Exactly twenty years ago, I was saying “I do” to Mr. Wrong. And throughout the following 7 ½ miserable years, I denied my procreative urge because I knew neither the marriage nor I could handle the responsibility. I eventually walked away from the abuse and knew a man existed for me who was kind and generous and would make a good father for my children and … Poof…there he was.
Mr. Right and I partied like it was 1999 (because it was) and happily put on a collective forty pounds. I made an honest man of him when we exchanged “I do’s” behind our new home overlooking a river. Four years later, we conceived and I gave birth to our boy.
But now five more years have passed, I’m into my 40’s, I’m living happily ever after, and my biological coo-coo clock has coo-cooed. I have asked myself, is this one child enough for me now that I finally have Mr. Right Husband! Even if it is possible to encore this feat called childbirth, is it really what I want?
I felt so good about everything so far. We traveled and enjoyed each other. We had taken our time creating our baby boy. I was about to turn 40 when he was born. So we were the oldest couple in our birthing class and the only ones who wanted to be surprised by the gender of our child. No biggie.
I refused the amniocentesis for testing old broads for in vitro baby defects. I said it was bad form to freak out the pregnant lady with a two week wait for the results. If the child was special, then we would rise to the occasion. I literally laughed his pointy little head right out of me because I had the nerves in my spine temporarily turned off. But then I got him home and was totally freaked out at the enormity of my new responsibility, despite my husband’s constant reassurances.
I know firsthand how kids get screwed up by their parents. And that was all I knew about children. I was more than slightly neurotic for the first two years of my child’s life. When we had our family planning conversation on our honeymoon in the Bahamas, I’d asked my husband if two children would be OK with him. “Sure”, he said. Now, wild eyed and barf stained, I asked my husband if it would be OK if this was the only one we had. He said, “Sure, it’s your uterus”. I sighed with relief. No more family planning. I could just focus on helping my child to be the best he could be.
Then one day, I was stooped over my garden bed, weeding or transplanting, and I suddenly heard that weird bleating noise that is a newborn’s cry. And I looked up to see a woman I knew already a mother of two (and who I had apparently not seen in nine months) strolling toward me accompanied by her best girlfriend and her newborn baby wailing in the stroller.
Jealousy tickled my brain and suddenly I wanted a new baby (and a new best friend). I was awash in this title wave of fond memories of the baby experience, totally disregarding any memories of the thrush, GERD, or constipation of my infant. I was high on a primal memory of pure and instant baby love and mommy protective power. The hope and possibility of motherhood that makes you love the concept of a baby so much. Babies are so lovely and yummy that sometimes, after you breathe in their smell, you just want to take a little nibble from their head. It’s a Mommy thing, trust me.
There were quite a lot of reasons (or excuses) to not be suddenly almost obsessed with the possibility of another child. I didn’t want to be forty pounds overweight and pregnant again. I had no health insurance which meant the state would be footing the bill. No welfare babies, I’d sworn. My life was almost mine again and diapers were about to be a bad memory. I was still not using any birth control except abstinence, which I had used pretty liberally for those first two and a half years.
I decided whatever was meant to be would be. I asked my husband if maybe we could try for the two kid thing after all and he said, “It was (still) my uterus”. Then we played catch up. But nothing resulted from our new affair. I hoped desperately it would just happen so the decision would be made already. Nothing. So I went and got an ovulation test kit to be in complete control of knowing the ideal time to seduce my husband monthly. By then, the “what if” was feeling like a lot more work than I thought it would be.
This past year, I looked in the mirror and noticed my body’s telltale signs of aging: my grandmother’s sinewy neck, ex-smoker pucker lines around my mouth, and puffy eyelids. I look weird and slightly psychotic in pictures when I smile my large and genuine smile. My periods have taken a nasty turn since having my son. Like the periods when I was a teenager, it all wants to exit my body in the same twelve hour time slot.
Then, last year, I developed a painful bladder “thing” that eventually got diagnosed as interstitial cystitis (all-the-time-owey bladder). It was made even worse by the horrendous period. After three months of bladder torture, the symptoms subsided as suddenly as they had come on. Of course, it’s one of “those” kind of “diseases” whose causes are unknown and can reoccur and remiss randomly. This tale’s plot had long since thickened. Desperate to keep the pain and symptoms at bay, I decided to ask the doctor to re-prescribe an oral contraceptive which might calm my hormones and my body down. And that is when the reality hit me. If I chose to do this, I’m saying I am all done with pondering my childbearing potential. I give up. This was the huge brick wall of fate looming ahead en route to my future. The decision I made would be a collision with my destiny.
Undoubtedly, I have felt my biological purpose on earth has been to assure the survival of my genetics, family, and species. This conceptual responsibility is accompanied by some heavy psychological baggage. Many women may feel like failures if they didn’t fulfill this procreative destiny while others decide their own spiritual fulfillment must be sacrificed for the cause. My personal choice to multiply was based on sharing my love with this wonderful man and creating someone more for us to love. We got lucky.
For some perspective, I looked at my expectations of and purposes for motherhood? I had a ridiculous notion that I would never be annoyed by my well raised, respectful, and mature son. I’ve spent the better part of his threes and fours aggravated by him. But I also knew I would not resent the demands of caretaking this sometimes ungrateful child as his existence was not his choice. That is still a concept I am still good with.
And I’ve promised myself not to be the martyr when his ungrateful little butt breaks up with me at puberty and never glances back as he leaves home bound for better horizons. “You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth” wrote the poet Kahlil Gibran. I comprehend that my son’s existence is not about me. My purpose was to gift him to the world.
Am I grateful that I got the opportunity to bear the love of my life’s child? Absolutely. Do I feel guilty I may not provide my son with a sibling with whom he can compare complaints about his parents? You betcha. I realize that if this is my decision, I need to just make it. My husband seems to have already moved on.
I don’t want this choice to be based on the “How old will I be when my kid graduates or marries” question. There are plenty of grandmothers out their raising their grandchildren without complaining. What else do I base this done’ decision on? Maybe I choose to continue developing my life, potential, and happiness so that I can remain a good parent to this beautiful little boy. The one I am so lucky to have with my fantastic Mr. Right Husband.
I can feel a good cry in my future when I think of choosing to not try for another child. I told the Mr. I may need to have an Irish wake to honor the passing of my childbearing years. I need a ceremonial rite of passage through the doorway to the next part of my life. Perhaps my destiny lies with other people’s children as a role model or a mentor. Maybe I will pen an apology to my son for his apparent lack of siblings. Or I’ll read aloud at my wake, my thoughts on the meaning of my life. Maybe not. Perhaps I’ll attempt to get really hammered as if I weren’t the old party pooper I fear I have become. In the end, either way, it has always been my decision, whatever decision I decide to make. I suppose time will be the only one to tell.