Earlier this year, I heard a tick. Sneaky, impish, catching me completely off guard in a space that had long known only silence.
Yet there it buzzed, with an almost mocking piquancy, as I hovered between amusement and panic.
I was reminiscing about my grandmother, as the eight-year anniversary of her death approached, when the thought skulked in: If I had a daughter, I’d name her Una, after my beloved Granny. While startling, it was the thought that followed which rattled me even more: “Imagine how much fun you’d have being pregnant with Zane.”
Um, hello? I was sure my mind had been invaded by alien pranksters as such wayward thoughts steamrollered the protests that didn’t rise with the immediacy I expected. Apparently, my biological clock wasn’t broken after all, as I’d long joked, but merely slumbering. And here, in an unguarded moment of solitude, in the final minutes before bedtime, it had decided to make itself known. One tiny chirp cast into the unsuspecting stillness. One wild imagining lobbed against the certainty that motherhood, at least biologically speaking, was not to be in my future.
I do not know when I decided I didn’t want to have kids. I’d held the assumption that I would loosely in my young adult years. It was a possibility tethered to what felt more like expectation than natural inclination, a vague prospect tinted by the same fairy-tale allure that convinces women their ultimate fulfillment rests in the arms of a mate.
Of course, I had played house as a girl, doting on my dolls and tending to an imaginary husband with some sense that I was enacting an inevitable reality. And I can still remember how attached I was to Ramona, the toddler of family friends, when we lived in Barbados, and how I loved holding the babies of various cousins in St. Lucia. As I began to date, I even imagined raising a family with some of my partners, a picture as chimerically fleeting as my longings to one day live in a lighthouse or roam the world with my favorite singer, India.Arie.
At some point, as I consciously grew into adulthood, I decided I did not want to have children. The responsibility, the commitment, the self-sacrifice — these were all sobering considerations in a sacred contract I would never want to enter into lightly.
While I rejoiced in the happiness of my friends who became parents, as well as my younger brother, I knew I wasn’t ready for a life that would revolve around the needs of a little one who would grow up flourishing, and at times perhaps even floundering, in my care.
Admittedly selfish, I couldn’t envision children fitting on the map I’d plotted for myself. And while women around me took to motherhood with relish, or coveted the experience with an instinctive yearning, I felt not even a twinge of longing to know the gift of bringing a life into this world.
Without that biological urge driving me, I thought that should I ever choose to have children, I would adopt.
When my niece, Josie, was born, I adored her with a love that spilled instantly and effortlessly from a heart brimming with appreciation for the blessing I knew she would be. But rather than implanting a desire to have my own child, that ever-expanding love made me yearn to be a nurturing presence in the lives of children in general, which is why I began volunteering with Rubye’s Kids in Jenkintown, why I dream of traveling to Africa to work in the arts with kids, why I am often so easily moved by their spontaneity, wisdom and joy and a resilience that shines through in even the most hopeless of circumstances. I may not want to be a mother but I believe I have a mothering heart.
Ever since that small voice spoke to me from the depths of that heart earlier this year, however, I have been cautiously open to whatever else it may have to say. When I shared with two dear friends my rogue thoughts about possibly having a daughter that I would name Una with my boyfriend Zane one day, they both encouraged me to play with the idea like a game of dress-up, to simply let those possibilities bounce around, without any pressure, to see where they would lead.
I do think Zane would make an amazingly conscientious and devoted father, and he has always wanted to have kids. But most of the time, sentimental daydreaming aside, I am certain of my stance: Without a genuine and imperative calling to motherhood, and a willingness to yield my life to the totality of the experience, the path is not for me.
On a recent trip to visit Zane’s parents, his sisters were talking about their plans to have kids with their significant others when his stepmom turned to me to ask if I wanted children. I replied honestly that I didn’t think so but wasn’t sure, though I know that time, and very possibly Zane, will not wait for me to decide. But I did mention the possibility of adopting a baby or toddler one day, a choice, his stepmom reminded me, which is fraught with risks, as so much of a child’s development is determined by the prenatal period and early formative years.
When I shared that conversation with Zane on our way home, I began to cry as I spoke of the injustice and heartbreak of so many orphaned children who will never have the chance to grow up in a loving home. I know I cannot save them all, but I thought, why bring another child into the world if I can make a difference in the life of one who is already here, thrust, through no fault of its own, into abject circumstances? Though I acknowledged the truth of his stepmom’s words, I noted the many seemingly healthy and loving couples who do everything right throughout a pregnancy only to have their children born with unforeseen conditions.
“Either way you look at it, it’s all a walk of faith,” said Zane. He was referring to the decision to adopt or to naturally conceive. But I also saw the wisdom of his words in reflecting on my journey, as well as the one we’re traveling together. He’s not ready to be a father, but he does want at least one biological child of his own someday. We each know how the other feels, and we love each other deeply.
And so we walk, open and curious, trusting that when the time is right, we will find our way into an answer, a knowing, a hope for our future that bridges this complex divide.
– Life in LaLa Land, published in The Intelligencer and Bucks County Courier Times