It would be I suppose interesting and I'm sure magical to experience creating a human with this person or bringing a human into this world. You know, you can picture those beautiful moments of seeing your baby giggle and having snuggles in bed in the morning. I just think that picture right there, and what we see on Instagram and all that, that is solely what most people base their decision of children on. And I’m maybe being unfair here - this may be entirely not what people think of, when they think about having kids - but I feel like it's this little tiny piece of things, and I said that to my husband the other day, and he said, to the kind of defence of these people he said, “But it's like if you're gonna go on holidays, you don't think about your car breaking down or getting robbed, you think about laying on the beach and how relaxing it's going to be”… but the difference is, is that having a child is not a vacation, having a child is for the rest of your life.

Zoë: Yes, it does not stop. My dad will joke that you never stop worrying. I have a twin sister, we're both nearly 40, and literally they still will never stop worrying - they'll message if we're getting a flight somewhere, “have you landed?” Like, it doesn't stop. So that's what I think, maybe people don't think too much about that. This isn't just the perfect Kodak moments. And you're right, we see a lot of those on Instagram and social media and I kind of wish we had a bit more of both sides that because no decision is perfect. And you know, this is what I think we can look at you know, the role of having a child, yes, of course there are positives, but there are absolutely negatives and the same with the childfree life as well. So if neither are perfect, I think it's important to talk openly and honestly. But the problem with parenthood is that we vilify parents if they say anything except the most magical beautiful experience of their life and you know, women especially. Let's get it you know straight, it's women who are told “how dare they” for saying they haven't had anything but the most amazing experience having a child. And of course that means that we are aren't giving people the facts, the full facts, and I still believe that if you were truly honest about the reality of parenthood, you would still get a lot a lot of people having kids - I don't think you're actually going to put people off, I just think they're gonna be going in with eyes a bit more open and not feeling like they're failing. Because, I don't know if you've ever had this with your friends who had kids like, I know so many of my female friends who they feel like they're failing within you know, it doesn't take much within a few months they're like, “Oh, I can't breastfeed so I am obviously doing something wrong”, or you know, “I can't get my baby to sleep for the full night, I'm doing something wrong”. And it's kind of like no, you're not, you're absolutely not, but because we do have this kind of perfect ,sanitised view of parenthood in our culture, in social media, it will set people up to fail. Do you feel like that as well with your friends?

Keltie: Oh, I totally agree. And I guess you could argue the same thing about business ownership or about people's romantic relationships. It's like nobody wants to show or talk about those difficult parts and I think it's harmful, because it sets people up to make choices when maybe it's not the right choice for them, maybe when they're not ready to do that, or maybe when they can more adequately prepare themselves. And maybe you can't be prepared right? I know a lot of people have kids who are like, “You're never going to be ready”, but I also feel like, when I have to say, and again, this isn't a criticism for women, mothers who feel that way, but I am a little bit surprised the number of people who say, and I hear it you know, or see social media posts like: “I didn't think it was gonna be this hard”. And I always think: “You know what Karen? You just brought a person into this world” - sorry if there's Karens listening, I shouldn't say it - but like, “You brought a person to this world, how easy did you think it was gonna be?” Because I think it would be immensely difficult from the word go and frankly, I mean babyhood that doesn't really scare me that much, and like okay, it's gonna cry nonstop, I'm going to be self sleep deprived - that’s hard. But like thinking about raising children and navigating that, and you know, social media and bullying and eating disorders and you know, all these potential things that come up. I just think it would be very hard, so I'm always a little bit taken aback when people tell me they're surprised by how hard it is because I think it would be really hard.

