By MotherShouldeditors

I Choose My Husband Again, and Again, Despite Our Childlessness

From the Editors: Writer Sylvie Beauvais explores the complexity of remaining with a beloved partner who does not share a desire to parent.

In June, I went sea kayaking in a bio-luminescent bay in Puerto Rico with my husband. We shared a two-seater kayak: he sat in the front of the boat and I sat in the back. There were other couples in other boats. As the sun set, we navigated the mangrove in the near total dark guided by the tiny amber lights at the sterns and bows, marking our group of boats. This seemed like the ultimate metaphor for marriage—navigating by faith, in the dark, with partial information, but with the support of a chosen companion.

Neither of us had ever been in a sea kayak. In the dark. In a bay. Surrounded by other uncertain boaters. All of us in couple formation. As sometimes happens in group settings, it was remarkably easy to make snap judgments about the other couples navigating the waters and their way of paddling together.

I could see couples with power struggles—one partner dominating. There were couples that couldn’t coordinate their paddling, their boats getting stuck in the low hanging mangrove trees. There was one boat where the man ignored his resigned wife’s cries and the directions of our guides, speeding ahead, somewhat out of control, constantly ramming other boats. Some boats moved slowly, but worked well together.

What my husband couldn’t see was that our paddling strokes were even and perfectly synced, that we were moving in harmony better than any other couple sharing a boat in our group. We both have broad shoulders, and now I realized our arms were the same length, so our paddles reached the water at the same time. We were moving quickly and efficiently, harmoniously, and he didn’t know. Another metaphor for marriage: each partner has different information about why the couple works or doesn’t work.

Ours is a childless marriage. My husband set this boundary to our relationship. What follows are my struggles. My husband is a private man which I will do my best to honor here.

At four a.m. in Washington DC, our first sleepless night in a friend’s guest room, I turn to my husband and want to ask him a question I have never previously envisioned through all our conversations about children.

“Honey, I have a hard question to ask you and you don’t have to answer right now.”

“I’m not in the best mood.” We have spent several uncomfortable hours tossing and turning in a strange bed.

I know my timing’s not great, “Okay, I won’t ask.”

My husband is patient with me, he breathes in and then exhales. He says, “You can ask.”

“If you knew I wanted children, why did you stay?”

I’m turned towards him in bed and he is looking up at the ceiling. His face is in shadow. My arm is draped over his chest. He says nothing for a few breaths, thinking. I consider what I know about us. I answer for him, “I think the short answer is that we love each other.”

He turns towards me and says “Yes, and I guess I felt it was your decision to make, whether to stay or go.”

In the moment I feel the sadness he must have felt, not knowing what I would choose. But this exchange also reminds me how inconceivable the choice to go has always seemed–how once my heart opened to this beautiful partner, it felt impossible to go. I lay in the bed a little sad, but also feeling the wholeness of my love: how large and generous the experience of loving him makes me feel.

After a moment of silence, he turns to me, looks at me and says, “That’s a nice hat.” I’m wearing my sleep mask on my forehead.

I answer, “It’s the required fashion accessory for sleepless nights.”

He says, “It’s true, I have noticed the actors wearing it in all the ads for sleepless nights.”

We laugh together and the sadness fades, and all I can feel is his chest hair tickling my forearm as he breathes and his warm leg along mine. In the moment what I feel is the certainty that I am in love, and it suffices; it feels vast. After I write about this exchange, I share the text with him and we cry together, holding each other tenderly.

We have had many conversations over many years. When I met him he was ambivalent and I was neutral to positive on children; I was a little unsure. My desire for children always hinged on finding a partner who was enthusiastic about the idea. Forcing someone ambivalent to have children is to me ethically repugnant and deeply unfair to both partner and imaginary child.

In our years together, I kept hoping his ambivalence would resolve and the vastness of our love would answer his questions and make him curious. No one moment felt like the decisive moment where the conversation about children ended. I stayed a little blindly hopeful and he was steadfast. During all that time in conversation, our love grew. As our love grew, we also got older. Thirty-eight when we met, I am now 44, closer to 45, and from a fertility standpoint the question is essentially moot. I never wanted the path of medical intervention for procreation. In the heat of our discussions after I had moved in, when I was 40 or 41, I tried to imagine leaving, finding a new partner, falling in love and trying to get pregnant. I thought that this path would be a time consuming gamble: by the time New Partner might be ready to commit to parenting, my fertility would be unsure. And then, as today, letting go of this love was inconceivable. Love is partly timing.

When I found myself praying to Aphrodite for a partner seven years ago when I was 37, I did not know that I would receive exactly what I asked for: the love of my life. Our childlessness is the most difficult choice I have ever made. I am deeply in love and also frequently (but bearably) in pain wishing our relationship could encompass parenting. It is a delicate, excruciating tension. I embrace the joy and fulfillment of being partnered with someone I deeply respect, truly enjoy, and with whom I share ecstasy, intellectual stimulation, and travel. We continue our conversation. The person who causes me the most existential tension (my loving husband who doesn’t want kids) is the person who comforts me through my tears and helps me laugh. Despite its sorrows, the mantle of our love sometimes feels magical, both protective and reparative.

The choice to stay, to love, to share my life with this person is made anew with varying frequency. I make the choice again and again, knowingly, in regret and in celebration. My husband’s definition of parenting is narrower than mine. I would parent by any means possible, fostering included. I do not require a biological offspring where he would. This gives me more options and I have considered them. Yet, I do not leave and go find a divorcee with children so I can step-mom.

The choices I embrace are to be my spouse’s partner, and to spend time with all the young mothers in my circle. Living with children in my life, but not my children, sometimes renews my grief but also gives me the joy of children’s company. I previously spent some time as a child therapist, so for a childless woman I am unusually comfortable around kids, and enjoy their humor, curiosity, and tenderness. Parents often notice, and frequently remark upon, my ease with children. Each comment tugs at the old familiar twinge in my heart. Then I go about the business of enjoying the moment and being present with the children. This weekend I was introduced to Ever After High characters by an enthusiastic six year old. She wanted me to help her find the evil queen’s lost shoe. At the end of each day with children, I go home with my husband. I enjoy the quiet. I might shed some tears. But I get a sound night sleep.

I’m not sure how all of this will play out in the end, the subtle wear and tear on my marriage. But I also feel writing this essay has helped me heal my heart, say what needed to be said, look clear eyed at the past, how I made the choices that brought me to this moment.

I keep rowing in the dark watching my husband’s graceful movements–so grateful for his presence. Sometimes, the grief is small, light as a feather, and sometimes it is a tornado. The tornadoes have been fewer lately. Writing helps. Feather or tornado, I love my husband and continue to be nourished by the wonder of this primary relationship.

Sylvie Beabeauvaisuvais lives in Philadelphia. She is a writer and psychotherapist who writes fiction, personal essays and reflections on social work.  She received her Master of Liberal Arts and her Master of Social Work from the University of Pennsylvania. She blogs about life, travel, and writing at www.sylviewrites.com, and likes to post to instagram.

 

Love is a Choice: Adopting an Older Child

From the Editors: Writer Oceania Chase shares the real challenges of adopting an older child as a single woman. 

It’s a beautiful sunny day and I’m desperately trying to hold on to my composure. My daughter is lying on the ground; repeatedly screaming at the top of her lungs “It’s not fair!” Her arms and legs are flailing and she is turning scarlet with anger.

