notquiteold

Nancy Roman

Not Having Children

My Mother’s Day post from last year. I hope it comforts some women who may struggle with the same sadness.

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Note: I wrote this essay fourteen years ago. This Mother’s Day, I find I am ready to share it.

NOT HAVING CHILDREN

I married when I was forty.

It was amazing at that age how many people asked me if we were going to have children. No, I’d say, We’re not having children. What is amazing to me now is that I thought I was lying. Keeping a secret.

Of course we would have children. Forty is still young.

I’m lucky. Lucky in my career, first of all. I am immodest enough to know that my business success is largely due to brains and hard work, but I am also honest enough to know that a part of my success is the result of just too much time on my hands. I work hard because I have no place better to be. I’m not so much ambitious as simply trying to pass the time as interestingly as possible. People at the office listen to me, value my opinion, and pay me pretty good money. How ungrateful I am to rather have a baby.

And on top of a great career, I found a husband at forty. A nice one. Those horrible statistics say I have a better chance of being hit by a meteor. And I want a baby too?

My husband never quite felt the same way. He’s a few years older than I, and was married before to a woman who could not have children. He got used to the idea years ago that children weren’t in his future. He has no experience with kids. He doesn’t think he’d be a good father.

He’d be a wonderful father. I’ve seen how he adores and protects our little cats – feeding them treats from the table, gently untangling knots from their coats, bragging about their exploits long after his audience has lost interest, and, in time, building small cedar coffins through his tears.

When we married, he knew I wanted a baby. He just couldn’t know the completeness of my desire

Early in our marriage, I was late with my period. My anxiety and happiness overwhelmed me. I found myself sitting still for long stretches, holding my breath, counting the seconds until my life changed forever. Two long weeks. I was terrified that it wouldn’t be true; I failed to see that my husband’s fear was different. A baby would be great…but…financially, things are tough right now, it would be career-limiting for you, we’ll be retirement age when college tuition is due, we could die leaving a child for someone else to raise… I never really listened past A baby would be great. When my period finally came, I was quietly devastated. My husband was kind and sweet, but woven through his condolences were the unmistakable threads of relief. I spent all day in bed with the shades drawn. I’d feel him every so often watching me helplessly from the doorway, as if he knew he could not enter my grief. I guess it would be nice to have a baby, he said. I know how happy it would make you.

I am the most selfish person on earth.

The following month my doctor recommended a fertility specialist. I put the referral in my purse, knowing I wouldn’t call.

But even without professional help, I was sure I would get pregnant. Every month I was sure. For ten years. I still cry when I get my period. I try to keep this private but sometimes my husband sees. He comforts me, and I hope he thinks that it’s just hormones. At my age, it probably is.

I am very jealous of mothers. I am jealous of teenage mothers. I am jealous of older mothers. I am jealous of women who get pregnant the first month they try. And I am jealous of women who finally, finally, after miscarriages and disappointments, have their babies.

And now I am fifty. We’re not having children.

Not having children doesn’t take any big adjustments. I am already living a childless life. Now it’s just permanent. It’s a very good life, and it will continue exactly as before. I just have to make some minor modifications of my imagination.

For thirty years I’ve watched mothers with their children and stored little scenes for my own future. I have stolen other women’s moments like a shoplifter who keeps all her pilfered items in the closet, afraid to wear them. My closet is full.

But these clothes don’t fit me any more. It’s time to pack up these images likes bundles for Goodwill.

The first day of school, Mother’s Day cards and macaroni necklaces. Ice skating, singing Old MacDonald in the car. Chicken pox and computer games; soccer practice. Tantrums. Cheerios in the sofa cushions, bicycles in the driveway.

They are such little pictures. Insignificant really. Someone else’s memories. Time to give them up. We’re not having children.

At the restaurant a young boy rests his head for a moment on his mother’s breast. She smooths his hair. He returns to his pizza. Last year I would have certainly snatched up that moment. But now I have no place to put it. I let it go.

