From On the Fence

Suddenly Uncertain: How My Post-divorce Love Makes Me Reconsider Motherhood

Adamantly childfree her whole life, this week’s writer finds herself considering motherhood at the age of 37. 

I was a lifelong “I never want kids, ever” person until divorce at 35 nudged me into some unexpected indecision.  I didn’t think I’d ever be considering children, especially at this age.  I also didn’t know I’d find the type of relationship that I have now, which has revealed how incredibly different one pairing of people can feel from another.  Being with a new partner for the first time in 15 years suddenly revealed possibilities and emotions I never imagined having.

When I was married, I felt secure in my decision to remain childless.  I had someone bound to me by the commitment of marriage who felt the same way, at least at the time, and was relatively fine with it.  Sure, I felt some pressure from society (and maybe a tiny bit from his mother), but most of my closest friends and family knew better than to question me on my decision.  I felt generally accepted; my husband and I were a united front, for the most part.  When I no longer had the partnership of a marriage to lean on, to hide in, I was suddenly exposed.  I was well aware that the possibility of meeting many different kinds of partners was out there:  among them, men who would want children, who would expect them.  Men who would judge me and reject me for not wanting them. I saw my lack of desire for children as a major strike against me.  For the first time in my adult life, I felt afraid to be myself.

The whole landscape changes when you become a single person again.  Lots of people who heard about my divorce would say “Oh, it’s so good that you didn’t have any children.”  Really?  Because it was totally different when I was married and everyone wanted to know why I didn’t have any.  That left me to consider what was so fortunate about not having children with my ex husband.  Was that concern over kids being caught in a nasty or dramatic split?  Maybe it was because then I could make a clean break, and I wouldn’t have to deal with my ex again.  Whatever the reason, those statements and all related discussions stopped as my identity as a single person settled in.  It was as if not having a family was now a foregone conclusion and wasn’t worth talking about anymore.  I guess I’d blown my chance…at something I didn’t even want to begin with.

It’s hard to say what exactly put the current uncertainty over having children into me.  Divorce is hard and terrible because you lose a lot, even when it’s relatively amicable.  You lose future, love, security, money.  I lost a lot of those things, but the scariest thing I lost was time.  If this had happened to me five years ago, I could’ve had a chance to relax and think for a minute.  It takes time to meet someone, and know them and love them.  The relationship I have with my current partner is so different from anything I’d known before.  I can only describe it as a deeper connection, sort of a stronger emotional engagement.  Loving someone and being loved in that way soothed just enough of my fears about the commitment of having a child with another person that I ended up on the fence when I thought my mind had been made up for as long as I’d been alive.

That deeper connection, plus the insight I’ve gained by going through a divorce, has made me uncomfortable with absolutes and that’s where the fence comes in. It seems fair to be honest that I’m not eager to have children, or that I don’t see it is a necessary life goal.  It doesn’t seem appropriate right now to say no to a partner unequivocally.  Sure, I would be most comfortable with someone who knew they didn’t want children, because I think deep down, I don’t really either.  But how can I say I never want something when I don’t even know yet where this relationship will take me?

We’ve got friends who are around the same age, even a year or two older, who recently had their first babies and seem really happy.  My partner sees it too, and I secretly overanalyze his responses to every online picture and status update.  He’s happy when people have babies, like a normal person.  When I hear about people having babies, it’s riddled with anxiety, like it somehow holds a mirror up to some dysfunctional or broken part of me.  It’s not something we talk about a lot, and I realize that’s counter to my earlier description of a deep connection.  Now, I’m approaching 37 and realizing that there isn’t much more time to think about this before it becomes a decision I can’t reverse.  Maturity and hindsight have ensured that my days of rushing into things are over, but rushing is quickly feeling like the only solution.

lyon

Mina Lyon is the pseudonym of a New Englander with incurable wanderlust.  She loves national parks, dirt roads, maple syrup, and solitude.  She is pretty sure she wants to get into bicycle touring and has her whole life ahead of her.