My inner voice is reminding me: this is good; she’s allowing herself to feel angry, she’s right it isn’t fair, deal with her at the age she’s acting; she’s acting like a toddler, treat her like a toddler. Watch her; keep her safe, she needs to feel the feeling.

My pride is telling me to grab her up off the floor and frog march her back to my car immediately; this is embarrassing. People are watching us. I can see them making snide comments to each other, casting judgment. Why am I allowing this? What’s wrong with her? What’s wrong with me? Should they call the police?

So I sit, watching over her until she calms down naturally. Ready to help her when she’s ready. It feels like it has gone on for hours, if not days. In reality it was only about 5 minutes. She is 9years old and looks about 12.

I desperately wanted to shout out “it’s not my fault!”Whether intentional, or not, people can seem very judgmental. When I’m dealing with my 9-year-old daughter in public as you would a 3 year old – don’t judge her or me. You don’t know what she’s been through. You don’t know that she needs to have the developmental experiences of being 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8. That she’s never had them, and despite being 9 now, that she still needs to be held like a toddler at times, that she doesn’t know how to play, how to interact with her peers, that she needs to be cued socially just like a toddler. When she’s lying and stealing – that it takes time for her to learn that attention-seeking behaviors that were ignored for the first 7-8 years of her life are no longer acceptable. That she really is only just learning better. Those are the times when I’m certainly no saint. When I want to scream “I’m not a bad parent, I didn’t do this!“ Instead I swallow my pride and get on with parenting my daughter, as she needs to be parented right now.

You might be wondering, why a single woman would adopt a nine-year old girl who needs this level of care?

Actually, the hardest part of adopting an older child is managing other people.

When people say that they couldn’t do it or that I’m a saint, I’m sure they mean well. When people ask questions such as what I would do if her ‘real’ mother took her back?, I get that it is out of ignorance of the adoption laws.

I’m no saint! I’m just a woman who didn’t adopt out of a belief that love would be enough but in the acknowledgement and understanding, based on years of working with children in a variety of ways, that it takes more than love, like a lot of hard work, to raise children to be healthy adults. That having been through a lot myself as a child, felt drawn to adopt an older child, who are often considered unadoptable, because they’re no longer a cute baby and easy to explain to friends and family.

It might surprise people to know that I struggle with feeling selfish. By adopting my daughter as a single parent, that I took away her chance to have both a mum and a dad. I know intellectually that the government matched me with her based on her needs but when she latches on to every man in our life as a potential Dad, I worry that I did her an injustice. Knowing that if I hadn’t been her match that she would have probably ended up in foster care, or a group-home, helps me deal with that but I still struggle with it.

Thankfully, I have a good support network in terms of people being there for me to talk to but it’s taken me most of the last 16 months to recognize that I also need time for myself for me to be a better parent for her. That it won’t hurt her to spend time with other people once in a while and that it doesn’t make me a bad person if I find people that can take care of her occasionally. Yet, I have to be very careful who takes care of her and that they understand why we have a strict routine and why it must be adhered to (She has anxiety which is very much helped by enforced routine). Interestingly, talking with other adoptive parents this discomfort with letting others take care of our children seems to be a common problem. It’s as though we fight so hard to get our children that once we have them we forget that we’re only human and just like all other parents aren’t superhuman!

When you adopt an older child, you grieve for the lost years. You think that there won’t be any sleepless nights as there are with a newborn; that you’ll have missed many of those first experiences. Some of which is true. I certainly didn’t get to change her diapers; however, I do get to deal with poopy panties and help her learn how to listen to her body and to go to the toilet appropriately.

Additionally, for my daughter, her past circumstances meant that she didn’t get to experience many of the ‘firsts’ that you’d usually expect a child her age to have had and as we work together towards her emotional health, I find that I still have those prized moments with her that I thought were lost in her babyhood. Just the other day she was cuddled up on my knee as I gently moved the rocking chair back and forth. ‘Our song’ is playing and the play therapist has moved so that she’s out of sight. The moment is simply ours. My daughter gently reaches up and mimicking something that I’ve now done with her for over a year, each and every bedtime, she gently reaches up with her hand and strokes my face and stares into my eyes.

Just days before I’d watched a newborn do the same thing – bonding with their mother. Other such moments are seeing her face light up when she saw fireworks for the first time, giving her her first children’s birthday party, taking her to see a kids’ movie, her face when she experienced her first visits from the tooth fairy and a note from Santa! Of the night she confessed her biggest secret –crying, snot running down her face, gulping air frantically, near hysteria and silently screaming inside, curled up in my arms and holding on to me so tightly, as she confessed what she’d never dared voice before – knowing that this meant that she finally felt safe and loved and therefore could trust me with her deepest darkest fears.

For months I dreaded putting her to bed. Not that I hated the bedtime routine – I loved it and still do – but that was when she’d start talking about her past experiences. It broke my heart so many times to hear her talk about her past life. Those were the nights that email and our social worker kept me sane. Thankfully she’s now coming to a place when she’ll talk about these things with me at other times and not just at bedtime.

My daughter was seven years old when she was placed with me and I already loved her. I’d prayed for her for years. I’d gone through multiple hoops and hurdles in two different countries before finally being blessed with her. Yet, once she came I found that I had to make a conscious choice each and every day to love her. It took many months to break through her barriers and find the real child behind all the pretense and barricades she’d created to keep herself safe. Yet, it was that moment when the walls came down and she let me really see her – warts and all –and started to really believe that she was now safe and that I wasn’t going to ever send her away or leave her – that I fell truly in love with this daughter of my heart.

Love is a choice and one I gladly continue to make each and every day.

Oceania Chase is a writer based in Northern Ontario, Canada. She writes in a variety of genres, including pieces based on her personal life experiences, and is currently completing the background research needed for her first novel. She can be contacted at oceaniachase@gmail.com

Playing Mom

From the Editors: In this essay, recent college graduate SJ Enloe reflects on how a 19-year age difference between her and her little brother causes her to think carefully about motherhood.

“Mom, can I have some chocolate milk?”

I stare at Isaac, who looks puzzled for a moment then giggles.

“Sarah, can I have some chocolate milk?” I nod and grab the Ovaltine.

“I called you mom,” he snickers.

It’s not uncommon for my brother to call me mom. After a few years of trying, my mom discovered she was pregnant a month shy of her 40th birthday. I was 18-years-old and just finishing my first year of college. My sister and I had no idea our mom and step-dad had been trying to have a baby, so her pregnancy came as a complete shock.

We tagged along for her 18-week ultrasound so the whole family could be there to find out his gender. Soon after, one of my aunts suggested that I throw my mom’s baby shower. I spent that summer driving around buying favors, decorations, and the like, all the while telling my mom I was going out with friends or just buying new clothes. I organized family members and friends to help out and surprise my mom, and it all came together perfectly.

My brother was born on November 14, 2012, a little more than a month after my 19th birthday. I was there to witness his birth (as much as I tried to look away) and cut his umbilical cord. I like to think it was that moment that my brother and I became inseparable.
Before my brother was born, I spent most of my time in my room, barely seeing my family – despite living under the same roof. Now I’m almost always playing with toy cars or sitting with him watching whichever Peanuts DVD is his favorite that week.

