Many moons again, I very seriously did not want children. I had a vision of my life that included a big city, well-tailored clothes and sky-high heels, perhaps appearances on Saturday Night Live — most likely as a host.
Delusions of grandeur I suppose.
But I came down out of the clouds and dove head first into science.
I had a new vision of my life. Long hours in the lab, strokes of pure brilliance that led to world-changing discoveries. Maybe making SNL only as a weekend update, a joke about how someone so pretty ended up being a surprise genius.
Guest star for one sketch, but only as my busy and important schedule allows.
Clearly not cured — delusions still present.
I don’t think I ever said most of those things out loud, but we all dream, don’t we?
There are some things I did say out loud though.
While in my first delusion — no children. I didn’t want them. I wouldn’t have time for them and I had never felt maternal in the slightest. My sister would be the one to have 2.5 babies, a dog, and a house with a white picket fence. My high rise, luxury apartment building would be no place for a crib.
By the time I’d made it to the second delusion, I could see myself actually getting married and maybe having a family. But as a selfless world-saver, who was I to bring my own child into the world when there were so many others that needed love? No, I’d adopt. Maybe from a third world country. That’s what I’d do. It’d fit with the image. And no one could tell me it wasn’t a good thing to do.
And there was a point, on a day where I’m sure that I was trying to impress someone, that I know I said it out loud. That someday, I’d adopt because there are just so many children in this world that need love and I’d undoubtedly be in the position to give it to them.
In the years immediately following, I thought relatively little about that incredibly vain comment. I was too busy slogging my way through grad school. Perhaps the most beautiful thing about that slog was that it thoroughly cured me of my aforementioned delusions for two reasons. First, I tried living in DC, the big city of my first high-heeled fantasies and found it to be a poor fit for my real-life personality. I’m a midwestern girl through and through and after a year or two on the east coast, I knew I’d be back near the Great Lakes before too long. And second, after six years of 24/7/365 hard work and intense scrutiny, normalcy was all I actually wanted — a job that felt meaningful without requiring hand-cuffs to anything round the clock.
I found all that and more happiness than I had imagined, even in my wildest delusions, in moving to Marshfield, in marrying Seth. And then we tried to do the next bit… the baby carriage. And I fully recognized the arrogance of my earlier comments, in thinking that I ever even had a choice.
It’s taken on a whole new meaning now, as we accept defeat and think about what comes next. Adoption is not necessarily off the table, but it’s certainly not a Right Now thing and it’s also not as simple as going to the baby store and picking out a baby. There’s an awful lot more to it than that and perhaps more than anything, it’s not about saving anyone but myself, my husband’s and my dream of having children. What better to exemplify the difference between 20ish and 33?
The reason I bring it up again, especially because it’s mortifying to admit the things I thought about once upon a time, and even worse to cop to the horrifyingly arrogant things that I said, is because the universe seems to be hammering it home to me at the moment. It’s this lecture from others that I most dread, and yet the phrase I most often hear — there are so many children out there that need love, you know!
YES! I do know. In fact, I know it so well that I said it myself more than a decade ago, like I knew what it meant.
Now, it actually makes me angry. Oh really… if there are so many kids that need out there that need love, then why don’t you adopt? What makes you so special that you get to have biological children, the regular way? Are you going to give me the $40,000+ and make sure a family picks me, considers me worthy, helps me to get through that agony and sits with me as I worry that a birth-mother might change her mind? Are you going to walk with me as I explain the concept that looks to any adopted child like not being wanted? And if they are a different color than me, are you going to make sure your children are sensitive to that or do I have to make sure that mine is extra-resilient?
Why do you get to assume, now that I cannot have children of my own, that the unloved children of the world have somehow become my responsibility?
That’s really the crux of it. That because the choice is gone, there is now a responsibility instead. That in trying as hard as we did in the first place, we somehow signed a contract that leaves us bound to the notion of children by any means — because so many children need love.
And consequent to that sense of responsibility shirked… comes the guilt.
I mean, there are a lot of children that need love and I do want children. I do have a lot of love to give. Is it, then, my responsibility? Is it the right way forward? Should we even have the right to think about it? Or is it simply a given that we ought to accept and move forward with.
Fortunately, my rational, 33-year-old mind, can bring me back to reality… and the creeping arrogance recognizable even in these considerations of responsibility. The fact of the matter is, no matter how much love I have to give, I will never be any child’s savior. To assume that motherhood via fostering and/or adoption is something I should do, or the right thing, the logical next step, or really anything other than a privilege and the ultimate fulfillment of love and family, is not ok.
Yes, there are a lot of children in this world, with families and without, that need love. But more than that, children deserve real love. They deserve to be wanted, to be dreamt about, to be wishes fulfilled. Not responsibilities to be met, logical next steps, pet projects, or consolation prizes. So until we are in the right place, heart, mind, and soul, I won’t stop being angry over that little lecture. And I won’t commit to the next step, no matter how logical it may seem to anyone else.
One of the most interesting things about infertility to me has been the way it has forced us to make decisions intentionally. There’s nothing wrong with having sex, getting pregnant, and raising children. But at a certain point in that process, nothing’s going to stop the train — and the train is a big one, a looooong one, an expensive and noisy and time-consuming, loud, and messy one. There’s little time to think, prepare, or even react. You just do. Or at least, I imagine that’s what it’s like.
When the train isn’t coming, you suddenly have a thousand different choices about how to get from point A to point B. Starting with, is point B even the destination you want? Have you considered C? What about D? Maybe even just staying put? Perhaps a train’s not even the best way to get there. Maybe a flight would be better — but can you afford first class or should you go economy, and potentially go more than once? Would it be worthwhile to rent a car first, see how far you can get that way before deciding on something more pricey? Perhaps you could rent or buy transportation from someone else? This metaphor is getting out of control… but I think you can see my point.
When things don’t “just happen,” it all becomes rather complex and you are forced to stand there on the platform and consider all the alternatives, with nothing but time to do so. Maybe even running head-first toward 9 3/4 once or twice, just to check and see if that’s an option.
Of course, standing there, you understand that there are many children who need love… but are you the right person to give it to them? Genuinely and as deserved? Another decision, one that takes time and discernment. Not lectures, not logic.