*This post was originally written in 2019. 2021 Update–We are expecting!*
I never really dreamed of having kids. Maybe it was because I was an only child and didn’t grow up taking care of younger siblings. Maybe it was because I was adopted and my own mother’s journey to becoming a mom was different than other women’s. Regardless, in my pre-planned out future, children were the noticeable blank spot.
Throughout my 20s, I would follow people from my high school on social media. I watched them get married by their twenty-fourth birthdays and like clockwork, “We’re expecting!” posts would litter my feeds complete with gender reveals, showers, and birth announcements.
I remember thinking, “seriously?” As I looked around my one-bedroom apartment, examined my less-than-ideal relationships, and struggled to have time to eat, sleep and shower amidst endless working hours, I could not possibly fathom raising tiny humans. Looking back, I was focused on other things. I wanted to get my life in order. I wanted to put my career first, and the fact was — kids just didn’t factor into that equation.
As I moved into the later half of my 20s, my college friends who waited to get married wanted to start having kids of their own. Conversations began to change. Comments like, “I can’t wait to travel, have a work/life balance, try that new restaurant, etc.” were eliminated in favor of the all-encompassing, “I just can’t wait to have kids.”
In these moments I would inevitably slap on an enthusiastic smile and muster up the high-pitched tone of voice that one must use when gushing about how wonderful motherhood is and how there is “no greater joy in life than being a mom.” But despite all of the squealing and gushing, my head would spin as I tried to wrap my brain around why any of them would want to have kids. We finally made enough money to stop eating ramen 3x a week. We finally had worked at our jobs long enough to take actual vacations. We were still living in one bedroom apartments with not a house hunt in sight. From my perspective, we finally just nudged our toes over the line into independent adulthood.
I got married when I was 29, and thankfully, neither my parents or my in-laws pushed the topic of pushing out babies. Daniel and I had preliminary talks about children in our cliche “Where do we see ourselves in x years?” conversations. We knew that we wanted to have children eventually, but that was as far as we got. We still felt the need to openly entertain how we wanted to start a family. I knew that we had gotten married later than a lot of our friends, but I still didn’t feel like I had to get pregnant for another few years. In my mind, I still had plenty of time before my biological clock ran out and there was no need to rush things. For us, kids were just beginning to be a small blip on our radar.
Now, there must be something about the act of getting married that sends a fireworks display of signals out into the rest of the universe prompting it to barrage women with EVERYTHING baby.
People that you’ve never spoken more than five words to suddenly begin asking you about your sex life. They inquire about what you are going to do with your professional life regarding maternity leave. Any time you decline a glass of wine it’s “Oh my gosh, are you expecting!?” Nope! I’d rather just have a beer instead if you’d give me a second to say so without interjecting your own assumptions). When old ladies ask if you want kids and you say, “Not for awhile yet,” their response is some version of, “Oh, I get it. You’re one of those feminists.”
It seems like every woman you know of child-bearing age is suddenly pregnant. The women in your life who are on child two or three keep mentioning that when you are expecting, they have a whole garage full of baby supplies that they can offload on you. It feels like every conversation at lunch is centered around stories of spit up, sleep training, daycare, and scraped knees. The baby-making universe becomes a plague forcing you to catch baby fever.
And let me tell you, I caught it. I don’t know if it was all of the conversations around the water cooler at work or the fact that I couldn’t make it through one hour of TV without some commercial promoting pregnancy tests (I’m looking at you, ClearBlue), but I suddenly felt this overwhelming desire to become a mother. I had this false sense of belief that becoming a mother would suddenly cause my life to fall into place. I believed that I would be overcome with a sense of purpose and that without that purpose, I was missing out on something essential for happiness.
On top of this newfound yearning to be a mother, I was also suddenly overtaken by an enormous feeling of panic that time was running out. I became more aware of and privy to women’s stories of difficulty conceiving, suffering multiple miscarriages before their rainbow babies–all of these very real factors that could lengthen the journey to have a little one. In my mind, I no longer had “plenty of time.” In my mind, I had already run out of time.
The effects of these new feelings really rocked my marriage. My self-esteem plummeted because I felt like my life meant nothing without having a child already in tow. I railed away at conversations with my husband around when we wanted to start trying. I became angry, bitter, and annoyed whenever he would present very valid reasons (finances, a possible cross-country move in the near future, work schedules, living situation etc.) to “hold off for at least a little while.” To me, waiting six months might as well have been waiting 6 years.
He did suggest that I should talk to my doctor regarding family planning because of my lack of family history, irregular cycle, and bipolar medication. I went to my OBGYN and she told me that particularly because of my medication, we should schedule a consult with someone in the high-risk pregnancy department at Mass General. We went to the consult and the information we received, although extremely beneficial, was like a punch to the stomach. More about that consult here, but in short, we needed to wait at least six months to a year to start trying–plus, I needed to think about whether or not pregnancy was the best choice for my own mental health.
Following the consultation, I broke down into tears. I felt so broken. I remember sobbing to Daniel and my mother and saying over and over again that I just couldn’t take it anymore. I was resentful of my friends with children. I felt like I had done something wrong in my life because I didn’t get married sooner. Maybe I shouldn’t have focused on my job or other aspects of my life so much–I should’ve made starting a family my top life goal. On top of everything, I just felt so alone. I shied away from talking to others about my feelings because I didn’t want to overshare or make them feel guilty or bad about having their own children. I couldn’t bring myself to go to a friend’s baby shower because I was afraid I would burst into tears. I was lost.
Because of the information from the doctor at MGH and my own emotional exhaustion, we dropped all conversation around family planning. Talking about it just reopened the wounds, and to be honest, it was eroding our marriage. We moved on with life and started focusing back on other things.
About four months after our consultation I woke up one morning and the emotional fog had lifted. I suppose it was because even though I wasn’t openly talking about my feelings, I was still silently processing everything in my head. I consider myself to be a very self-aware individual, and the question that I kept asking myself was, “Why did this bother you so much; why are you so upset over this?” It occurred to me that for my entire life up until this 29th year, having children was not the factor that I used to determine my self-worth. Kids were not one of the benchmarks I used to define my level of personal success. In fact, I had spent the majority of my life feeling like people were crazy for having kids earlier in life! But here I was, idolizing them and feeling like I was not “keeping up with the Jones’” regarding matters of reproduction.
I had gotten so swept up in what everyone else was saying that I started living my life on their terms instead of my own. I let their comments (even if good-intentioned) shape my opinion of myself. I let baby fever go untreated to the point of sepsis.
We do still want children someday down the line, but although the blip has gotten a bit bigger on our radar, the picture is still pretty blurry. When the time comes, maybe we will get lucky and it’ll happen easily, or maybe we will need some help via IVF or other assistance. Maybe we will decide to use adoption to have our child. The truth is, I just don’t know yet.
So, yes. I’m 30 and I do not have any kids. I am not trying to get pregnant. I am not inadequate. I am no less of a woman. I do consider myself to be a feminist, but that’s not why I don’t have children. And sometimes I will decline the wine just because I feel like it.