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 My Choices and Stuff

From the editors: in this week’s essay, adventurer Ada Kenney takes a humorous look at pregnancy loss and being on the fence about motherhood.

“Everything happens for a reason,” say stupid people, in a world where there are starving orphans, kicked puppies, and Justin Bieber. I usually respond to their cliche with my own: “I’m sure you mean well.” Reasons are innate, but lessons are created as they are learned, so instead of looking for the reason implanted in traumatic and unnecessary events, I try to draw a lesson. At least that way I’m in charge.

It was Wednesday, and I was working. While struggling with a free downloadable worksheet that refused to be downloaded, saved, printed, or copied and pasted, the thought sprang into my mind that I was supposed to have gotten my period around Christmas. I remembered packing for my pilgrimage to my parents’ house and noting that I’d have to buy tampons when I got there. In all the holiday cheer, I had forgotten to note that I hadn’t needed them. I’m pretty sure the clock in my classroom slowed to a halt as I waited for dismissal.

I had never bought a pregnancy test before. Usually a comparison shopper to the point of neurosis, I immediately chose a two-pack of the only brand whose commercials I hadn’t hated. When I took it to the register, along with an Arizona Iced Tea, the cashier told me, “Be well.” I stared at her, trying to divine her intent, and then left, confused, panicking. What could she mean by this? It was weeks before I found out that it was a corporate slogan she was required to say to every customer.

In the bathroom, waiting: not me. Not this. Not now. And not with him.

But it was. Faint but positive.

He texted while I was on the phone with my best friend, numbly saying all the same things as all the other women who’ve gotten this same surprise. He suggested dinner at our favorite restaurant. I accepted, always having been one to get things over with. The sooner he arrived at my house, the sooner I could tell him and not be alone with it.

Divorced, he already had three kids, not a single one planned. As a veteran of this conversation, he reacted with impressive stoicism until I confessed that this was the last thing I wanted. We both assured each other that this wouldn’t change anything between us, that this was nothing, it was a blip. On the way to the restaurant, relief bubbled between us until we were positively buoyant over the kebabs.

The next morning at 5:45, I took the other test. I knew, the way that you know these things in your thirties, that pregnancy tests are more accurate first thing in the morning. All of your friends are trying to get pregnant now, so you know this without ever having tried to find out, just like you know about perineal massage and meconium and diaper blowouts. The test was positive. Strongly, solidly positive.

At work, I asked a coworker to watch my classroom so I could run to the ladies’ room between first and second period. And there was blood. I gasped out loud. “This is some prank, uterus!” I felt like yelling. “Way to scare me!” I shook my fist at it. In response, it cramped.

Back in my classroom, the cramps intensified. I’ve always been kind of a jerk about period pain. I go running during my period, I would say to other women. I go snowboarding. I go to the beach. You can’t just give in and lie down. Go kick biology’s ass! In karmic retribution, biology kicked mine. My momentary elation in the bathroom became ridiculous. Of course this was no period. This was a miscarriage.

Somehow I survived the teaching portion of my day, white-knuckling the desks as I bent over to inspect student work, leaning against the bookcase as I addressed the room. The students left and I collapsed on the carpet of my classroom. Sweating through my teacherly cardigan, I made a desperate phone call to my primary care provider, whose receptionist told me to call 911. Even in my haze of panic and pain, I knew I couldn’t afford to pay for an ambulance ride, so I called the only person possible.

Romantic comedies will have informed you that nothing is more clarifying to a relationship’s status than a positive pregnancy test. They are wrong. It is the emergency room visit that is the true test. In the waiting room, he told me about the kidney stones he had once, so that I would know that he knew what this was like. We sat without touching or looking at each other. When they called my name, he escorted me to the desk, and then stayed in the waiting room.