Though I sometimes find myself forgetting I’m not his parent, I also frequently forget my age. Playing board games and going along with the latest game he’s made up are my favorite past-times. Sometimes, if the TV has been left on, I’ll sit alone watching Curious George or Sesame Street.

We often look at toddlers crying over silly little things and laugh, but taking a little time to play along with my brother helps to show me that my problems are just as silly and laughable.

In those moments when I feel like I’m his mother, I contemplate whether or not I actually want to be a mother. My fiancé and I talk about it fairly often, and we’re both on the fence. Until the last few months, he’s never really wanted kids. For much of my life, I operated under the assumption that I was supposed to be a mother. I knew it was my choice, but became afraid to explore that choice. It’s a huge decision to make and there’s so much that goes into it, and I’m afraid of making the wrong choice. My brother, however, forces me to have that discussion with myself.

In moments when my brother is bratty and acting up, I immediately push the thought of motherhood from my mind. On several occasions I’ve texted my mom, “your son’s being a terror, and I’m never having children.” Then there are moments when we’re cuddled on the couch, and he’s being sweet as can be, giving lots of hugs and kisses and being much better behaved than usual, and I think “this isn’t so bad.”

I have some time before I make any decision on the subject, but I’m glad I have some first-hand experience in mothering to help me make a more informed decision. Until then I’ll continue making chocolate milk and playing mom.

Enloe headshotS.J. Enloe is a recent graduate of Westfield State University, who enjoys writing and walking into walls;  she can’t avoid it, so she’s learned to live with it. You can read more from her on her website or at The So-Called Right Track.

 

In the Waiting Room

From the editors: In this beautiful essay, Tara Parmiter, writer and writing instructor, explores the emotional landscape of infertility.

The official term she used was “missed abortion.” Five minutes earlier we had been sitting in the scanning room, the technician gliding her ultrasound wand through the sticky gel on my abdomen and broadcasting grainy black and white blurs on the computer monitor. It was the day of our nuchal transparency test, about 10 weeks into the pregnancy, and we nervously but giddily waited to learn about that mysterious fold on the back of baby’s neck and whether it warned of any chromosomal abnormalities. I knew our chances for such problems were increasing—I was already 34, after all, just a year shy of the dreaded 35 mark—but it hadn’t occurred to me to think the test could reveal anything worse. Suddenly, we were learning a whole other story about pregnancy, about miscarriages that occur in silence, about clinical procedures to empty out the remains of our hopes.

Since by profession I am a writing teacher, that afternoon I started a pregnancy journal and for the next five years I recorded our disappointments, longings, confusions, and failed attempts to recreate what had happened so simply that first time. “Everywhere I look I see women with bulging abdomens, birds nesting, trees blossoming, fathers snuggling a baby against their chests, and I felt so wonderfully connected to it all, “ I wrote that afternoon. “I had a second heart beating inside of me, and now it’s stopped.”

Two days later we were in a very different waiting room, the waiting room of an abortion clinic where the doctors were going to perform a “D&C,” or dilation and curettage, to remove the contents of my uterus. Wrapped up in my own grief, I didn’t give much thought to the other patients in the room or what had brought them there; I supposed we were all sitting on those uncomfortable seats because we had to be. My husband witnessed one woman, though, who must have been in our situation and a bit more fragile. After slogging through all the paperwork, probably landing on the form that painfully asked you to sign that you agreed to have an abortion, she accosted the ladies at the front desk. “Do I have to be here?” she cried, loudly enough for all her fellow patients to hear. “My baby died, I’m not killing it.” I’m glad I wasn’t there at that point, for I’m not sure I could have held it together. I too wanted to ask, “Do I have to be here,” not just in the clinic, but in this situation. I didn’t want to be experiencing this pain, and as the years passed and we seemed forever stalled in the waiting room, I kept returning to that question: Why do we have to be here?

My husband and I had consciously chosen to wait to have children. Though we had met in college—we even lived on the same floor freshman year—we had waited five years before dating and then ten more before marrying. Waiting was an essential part of our romance, a story line I loved to retell when others asked how we got together. When we finally did try to conceive, we lucked out so quickly that I assumed all we had to wait for was that happy due date nine months down the road. The missed AB shook us of our complacency, however. In the months and then years to follow, I finally had to acknowledge that clichéd ticking clock: what if we had waited too long? What if my body could no longer produce a viable life? What about those frightening health risks that multiplied for both baby and mother at a staggering rate once you passed that 35th year? I found myself thinking wistfully of all the periods I had grumbled about in my lifetime, wondering if my ovaries had already squandered the best I had to offer. After all these years of waiting, could there be any Faberges left in those baskets?

I cannot say whether this experience is necessarily different for younger women—even if you have years to try, the desire for something now is undeniably powerful—but I can say that because of my age I was intensely aware of the passage of time. Each month started a new cycle of hope and possibility, ending with the depressing red proof that we needed to try again. As an academic, I thought research might help me cope with my anxiety, so I started scouring the Internet and library shelves for insights on how to help us conceive. I turned to nutrition and altered my eating habits, grabbing more leafy greens, choosing the organic strawberries to avoid pesticides and increase my intake of iron—I even considered swallowing those slimy-looking oysters for their amazing doses of zinc. I turned to science and learned how to listen to my body, charting cervical fluid to maximize our peek conception days, peering at saliva under a tiny microscope to judge by the ferning patterns when I would be ovulating, starting each morning with a thermometer under my tongue to count the twelve days of elevated temperature in my luteal phase (the time between ovulation and the start of menstruation). When I grew tired of playing science fair, I read through on-line forums written by other women trying to conceive (or TTC, as they put it), and as I learned to decipher their comments about their DHs (dear husbands), the abhorrent AF (Aunt Flow), and their “angel babies” (miscarriages, like mine), I found myself wishing them “sticky thoughts” (i.e., hoping that a fertilized egg would implant). But none of this research got us any closer to success—instead of sticky thoughts we were just stuck.

The other downside of my obsessive researching was that it made me hyper-vigilant, prompting me to analyze each little creak in the settling house of my body and to wonder, “Could that be a sign that I’m pregnant?” It is amazing how many pregnancy symptoms the imagination can conjure in the two week wait between ovulation and menstruation, particularly considering that few women actually sense any definitive symptoms at such an early stage. Rationally I knew I couldn’t know anything until I menstruated or not in roughly two weeks, but that didn’t keep me from spending the intervening days reading pregnancy web sites to review, yet again, those indeterminate early signs.

What I hated was being on the far side of the moon; in those early years of space exploration, the astronaut’s wives had had to wait forty-five heart-rending minutes to hear whether their husbands would return triumphant to earth or shoot off into space. I knew I shouldn’t compare my uncertainty to theirs (if it doesn’t work this month, we would always say, at least we can try again!) but being out of communication range with my uterus for two whole weeks was almost too much to bear. My body couldn’t divulge its secrets yet, and so I would have to wait, wait for a chemical message to leak its way out and eventually whisper its news to the smiling face on the pee stick. If only conception could be like one of those carnival games, I wrote in my journal, something that flashes neon and immediately blares a congratulatory siren to announce that you’ve won—bull’s eye! You flipped the frog onto the lily pad, you whacked the mole, you toppled the cans, you smacked that yellow haired clown in the kisser, you scored big! Winner! Winner! Winner! But instead, you have to sit in the silence of the waiting room, trying to get your mind off your body, and preparing yourself for good or ill. My research had told me there’s a 20-25% chance of getting pregnant each month you try, and suddenly I found those odds remarkably slim.

