Tagged uncertainty

Fearmongering on the Couch: Things My Therapist Told Me About Motherhood (That Maybe Weren’t So Helpful)

I’m sitting on a couch the color of hot dog mustard, three floors up in West Hollywood, glaring at my therapist’s toe cleavage. I’m trying to keep myself from storming out of the office. I’m not a bailer; I’m not a quitter; I haven’t ditched anything since senior year of high school. Well, false—that’s why I’m fighting the impulse to flee my session. I’m toying with bailing on a belief I’ve held my entire life: the ardent belief that I-don’t-want-kids, that I’ll never be a mother.

Like much ardency, my ambivalence about children was nurtured by example. My mother had put a career as a court reporter on hold to raise me and my siblings. “I never saw myself as someone with kids,” she told me recently. But she had had them, three of them. She’d attempted to give us everything and, since everything is unattainable, of course she’d fallen short.

I didn’t want to set myself up for failure, I thought subconsciously, and, consciously I thought I didn’t want to sacrifice my body, and aspirationally I thought I didn’t want to compromise my career and finally I thought I just didn’t really care. Soon, having kids was like deciding what to make for dinner: alternately of monumental importance or so pesky I’d just as well eat popcorn.

Still, I know others—especially medical professionals—aren’t so cavalier about the conception question. That’s why I’m surprised my therapist is so instantly down on the prospect when I broach it in our latest session. Somehow, this topic is so anathema, she’s stringing together more words than she has in any of our previous conversations.

“People don’t think about the possibilities,” she says. “They think it’s going to be this sweet, healthy baby, and you have to prepare yourself. What if you have a baby with autism? What if you have a blind baby?”

I nod, mouth tight. I revisit what I’ve told her so far:

  • My husband for-sure wants a kid; I think I could be happy with a kid.
  • My husband and I believe our lives would be conducive to raising a kid. We’re lucky. We have flexible schedules. Zero debt. A nearby campus where either of us could escape to write.
  • My husband and I do wonder, though, how anyone knows when the time is right. How to study the tea leaves of life and decide to decide …

That’s what I asked her, I think, as she shakes her head: how do people know?

“Would you have child care?” she drills. “Live in or drop off? Would you be able to afford it? Who would take care of the kid if they got sick?”

“We’ve talked about a lot of these things,” I say, frustrated—and concerned. Her business card says she does marriage counseling. What kind of blazes is this woman dragging couples into and how irreversibly burnt do they come out?

I try another tack: optimism and blunt honesty. “I’m afraid about losing my time to write, but I think, realistically, that wouldn’t happen.”

“Well you have to spend some time with the kid,” my therapist says, perhaps operating under the misconception that people without kids don’t think through that hypothetical alternate reality. (I’m sure there are people who’ve never imagined a crib in their living room, but that’s not me.) “Even if it’s with a nanny all day, you’ll see that kid every day, every night, and they’re going to know if you resent them. They’ll be able to tell. And then they’re going to grow up and hate your guts. And your husband’s going to resent you for ruining your relationship with your child.”

Of course I don’t want that, I tell her, but inside I begin to worry. Maybe I’m too demanding a patient, I consider. I want to be furnished with advice, not doomsaying. There’s a worse possibility, too, one that terrifies me: maybe I’m so unfit to be a parent that this scree is my therapist’s not-subtle attempt to communicate BAD IDEA TURN AROUND ABORT MISSION.

“I mean, of course,” I say, when she asks if this is an issue I want to work on. I hear myself flail. “I could see having a family being really nice when the kid is an adult. When we’re older and, you know, we want a connection to youth.”

The noise-machine in the next office burbles quiet.

“What do you think?” I say, finally. “Am I wrong to be considering this?”

“You sound very selfish and cold,” she says flatly. “I don’t think these are reasons to start a family, so yes, I would say you’re wrong. It doesn’t sound like you want to start a family out of love. This just sounds like a cold, calculated decision. We’ve got one more minute.”

