…I would like to beg you dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.
~ Rainer Maria Rilke, from Letters to a Young Poet
Why don’t we just acknowledge the elephant in the room.
I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve been with my partner for almost five years now, or that I’m in my mid-30s’ and children are conspicuously absent from my life, or that my younger sister has one (beautiful) little boy and is expecting again, but people have been asking me, more and more frequently, if I will have children.
This happened at a medical clinic a few weeks ago. This beautiful young doctor I’d never seen before was doing my intake, and she asked me my age. I told her, and then she asked me if I had children. I said no, and then she asked if I was going to. I said I wasn’t sure.
I thought I saw her raise her eyebrow a little bit, and then she said,
“You know, fertility dramatically decreases after a woman turns 35.”
I hastily changed the subject, but not without recognizing that this question has increasingly been making me feel backed into a corner, trapped by the reality that the world is asking me to make this decision right now and I don’t feel ready.
When I was in grade school, I remember watching this movie about forest animals and leg-hold traps. I’m not sure what unit that video would have been a part of, or why our teacher would have thought that video appropriate to show to a bunch of 10-year-olds, but consequently, the image of a fox against the snow, chewing its leg off in order to get free was seared into my memory.
That’s how that question is starting to make me feel.
One of the truths about this moment for me right now is that I don’t know how I feel about it—about becoming a mother. On the one hand, I used to think that I wanted children, very badly, but only after I had done the things I wanted to do—but that time never seemed to get any closer.
There are also those experiences I’ve lived that whisper to me that I’m not the mothering type.
I’d say I’m now very loving to my family and friends, but that love hasn’t always been easy for me to express. I am incredibly scatterbrained. I have the longest learning curve in history in terms of taking care of myself and doing basic things like keeping plants alive.
I have survived severe clinical depression, and getting depressed again is something I’m always going to have to watch for.
I don’t make good parental material on paper.
I have a few health concerns (namely, my previous depression, and a disability) which can often encourage the most insensitive people to ask me if I am physically able to have children. I have incredibly shitty credit, rarely more than a few hundred dollars saved in the bank (if I’m lucky), and a family history of cancer so sobering that we became a hospital case study.
I believe I may have absorbed all of the reasons why I shouldn’t become a mother, but another truth is that I like my life the way it is now.
I like having that first hour, early in the morning, for reading and tea. I like the silence if I want and the music if I want and the ability to drop everything to go travelling because I miraculously found the money.
I am a messy housekeeper because often I’m more interested in reading or writing or going out with my friends, and though that’s another of my less than stellar qualities, it’s nice knowing that I can be that way and not be directly endangering someone’s life.
There are also environmental concerns which I’ve taken into consideration, and the idea that there are many children out there who are looking for adoptive parents, so if I really wanted to have them, biology doesn’t need to play a part in it.
I feel uncomfortable admitting all of this.
I see people’s Facebook feeds and there are lots of people who have the marriage and children thing going on. There is definitely a societal expectation that a woman in her 30s, if she presents as heterosexual and is fertile, (both of which I am), should be having kids at some point.
I feel weird and backwards, almost, that I’m the age that I am and have no clue where the chips will end up falling.
Currently, my biological clock is definitely muttering something along the lines of, “you know, you’ve always had the time to make up your mind about this before, and you are fast getting to the end of that time,” but other than that, I don’t have a pull to have them, and I keep expecting to have a pull.
I feel a pull towards finally doing all the travelling that I’ve wanted to my entire life. I feel a pull towards bouncing from city to city so that I can fill my memories with different experiences and meeting new people. I feel a pull towards writing books, and making my “legacy”, as it were, something to do with the words I leave behind.
I feel a pull towards having children in my life, but giving them back to their parents at the end of the night so that I can stay up late drinking wine and watching movies.
I feel a pull towards truly inhabiting my own life.
The simple fact is that I was too fucked up during my 20s to really appreciate the life that I had or to make good use of the time I had.
The experiences I had made me distrustful of the person I was, and it took me a long time and a lot of work to get to the point where I could look at the reflection in the mirror and say, “you know what? I’m a decent person and my skin doesn’t feel like it’s crawling with angry bees anymore.”
I want to take this new found sense of myself and take her out on the town.
There is also the cold realization that my partner, whom I love to death and can’t imagine my life without, has never pictured himself as a parent.
So I am entering into this decision-making knowing that if I come out of it on the side of wanting children, that it has great, life-altering effects on our relationship.
But I love children, so much.
That is part of this truth, which somehow makes this more complicated. I’ve spent portions of my life in close proximity to them, and every interaction I have proves that though they might sometimes be difficult, that children are magical creatures—hilarious, interesting, wonder-full little beings.
I know I’m not alone in this, that more and more women have been deciding to have children “later” or “not at all”. In the US, between 2007 and 2011, the birth rate dropped by nine percent, to make it an average of one in five women who end their child-bearing years without having children. In Canada, since 2006, the rate of childless couples has surpassed the rate of couples with children. Trends seem to be similar in Australia, and I can imagine that this is somewhat of a global trend.
It still feels like I’m somewhat ashamed to come right out and say that I may not want children of my own, like I will be judged too selfish.
But there is a part of me that wants to find out what my 40s and beyond will be filled with, if they’re not filled with the business of raising children. What can I populate that empty space with? What dreams will grow if given the complete space to grow and develop?
I don’t know. I just don’t know, and as much as I want an answer right now, I have to get comfortable with the uncertainty first.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Renee Picard
Photo: Tamaki Sono, Flickr Creative Commons, elephant media archives