This sobering realization did not take long to impress itself on us. In the months after the missed AB, we kept trying to conceive, but I seemed burdened by the feeling that I needed to make up for lost time. I think I had placed too much emphasis on a single square on the calendar: I was determined to be pregnant again by my original due date, for if not, what was the point of having lost the first pregnancy? I had some sort of idea about the balance of the universe, the fairness of things: well of course I needed to be pregnant by the due date, otherwise there wouldn’t have been any reason for the first pregnancy to have ended. But there was no point to the missed AB, I reminded myself; it happened, without malicious intent, without the desire to punish us or hurt us or make room for someone else.

We even learned that the missed AB was caused by a chromosomal abnormality called Turner syndrome, in which a misalignment in early cell division leaves the baby with only one set of chromosomes instead of the usual two, one each from mom and dad. Turner syndrome is not related to maternal age and does not suggest any problem with the parents’ ability to conceive again; it just happens, and most of the time, as with us, these babies spontaneously abort. All this information was mildly encouraging—the loss was still hard to bear, but at least I understood the science behind it and that science suggested we still had hope of conceiving a healthy child.

I found myself thinking of the mother goose in E. B. White’s Charlotte’s Web: when asked why she had seven chicks but eight eggs, the goose simply replies that the last one hadn’t hatched. “I guess it was a dud,” she says and lets Templeton the rat take it off to add to his horde of random treasures. It may sound a bit callous to shrug off that unhatched egg as a dud, but at the same time there’s an honest recognition of life in that statement. I wouldn’t call our first time around a dud, but I did realize that I had to accept the loss and move on with life. I had placed too much significance on getting pregnant by my due date, as if that would negate the pain. My deadline, though understandable emotionally, was arbitrary, and I hoped that once it was passed, I could relax and trust nature to do its work.

But no, soon years had gone by and with conception still evading us, I began to marvel that anyone ever makes it through to birth. The alchemy of our existence is mind-boggling. Just think of all the complications that can happen in that rapid nine-month growth spurt, not to mention the odds of starting the journey in the first place—transmuting lead into gold seems a much more likely prospect. I couldn’t help thinking of all the warnings we had been told as teenage girls that it only takes one time… Twenty years later, I wished pregnancy would be that inevitable!

I finally had to confront another unsympathetic medical term: infertility. Just writing that ugly word brings up images of barren, blighted landscapes in my mind when I had hopes, instead, of being a lush and green earth mama. The medical profession doesn’t mince with words: if you’ve tried to conceive for a year without success, you are infertile. That doesn’t mean you’re incapable of conceiving, but it sure sounds like that to a frustrated layperson. At first I couldn’t bring myself to accept such a damning diagnosis; in one of my lower moments, I spent an afternoon in the stacks of the public library reading a book on infertility—I couldn’t bear to check the book out, or even take it to a chair to read in a more comfortable spot, for that would require admitting that I needed such a book. So instead I leaned against the cold metal shelves, turning through the pages and silently crying. What if all our waiting was for naught?  Each year of trying our chances of conceiving were probably plummeting, and perhaps some day all the obsessive scrawlings in my pregnancy journal would amount to nothing more than a record of frustrations and lost hopes.

Given my intense longing, it surprises me how long we waited to visit fertility specialists. Perhaps our optimism kept us pushing off that trip, hoping that this last try would be the one; we both believed that what would be would be, and we told ourselves that if we never managed to conceive, we would find another way to have children in our lives. I liked to joke about a baby dropping from the sky, our own little Kryptonian we could raise as our own and whose secret powers we would hide from the world; a tiny part of me held out hope that perhaps that’s how this quest would truly end! But perhaps we were also frightened off by that bleak word “infertile,” unwilling to claim that name for ourselves.

We waited a year after I got a referral from my OB-GYN, treating that little slip of paper like an emergency button, a last resort, something we would only press when all our other hopes were dashed. When we finally did seek help, we were relieved to find out that nothing was actually “wrong” physically, so the doctors set out instead to speed our chances of fertilization. At first they gave me Clomid, an ingestible medication that stimulates the growth of multiple eggs instead of the usual one per month; when that didn’t work, they upped the dosage, and when that still didn’t work we moved on to Follistim, a more aggressive injectable medication. Every month we’d go through a new cycle of blood tests, fertility drugs, ultrasound, IUI (intrauterine insemination), and then a two-week wait before we started again. It finally felt like we were gaining some traction, but it still took a year of these medical interventions before the wait was over: for the first time since the missed AB, I was pregnant.

Of course, that’s when I remembered that in life the wait is never really over; we just move from waiting for one thing to waiting for the next. In the first few months of pregnancy my anxiety did not subside; if anything, the waiting between doctor’s appointments became even more intense. Perhaps I was still so shaken by the missed AB that I could not wrap my head around the idea that a baby could thrive inside of me. All my earlier research had consoled me with the assurance that many fetuses spontaneously abort in the first trimester; before the days of home pregnancy tests, many women wouldn’t even know for certain if they had been pregnant or if their cycle was just off. Though this information had been mildly comforting the first time around, I did not want that kind of consolatory comfort now. Every time we went to the doctor in the first few weeks I had a nagging fear that the baby would be gone; the first one had slipped silently away, what was to stop this second one from doing the same?

I was in a new kind of waiting zone, wanting to leap up and down with joy but still unwilling to let myself get my hopes up too high. I must have been one of the only crazy pregnant women longing for unpleasant symptoms rather than the subtle “maybe I am, maybe I’m not” discomforts I was experiencing. Why couldn’t I just do something dramatic, I wondered, like throw up in the middle of class? That would be pretty solid evidence that the baby was still there, and would certainly give my students an interesting story to write about.

But though my symptoms were relatively mild, this pregnancy stuck, and soon we had passed the day of the infamous nuchal transparency test, the one that had sent us spiraling all those years ago, and then the day of the full body scan, where we could see a little well-formed skeleton and a blithely beating heart. With each new scan the baby grew bigger, and with each new week its movements became more pronounced, more reliable, more like the blaring carnival games I had mused about years before as we struggled to conceive. Those nine months were still a long wait, but the nagging doubts gradually gave way to more hopeful anticipations. Our daughter even kept us waiting in the end, arriving a week after her due date, but by that point I was more than willing to overlook the slight delay.

Looking back over my journals I vividly remember the strain of our continual wait; as a woman steadily getting closer to 40 and thinking that her chances of conceiving were slipping away, my voice in those journals sways back and forth between optimism and dejection, between a Pollyanna-ish determination that all would work out well to an angry resentment that everyone on the planet seemed to be popping out babies except us.