I leave the office and postpone my usual call to my husband, the one where I ask if he wants me to bring anything home. I feel riled up and slightly haunted, like I’m dragging around—and selfishly neglecting—the ghost of the baby I could potentially bring into this world. As I head to my car, I glance in the Thai nail salon, where a pregnant woman roosts in a leather pedicure throne. I see two men pushing a stroller. There’s the rest of life, too, shop windows for a marijuana dispensary and an adult bookshop and an oyster bar, but I keep expecting to see my reflection augmented, me plus that ignored ghost infant.

I drive home, very carefully, very slowly, as though there’s human cargo and not dry cleaning in the backseat.

It takes me two hours to tell my husband what I’ve heard from my therapist. We’re at the kitchen table.

“Your therapist hardly knows you,” my husband says, when I’m too upset to eat dinner. When I say I’m too selfish to deserve to live; that I just want to quit life.

“She’s a professional,” I say. “She’s using her objective judgment.” I don’t really believe her, but I’ve been obsessing about her judgment—YOU ARE SELFISH. Maybe this is how it would feel to truly want a child, I think, to move from minute to minute thinking BABY BABY BABY. I wonder if there will ever be a time when I brood over sweet potato fries thinking, YOU ARE A MOTHER.

“Isn’t she supposed to be supportive?” he says. “Why isn’t she pointing out all the ways that having a family could improve your life? It’s not just a chore, you know. Plenty of people will tell you that their children bring them unquantifiable joy.”

I concede. I think about how my therapist would read this situation: she’d think my husband is trying to get me to change my mind definitively about having kids. Wrong. She’s wrong, too, about what it means to critically examine all aspects of a choice as life-changing as whether or not to begin a family. It’s difficult enough to move beyond ambivalence—no one needs a megaphone for their self-doubt. But I see that the dangerous thing about an ardent belief or a conviction is how it locks you into a position; it forces you to become a quitter instead of someone who evolves.

The next day, I call my therapist’s office and cancel all future appointments. I would’ve done the same thing, my mother says when I tell her. Sure, I’m no more decided about children than I was twenty-four hours ago, but one thing is certain: I am ready to embrace the thrills and mysteries of what it might mean to be a quitter.

JoAnna Novak is the author of I Must Have You, a novel, and Noirmania, a book-length poem, forthcoming in 2018. Her creative nonfiction has appeared widely, in publications including The New York Times, Salon, Runner’s World, Lit Hub, Catapult, and The Rumpus. She is a founding editor of Tammy, an independent chapbook press and literary journal. 

 

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45 Makes Me Regret Not Having Kids

On January 21, I looked around me at the Hartford, CT Women’s March Rally, and I felt regret, deep like a splinter from an un-planed board. I was there with my friend Sarah and her 12-year-old daughter Ella. It occurred to me that by not having children, I deprived myself of the opportunity to raise humans who would be thoughtful, critical, committed citizens. Of course, the beliefs of parents do not always become the beliefs of their children, yet I was struck by the lost opportunity of passing on values that I believe are the very ones that make America great: tolerance, questioning authority, willingness to stand up for not only one’s own rights, but more importantly, the rights of the marginalized. Despite my regret, the number of children at the rally heartened me.

After the rally, Sarah and I exchanged emails about how and why she included Ella that day. Sarah wrote about bringing her daughter and son with her every time she votes, as well as family discussions about current events, politics and community. For her, it is vital that her kids understand the responsibility that goes along with their privilege.

While Sarah’s husband and son decided to forgo the rally, in part to avoid the overstimulation of the event, Ella decided, after much conversation, that she wanted to participate. Sarah did encourage her, sharing with me, “I told her that this would be a significant day for American women. I didn’t want her to miss out on the chance to be a part of such a special day. Ultimately, I hope that my daughter saw that there are things that we can not sit idle and accept.”