Zoë: Yeah, I completely agree. I think that's the thing I always looked at, as, “No this would be so difficult, so hard”. I always looked at then I always saw the negative sides, I always thought I would lose my freedom, I would lose this and that, or you know, I would be anxious all the time. I would be worried about them hurting themselves, and I would always look at those sides. But then I exactly like you I've had multiple friends say to me, they didn't know it would be this hard. And I just didn't like how do we get to the point where with all of our non-stop internet online life, how do we get to the point where there are grown people who have children and they don't know that the reality is, it's fucking difficult? So, I don't know what's missing there? Maybe we all need, if you want to have a child, maybe you should have courses and classes to actually, see what you're getting into before you do it.

Keltie: Yeah, and I mean, I think that was something - is it Marcia Graham? Is that..

Zoë: The Marcia that I spoke to? That was a Marcia Drut-Davis.

Keltie: Marcia Davis. Okay, I couldn't remember her last name. I heard the episode with her. It was excellent. And I know you've referred to this in another podcast episode or two, but where she talks about like looking after somebody’s kids, not just for an evening, but for a few days. And I'm curious to know how many people have been around kids to that extent, and maybe they have and maybe they like it. But I gotta tell you, I mean, my husband has several nieces and nephews and anytime we spend more than a few days with them like it is, it is very difficult for me, it's very, very hard. I messaged you actually, I think I left you a voice memo one day after having spent a weekend with them as well - this has been a really solidifying experience. And it wasn't the first time I did it, but looking at it through that new lens and really being like, “Okay, is this something I would take on myself? Is this how I want to be spending my time? Is this what I like?” And you might say, “Well, they're not your kids”. But even if my own kids, my own circumstance were, let's say different than that somehow, I just didn't want to be a part of that whole landscape to be quite honest.

Zoë: No. I think Marcia's advice of, if you can look after some children, obviously, if you've got siblings who have kids, great friends, and she’s right, a couple of hours is not enough. You kind of need to be in there for a few days, you need to be able to see the full morning-to-evening and you know, day-to-day. And if you don't have that experience, then you're in the dark really you then you really are kind of going off of what? Maybe your friends have said, and let's face it, of course there are people, parents, who won't give you the full facts because, like we were talking about, they don't want to come across as being anything but a loving, caring parent, but we need to kind of stop with that idea that you can't be, you can still love your children and be honest about how tough it is and how difficult it is. But we're still not there yet. We're still not there yet, I don't think, as a society, because the articles I'll read, you know, parents who've admitted they regretted it. The comments are horrendous. So I feel like maybe that is the ultimate the last taboo actually maybe it's not being childfree. It's being a parent and admitting you regret it. I think that is possibly the worst thing any person can say apparently, but I just think this is reality. This is the human experience. It's varied and… what do you think about parents who regret having kids?

Keltie: Well, you know, it's funny you say that because I think part of my own reluctance to definitively say “I do not want children”… And you know, I came on here today I said that, and it's funny, I've been exercising that muscle and saying it more to people and it feels good to embody that, as you mentioned, but I think that fear that niggling fear is “Okay, what if I get hit by lightning, I suddenly decide to have a child in the next 12 to 24 months or whenever - like, would probably be relatively soon”, my biggest fear is that that child would be born with people around me thinking, “She doesn't want that child, she didn't want it. That kid is not wanted”, or that my child would somehow find out that one time I did this podcast, or that it was running around telling friends and family, “I don't want kids”. I think that's the fear there now, and, you know, I think there's so many reasons why there's this, to go back to your question. there's this taboo around having children and regret. And I think perhaps at the root of that is the fear of damaging one's children, potentially. I know most people when they admit that it's usually sort of on the condition of anonymity. Also perhaps, it's just maybe people feel like it's admitting fault. And it's admitting the quote-unquote, “biggest fault” because it's something that you do for the rest of your life. Once you become a parent, you are a parent indefinitely. So to say, “I've done something that is irreversible”. You can't undo becoming a parent, whether or not you have a relationship with that child. You know, maybe that's too difficult for someone. And then of course, you've also invested so much time, energy, blood, sweat, tears, all those things, that it can be hard to admit that that's not something you actually, in fact wanted or enjoyed.