Now that we’re out of the waiting room, it would seem like I could just close that book and move on—our daughter is a gift who keeps surprising us with joy every day and we’re so delighted we kept trying through all the disappointments. But that is all the more reason to share the story, because these stories are the often unspoken histories behind the children we bring into the world. My mother told me at one point that we don’t usually hear about the long struggle couples go through to have a baby; those stories can be full of pain and longing, uncertainty and embarrassment, jealousy and despair, and if we’re lucky enough to conceive and bring a healthy child to term, we focus on that shining narrative, not the murky days before. But just as our long years of waiting are an essential part of my husband’s and my romance, the long years of waiting are also an essential part of my daughter’s story, one that I plan to tell her and that I want to share with others who may be struggling through their own waits. Perhaps we need more often to break the silence of the waiting room, turning to face those couples sitting by us and remembering that while we were all brought here by our private woes, our stories might bring each other solace while we puzzle out why we have to be here and why we choose to stay.

parmiter_taraTara Parmiter received her B.A. in English from Cornell University and her Ph.D. from New York University, where she teaches in the Expository Writing Program. Her research interests include literature and the environment, urban nature writing, children’s literature, and popular culture. She has published on topics ranging from the imagined landscapes of L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables novels to the green gothic landscapes of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight saga to journey narratives in the Muppet movies.

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MotherShould? Book Club: Let’s Talk about The Mare

We’ve been chomping at the bit to discuss Mary Gaitskill’s novel The Mare in our inaugural book club discussion and have put together questions and resources to deepen our understanding of the novel as well as our understanding of women who have made child-related choices different than our own. Take a look, and please respond to the questions in the comments or on our FaceBook page.

Discussion Questions

1.Why do you think having Velvet in her life provokes Ginger to start “talking to women for the first time”?

2.Paul’s ex-wife tells Ginger that taking in a Fresh Air Fund kid is “an easy way to play at being a parent” and this stings. This seems like an intentional slight and a judgment of Ginger’s childlessness. Have you ever received, perpetrated, or overheard such a mommy micro-aggression?

3.Ginger feels some shame for her eagerness to nurture Velvet. Why would a woman feel shame for wanting to nurture someone?

4.How does horse trainer Pat’s relationship with Velvet complicate and/or add perspective to Ginger’s relationship with Velvet?

5.How do you feel about Ginger’s decision to disregard Silvia’s directive not to let Velvet ride horses?

6.How is this decision complicated by our nation’s history of white people deciding what’s better for children of color (such as taking Native American kids from their homes and putting them in schools to strip them of their “savage” ways)?

7.Paul has a sort of clichéd midlife-crisis affair with a younger woman. Is taking in Velvet portrayed as a childless woman’s version of a midlife crisis?

8. Near the end of the novel, Ginger says: “I can’t even be her pretend mother. I give in. I agree. I’m over. It is what it is. But I can still get her on that fucking horse. I can help her win.” What do you make of these statements in the context of the entire novel?

9.Gaitskill is known for taking on taboo subjects such as prostitution and addiction. What do you think is taboo about The Mare?

Resources

NY Times Sunday Magazine article “Mary Gaitskill and the Life Unseen” by Parul Sehgal

Slate book review by Elliot Holt

NPR’s Fresh Air review by Maureen Corrigan

The Drunken Odyssey podcast Episode 193: interview with Mary Gaitskill, Gaitskill reading, and discussion with MotherShould? co-editor Beverly Army Williams

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My Brood is a Bike Team

From the editors: Writer Bridget Crenshaw Mabunga chronicles her transition from childless to childfree and shares how she funnels her nurturing energy into an at-risk youth bike team.

The doctor says if we conceive naturally, “You’d better name the baby Jesus, cause it’ll be a miracle.” We laugh, an authentic response to a good joke. I don’t feel the bruised ribs until later.

No IVF: I don’t want to shoot myself in the ass, nor do I want to see myself hopped up on hormones. Even for the chance to feel it flip inside my belly. No Donor: I cannot find anyone good enough in the pages and pages of bios though there’re plenty with straight black hair, sepia skin, smarts like his. I can’t find one because the only one I want is sitting next to me. He holds my hand as I search and feels more disposable with each click. No Adoption: I peruse sites and blogs languishing over all I’ve got to learn, all I’ve got to earn in order to make one of these unwanted babies mine. Forty thousand and a high risk of drug addiction in utero. I put the computer to sleep.

All my friends get pregnant. My sister first, in fact she announces just after I’ve learned I can’t. Her belly bubbles up expanding every month until I can no longer enter the room. I neglect calls, texts, visits. But I host the shower at my house, fill it with baby blues and ribbon. Family gathers and swoons as she thanks everyone for welcoming her into the world of motherhood. I sink behind my camera.

Each month I wonder, will we get a baby Jesus? If we do, I’m not naming it Jesus. I am not religious, don’t look to a book or a prayer, just wonder if I’ll ponder this same question until my body no longer releases, until after all the petals drop. Boobs swell so heavy, so sore I know this time might be it. My period’s late, so I look for swollen nipples, glowing cheeks, stomach gurgles. This happens so many times I think I might become hysterically pregnant like Percival Everett’s protagonist’s mother, only she actually gave birth.

My mom and his mom envelop me with words: it’s best; you’d never write; your relationship will change, maybe get ruined; you’ll never have time for him. My sister, bouncing on yoga ball, eye bags practically resting on shoulders, sweet crying baby boy thrashing in arms: You’ll be the one to help all of us struggling moms; we’ll appreciate it so much; besides, there’s your writing. And my husband: I’m fine with it; I don’t even want kids, too much responsibility; we can travel, take off whenever we want; besides, we have Maverick. Not one person pressures me to procreate in whatever fashion necessary; in fact, they all seem to think it’s better I don’t. Which makes me worry.

Bellies swell and swaddled babies land in my arms almost weekly, it seems. Friends try IVF, miscarry, try again, succeed. I re-consider, refuse again. Friends get pregnant naturally and miscarry; part of me feels vindicated. They want it more than I, so they try until they succeed. But seeing the struggle keeps them in my corner until they enter the land I never will, the club outside which I’ll always sit waiting until they’re ready to play again.

It takes four years to settle into a regular thought: I’m glad we don’t have kids. This is not an angry thought. It’s an honest one. Too many nights I’m home alone. Who would save me from the tantrums? Too many evenings I settle into the computer, create worlds. Who would put the kid to bed? Sometimes I can barely remember to feed Maverick.

Then, my ten year-old nephew passes away, and my family spends a week in a house together, calling friends, planning the funeral, sleeping on air mattresses, huddling in one room so none has to be alone. After the funeral, Bob and I return to a too-empty home. I see Thomas in my dream; he stands next to my bed, reaches out. I try to go back to work but have to walk out of class during a lesson, tears spilling over. My students give me an air plant and a card. I try not to cry again. When the quiet becomes too much, my husband volunteers us to help with the floundering Sacramento Police Department bike team, which serves teenage racers cold cereal for lunch while the wealthier kids, flanked by parents and well-paid coaches, walk by in matching jerseys eating multilayered sandwiches.

I become the mother of nine all at once. Nine teenagers, all boys but one: the princess my husband had always hoped for. I love the girl like I love the boys; though none seem particularly fond of me. Yet I’m more than fond of them because I know their struggles, recognize their emptiness as familiar. At-risk they call them; help support, mentor, keep active, keep out of gangs, expose to new possibilities. I write these words over and over as I seek money, hope they grant my kids bikes, helmets, socks. The other kids ride $10,000 Specialized; ours ride Frankenstein bikes that break down causing DNF’s and tears.