It’s a frightening thing to be a confident, adventurous person and suddenly be completely at the mercy of strangers in scrubs. Although they gave me some pregnancy-safe painkillers and the pain began to abate, I was still helpless as only fear can make a person. Was it ectopic? Was I going to die? Was I going to be able to pay this bill? I once moved to a foreign country where I didn’t speak a word of the language, and went to a coed public bath; here I was unable to bear being seen by a student nurse because he was a man. I went camping alone, even after seeing that movie where James Franco cuts off his arm, and here I was cringing at the sight of blood. Enduring a catheter, a blood draw, a transvaginal ultrasound, and worst of all, the kindhearted congratulations and comfort of every staff member I encountered, all for the sake of a baby I didn’t want, I lost the shape of my self and became a whimpering blob.

After five hours, I hobbled, bloblike, to the waiting area, where he was reading NBA.com on his phone on the hospital’s free wifi. He looked up. “Let’s go,” I said, and walked away.

In the car, I explained what the nurse practitioner had told me. Blood and urine tests had been positive for pregnancy. But there had been nothing on the ultrasound, although it could be too early to see yet. I didn’t mention what I had seen just before the ultrasound. In the toilet. It would be kindest to call it “tissue.” I would have to go back for another blood test in three days’ time.

“So we just spent five hours there to find that out?”

Like I said, clarity.

Coworkers called and emailed to ask how I was, and I ducked them. What do you say? “Well, I might still be pregnant, or maybe not. At this point, it’s anyone’s guess!”

Three days of couch and Netflix later, I wasn’t. I returned to work with a brisk none-of-your-business tone to my “thank you for your concern”.

Voice mail has never been my forte. Speaking into a void and knowing I’m being recorded is apparently my kryptonite. At the beep, I turn into a babbling moron with no awareness of social niceties or normal human speech patterns. But no message I’ve ever left has been more awkward than, “Hello, Planned Parenthood, I will not be needing my appointment on the 29th because I have had a miscarriage.” It’s like the setup of a sick joke. But worst of all, it robbed me of the chance to choose whether I would go through with it. I wasn’t a proud, bold feminist choosing her choice and keeping the government out of her body, but I wasn’t a proud, bold New Woman discovering the glory and power of motherhood either. I was just empty. I hadn’t even known I was a vessel.

Everything happens for a reason, idiots say. Find your lesson, I say. But what could I learn from this? I could live in fear of my body and its functions, building a impregnable castle of mistrust around myself. But hermitage isn’t for me, and risk is far too attractive. I could decide not to have sex again until marriage, but then I would have to find and marry a man who doesn’t believe in sex before marriage, and they all seem to be really interested in the word “dominion.”

I never planned to have children, but I never planned not to. I figured it would happen if it happened, and if it wasn’t meant to be, it wouldn’t. As it turns out, this is like going to the grocery store, hungry, without a list. You grab whatever looks good, thinking that in this way, you’ll be fulfilling your desires and really living, instead of what is sustaining, what is vital, what could possibly be your last meal. You overspend and end up with junk food and random luxuries, because YOLO! But since you do, in fact, only live once, maybe a list would’ve been better. It may be as risky to admit you want to find love as it is to move to a country where you don’t speak the language, and it may be as daring to admit you feel joy listening to a baby giggle as it is to snowboard your cramps away.

And if you can’t find everything on your list, that’s okay. At least you looked.
AdaAda Kenney is the pseudonym of a lonely liberal in the Bible Belt. She enjoys the great outdoors, microbrews, creativity, and anonymity. She still hasn’t decided about motherhood; maybe she’ll adopt from the next big trendy country.

 

 

 

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My Pregnancy Choices and the Economist Inside My Head

From the Editors: This essay was submitted by Hillary Sackett-Brian. Continue the conversation with Hillary in the comments.

I recently read an article in The Atlantic titled, “Thinking About Pregnancy Like an Economist” and it reminded me how much my own economic brain has weighed in on my decision whether or not to have children.

As a child I played “house” with my friends and younger sisters, imagining the wonderful husband and cherub-faced babies I had in my future. Even as a teenager, those who knew me wouldn’t have predicted that I would stray far from that path.

