I have a friend who just turned 36 years old. Another friend who is 34 and another 29. My grandmother has a 40 year old niece. We all have Jennifer Aniston. Some of these women are married, some aren’t, and some are interim. All of them, however, are childless. And they probably didn’t know it would turn out this way.
Because here’s the thing: when you’re young you always just think about having children someday. But then you grow older and you realize more and more as the time goes by that this day hasn’t come yet. And the older you get the more you realize the possible likelihood of the fact that it might never come. This is probably one of the weirdest and heaviest feelings that you could ever experience. For most people going through this feeling nowadays is even weirder because today everyone is “younger” for longer. Vibrant, party-going, ladder-climbing, happy go lucky adults of 25 and 45 are the same. And they are. Absolutely.
Except if you’re a woman, the biological, baby bearing potential of your womb at 25 is vastly different than that at 45. Like every other tired female cliche, fertility is a window that will eventually close and a train that will eventually pass.
Any woman who’s ever had to enter her 30s man-less and child-less or had to endure years in a late marriage without bearing any babies will tell you that they know all about closing windows and passing trains. Whether or not you actually want a child (and its totally fine if you don’t), there will come a point where pretty much every single person on the face of the earth will be staring at you, loudly chanting the words: “BAY-BE! BAY-BE! BAY-BE!”
And regardless of where you’re actually at in your own head, that kind of impossible pressure just gets to you. In those moments, your own life plan and your personal choices disappear and, despite your education, your experience, and your confidence, you are endlessly befuddled.
Take, for example, this literal conversation I had with a friend of mine who is 32, childless, and who inspired this post: “Actually, I want a baby. Actually, I don’t want a baby. Actually, I don’t not want a baby. Actually, I want to not want a baby.” And on and on and on. My friend is an accomplished artist, happily married woman, living in a beautiful apartment, with the world’s cutest puppies, pursuing a PhD. She is the personification of all that a cool, sophisticated, kick-ass woman should be. And even she has the ‘Will I? Won’t I?’ debate playing on a loop in her head.
In the end what my friend is left with are persistent feelings of doubt, hesitation, and fear. That’s it. Doubt. Hesitation. Fear. No matter what she may actually want for herself, these feelings are pretty much there all the time. And it’s the same for so many other similarly baby-less but otherwise awesome women in the world.
You’re afraid of choosing to have children early and then being hampered down in your career or in your other worthwhile life experiences. You’re afraid of not picking the right partner and ending up with a horrible parenting situation. You’re afraid of missing out on the incomparable, lifetime connection and endlessly unique memories that only your own child can bring you.
Of course, what you may or may not realize is that, eventually, not making a decision is the decision. And if a woman does decide to not have children she often has to explain that decision to everyone around her. Which I’m sure can be mortifying.
Still, I know there is a clear difference between a woman who actively chooses to not have children and just waking up one day and realizing that its happening to you. Some women just know that they don’t ever want to have babies. And that’s fine. And some other women love, live, work, and grow only to wake up one morning and realize that they’ve crossed a certain checkpoint in their life. They get up and suddenly they’re in some new territory where everything looks exactly the same, except now you’re that woman who never had kids.
Looking back at your life and realizing this reality is a very strange and unsettling feeling. Because now you have to acknowledge what you are. A woman who is not a mother.
(Doubt. Hesitation. Fear.)
As you watch everyone around you pair up, marry up, and baby up, you start to feel more and more like a straggler at the party. Everyone’s gone home, so what the hell are you still doing here?
And, to make matters worse, in the midst of feeling like a freaky straggler you get to be bombarded with all kinds of mommy propaganda all the freaking time. From the Stalkerish Womb Updates of celebrity culture to Facebook feeds of ultrasounds, first steps, baby bumps, report cards, and the whole lot of it. The decade long tabloid story in which Jennifer Aniston is not a person but a soap opera character who, despite being a successful, fit, happy, and freaking fabulous woman, is actually very deeply depressed about the fact that she is still childless at 44 is a story that will never die down. These are all reminders that if you don’t do what’s expected of you–make beau coup babies–you must be doing something wrong.
Or worse actually. There must be something wrong with you.
(Doubt. Hesitation. Fear.)
But, you know what? Screw that.
What if you don’t have a child? What if you don’t try? What if you’re not sure? What if there are extenuating circumstances? What if you don’t have the time/money/health/right partner? How the hell do you go on anyway?
In a perfect world all these confusing and scary questions wouldn’t be such a huge, social issue. It would be like ‘hey, you do you, and I’ll do me, and everything’s going to be cool, tra-la-la-la.’ Right? Whatever. But that’s not the world. The world is crappy. Because you’re supposed to work hard, contribute, support people, make something of yourself and still, in the end, everyone looks at you funny and goes: But, wait, no kids? (It’s probably even worse when they go ‘no man and no kids?’)
Not having babies, having babies, letting life decide for you, what you want, what you need, unfortunate timing, regrets, the freaking Jennifer Aniston headlines–its a lot and it sucks. Y’know, they say that the unexamined life is not a life worth living. Well, I say that an over-analyzed life in which you obsess over every tiny detail and every past choice is a freaking suffocating nightmare wet blanket. Sometimes you just have to be.
And sometimes its important to get some perspective. Remember that even if you end up staying at this party instead of moving on to the next party, its still a freaking party. A party with plenty of love, late nights, late mornings, good times, travel, shopping, joy, independence, accomplishment, and a million other great pleasures that most mothers in this world don’t have nearly enough of. It may not be the story that all the magazines talk about and that everyone in society obsesses over but it’s there. It exists. And if other people aren’t praising you for living an awesome, childless life, then you praise yourself.
And, for what it’s worth: I totally praise you too.
All my love!