Sometimes I feel crushed by the gaps: money, poverty, drugs, gangs, holes in shoes. Some days I want to quit because I can never do enough. But then another race looms on the horizon and I rally. I assign duties, quiz them on the big three, tape Goos to handle bars, give pep talks and push-ups. But mostly, I make lunch. I chop and slice and lay out massive quantities of fruit and turkey burgers. I promise turkey tastes just like beef, hide the cookies until they’ve raced and push oranges over extra cheese. They do not seem to care. They barely look me in the eye, ignore me until I stand in front of them.

But when they fall, I’m there. And they do fall; they crash, flip over bikes, slam helmeted-heads into trees, collect rocks in knees, slice arms and fingers. On the way to the hospital, I have to call their mothers.

Yet, every other Sunday throughout the season, I am their mother. I know who’s been to prom; I know who wants to sit next to whom in the van; I know who likes grapes; I know who really wants to finish the race and who’s being too easy on himself—and I call him out.

I also protect them. When she crashed and it came through on the radio, I ran half way around the eight mile course to find her. I didn’t find her, but something told me to turn my head at the exact moment she came racing down the hill through the finish. I saw that green blur and knew she’d recovered, faced her fear.

I cheered him on as he shot down the hill—before the rock. He tumbled over and slammed down, got back up and raced away. I ran to the other side of the course to capture his arrival. Instead, he stumbled off his bike, face sheet-white. I called for a medic, followed him to the tent, patted his leg and pretended not to notice the tears.

Now, I occasionally wonder if by some bizarre chance, I might get a baby Jesus. Mostly, though, I’m thankful I don’t; if I did, I’d no longer have time for the team. Who would notice the slight intonation of an argument about to begin? When they call each other names, who would challenge them to appreciate difference, to work as a team, to be better than they were last week?

Working with these kids has allowed me to nurture in a way I never imagined possible, filling a gap in me and a gap in them. I’ve discovered parenting is more than birthing and raising a child, and that’s gratifying. So to those who continue to ask when, not if, we’ll have kids, I say: Let that miracle baby grace someone else’s nest, for mine is chock full of teenagers.

 

 

BridgetMabungaBridget Mabunga earned an MA in Creative Writing from Sacramento State, where she won a Bazanella award for graduate creative nonfiction, and her work has appeared in Under the Gum Tree and Kartika Review and is included in the 2012-2013 Kartika Review anthology. She’s been a featured reader at True Story, Sacramento and Assistant Editor for Narrative Magazine for over four years. She’s currently a Writing Specialist at UC Davis and recently finished her first novel manuscript.  

Photo credit: Madeloni Photography

 

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Ambivalent and Grieving

From the Editors: We recently received this letter about the complications the writer faces in her ambivalence towards motherhood (what Catherine has coined bambivalence). It evokes so many of the reasons we started MotherShould? that we asked if we could publish it. The writer agreed, but she asked to remain anonymous, in part because of the micro-aggressions she describes in her letter. We were deeply moved by how universal her experiences are among the bambivalent, yet how alone she feels. 

I’m a 41 year married women, who has been with my husband for 20 years and switched from being vehemently childfree to now being ambivalent about motherhood, I am now feeling confused, lonely, and just plain lost. My husband has never been paternal, and I was never particularly maternal, partly due to my own upbringing with an emotionally detached mother and father. My mother died December 2014 from mouth cancer, so I’m going through a very difficult grieving process of sadness and also relief to be free of a toxic mother, but also broken that I will now never have the relationship that most normal mothers have with their daughters. I’m having counseling to cope with this and also to explore my grief and confusion around motherhood ambivalence. I do have three brothers and only one has had a child, so maybe our childhoods have greatly influenced us, but my two childfree brothers are very content, probably because they are male and emotionally different to me.

Over the last 5 years, I have been struggling with my choice, and I just can’t tell if it is a social and pronatilist drive and because I am the only person out of all my friends who does not have children or if hormones are tricking me into that final opportunity to enter motherhood. All of my friends with children have forged new relationships with mothers, and I’m feeling very isolated. The constant photos on Facebook and comments on how their lives meant nothing until they had a baby leave me feeling I don’t know anyone who is like me. Most women who are married at my age have children or are desperate to have them and cannot, which is so sad, and I really do feel for these ladies.

I sometimes feel like a failure for choosing not to be a mother and often beat myself up for throwing away 20 years of my life when I should have raised a family like all of my friends. For me, I feel like I’m suffering in the way that a Gay/Lesbian does when they know they are different but cannot express this for fear of persecution and just not being “normal”.
There is also the fear of regret. I’m clearly peri-menopause at 41 and have been told by several friends over the years that I will regret my childfree choice when I’m 50. Now I’m taking their comments as gospel. One old work colleague told me that I’m not a proper woman until I give birth and this comment is still imprinted in my mind. But I always question: is the fear of regret a reason to take a leap of faith and create a person?

It doesn’t help that my job is very intermittent as a Sports Massage Therapist, so I am wasting time scouring the internet reading blogs, trying to find answers to quell my ambivalence and instead I come across articles like the one written by Kate Spicer in the Daily Mail saying that no women is happy to be childfree and that childfree women are full of remorse and regret. I know I shouldn’t read crap in the Daily Mail and particularly the comments section, but I’m like an addict, drawn to them and believing every word written, even though we all know that people are very brave behind a computer screen and there are of course those internet trolls. Even James O’Brien on LBC Radio has hosted a couple of shows based on the childfree and he thinks that all childfree people are secretly wishing they had children. He of course is a parent. Plus, parents will want to justify their choice to have a family and may also feel that childfree people are missing out on a unique life experience or denigrating their choices, which I am not doing at all.

I can’t even go to social events or family events anymore because I have lost my confidence and hate admitting that I chose not to have children. My husband doesn’t feel the same way at all and just fits in where ever he goes. It’s funny how men never receive comments about not being a parent, yet women have to give reasons.

The last social event I went to was a 40th birthday party two years ago for my bridesmaids who are twins. Their cousin and her husband were at the party, and they have one daughter. He asked me if I had a child, and I was brave enough to say that I don’t want children, and he called me odd. I let his comment hurt me even though I refrained from hurting him with a horrible personal comment. I guess I didn’t want to stoop to the same level and his wife did suffer with severe postnatal depression, hence an only child, but equally her body, her choice.

I think the role of a parent is hugely important and not one to be entered into without due thought and care. I have digested and regurgitated the pros and cons of being a mother versus not, and I cannot seem to find a happy path to follow. I have driven myself into a state of despair, which is zapping my energy and enthusiasm for life. It’s the first thing on my mind when I wake up and the last thing on my mind before I go to sleep. I just want my life back and to be free of the turmoil I am putting myself through. Maybe I’m just not into being a mother, but I can’t accept it and others in society seem to have the same issue. Or maybe I do regret my choice and need to deal with that and move forward. I always thought I was very self-aware but alas, seem to to be judging my self-awareness eternally.

I really don’t know if I’m grieving my childfree choice or if I’m grieving not having an identity/purpose in society because I’m not a mother.

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Choosing Under Pressure

From the editors: Shoshannah Flach explores the circumstances of the “terrible and tough choice” she made to end a pregnancy, a choice she does not regret.

I stared at the plastic wand in my hand. It confirmed what I’d suspected for the last week since my reliable period hadn’t arrived and my body had been vaguely “off.”