Zoë: Absolutely. I mean, this is why I think it's so important that people really think about their personality, their values, their priorities, their goals in life, and, you know, really analyse all the things that they want in life. Do they match up with what it looks like when you bring a child into that? Because we get, I think, unhappy parents and unhappy children, when we maybe don't think too much about it, and we just go for it and then you have this kind of this out of alignment. And, of course, there's resentment there. And I can't blame someone, that's why I hope we can get to the point where we think really carefully about this decision. It's not just a requirement to have children where being an adult doesn't just mean you just have children. It shouldn't be anywhere in our culture. I feel like some for some reason that is, you know, what we put out into the world is, it's just a checkbox, it's, you know - tick, I've got the marriage, tick, I've got the child, and then I'm done. I've done life now. Cool. And it's like, oh wow, no, this is so not the way we should be thinking about this. And I hope we can get to that point. But it's a really frustrating thing to kind of see how we do view it in our society. Did you ever kind of read books about how to make this decision, with the things that you would try to do to help you clarify this decision? Or have you just come to it through a journey to where you are today?

Keltie: There’s been a few different things, not reading books. And it's interesting, because there were a couple of books that guests of yours have recommended around this decision, like The Baby Decision, or I've seen books that have been recommended. And I said to my husband recently, “Oh, maybe I should get this book and go through it". And I thought, oh, but I can't really be bothered, because I know what I want. And I'm sure it's probably interesting to some people listening, because I talked to one of my male friends recently, who has two children, about this decision that I've come to, or this lack of desire to have kids and kind of the ambivalence around it and this and that, and he just looked at me said, “You obviously just don't want children”. And he was so upfront about it, and just called it out. And I said, “Yeah, no, I don’t". And it was, it was kind of refreshing to have somebody just be able to say it straight out, as opposed to dancing around it, which I think I have done in the past. Not books, I did have numerous sessions with a coach. I've seen various therapists and it's something that I've covered in therapy over the years, but I did specifically hire a coach to kind of talk through some of this and upon hiring her - she was somebody who was recommended not specific to this choice, but just as a general life coach. I think in our first or second session, she mentioned that she had become a mother quite late in age, I want to say like, in her mid late 40s, and I almost had this sinking feeling when I was hearing this, like, “Oh, even you gave in”. And she understood this sort of ambivalence, or uncertainty. And it was like, "Oh, I didn't want to become a mom”. And and she wasn't saying it as a pro for having children. But she mentioned “No, but then I did become a mom. And you know, I'm happy being a mom". And I thought, “Oh, you too”. That said it was helpful, you know, to have some discussions with her, to have her ask questions. And I think it just, it started to feel a bit kind of tired and going in circles after a point, I think that one of the most enlightening questions that I asked myself or kind of something that for me was so impactful was, first of all, and I think we can talk about this perhaps later in the episode in a future episode, but you know, get it. First of all getting clear on their specific questions I asked, but to kind of look at what I wanted that future life that I want for myself to look like. And ultimately knowing, which I think most of us want is I want to feel like I have a joyful and fulfilled life. I want to feel joyful and fulfilled. And to be frank, I feel very fulfilled and joyful in my life right now. The question I asked myself was, "Do I believe that I can feel fulfilled and joyful, or have a fulfilled and joyful life, whether I have children, or whether I don't have children?" And the answer I came to was actually, I had the belief that both paths would lead to a beautiful life - that if I become a mom, I will have a joyful and fulfilled life, and if I don't become a mom, I also will have a joyful and fulfilled life. And coming to that conclusion, and it was probably a couple of years ago now, it was so freeing for me to just feel like, yes, I can have a great life, no matter what I end up choosing. In a recent turn of events, asking myself that question again, I don't know if I would feel quite as fulfilled if I had kids. Maybe I feel more fulfilled, but I don't know if I feel as joyful. So, you know, it's shifted and changed. But I think a lot of people, part of the reason they struggle with this question of "Do I have children or do I not?" is because they believe that only one path can lead to having that fulfilled, joyful life. And I think as soon as we remove that, or at least entertain the possibility that it is possible both ways, it takes immense pressure off.