As we drove to Hartford, I got to see Sarah’s strategies for raising an active citizen. Ella, pussyhat proudly perched on her head, encouraged me as I knit as fast as I could to finish one for myself. Sarah made a point of reminding us that we should be prepared in case the media asked to interview us. She encouraged Ella to practice what she would say about why she was at the rally. I was impressed by her enthusiastic, smart answers about human rights and immigration issues. Clearly, making posters with her family, hanging out as her mom churned out pussyhats, and months of post-election conversations impacted Ella’s views. I could see that Ella had a sense of the rally being more than a new experience; she understood the protest she was about to voice.

About a month later, I asked Sarah what affect she felt the rally had on her daughter. She wrote, “It certainly normalized protest as a reasonable reaction to policy we find objectionable. She is also thoughtful about articulating the ideas that upset her and why. Ella got to see you, me, her grandparents, her ballet teacher, a friend and her mom among many other people in our community at the rally because there are ideologies that need protesting. Long term it remains to be seen if this creates an inner sense of civic responsibility, but I think it will.”

In the weeks since 45 has taken office–weeks that feel like decades–I’ve vacillated between relief that I don’t have children who will inherit this mess, and the same regret I felt at the rally. I feel encouraged, though, that there are legions of parents who are woke, and even more young people positioned to stay woke. And I see that my role in the lives of the young people I know is to be yet another adult who is unafraid to use her privilege and raise her voice in protest.

But what about my sisters who are on the fence about having kids? How is this administration shaping their decisions?

MotherShould? writer Ada Kenney weighed in, saying, “45 and the current Congress haven’t necessarily changed my plans about motherhood. Rather, they’ve heightened my ambivalence. I didn’t want to get an IUD before the inauguration as so many women did because I only have so many (if any) fertile years left, and seems like a waste to get it for just a year or so. But I also don’t want to raise a child alone with less of a social safety net than we currently have, and unless I meet The One really soon, that may be my only path toward motherhood.

“I have considered fostering or adoption before, and I fear those systems will be weakened in the next few years, so maybe I will do that. It would be a better move than having a baby in the face of the threat of nuclear war.”

In a recent episode of The Longest Shortest Time, Hillary Frank hosts a roundtable during which, among other topics, two lesbian couples examine the question of how 45’s administration affects their thinking about having children. Even within one couple, the partners’ views cover a wide range: eager to raise radical children vs. afraid to bring a child into the world where the parents (Black, queer) feel hatred around them.

How about you? Has the new administration muddied or clarified the decision for you?

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Mourning a Miscarriage After an Unwanted Pregnancy

There was something about my period that wasn’t right. Having an IUD, it was usually much lighter than this. My womb felt emptier than usual. It didn’t take long to realize what was happening. After a few moments of denial, I finally allowed myself to accept that I was having a miscarriage.

I was in my senior year of college, two weeks away from my 22nd birthday, and I was alone. Having suffered from depression since childhood, I struggled with what was happening. I was glad to not be pregnant, but realizing what I had lost hurt. I cried for my unborn child. I wasn’t certain if I ever wanted a child, and I certainly didn’t want one my senior year , but I still grieved for this unborn child.

Something in me decided it was a boy, and I was sorry for the life he would never live. I told him it was probably best, as I wouldn’t be able to provide a good life for a child. I was young, still in school, and only working seasonally. Even if I had given him up for adoption, I worried that he have a poor quality of life: I had read that the mother’s emotions during pregnancy have an affect on the child’s personality, and I probably would have spent those 9 months feeling extremely depressed. That coupled with the high chance he would inherit my depression made me fear he would feel miserable for much of his life.

I skipped the rest of my classes that day, barely able to leave my bed, arguing with myself that I shouldn’t be so distraught about this. I wasn’t even sure I wanted children. But there was something in that emptiness that made me yearn to be a mother.