“fuckfuckFUCK!” I screamed a string of involuntary expletives. Why don’t they show scenes like THIS in those pregnancy test commercials? Surely they are just as common as the couples sharing a moment of joy.

After a few rounds of deep breathing I faced my next hurdle. I had to call my boyfriend and break the news to him.

After a decade of disappointing dating, I was ecstatic to have a boyfriend. When we became a couple I made it clear that I didn’t think that having kids was for me. He acknowledged that he was unlikely to ever be financially stable enough for a family.

A year into the relationship, a romantic getaway weekend led to sloppy contraceptive practices. I absolutely did not want the responsibility of a child now. I’d moved into my own apartment a few months before, right after moving my mother into a care facility where others would be responsible for her advancing Alzheimer’s disease. I needed some freedom. When I told my boyfriend that I thought it was best for me to have an abortion, he was upset, but I didn’t realize how upset.

At my boyfriend’s house—my stomach clenched, expecting an uncomfortable conversation. He handed me a bag with my personal items and a lengthy “Dear Jane” letter explaining why he couldn’t be with a woman who would have an abortion. I was stunned. I implored him to reconsider. He was adamant. Presented with his ultimatum I said I’d consider other options to try and preserve my connection with him.

Was it in my nature to not want kids?

I once asked my dad if he felt like he was missing out on grandchildren. He assured me he didn’t mind, but his follow-up comments surprised me.

“I never thought you’d have children anyway. You never played with dolls. Other girls your age did, but you didn’t like them.”

That rang true. As a child, I was a tomboy with interests in nature and science. My main playmate was a boy with snakes and iguanas as pets. Our games involved Star Wars action figures, Dungeons and Dragons figurines, and (despite my peacenik mom’s strenuous objections) realistic toy firearms.

I became sexually active early in my teen years but fortunately I was as diligent about birth control as I was about maintaining my 4.0 GPA. College was a dating dead zone until I met my first Serious Boyfriend in my third year. He was from a “normal” middle class family with four older siblings—all married with kids. We stayed together for most of my 20s and when friends started to get hitched and have kids I panicked at the idea of following this path and we split up.

My 30s were a time of exploration and acceptance, both in relationships and (mostly) out of them. As I developed my own pursuits and interests, I made friends with a wide variety of women, many of them childless by choice. Some had partners, some did not. Even the women with children were following varied paths. It was easier for me to accept that having kids wasn’t important to me as I saw how important it was for my friends who did want them. Dating was even more frustrating for them as they raced against the reproductive clock.

At 39, faced with this unintended pregnancy, I paced the floor, agonizing over the decision during phone calls with patient and supportive friends. I knew that giving up a child for adoption had emotionally wrecked my mother and others I’d talked with.  Nor did I want to have a baby with a man with dubious capacity for responsibility. I could potentially end up relying on my own extended family for help raising the child—a pattern I did not want to replicate.

Or was it nurture that led me to not want kids?
Despite my maternal grandmother’s oft-stated belief that single mothers were the bane of society, three of her four daughters ended up having kids without establishing family units of their own and stayed at home to raise their kids as single moms.  My mom chose not to marry my father and I was collectively raised by my aunts and grandparents. We eventually moved out, but always lived close by. Two of my aunts raised children in the house at various times, and later on, my older cousin escaped an abusive marriage and relied on the family for supporting her children. While there were wonderful things about being raised by my extended family, the situation had a lot of dysfunctional elements.

When I was 8, my mother got pregnant by a different person than my father and chose to give this baby up for adoption. She was able to maintain limited contact with the child and adoptive family but this decision haunted her forever.

My disinterest in having children could have also stemmed from being my mother’s emotional caregiver. She struggled with depression and other mental health issues, exacerbated by unhealthy romantic relationships. From a young age, I was her emotional support system.

In her late 60s, my mother was diagnosed with the early stages of Alzheimer’s dementia. My care-giving role became more tangible and pronounced. She had lived with my aunts at my grandparent’s home for the last several years and family conflicts became even more frequent as her disease progressed. I was regularly called in as peacekeeper and her physical care needs increased too. A couple of years after her diagnosis, I was fortunate enough get her into an excellent care facility. For the first time in my life I felt free of worrying about some facet of my mother’s well-being.

A wise friend said, “If you have this baby—either keeping it as a couple or adopting it out—you have to want that for YOU or the baby. It can’t be to somehow save the relationship.” So I made the terrible and tough choice to end the pregnancy and at the same time end a loving relationship that meant so much to me.

The one-two gut punch of loss and grief crushed me, but with hindsight I can see how this dramatic ending might have been necessary to shove me out of a comfortable but potentially unhealthy relationship. I have never regretted my decision. I am grateful every day that I have my own apartment in a city where housing is expensive and the freedom and flexibility to stay involved with my many interests and friends.

I’m sad and frustrated that a healthy partner relationship has been hard to find but I’m grateful that the biological clock component isn’t a factor of that longing. I’m making the most of my choice—embracing new experiences, nurturing existing friendships, and being open to building new relationships too.

kiss-kats-profilecrop1

Shoshannah Flach is a San Francisco native who has written film and music reviews, published her own zine, Cat Butt, and more recently, Crosswalk Confidential, stories from the streets of her city. After fifteen years in the marketing department of an environmental nonprofit, she is now poised for new adventures that may or may not include some of her diverse interests in martial arts, air guitar, and playing rock songs on the ukulele.

 

 

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Three Poems

 

From the Editors: Poet Leah Nielsen explores the tension between being childfree and childless.

 

 


Pantoum on the Children We Never Had

Maybe it was the hand of some god,
or maybe the stars could not
get it together, maybe in deciding
to postpone the decision we made a decision

or maybe the stars could not–
who knows if my body could.
We postponed the decision, made a decision.
Maybe we never wanted to anyway.

Who knows if my body could
have handled it. Maybe it couldn’t.
Maybe we never wanted to anyway.
Maybe I never. Maybe we could

have handled it. Maybe not.
Maybe there was a point at which.
Maybe I never, maybe we could.
The door was just shut–

maybe there was a point at which
we decided separately–unspoken–no.
We just shut the door.
I don’t know anymore. I don’t think

we decided separately, unspoken. No,
maybe at some point someone said maybe someday.
I don’t know anymore. I don’t think
it helps to think on it.

Maybe at some point someone said someday
when we get it together. Maybe in deciding
it helps to think on it.
Maybe it was the hand of a god.


 

The Poem I’ve Been Writing for 10 Years Finally Speaks Up

What if I was just wrong from the get go.
What if you go two more decades without
getting me right. What if that fat fuck
of a proctologist was right. What if that spot
on your liver was a thing to think of as a thing,
not a freckle as the second opinion said.
What if it’s not very nice to call people
fat fucks. What if your birth control pills
were causing the liver spot. What if it’s a matter
of meter or just a word choice here
or there when you’ve been toying
all these years with scene and voice.
What if you had it right two drafts ago. No,
I agree. It was too peopled, too plump
with intent, no room for words to work,
no happy accidents, no happiness. Yes,
you have a point in that I am about a doctor
questioning what he should not have questioned
in a manner he should not have employed.
How much happiness can happen. So what
if he said, Maybe you haven’t thought about this.
Maybe you really do want kids. So what if he questioned
what your husband might want, questioned
if you’d bothered to have a conversation
about him, checked your chart and mentioned
the phrase geriatric pregnancy. So what of the Bible
on his desk, the cross on his wall. What were you
to do beyond tears. Write a poem about some woman
being stupid enough to wed that Weeble.
Some woman wanting a Sak’s card and a Benz so badly
she’d have five kids. Some woman who fucked him
at least five times. Who is she. You couldn’t
write that poem. You shouldn’t write it now.
You were wrapped tight in manners and billboards
about damnation.