There is an emptiness where my vision of the future used to be. But not forever. I am a women with aspirations after all. So I know that there will be new images. Maybe warm fireplaces and good books. Fresh flowers on the table. Beaches. Sunsets. Conversations. Porch swings. I tend to think these new dreams will be quieter dreams, but I know that they are already waiting for me.

All these years I have been saving money for a rainy day that was secretly a college education. But we’re not having children. The money has been redirected.

My husband and I are building a home in the country. It’s a wonderful home on a breathtakingly beautiful piece of land. My husband and I designed the house ourselves. So it has almost everything we ever wanted.

Remember the movie, Grand Canyon? I don’t think the critics liked it, but I did. In one storyline, Mary McDonnell is out jogging and finds an abandoned baby in the bushes. She keeps it. Her husband is not crazy about the idea, but he is Kevin Kline and fabulous and their relationship is perfect and they have such a healthy outlook on life that you know it will work out beautifully.

Sometimes when I am out walking, I keep my eyes on the shrubbery.

deovolenti

Photo credit: deovolenti (Flickr)

29 Comments

  1. Oh, my heart hurts reading this for so many reasons. As someone who didn’t get pregnant –we adopted Jacob — I feel the monthly heartache (although mine were always accompanied by horrible news stories). Everybody, everybody has secret heartaches and we should all remember that. And everybody has some holes in their hearts from loved ones who are no more and from those who never were.

    Wishing you peace tomorrow.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you. I am mostly okay with it, but every once in while, I am overwhelmed with regret. It passes. And we all have our regrets.

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  2. Reblogged this on ugiridharaprasad.

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  3. hugs

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I know how you feel. I was told I was pregnant in 1978, but it was a mistake. It didn’t help that my sister had just had her first and that was the only topic of conversation in the parental home or that she was just arriving, already there or just leaving. Everywhere I went I saw new mothers or very pregnant mothers-to-be. It didn’t seem fair. My marriage failed, so in a way it was a disguised blessing. The next relationship saw a possibility, but that failed too. I met Hubby in ’89, married in ’91 and ‘fell’ shortly after my father died.. I was forty, and lost our baby at 5 weeks, so hadn’t really got used to the idea.
    Sometimes i feel empty and inadequate, but when I see how my nieces have turned out or the brats that are wearing their parents down and into debt for the latest gizmos or designer outfits, I’m glad we don’t have kids.
    I have a good man who adores me, warts and all, and a good life, which I wouldn’t change.
    I can ooh and aahh over new arrivals and give them back quite easily. I’ve lost count of the nieces, nephews, greats and great greats, and wouldn’t know them if they knocked on my door. They have no time for me, don’t know me (or want to) either, and that’s fine. Times have changed, and The Walton Life is a myth..

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    • Oh, I am objective enough to see that not all of parenthood is wonderful. But I do miss those little wonderful moments.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I remember being witness to my nephew’s first steps way back in 1968. It was indeed a wonderful moment.

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  5. A heartrendingly beautiful piece, honest, touching, real and relateable. Thank you for sharing this intimate part of yourself with us.

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  6. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Beautiful!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. This is heartbreakingly beautiful. I want to hug you. x

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  9. I hear you. 😘

    Liked by 1 person

  10. bobbi

    I chose to not have babies when I was much younger living a life of dreams with my then husband. It has been a decision that I have not really regretted but at times have wondered what my life would be like if I had children. It was never that I disliked kids…it was that my Mom told me to do all the traveling and wild things I wanted to do before I started a family. I never got done doing those things. Now at 63 with grown stepchildren I have faced the disapproval of some of them that I made that decision. To those young women, I am an outcast….a person who certainly must not know how to love or care for anyone. To them, I can’t possibly know the heartbreak of telling some one you love that they can’t have something. I can’t possibly know the pain of watching some one you love who is sick and you can’t make them well. They are far superior to me because they have had children or at least their words and actions express that. They are sure that their love is much stronger and more powerful than mine.
    I am saying these things to you because I know how much their criticism hurts me and I chose to put myself in that position…long ago, but still. I can’t imagine taking on that kind of criticism if I had truly desired children and did not have them. Our society treats women differently who did not have children. But we need to remember that those women have hearts full of love and know how to express it and care for those they love. To treat them with disrespect devalues the love they do share.
    Happy Mother’s Day to you….I am sure that your fur-children feel your love everyday as well as your husband.