When I told my boyfriend what had happened, he apologized for my having to go through the miscarriage, but also pointed out that it didn’t feel like a loss of a child. He reminded me of his mother who, before he was born, had a miscarriage. His parents had been trying for a child, but never considered themselves parents to that child.

“My mom has always seen herself as a mother of two, not three,” he said.

We were sitting in his parked car in the driveway of his parents’ house, silent for a moment. I wondered if his mother had felt the way I was feeling now. She had wanted the child, so she must have mourned it. The miscarriage was still fresh in my mind, but his mother’s miscarriage had happened over 25 years prior and before he was born.

He stepped out of the car and I waited for a moment, wondering if it was worth pointing out that my experience of loss was still valid.

I felt petty for being as upset as I was, seeing as we didn’t want the child anyway. I thought of the women who are struggling to get pregnant and resented myself for having, if only for a moment, been pregnant despite using the most effective birth control available.

Still, I resolved that this was more my miscarriage than it was ours. He didn’t experience it or have the same attachment to our would-be child. The child hadn’t been within him.

Now, it all seems like a strange dream I had a long time ago. Though it feels as if it’s part of the distant past, I try not to completely detach from it. It was an important moment in time that taught me a lot about myself. I realized I’d be okay with having an abortion because it’d be best for all involved. I was also able to give motherhood more contemplation.

I don’t know if my yearning to be a mother was a feeling I could trust or if it was actually a case of me wanting something I couldn’t have. The yearning was strong but, I’m still not sure if I want to ever be a parent but, for a moment, I was one. I loved my child, I mourned my child, but I knew this was better for him. If I ever have a child, it will be when I can give them the happy life they deserve.

Emily Demone is the pseudonym of a New England based writer and, like so many in her peer group, social media manager. She loves nature and the outdoors, but prefers watching it through a window as she cuddles on the couch with her four dogs. She tries her best to navigate the chaos that is being a 20-something in the early 21st-century and wants to let everything happen as it may, but spends most of her time trying to guess what the future has in store.

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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.

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.

 

Friends from First Grade: One Was Always Certain about Kids, the Other Was Not

In this week’s post I interview my friend since first grade about her desire to have children.

My friend Jill and I are a female odd couple: she is a suburban-living Republican* who devotes the time she’s not at work to carting her boys to every sport ever invented, with a special focus on sports that require you to wake up before sunrise and stand in the cold.

I am a Democrat who leans socialist and lives  in the woods in a town without a single stop light or gas station. I don’t watch sports on TV or in stadiums, on fields, or at rinks.

Jill is great with numbers and budgeting; I prefer words and glaze over whenever anyone talks about money.

She is blonde; I am brunette.

She always wanted kids; I never really did.

We’ve been friends since first grade and our friendship was cemented when her family moved across the street from mine when we were 8 years old, and since we want to stay friends, we’ve never sat down to better understand each other’s political beliefs, but we recently started talking about our different stances toward procreating. She has been following this website with great wonder because she is drawn in by the perspectives of women who don’t want kids or who are uncertain because these perspectives are so foreign to her.

In talking with her and her husband recently about her certainty, I heard a story I’d never heard before: after she got engaged, but before she got married she tried to convince her fiance to get pregnant immediately and not wait until after they got married. He refused; their honeymoon plans involved a cruise to Alaska and he didn’t want to be honeymooning with a woman miserable with morning sickness.

Jill got married at 30 so she had plenty of time to get pregnant. So, why was she in such a rush? I sat down with Jill this week in her home and asked her a few questions to get to the bottom of her maternal drive:

CS: When did you know you wanted kids?

Jill: I don’t remember a moment; I’ve just always wanted kids. I knew I wanted a lot of kids but I only had two. The turning point for me was when Brett, my cousin, was born; he is seventeen now. I went up to visit in New Hampshire when he was born. I  stopped going out and I started  driving the two hours there for the weekend. Part of it was that my aunt wanted help, but I started choosing to go there. I was 25 or 26 at the time, when I started going there once or twice a month as opposed to going out.

