“Don’t worry too much about it right now,” my friend told me. “Later it’ll become obvious whether or not you want to have kids. The right answer will just come to you.”
This is the same thing I’ve been telling myself since my early twenties. Later. Wait until later. Everything will become clear later. But let’s not sugar-coat the situation: I’m thirty-five years old. This is “later”. I mean, how much more “later” am I going to wait to make this decision? The old rehearsed line about “maybe in five or ten years” has worked up until now, but these days when I tell people that they give me a look like, Seriously lady, who are you kidding? And realistically, I know that conception after age forty is difficult, especially for first-time mothers. After forty-five, it becomes a battle of epic proportions. I am completely aware of that ticking clock.
The thing is, I really like my life the way it is. Or rather, I like the fact that I don’t have to keep it the way it is if I don’t want to. If I want to quit my job and go hiking around Asia for a few months, I just do it. If I want to sleep until noon all week and then spend my afternoons in the mall wasting expendable income, I can do that, too. I’m a very active person, I don’t like staying in one place (house/city/country) for very long, and barring disaster, I don’t see myself slowing down anytime in the next few decades. There’s a big world out there, and I want to see as much of it as I can.
When I see women walking down the street with their kids, my first thought is usually, Thank goodness that’s not me. The crying. The whining. The histrionics. Even when the children are being good, all I see are the down sides. A mother sits at the table next to me with her three small kids. I enjoy my meal; she barely notices hers. She’s spending her lunch cutting food into little pieces, feeding a baby, and trying to keep everyone at the table. Food gets flung around. The children fidget. The mother is probably my age, but she looks about a decade older. She’s exhausted. I don’t want to be her.
People say, “Oh, but when they’re your own kids, it’s different. You’ll love them unconditionally. You’ll want them no matter what. You’ll see.” Although this may be the case most of the time, I know it’s not true for everyone. After all, there are mothers out there who abandon their children. I grew up with quite a few kids who were being raised by their grandparents because their mothers hadn’t been up to the challenge of parenting, and didn’t figure that out until it was too late. One friend my age has a little girl, and she says not a day goes by that she doesn’t wish she could go back in time and decide not to have a baby. She says that she feels guilty because she wonders if she’s the only one who thinks the benefits don’t outweigh the hassles and hardships. Her love for her daughter is mixed with a hefty dose of regret and resentment. She warns me not to have children, because she says she would give anything to have her life back.
Obviously, this should serve as a warning to me: figure out what you want before getting pregnant. “After you have kids, you’ll see that you want them,” is not a good enough promise.
I joke with people that, given my age, I still have a few years either to make a decision, or to sort-of-accidentally get knocked up. It has occurred to me on occasion just to stop using birth control and see what happens, but the one time I did that I had a ten-day pregnancy scare, and spent the entire time sobbing at my stupidity and lamenting that I ruined my life over a dumb experiment. I started bargaining with deities and making promises that I would never do anything so foolish again, if I could just have my period. And then, when my period did finally start, there was dancing in the streets. I don’t think I’ve ever celebrated so intensely in my life.
So that means I obviously don’t want kids, right? Right?
If only it were that simple. I’m standing in the airport, waiting for my flight to be called. I see a woman in her late 50s, traveling alone. Her two adult sons have come to see her off. One carries her hand luggage, the other offers to buy her something to eat. They dote on her like personal attendants until her flight is called. Then there are goodbyes — warm, loving goodbyes, lots of hugs and kisses and promises to pick her up at the airport when she gets back. The whole thing is beautiful, and my ovaries start screaming at me, You want that! You definitely want that!
Then I start thinking that my reasons for wanting children are mostly selfish — it seems like I’m just looking for some homemade servants to do my bidding, or for some instant companions who are required to love me forever. But my friends who are mothers tell me that these feelings are universal. Yes, of course we want to see our children grow up and have fantastic lives and be happy in their own right, but there’s also an element of self-fulfillment. We don’t want to be alone when we’re elderly. We want someone to continue the family line. We want someone we can call when we don’t know who else to call.
So what is the point of all this rambling? That if these words strike a chord in you, you’re not alone. I worry about these things, too. I thought I was the only one, but more and more I come across women my age who are facing the same dilemma. We no longer live in a world where we are automatically expected to procreate, and that has opened up options for us. On the other hand, we are led to believe by millions of happy mothers that having children is the way to go, that we will regret it later if we don’t. And what of the women who would give anything to have a baby but can’t? Should I feel guilty that my womb is sitting unused? Am I wasting my womanhood by not having a baby? Unfortunately, as I have discovered, there are no easy answers to any of these questions.
Later. Maybe later everything will become clear. There’s still time.