Zoë: I love that. I think that is amazing. I think you're right, because so many people look at the childfree routes, and we're told it's the sad, lonely, no one to look after you when you're older… you know, it's painted in such a negative way that I think that is where the fear can come from a lot of the time, when you're trying to decide between one or the other. And I think if you like you just said, if you can kind of look at both of those paths, as they're just different ways of living your life and both can bring in positive things into your life, you know, differently, but still positive, still fulfilling, then it's not about you know, you're going to lead a more sad, depressing life if you choose this one route. It's not about that, because I truly believe you can create whatever life you want, you just have to give yourself permission to say it out loud and go for it, and not let anyone else dictate to you. But I really love that, Keltie, I think that's a really amazing way to kind of think about this decision and it really could give many of the listeners a different perspective on it, which I love.

Keltie: Yeah, I think there are so many roads to happiness. And I think that we have been taught, or we have seen modelled for us, that there's only one way to achieve that. And I know for me that my life has been characterised by many different paths that have woven in different directions, and I think that there are many, many ways my life could look, and I could be very fulfilled by those... and I think we need to stop holding that tight grasp that things have to be a certain way. And I'll say the same for if there are women listening who have struggled with conception and having children, or they've dealt with miscarriage, I think that kind of thinking also goes in that direction - that the only way in which I can feel fulfilled is if I have this child, or if I birth my own child, or what have you. And I think it can be tough to let go of that, but I think we're doing ourselves a disservice when we picture that our life can only go a certain way.

Zoë: Oh absolutely. I think I do that to myself all the time, I think “Oh, if I go in this one direction that means the door closes completely to everything else, I'll never be able to go back into this other direction”, and that's just going to make everything feel so much more scary and paralysing. And in fact thinking about what you choose one direction, and you can go in it but that doesn't mean you can't fork off from that direction and start walking in another way. So I think yeah, we maybe are conditioned to feel like there is this one true life that we all should have and it's this one direction and if we don't do that, you're not going to be happy, you're not going to be fulfilled. And I think there's such strength, and if you have that strength and courage to say, “I'm going to do what's actually right for me and my life”, and it takes a lot of guts to go against what society tells you you're meant to do, especially as a woman, we are really told this is the direction we should go from a very young age - we’re given baby dolls for Christ's sake, as toys, we have like many kitchens as children - so I think it's so courageous for any person to go, “I'm going to go my path”. And yeah it's maybe not as clear as the other path, there's maybe more branches in front of it and you have to kind of push through it, and it's still there - that path is still there and you can have an incredible life if you go for it. So I think it's a really important thing to not be scared about taking that less-traveled road, especially, just because you make this decision it doesn't mean you can't change your mind as well - this is another thing I think people think, like, “If I do this, if I say I'm doing this, I can't ever change my mind”. Did you ever feel like that as well? Like you said if you have a child, there is no going back from that, that's that that's the only kind of caveat with that kind of thinking. So you have to be pretty damn sure if you're gonna do it, that there is no going back from having a child.

Keltie: Yeah, yeah. Or you gain certainty through that process because you have to. I often say that the only truly definitive choices in life, or death should one choose one's own death, are death and children. I think most other choices, maybe they're not reversible, but they're recoverable from, if that makes sense.

Zoë: Yeah. If you change your mind, that's also okay...

Keltie: 100%.

