In Portland in 1998 I felt my back clench and ache. I couldn’t focus on the words in my art history book. Phrases kept racing through my head with that same image of bulging. Expanding. Blowing up. I took a pregnancy test the day before and found out I was pregnant.
That same day, there was a series of urgent raps on the door. I scrambled to pull it open. My boyfriend Kelvin leaned in. His eyes on the floor. He stepped inside.
I reached for him. Pressed my face to his shoulder, shaking.
He grabbed me around the waist. Held me. Not speaking. I couldn’t either. I could feel objections. Frustration. Panic. I couldn’t articulate them. I just wanted to fall into his body and close my eyes.
“This is such a cliché, I know,” Kelvin said. “But I can’t help feeling like I’m ruining your life.”
“No, I don’t care.” I said. “I have no maternal instinct, I never have. I have no will to nurture. I want the thing to fucking die and leave me alone.
At the age of 22 I got an abortion so that I could finish my thesis and graduate. My ambition outstripped my maternal instinct as became usual. Kelvin broke up with me immediately afterwards, not unexpectedly.
At the age of 40, I still do not want children but it’s even more complicated than it was in college. As a queer widow disabled by several chronic mental illnesses and forced to survive on the charity of SSDI and my parents, child-rearing is not a responsible choice. I may not have passed completely out of the window of fertility, yet I am eager for menopause to seal the deal.
My Schizoaffective Disorder, a rare co-occurring blend of Bipolar Disorder and Schizophrenia matched with PTSD and anxiety is genetically inherited. I am on Disability. I cannot work ever again. Schizoaffective Disorder has a very high probability of being genetically passed on to any child I would have.
I do not want to bring another person into this world who would suffer as I have suffered. I have struggled with addiction, alcoholism, poverty, and mental illness. I feel like consigning my spawn to a life of homelessness on inadequate government benefits because I couldn’t be bothered to handle my birth control would be terminally irresponsible. I have a gynecologist in my phone who would perform the abortion if my IUD ever did fail. I am protecting my imaginary future child from a cruel world. I am protecting society from my child. I am trying to make responsible choices.
Like any story, there are a few ways to frame my story. Given my circumstances I believe I am making a responsible choice but maybe I’ve just chosen not to have kids because I don’t really like children unless I’m related to them. Their messiness, screams, crying and unpredictability irritate me. I prefer to see children from the safe distance of Facebook. Far away and quiet.
Others will tell my story, my choice to end a pregnancy, as a story of selfishness. I have been vilified on Twitter for being willing to use the hashtag #ShoutYourAbortion. I am aware that some in the comments section may criticize my way of thinking. But do you want your tax dollars taking care of my spawn? On seeing an online photograph of a 1948 mother put her children up for sale, I shuddered in recognition. Children are very expensive, and I can’t earn my own money. The reality of my mental illness is cruel, no matter what pretty illusions I like to tell myself about being an artist.
The other way to tell my story is that I simply could not have children. With the limitations of my mental illness there are only so many things I can achieve. As a disabled woman I have fewer spoons, to quote spoon theory. A spoon is a unit of time and energy that it takes to do something. Disabled people have fewer spoons then non disabled people. So I put my spoons towards writing and art and cut out everything else that befits a normal life in order to have the bohemian life that I want.
There was a time, though, that I let the thought of motherhood enter my mind. I married a wonderful woman in 2011. We happily lived together for three years before tying the knot slightly before it was even legal. Prop 8 brides. Lesbian homesteading in Echo Park. We contemplated children but as two vain gamines, neither of us actually wanted to get pregnant. With me on SSDI and her working at a bookstore, we couldn’t really afford it either.
Watching San Francisco queer punk writer Michelle Tea’s struggle with artificial insemination online I wondered what lesbian parenting would be like. Our cat wore a pink sweater that read, “I have two mommies.” Yet conceiving is more difficult than kitten adoption. I see Instagram images now of an old girlfriend who just had a baby with her partner. Their family is adorable. I see that it is possible. I missed my chance.
My wife committed suicide in 2012. When she died I gave up on marriage. I will never marry again. I will never have children. I have a Paraguard IUD that will last until menopause. I will never have a traditional normal life, yet I am rapturously happy doing what I love all of the time.
I see my story as a story of acceptance. I sit alone in my Hollywood apartment with my cat typing into the void of the Internet. I am content to die this way in 40-50 years having done more of the same.
I accept my limitations. I hope to have a happier more fulfilling life as a result of this acceptance. As I learned in AA, “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” I accept my childfree life. I am learning to flourish within it.
Andrea Lambert wrote Jet Set Desolate, Lorazepam & the Valley of Skin and the chapbook G(u)ilt. Her work appears in 3:AM Magazine, The Fanzine, Entropy, Queer Mental Health, HTMLGiant, Five:2:One Magazine and ENCLAVE. Anthologies: Haunting Muses, Writing the Walls Down, Off the Rocks Volume #16, and The L.A. Telephone Book Vol. 1, 2011-2012. Her website is andreaklambert.com.
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