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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Mommy Wars

I am 35 years old, and I can relate to single women my age and the frustration and humiliation they feel when people offer them advice on how to get married and have babies--although I am married.

I am still childless, both by choice and not by choice. I think our lives are like big Jenga puzzles--you don't know which piece can be removed without making the rest fall down. I have wanted to be a mom since I was a teenager. That being said, I also decided as a teenager that I shouldn't marry before I was 30, and I assumed that meant I wouldn't have kids before then, either.

Despite that, I married for the first time when I was 24, and my plans were that I would have a baby around age 26. I had just finished nursing school and started my career as a trauma nurse. I thought 26 would be a great age to have a kid. Unfortunately, my marriage ended before I got there, partly because my husband decided really didn't want kids, after all. I usually blame my currently childless state on my ex-husband, because it's more fun to blame the ex than myself. The real truth is a lot more complex than that. I should have known that he wasn't really on-board with my desires for children, although he told me he had changed his mind and really did want them when we did get married. I wanted to believe that, and I didn't want to face the difficulties of ending that relationship, which was 5 years old by the time we married. So instead of having a baby at 26, I had a divorce.

What happened after that was just life, and I had about as much control over its flow as anyone else does. It's easy for me to look back now and guess at which Jenga pieces I could have taken out that would change my circumstances now, but less easy to decide if I really want my circumstances changed at all. I lost weight, gained it, lost it, regained it...who knows if that would have affected my ability to have kids between ages 26 and 35, because I wasn't in a position to try. I dated for many years, mostly not very seriously. I didn't want to get married again. I didn't really want to be a single mom either, but I never lost my desire to be a mom. I just didn't know how to realize it.

When I was almost 31, I met my current husband. We knew right away that we would get married. We married when I was almost 33. (Actually it was 2 years exactly after our first date.) By this time, I was fast becoming burned out in my career as a critical care nurse, and I knew I wanted to go to grad school and become a CRNA. We had some decisions to make--buy a house or not, go to grad school or not, have a baby or not. I decided that having a baby then would push out grad school too far for me to tolerate, and we both decided that I should pursue graduate school--which also meant not buying a house yet (a great decision, I think, given current circumstances). We both continue to second-guess these decisions, because the path we chose is not easy. I'm in grad school, pursuing a career that I'm excited about--but I'm also 400 miles away from my husband most of the time, which is very hard on both of us. At this time of year, travel between Spokane and Portland is very difficult. As I write this, I haven't seen my husband since the end of November, and he's trying to make arrangements to get here this weekend. The road conditions in the desolate areas of southeastern Washington and the central Columbia Gorge area mean that we are separated a lot more than we want to be. And of course, now I am 35 and my biological clock ticks louder each day.

The good news is that I am healthier than ever before, and I have no reason besides statistics to think I won't be able to have a child in a year and a half. I've already pretty much decided that extensive fertility treatments are not for me--if I find that I cannot become pregnant by the time I am finished with school, I MIGHT try some fertility drugs, but would not do anything more invasive unless for some reason I couldn't adopt. IVF and all those things are fine in certain circumstances and for other people, but to me, my point is to be a parent, not just to have my own genetic child. If I'm going to spend that kind of money, I may as well spend it on adopting a baby, and not risk my health so much. That's my personal philosophy, and I'm sure it's subject to change if I ran into unforseen difficulties along the way.

It's sad that people are so judgmental of others in the area of having children. At my age, people who meet me assume I must have children, and when I tell them I don't they tend to ask questions that aren't really their business or assume that I don't want them. It's a subject that is very emotional and uncertain for me, and I don't really want to talk to strangers about it. Then I get the comments about all the things I can't possibly understand because I'm not a parent. Whether that is true or not, it hurts to have it put in my face all the time. And it happens every day. The emotional part of me wants to tell the world that it's not my fault I am not a parent right now. That's how it feels, but of course it's as much because of my choices as it is because of circumstances beyond my control. And I'm usually able to see that my life would be very different right now, and not necessarily better, if I had kids. If I had kids right now, which things in my life wouldn't have happened? Would I have met my husband, traveled around the country? Would I be in grad school right now? For the most part, I am happy with where I am right now, but this one area of uncertainty does cause a lot of anxiety and sadness for me.

I was having breakfast this morning and thinking about this as I listened to Ani Difranco's latest album, Red Letter Year. One of the things I love about music is that moment when you are listening to a new album and it goes from being something unfamiliar to somethng that you really connect with and relate to. It's sort of a magical thing that happens with music. I've listened to Ani since I was about 21--which for those who are keeping track is kind of a long time--and have seen her career and her music change a lot over the years. (That's another thing I love about music, watching how artists change through the years and how their music changes with them. That drives a lot of fans crazy, but I enjoy it.) Ani has gone from being this almost militant young teenaged folksinger to a sort of artistic patron in her hometown of Buffalo, NY (she writes a lot of music about Buffalo, and has provided some jobs at her own record label that she founded as a teen, Righteous Babe Records, and recently refurbished an old church into a concert hall in the downtown area) to a new mom. Her latest album contains a lot of songs about being a new mom, and about love--topics a lot less political than her early work, but still with her unique perspective and voice. Ani is 2 years older than I am, and the fact that she had her daughter at my age now gives me a lot of hope--as do all of my friends my age who are having kids now. In this album she sings about having this incredible insecurity and self-loathing that a lot of women have and having to revisit that when she sees that her child looks so much like her and is beautiful. This is in the song "Present/Infant" ("so I'm beginning to see some problems with the ongoing work of my mind/and I've got myself a new motto/it says don't forget to have a good time/don't let the sellers of stuff have power enough to rob you of your grace/love is all over the place/there's nothing wrong with your face"). In "Landing Gear" she sings of her pregnancy and the arrival of her daughter with a tenderness and cheerful beauty that fits the topic perfectly. Her unique view of labor and birth in this song both lightens and elevates the moment: "the candles are burning down, the music is fading/your pinata is torn/it's time to be born...you're gonna love this world if it's the last thing I do/the whole extravagant joke topped in bitter sweet chocolate goo/for someone who ain't even here yet look how much the world loves you."

I don't often quote lyrics in postings, but the topics covered in this album have the potential to bring a whole new set of listeners to this incredible artist. Of course, there are still some controversial politics on this album, too, and she's definitely a liberal--it's not for everyone, but it's worth checking out. Listening makes me feel a little better about my place in the Mommy Wars--even if I'm not sure if I'm an insurgent or a casualty.

1 comment:

She Smiles said...

I hear you loud and clear on this. I am tired of people telling me that now is the time for me to have a child and my life would be richer if I did. I don't want children. My husband is indifferent. We're adults and thats our decision.

I don't understand why people can't just mind their own business on this topic. I find it incredibly rude how forward people can be about asking imploring questions about my childlessnes...