“There is a pressure on women to be mothers, and if they are not, then they’re deemed damaged goods. Maybe my purpose on this planet isn’t to procreate.”Jennifer Aniston
To Baby, Or Not to Baby?
I grew up in the Cabbage Patch era and adopted four of the little people, proud of their birth certificates and adoption papers. I cared for them (with the help of my mom), equipped with a stroller, a baby carrier, a diaper bag, onesies and booties and bottles and sippy cups. So I knew how to swaddle and change diapers, and burp and coddle an inanimate object before I was ten years old. This bit of play came naturally to me and because of it I assumed I’d have babies one day.
I recall, quite distinctly, the moment I knew my body would never be pregnant. I experienced a sort of cathartic hemorrhage and felt the relief in my womb. I was sitting on the floor, stretching after exercising when I sensed a physiological fizzle, like a release of tension in my gut to illuminate the moment of solidarity between my psyche and my body. The two parts of me were making a pact, and I cried. Actually, I sobbed. Then it was over.
Through the years, I’ve found an unexpected joy in being an auntie, especially lately. I’ve got seven nieces and nephews to watch over. The youngest are in their tweens and the oldest are making their way in the world already. One of them recently texted me pictures of her new office in Chicago, with a window overlooking the bean (I can’t say how proud this makes me), another texts me just to say hello with sweet little gifs that make me laugh.
And for one of them, who is as tall as Ajax and soon learning to drive, I was in the delivery room for his first moments, to admire my warrior sister as she tapped into a supernatural strength to bring her little one into the light. He played his part too, of course, and fought to make his debut. I was only a watcher and witness to the gift women possess, but this solitary experience will enrich me forever. Around the same time, I was hoping to conceive, and looking back on that era with fresh eyes I can see my unsuccessful attempts were actually a gift. Our bodies know what we need. They tell us all the time.
Not long ago, I visited a friend after she’d just given birth and I was amazed at her natural ability as a mother. She asked me if I wanted to hold her tiny son and I refused, too frightened. I’m not sure if I was more worried I’d do it wrong and harm him, or that I’d feel too much desire for my own. (I held him a couple weeks later for hours as we shared a glass of wine. He was precious, and I was satisfied once more with my choice.)
But I never considered a fear of being inadequate at motherhood was the only reason I decided not to do it. That desire — that longstanding commitment and superhuman ability that women have to give selflessly to someone else twenty-four seven — was a major factor, too. I enjoy spending time working on the things I like to do, and I will shamelessly admit I just don’t want to be someone’s mom. People often talk about wanting to have children. For me, it was about deciding whether I wanted to be a parent. It’s easy for me to imagine a darling little girl named after some poet or literary character or flower, rushing off to school with a Tupperware filled with sandwiches, but I can’t really picture her mother. That woman — that facet of me — remains a stranger. Maybe it’s a chicken and the egg thing. I don’t know.
That’s okay, I guess. If it sounds like I’m trying to convince myself, I may just be.