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    • One of the hardest parts sometimes is mothers telling us that we can’t understand… like that really doesn’t make us feel just a little worse.

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  11. I was medically unable to have children (of course, now I’m way too old). Although I never had an overwhelming maternal instinct, I did have a longing now and then. Now I get sad about not having grandchildren – all the fun and little of the responsibility. Neither of my brothers had their own children either, although they both married women with children. We had loving parents and a great childhood so I’m not sure why. I have a terrific life – and I know you do too – who knows how it would have been different if we had children. I loved Grand Canyon also… one of my all-time favorite movies.

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    • I hope that Reincarnation is real, so we can try it again, and see how it turns out.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. This was so sad, it is sad when a person or couple want children and it doesn’t happen, I don’t feel that it is a woman’s right to have children some women don’t want children and that is fine with me and some women are terrible mothers and shouldn’t have children but when a nice, lovely woman can’t have children because it just doesn’t happen it is sad and I feel sad for them.

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    • I know people who chose to be childless, and I don’t question their decision. But when I see people who are terrible parents and the children are suffering, while others are heartbroken because they cannot have children, I wonder about the unfairness of it all.

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  13. This is such a beautiful, honest and important post. I experienced some of this when I (unsuccessfully) attempted to have a second child. I was blindsided by the emotional toll and shocked at others’ insensitivities. Mother’s Day is such a complicated day for so many and for so many reasons. Your post eloquently captures the lonely agony many women are experiencing. Thank you for putting words to it. ❤️

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    • Thank you. I thought the pain would lessen as I aged, but now I am 65 and I am still haunted by my childlessness.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Beautiful story. I can’t imagine not having children but then again I often wonder about my choices.

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    • I recognize too that there are ways I have benefited by not having kids – career advancement, travel, being good to myself without compromise. These are nice things too, but I think I would rather have a family.

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  15. Thank you Dianna. We don’t always get everything we want in life, and I have had many blessings. Sometimes though, I am overwhelmed with regret for that one gift I never received.

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  16. Barbara

    This is so well written, and it reminds me of an article (http://www.our-kids.org/archives/Holland.html). The article is about special needs children (not quite relevant), but touches on what happens when you end up with different dreams than you expected.

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  17. At 40, after five years of trying to conceive both on our own & through fertility treatments, with nothing but a stillbirth at 6 months to show for it, my husband & I decided we were done. That was 15 years ago. We knew we could have a good life together, just the two of us, because we already did — and we do. But it’s hard not to think of what might have been. It’s hard to so often be the odd woman out. I still find myself hiding out & practicing strategic avoidance on Mother’s Day every year. Thanks for this great post. I just discovered your blog a few weeks ago & am really enjoying it!

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  18. Wendy

    I stumbled upon your blog while trying to find articles on women who could give me some insight on going from 2 children to 3. We are currently trying to decide if we want to try for a third. And by ‘we’ I mean me, as my husband is all for it. I’ve read it Atleast a half dozen times in the last few days. It is so honest and so open that I just had to comment and say thank you. Someone very close to me has been trying to get pregnant for Atleast 3 years and although she isn’t open to talk about it, reading this makes me even more aware of her feelings. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences with us. Huge hugs to you:)

    W

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  19. Joy

    I am a childless 39 yo…hubby is 46. We kind of just left it up to the Big Man to decide for us because I had some past medical issues that I knew would make it difficult. We raised our niece for 3 yo until she passed away at 17 and we have 2 angel babies. The “what-ifs” suck.

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