As soon as Brett came, I knew wanted that.

CS: Why do you think it is that you always wanted kids?

Jill: I have a brother who is ten years younger than I am so essentially I was an only child. I would go to my grandmother’s and all my cousins and aunts and uncles lived so close together, and I would go there and I was part of something. There was always something going on. There was always someone to talk to. And, we would just never sit around, but when I was home I was alone. I like being around people. Even now I don’t like to be alone.

CS: What about the fact that your brother IS so much younger than you, and it was almost like having kids? Or at least you got to see what having kids was like?

Jill: I didn’t raise him but I understood that it was a lot of work. I moved home at 23 for a year; he was thirteen, and it was his freshman year of high school  and I liked it. I took him to practice every day. I took him to school. I liked being part of his life.

CS: So you have maternal instinct?

Jill: I guess. It doesn’t mean I’m doing it well. I just means I wanted to do it.

CS: So you never doubted your certainty?

Jill: Never. I always thought I would have five kids.

CS: What prevented you from having five?

Jill: Money. I think if money wasn’t an issue, if kids were free, I could’ve talked my husband into more.

CS: Do you think you would’ve been happy with five children?

Jill: I do.

CS: I don’t. Not you. ME. ME. You’ve known me for 36 years, why do you think I was so wishy washy about having kids?

Jill: You know what you want, and you do it and with kids you get tied down and you can’t go for what you want. Say you want a degree. If you had kids fifteen years ago, it would’ve been a lot harder to get a degree.

Everything is harder once you have kids. Like travel. And, I think you have so many more things you want. I’ve always wanted to travel but not as much as I wanted kids. I knew I’d be giving that up and I don’t think you wanted to give up the travel.

CS: I don’t even think I got how much giving up there is. Do you think we grew apart when you had kids?

Jill: I don’t think so. Obviously we didn’t talk as much, but we haven’t lived near each other since we were in sixth grade. We can go a long time without talking and then it’s just normal.

CS: I remember being disappointed and sad that I’d never see you and then I would see you Christmas Eve, and you would have to leave early because you had kids. But now I understand it.

Jill: But we’ve definitely kept in touch. I have other friends that I’ve lost touch with and they HAVE kids. We got wrapped up in our own kids.

CS: Do you feel like it’s harder to stay friends with your friends who don’t have kids?

Jill: I do.

CS: We talk about different things now that we both have kids, don’t we?

Jill: It’s a common bond. You get it more. Until you live it, you don’t get it.

CS: Maybe people wouldn’t have kids if you did get it. You used to tell me that I shouldn’t have kids, why?

Jill: I think I worried motherhood would be too boring for you and you’d regret it.  Having kids would hold you back from everything you knew you wanted and had worked so hard for. I was also afraid you’d change and stories about trips to Nicaragua and Thailand would turn into stories about potty training and milestones.  Hanging out with you was always an adventure and if you had kids I would lose that adventure.  We’ve both changed and visiting you is different than pre-Quinn but it’s an adventure for everyone.  We’ve taken the boys to Disney and on a Caribbean cruise but when asked they say their favorite vacation was swimming and hiking in Becket.  Our adventures are now G rated but sharing them with the all of our boys is just as much fun.

CS: It’s true. I love how wonderful your boys are to Quinn: they play with him even though he can’t keep up [he’s 4 years younger than Jill’s youngest], they (and you) make him gifts, and they look out for him. He loves them so much that he talks about them even when he hasn’t seen them for months, and this makes my heart swell.

*In response to me calling her a Republican, Jill wrote me a text that read: “For the record I am a registered independent and have voted both ways. And you think you are the open minded one. 🙂 But leave Republican, it’s better for the story and I lean that way more as I get older.”

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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 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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