Zoë: …because I think a lot of childfree folks, they can, you know, they've got this like clock ticking and they get this pressure from obviously, it could be family, it could be just societal pressure, and that intensifies this ticking sound in their head. And then they're waiting for this biological clock, so to speak to, you know, kick in. So, it's a constant pressure. But I think if people can kind of let go of that, and give themselves the breathing space… I know myself, my, when I've been struggling most in life, it's when I've been so fixated on trying to work out what's the perfect way of doing this, and ultimately, there is no perfect way of doing anything. I think it's far better to let go and move forward in a direction, if you choose to be childfree, for 10 years, you can still make, you can still have a child, even in your 40s - anything is possible. But I think when you let go of that kind of that pressure, you're in a better mind space, to actually truly think about what is it that you do want, because all of those external pressures, they are only going to confuse you so much more. And this is in The Baby Decision, there is an exercise where it does have this two lists. And I know a friend of mine, she had these two lists for children and for childfree. And then she coded up the list. So what she did was, she added on a label, which were external pressures, or which were internal. So trying to really just see, which are the concerns and the worries and the pressures that come from outside of her thinking, she has no control of. And what she saw was the majority were from external - it wasn't her thinking, “I desperately want a child because I think my life would be better”, it was parents were pressuring, society was pressuring. And yeah, I think like, if you can try and really see whether that pressure is coming from an external source, or is it coming from yourself, you know, maybe that can help you as well. I'm not sure if you felt like the pressure was coming more from outside or inside internally.

Keltie: Yeah, I think for me, it was more just internal worries, you know, of course, that old narrative of “I'm going to end up alone and sad”. I certainly don't feel alone and sad now. But I also don't think, take things for granted that my life will look as it is now in 50 years - that'll be a nice long life, by the way - but like, my partner, may no longer be here with me, for example. You know, I always tell Chris, he needs to outlive me because I couldn't bear the thought of losing him, but or he may, you know, have dementia. And so of course, you think about these kind of sad scenarios. And I guess that maybe that's an external factor, but I also think it's internal and that that's an emotional sort of anxiety. Externally, I think maybe it was just that feeling that I somehow was abnormal. And you know, I've definitely let go of that. I feel really fortunate in the fact that I have received very little external pressure aside from what I've seen around me, and that, generally, the people in my life have been very accepting of this choice that I have made.

Zoë: I mean, it is so much easier when you have family support and friend support. You know, just having people who back you up and can help you in that way. It does make it easier, but ultimately, yeah, it seems like you had a lot more turmoil coming from yourself within. And while it was great that you had family to support you actually was something that you were wrestling with yourself, it wasn't that you were getting horrible comments or judgments. It was, it's actually you were just trying to really weigh up this decision yourself. You know, is there anything, advice-wise, you could have given you your younger self to help you go through this process? Is there anything any advice you might have?

Keltie: Oh, gosh, that's such a good question. I think in general, the advice for my younger self, and the advice for my present self, is to not be so hard on myself. You know, it's kind of ironic and unfortunate the fact that I've had, for the most part, very supportive people in my life, not just for this decision, but all of the decisions I've made. And while I wouldn't say my life is extraordinarily unconventional, it also hasn't walked a super conventional path. And so it's kind of funny that then the pressure that I feel comes from inside myself, and so as far as advice I might give, I think, just not to worry so much, to have faith that the choices I've made in my life up till now have served me well - even when they haven't served me they've ultimately been teachers for me. And I suppose it also would have been enlightening or interesting to recognise, and to have examples of, people who've made other types of choices in my life. I don't think there's anything I could have done differently on that front, but it's exciting to me to see that there are people who are much younger than myself who are already being exposed to examples, like the people you interview on this podcast, or the books that are out there, and that more conversations are being had around this. Again, that's not something I could necessarily change. But if I could sneak into the past, and like, insert a few helpful examples, or a mentor or a podcast like this, that definitely would have been helpful for me. Time and time again, I tried to tell myself that as I progress through this, this decision, is like not to worry, not to stress, to trust that things will unfold as they do, and I will manage and I will hopefully come out thriving because despite adversity that I faced in my life, like we all have. Ultimately, I have come out in a place where I feel stronger, where I feel more sure of myself, where I feel more confident in the choices that I've made.