Try beginning this way:

Nothing was wrong. Nothing but a freckle on your liver.
Nothing came out but nothing when the clinic assistant
asked what was wrong as you paid your bill through tears.
Nothing happened but your words failed you
and there’s nothing you hate more.


 

So the yard storing old toys

from the kids who used to
live there– a naked Barbie
with a butch haircut, a few
chewed army men the dog
dragged in. Was that all.
What about the tree fort
zip line into the camellias.
About the tire swing swung
over an old oak limb. What
about the neighbor’s grandson,
the only one who swung there.
The two lion statues guarding
the drive that that kid broncoed
when he was tired of the swing.
About the porch swing so right
for watching azaleas light the street
on fire. About the two dogs. One
we chose. The other chose us.
Who chose the herniated disk.
Who chose chronic and Percocet
and clean baseboards and pressed
shower curtains. Did someone
choose words. What words were
there. Did we choose a commuter
career. What was a gift. What
did we make into one. What was
a curse. How do we mold it now.

 

LeahNielsenHeadShotLeah Nielsen earned her M.F.A. from the University of Alabama. Her first collection of poems, No Magic, was published by Word Press. Her chapbook, Side Effects May Include, which examines the state of permanent patienthood, was published in 2014 by The Chapbook. Among other places, her poems have appeared in Crab Orchard Review, Indiana Review, and Rattle. She lives and teaches in Westfield, MA.

 

The featured image is “Reclining” by Karen E.D. Peterson, who received her BFA in Studio Fine Arts and Art History from Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts in Richmond, VA.  You can find more on her work at kedpeterson.com.

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How I Learned to Want to be a Mom

From the editors:  Jennifer DiGrazia describes how her perspective on motherhood shifts when she meets her partner Jamie, who is already a mom. 

Despite being a “girly-girl,” I didn’t really want children.  My dad had two more children with my step-mom when I was a teen, and I knew that they altered life.  I have memories of family vacations in a mini-van packed to the rims with the six of us, our luggage and baby paraphernalia.  The Huggies smooshed up against the back window were the ultimate embarrassment, and I hated the space taken up by strollers and car-seats and the stench of spilt formula.  I liked my half-siblings, but I quickly learned that kids required enormous amounts of work.  They totally messed up life with their constant needs.

When I was in my late twenties, finishing up my Ph.D. and starting my first real job, I married Jamie, my partner; she shared custody of her son with her ex-partner.   I first met Jacob when he was 5.  He had sparkling blue eyes, liked to brush my hair, and sat on my kitchen counter to get away from Scully, my 75-pound lab mix.  He was easy to love.

Although I didn’t know it at the time, being married to someone with a child was lonely.  Jamie and Jacob “got” each other.  We might be at a crowded park, and they would meet one another’s eyes.  Jamie would tell me it was time to go.  She just knew what he needed. Observing them made me nostalgic for something—a connection, a sense of belonging—that I had missed.  In my early thirties, I began to look longingly at women who were breastfeeding, bundles nestled into their chests, the abandon with which their babies collapsed into their bodies.

I tried to fight this urge.  I was busy starting a new career.  I thought I should feel grateful that I had never gotten pregnant during my tumultuous teens and twenties. Besides, many friends and family members didn’t exactly embrace my growing desire to have a child, and they were quick to remind me of how much I had—my partner, my pets, my step-son, a steady job in an uncertain economy. I also have major depression, which was finally controlled with with a balance of drugs, exercise and diet.  I knew all the arguments against having a child–overpopulation, the need for baby supplies and sitters, the hormonal imbalance.

But, something had shifted dramatically in my own emotional landscape.  Part of the attraction of being pregnant was that I couldn’t come first.  Previous exposure to my half-siblings and Jacob became reasons for wanting kids.  I knew, better than most, that a baby would have to come first.

There was precedent. Jamie’s partner had birthed Jacob.  When we finally agreed that we would try to get pregnant, Jamie knew how to fill out the forms and pick the “criteria” for a donor at the cryobank.  I didn’t care how we chose, so we matched some of Jamie’s characteristics: white, Jewish, and educated, with the pool of donors.  The website also gave the donors’ reasons for participating at the cryobank–some even sent a note to the prospective couple.  We read those narratives avidly, narrowed our options to three.  The first was no longer available, so we went with the second.

We got pregnant at home on the second try. I was thirty four, and I had an easy pregnancy, and nine months later, after a difficult birth, our son, Jordan, was born.

Jordan breastfed until he was over two, and I enjoyed the pressure of his sucking mouth and warm body against my breast.  I felt anchored.  My world became really small, focused on deciphering the mysteries behind his rich brown eyes and reveling in his curiosity about the world.  He said “Mama” when he was really young.  However, he rarely slept, never crawled, and at 5 months old, when he didn’t gain the requisite weight, he was given a failure to thrive diagnosis, the first of many diagnoses.

Everyone wants to know how lesbians get pregnant and these stories are interesting, important, and complicated, but of course, they don’t end there. When conception is complicated it’s easy to get caught up and lose sight of what is infinitely more important: babies become people, and sometimes they become people who don’t conform to or fit neurological, social or educational developmental expectations.

Jordan is now 8 years old, and he has a dual diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder and Autism Spectrum Disorder.  He is the most precious–and complicated–person in my life.

Jordan is an enigma—a wonderful, difficult enigma.  When he is melting down because he can’t have computer time and he can’t regulate his emotions, when he is spewing invectives at me or anyone who challenges him, or when the special needs bus comes to collect him each morning at 7:00, Jamie will sometimes tease me, “You spawned that!”  He is incredibly perceptive, asking, in almost the same breath, details about the Greek god Poseidon when we read the latest Rick Riordan novel, and, “Does everyone have something like I do?”

Parenting Jordan leaves me feeling not only needed but overextended.  We endlessly consider medications, doctors and diagnoses. We read articles, consult experts and work to manage his behavior–while trying to maintain a semblance of childhood for him and life for ourselves.

Despite the exhaustion, I love being one of Jordan’s parents.  I love the sparkle in his brown eyes, the mischief in his giggle, the softness of his wavy brown hair, his boundless curiosity on good days.  As we continuously help him negotiate his way in a world intolerant of mental illness and anything that challenges the norm, I see him in increasingly complex ways.  Even taking into account our time at the hospitals, our experiences in schools, the continuous monitoring he requires, when I hear my friends and colleagues describe their own parenting trials, I realize that our struggles are the struggles of all parents who want to raise good people–just amplified.  Daily, he reminds me  what I had hoped to learn: it isn’t really about me. I am so grateful for that.

jen digraziaJennifer DiGrazia grew up in Nevada and now lives in Northampton, Massachusetts with her partner Jamie, her son Jordan, two dogs and three cats.  She teaches writing at Westfield State University.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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