My journey took a sharp turn in college, when I came out as a lesbian the summer after my freshman year. My mother insisted it was just a phase. I vehemently denied it, but secretly felt a sense of loss, wondering if this meant I was giving up the fantasy life I had dreamed of as a child. I worried my new identity would prevent me from becoming the wife and mother I always thought I’d be.

I grew to know myself better over the next four years, as many do during college. I moved to the Midwest for graduate school and started dating a straight cis-gendered male, as if confirming for my mother that my foray into lesbianism was indeed just a phase. He had no interest in having children. He was a proud member of what I soon learned to be called the “zero population growth movement” (ZPG) and I, too, now in love, was soon convinced of its principles. According to those in the movement, a demographic balance where the population neither grows nor declines is an ideal to which the whole world should aspire in the interest of pursuing long-term environmental sustainability. (American sociologist and demographer Kingsley Davis is credited with coining the term).

I was in the thick of my Ph.D. program in resource economics, and I endeavored to apply what I was learning to my real life. The overarching goal of resource economists is to better understand the role of natural resources in the economy in order to develop methods of managing those resources to ensure their availability to future generations. So, naturally, the zero population growth movement intrigued me.

Essentially, followers of ZPG recognize three ways to achieve this goal:

  • voluntarily limit births
  • enlist coercive family planning policies (many will cite China’s “one child policy”)
  • do nothing and let nature limit population growth through famine, disease, and war

Sounds scary right? So, I thought I should “do the right thing” and voluntarily have no children. After all, I was born into a situation of privilege – unlike many women without the financial, physical, or political means to access contraception and other family planning services. They would not be able to make this voluntary choice, so it was my responsibility to share the burden.

I carried the torch of the ZPG movement even when that relationship ended.

In Spring of 2011 I met the woman who would become my wife. She had dreamed of having children her whole life and told me many times over the first year of our relationship what an amazing mother she thought I would be. But I continued to beat the drum of ZPG, now adding even more economic flair to the narrative.

In a lesbian relationship conceiving a baby is no small expense. The methods available can cost anywhere from hundreds, to tens of thousands of dollars each try. I posed this to my partner, “Think about all the things we could do with that money instead.” We could save, travel more, invest in our hobbies, live for ourselves and be perfectly happy. Or so 25-year-old me thought.

After a couple years, I had convinced my wife of the storyline, and she no longer pushed the baby plan. Then, in 2014 everyone I knew (or at least it seemed) started having babies. It wasn’t until my younger sister gave birth to my nephew that year that it really hit me. “I want this”. But now it was me who had to convince my wife that having a baby was a good idea. I was flip-flopping and she wondered why. Except this time I didn’t have any economic storyline to provide. I could no longer employ cost-benefit analysis as to why we SHOULD have a baby, it was just a FEELING.

Ugh, feelings. I was confused and conflicted with these things I hadn’t felt since childhood. I even felt guilty for wanting something that I knew I couldn’t reason through. When I try to explain WHY I want to have a child, all the reasons sound narcissistic at best. But, here we are…(maybe?) back on the baby plan. And boy, does it involve a great deal of planning.

Every day I tell my students that every decision involves costs and benefits, and only by carefully and intentionally weighing those costs and benefits can we hope to make good decisions. I do think that approaching my pregnancy planning with an economic eye will help me, but I think there may be more wiggle room than I was previously willing to admit. But one thing that I can agree with in The Atlantic article is this: “It became clear quickly that I’d have to come up with my own framework–to structure the decisions on my own.” So here I am, with economic tool box in hand, accepting that as methodical as I may plan to be, sometimes I might just have to wing it.

Hillary Sackett  headshotHillary Sackett-Brian is an Assistant Professor of Economics at Westfield State University where she teaches Environmental and Natural Resource Economics among other courses. She lives in Brattleboro, VT with her wife Rachel, three dogs (Gunner, Duke, and Raisin) and two cats (Grover and Gatsby). In her spare time she enjoys trail running, garage-saling, and coffee drinking. Follow her on Twitter @HillarySackett.

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