Zoë: I love that. Yes. I mean, I would love to then know about your work, Keltie, because you work as a coach, and you help other people who are starting businesses and you know, so this isn't something that you've always done, right? You've so you've kind of come to this in the last few years. Is that right?

Keltie: Correct. Yeah, so I do what I call clarity coaching, which is help people get clarity and direction, mostly business owners and professionals - although a lot of the work I do can apply to any area of life. Which, you know, the irony is not beyond me to know that a clarity coach is in search of clarity around this sort of question. But yeah, this is something that I've done for about two and a half years now, prior to that I was actually a jewellery designer. And I came to clarity coaching after my own real confrontation with this question of what do I want, what am I doing, what's next for me - I felt stuck and dissatisfied and unfulfilled in my last business, not for its entirety, but certainly in the last couple of years. And through coming to that decision to close that business, and then trying to figure out what the heck I was supposed to do next, and then navigating my way to figure out how to make that happen. What I recognise is that most of us when we're struggling with some sort of challenge in life, when we're feeling unsure, when we are feeling indecisive, what's missing for us is clarity. You know, it's having this vision of where we're going and being in touch with what we want. And it's really, I believe, at the crux of not all, but many of our problems that we that we struggle with, and certainly professionally and in our businesses, so yeah, it was it was this combination of you know, my own experience, personally, professionally, having struggled with this, having recognised that other people are struggling with it, that I decided to help people get clear in terms of what they want, what matters to them, and the steps that they need to take to realise that.

Zoë: I think it's a really important topic. I mean, I know just myself like how, yeah, sometimes you can just go round in circles. And I think half the battle is actually just having that clarity and knowing the direction you're going in. And then you can worry about all of the details and all of the practical stuff, but actually, it's just, it's having the, maybe the strength, to kind of go, “Okay, this is the direction I'm going in. So that is what my eye is on. That's where I'm going.” And I know myself, I can flip between different things that I love, because I think a lot of us can love lots of different things in our life. And again, you have this worry about if you close the door on one path, somehow you won't ever be able to go back to that, and that's just not true, is it? I mean, I wonder whether this is more women - we deal with this more, I don't know whether because of the way we're raised. There is more uncertainty maybe for us about being bold enough to go, “This is the path that I want to take and I'm going to get there through grit and determination”, instead of maybe choosing a path that we are kind of told that we should go down.

Keltie: You know, you bring a good point into question and I would say, that aside, the main reasons I see people struggling with this, struggling with paralysis analysis, too many choices, feeling unsure about pursuing what it is they want, I think it's two-fold. I think one is that most of us are very disconnected from our own wants and desires. And I'm going to say the role probably for women - a lot of that has to do with our upbringings, the emphasis on other as opposed to self, what sort of been prescribed for us. You see that with men though as well, right? Like this expectation that they're going to be primary breadwinner, that they're going to have a serious occupation, that this is how a real man behaves and acts. And so, I think we all have that, we all have these sort of roles that we have seen modelled to us that we have explicitly had told to us, we often - and I'm going to refer to a book which I've yet to read, but I, which, which makes me kind of funny. It's like the here’s the notes on book that I've read the back cover, but it's a book that just recently came out and I'm afraid I don't know the author's name, but it's called Wanting and the philosophy of this book is really that most people's wants and desires are mimetic, they're based on mimicry or copying what we see other people wanting in their lives, and, you know, from they're doing. And I think that's really true for us, when we see most people get married and have babies, we then determine that that's what we want and so it can be hard for us to divorce ourselves from that. And frankly, nobody really asks us, “What do you want?” And often when they do you know, we can think about high school guidance counsellor in school, "What do you want to study at college?” If you know if that's the path we went down? It's like, “No, no, no, you know, you're a smart girl you want to study science”, or “No, no, no, that's not a practical choice”. So, most of us aren't asked that and when we are it's kind of mocked or chided or not taken seriously. I think that's part of it. I just think that, for for the most part, it's not something that we give ourselves the time to explore. Because it feels like navel-gazing to think about like, "What do I want? Let me sit up here on my meditation cushion and ponder life's great questions." No, most of us were taught to make these snap decisions. And so I think there's a lot of different reasons that we've become divorced from these desires. And ultimately, most of us are never taught to design our lives intentionally - we're just taught that these are the things that you do.

