Historiann has a post up that dovetails with some stuff I’ve been thinking about lately, and I figured I should post over here rather than muddy her comments up with my lengthy personal reflections.
I have always thought that I would be a mother, since I was a little kid. When I was seven years old, and I briefly considered a vocation as a nun, which I think a lot of seven-year-old Catholic girls do with all of the First Holy Communion hullabaloo, I ultimately decided against it when I realized that it would mean forgoing having a baby. Note: the problem was not that I wanted to get married – I was totally cool with being a “bride of Christ” – the baby was the thing. (I think my flirtation with becoming a nun probably lasted for about two weeks, during which I said the rosary every night and imagined myself especially holy. It seemed like a really long time.)
And yet, here I am at 37 years old, totally single, never having experienced a pregnancy, and with no committed relationship in sight and no real… motivation… to get going on the baby thing. Did I forget to have a baby?
I don’t think so. And in fact, this has been on my mind a lot this year, because in the way of many people who spent their 20s in graduate school, as did most of my friends, the “baby boom” in my circle is happening now – not ten years ago. And, given my super-duper love of the babies (and their love of me) and my love of kids and young people in general, I’ve been thinking: um, should I be getting on that? I mean, I’m already at Advanced Maternal Age, and have been for some time. So what gives?
Whatever it is, it’s not that I’m colossally forgetful. It’s not like I have reproductive amnesia or something. I mean, my clock, it’s ticking. I hear it. Tick-tock-tick-tock. But am I “exercising my reproductive choice” by pursuing egg-freezing or sperm donation or even dating like it’s the end of the world in the hope of finding the father of my babies? Um, not so much.
Did I decide I didn’t want kids unconsciously? Is it that I “really” don’t want a kid?
I’ve thought long and hard about this. Especially over the past couple of weeks. Why so much thought about this recently? Three reasons. One, High School BFF is moving in with her boyfriend, and they likely will get married, and all of this is in part related to her desire ultimately to have kids with him. A. is likely going to start trying to have a baby with her partner in the next year (with no plans on the horizon to marry). And finally, I just learned that another friend from high school decided to get pregnant on her own via sperm donation. It’s enough to make a 37-year-old woman wonder: am I supposed to be putting having a baby as my top priority right now? And if I’m not, why am I not? I have a house, and I make a reasonable amount of money: do I want to have a kid on my own? And if I don’t want to have a kid on my own, why am I not more activist in my approach to dating right now, in the service of getting partnered up, if I want to have a biological child? What do I “really” want? Or am I just “forgetful”?
I don’t think I’ve forgotten anything, and that’s probably part of my problem, when it comes to babies. I can’t forget the sacrifices that babies entail, and I can’t forget the fact that doing it by oneself is really motherfucking hard. And I can’t forget that if one isn’t really more committed to parenting than to any and all other things that one isn’t going to do a proper job of it. (This isn’t to say that people who choose to parent can’t have other commitments in addition, but rather that other commitments always have to come second to the demands of keeping a tiny human alive and helping the tiny human thrive. It’s one thing to knit a blanket for a tiny baby or to talk to a little kid in line at the grocery store or on a plane or even to love a friend’s kid and to be a great auntie-figure – another thing entirely to take responsibility for another human being.)
So I asked myself just this past week, “Self, what if you were to have a kid on your own? Do you want to do that?” And do you know what my response to myself was, without any hesitation? “If I did that right now then I wouldn’t be able to write my book. And I have to write this book. The thing I want most right now is to write this book.”
Apparently, right at this moment, I want to have a second book more than I want to have a baby. I want to have a book more than I want to date like it’s a second job, and I want to have a book more than I want to have a “good enough” relationship that might produce a baby. (Note: I’m just talking about myself here – my own desire to have that second book written and published.)
The thing is, even having said all of that, I really do want to have a kid. The problem is that right at this moment, I want other stuff, other stuff that would be a hell of a lot harder if I had a kid in tow. And I’m no dummy – I do realize that I might miss my chance at a theoretical (since I’ve got no plan and no partner) biological baby by being so all-consumed with this book project right now. I haven’t “forgotten” that there’s an expiration date on my ovaries. It’s just… I’m a person, in addition to being a potential mother. And as a person, I want some things for myself, still. I’m not (yet?) in a place where a baby is the only thing I have left to do. I’m not sure that I’ll ever be in that place. A baby is not the only thing that I have left to want. Even if I “really” want one.
At a certain point, a woman has to acknowledge that if she’s gotten to her late 30s without having had a kid that this was a decision, or a set of decisions, that she made. It’s a hell of a lot easier to get knocked up (assuming no medical complications) than it is to get a Ph.D., to get a tenure-track job, to publish a book with a 4/4 load, even to buy a house as a single woman. I really do believe that if motherhood were a priority for me, that this would have happened by now.
And will I have regrets if I don’t have a kid? Yeah, I probably will. Just like I regret not going to law school, or not being in a rock band, or not taking art in high school (which yes, I actually do regret that). I regret not learning French for real as opposed to pretending to have learned French on the basis of my Latin, and I regret some of the people that I’ve dated, and I regret not having worked harder to make certain romantic relationships work out. Like I regret not having had a stronger relationship with my father in the years before he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
But whatever happens in my life in between now and the end of the reproductive line, I am actually confident that I’d rather never have a baby than resent a baby for getting in the way of this book. That doesn’t mean that I don’t “really” want to have a baby. It just means that I’m realistic about the fact that now is not the right time, even if that means the right time never comes. I’m a person, and I have love in my life. That’s true, and that will be true, regardless of what happens on the baby front.
It’s not about “forgetting” to have a baby, and it’s not about not “really” wanting one. It’s about the fact that I want many things, that I am many things. And maybe a kid will happen and maybe it won’t. But if it doesn’t, my life will still be really great. I will still be a woman. I’ll still be a person. Reproductive choice for women isn’t only about freedom from having a kid (the right to legal, safe abortion) nor is it only or also about the freedom to have a kid with the aid of technology (egg-freezing, sperm donation, other reproductive technologies). If we see it that way, women are still defined through and by reproduction. Reproductive choice, for me, should result in a world in which women are people outside of their reproductive refusal or potential. Reproductive choice should mean that I don’t have to be either a “mother” or “child-free.” Setting it up that way means that I’m still only the sum total of my uterus – whether I’ve “chosen” to use my uterus to house a human or whether I’ve “chosen” (or by virtue of health issues had to) to keep my uterus empty.
No woman should need to announce her womanhood, her personhood, either by having a kid or by asserting her “choice” in not having a kid. At the end of the day, a woman’s personhood shouldn’t have a thing in the world to do with her reproductive organs. That, for me, should be the point of reproductive choice. Not that I have the freedom to have an abortion or I have the freedom to freeze my eggs. Seriously, are those the only options for a person who is also a woman? I’m sorry, but I want more than that.