Zoë: Intentionally is such a key word here, right? Living with intention. Because I think you're right many people can feel like they are living on autopilot and yeah, they are maybe checking check boxes that were put down for them, but they may never have actually chosen them had they known that there was a choice. And I think that's why I'm so, like you said, I'm so happy for the younger generations that they're going to see different ways of living, they're gonna see that if you don't want kids it's fine, you're going to be able to create a life that is happy and fulfilling if you want that and there is nothing abnormal about that. And I think yeah, it's so wonderful to see the childfree communities out there, that there are more coaches and that we can start you know, telling those people raised as girls that, “It's okay, you have a choice”, and that, “You don't you don't need to feel like you have to do one or the other and give people the time" as well. Because yeah, I don't know whether you felt like that that like this, but there is such a pressure because you're on a path, you're set off on a path of school, then university, then get your job, then you know, get the house, have the child and it's you know, it feels like a weight on your shoulders often. And if we could live more intentionally and really think about what is it that we actually need in our lives, “What kind of person am I? Do I want more of the freedom that comes with living childfree? The travel…” - we talked a bit before we started recording about how we would you know, we see ourselves living more location-independently and be having that flexibility to travel more, which is one of those massive positives to being childfree. So I think you need to really know, “What kind of life do I want?” and work towards that. And it's okay if it takes years to get there because nothing worth getting is an overnight process, you know, and it's okay. I don't I don't think I know any person who at the age of 20 knew who they want it to be what they wanted to do, what kind of life they wanted. It's a process, it takes years to get there. And just giving people more space to breathe and fail as well. Like if you do something and it's not perfect, that's okay as well. You know, I guess that the problem is when people rush into having children, like we've said, there is no going back from that. So that's the one reason why I really hope we can get people to really think more intentionally about this, and if they need to wait until their late 30s, late 40s even it's better to wait. It's better to wait and just let yourself have that time, then rush into it. Right?

Keltie: Yeah, no, I totally agree with you. And to highlight what you said, you know, thinking about that kind of life that you're cultivating, I think that's the most important question that we can start with, regardless of the area of our life in which we're seeking clarity is, you know, I ask my clients, "What kind of life are you building? What is it you're cultivating here? What kind of experiences do you want to have? How do you want to feel?" And to look at that bigger landscape, and to get really clear on the details of that as best you can - knowing that we don't really know what's going to come to pass - I think that can then help us situate different choices that we have around career or around children or what have you within that. But we need to be clear about that first. Certainly, you can go have children, and then decide after, "I want to have this life of freedom where I don't live in one place for more than a month", or what have you - which you and I both said is not not exactly the kind of freedom we have in mind - but it will be more challenging that way. So I think, for people who are feeling uncertain, to really just step back and think about life as a whole, and the quality of that kind of life they envision, that can be really powerful.

Zoë: So then, what has up until this point that what has - or not the decision to be childfree, because I guess you haven't, you know, it's only recently that you kind of felt more like, “Okay, this is something that I'm standing in my truth now” - but what has it meant? Because you didn't rush into that decision, because you did give yourself the time, the space to think really intentionally about this, or just give yourself time, that's sometimes all we need is just more time. What has it meant for your life?

Keltie: I think it's meant building and enjoying a life that is mine by design. I think, you know, intentionality is so key. It's a luxury, you know, this is a privilege that we don't all have, of course, we have varying degrees of this, but I'm lucky to have been able to ask myself these questions to be able to make, have made these kind of changes and pivots. But I feel more, I suppose, rooted and firm in the choices I've made, because I have taken time with them. I have an understanding of self that I think gives me a confidence that may otherwise be lacking if I would have just made a snap decision one way or the other. And I appreciate your sort of semantics around this as far as you know, well, maybe it's not a decision. I mean, I'm comfortable saying I do not want children. I think we kind of talked about I suppose part of my reluctance for not wanting to say that and part of it is this sort of emotional piece of like, well, “What if I do have kids and then my child thinks I hate them?” You know, that's one part of it. But I think part of the reason that I haven't wanted children and it ties into this kind of life that I'm cultivating for myself is I am someone who really views life in a very dynamic perspective, and full of possibilities, and sort of this weaving, beautiful, colourful journey. And certainly it would be weaving and colourful if I had kids, I don't doubt that, I'm sure it would be very colourful - perhaps crayons all over my white walls. But I think part of the reason both why I don't want kids, but also why it's hard for me to say definitively 100%, is because I feel like saying definitively 100% I want kids, it feels like closing off possibility - both the possibility that maybe someday I'll want that and both the possibility that I see that my life could take this really circuitous sort of interesting journey. So you know, I appreciate you reminding me that it's okay to choose again and for people to give themselves permission that I can choose differently. My husband and I, we have a very pragmatic view of our marriage. I'm sure he won't mind me saying this. I would love nothing more than to be with Chris until the day I die, because I love that man immensely. However, the pragmatic view is that may change 20 years from now, we may feel like suddenly we have nothing in common, we haven't been able to make it work, and frankly, we want to go our separate ways. And I don't think many people have that view on their marriage, on their families, on their careers. And I do and it's something that I think is tough for people to embrace, but like you just never know. And if I have kids, like there's a lot of I won't know, but there's also this really extreme degree of knowing - that I have children forever.

Zoë: Yes, I know. I mean, I think I think that's a very helpful way to look at life. There are no guarantees in life. So just enjoy what you have right now. Try not to box yourself in too much because that's where you start to feel that pressure of getting something perfectly right and, there is no perfect you know, what you decide today it might be not what you decide tomorrow, 10 years down the line and that's okay, change is - we are humans, we change every day. I truly believe life is a journey and a process, and who I was 20 years ago as a 20 year old, it feels like another person, it doesn't feel like me at all so - and where I'll be maybe in another 20 years will be completely different, and I actually have to embrace that and accept it as part of the process and try not to fight that as well and be accepting that if I change I change, I'll be fine. Because I'm fine right now. And I'll be able to manage it, like you said, your life up to this point it's worked out so far so you'll make it work whatever happens with whatever you start to feel - you’ll make it work you know?

Keltie: Yeah, 100%.

Zoë: But yeah, I thank you so much for you sharing more about this journey of yours. Because I think it really is something that so many women, they go through and I've been on the Instagram talking about ambivalence a lot in the last few weeks and that I have gotten so many messages, so many messages - so I truly do believe that this is actually a really really important topic for many and I think the topics and some of your suggestions and just listening to your journey and how you got to this process actually is going to help a lot of people in their own journey, so thank you so much for sharing it with me and the listeners.

Keltie: Well, thank you for having me. And you know, for anybody listening who is feeling uncertain or ambivalent about being childfree, you're certainly not alone. There are so many of us that have felt this way, that still feel this way. I think it's part of being a very questioning type of person, which is a great thing to be you know, it's great to question our own motives, our own desires. It's great to be intentional in our choices, which I think a lot of people lack, so kudos to you. There's certainly nothing wrong with you for feeling this way. And hopefully the suggestions and me sharing my story will help you on your own journey.

Zoë: We are Childfree is hosted by me, Zoë Noble, and produced by James Glazebrook. If you liked this episode, please leave a review on your podcast app, as this really helps other people find us. Head to to read more inspiring childfree stories, find out how to share your story with me and to be first to know when the We are Childfree community launches. Speak soon lovelies :)

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