What I’m meant to be doing.

One of my co-workers had twins in January.  And they are beautiful.  They were at the Center on Friday, and I got to sit with both of them for a while — more time with the boy than the girl, and all of it a nice, fun, cuddle-a-four-month-old time.

This, which I didn’t say when I wrote last week, is why I was sobbing in the shower.  Not because my co-worker has babies but because I still haven’t reconciled my heart to the painful truth that I don’t have one and cannot see any way that I will ever have one.

I keep thinking I’ve come to terms with this.  And then I’m holding someone’s baby, or listening to someone talk about their baby, or seeing one of the four hundred thousand pregnant and newly-parenting moms who seem to be everywhere that I am … and I’m kicked in the chest again.  I haven’t come to terms with anything.  I’ve just papered over the gaping hole in the wall.

Yesterday included one of the things that pleases me the least.  I picked up K, the bigger of the twins, and held him on my left side, make the requisite goofy baby noises in his face.  Four of my co-workers, including K’s mother, were standing and sitting around me:

K’s Mother: “Oh, Stacie, you look good with him.”

Co-worker 1: “I know, doesn’t she?  You look completely comfortable.”

Co-worker 2: “Oh, you’ve got to get one of those, Stacie.”

K’s Mother: “I keep telling her she needs to have one.”

Co-worker 1: “What are you waiting for?”

Co-worker 3: “Stacie, you’re a natural.  This is what you were meant to be doing.”

What, exactly, is it that I’m meant to be doing?  Holding some other woman’s baby so that you can all remind me that I don’t have one?  What am I waiting for?  Um … a functional reproductive system, actually.  Oh, I should go out and ‘get one’ for myself?  And how do you suggest I do that?  Do you have a coupon for the baby store?  Can I win one at Bingo?  Or maybe I should just walk away with K. 

My co-workers aren’t trying to be mean.  Of course not.  But they are also not stupid.  They know I’m single; they know I’m one of the oldest women working in the building.  If I don’t have a baby at this point, it has to be fairly certain that I’m not in a position to run out and have one … or even just go and ‘get’ one.

I don’t really know what the point of any of the things they said might be.  Any time I hold a baby — no matter how much that baby could never be mine (White babies? Asian babies? I get the same response.) — someone has to tell me how ‘natural’ I look.  As if childless people couldn’t possibly have a clue how what to do with a child.  As if our first instinct would be to hold the baby up by the heels or some such stupid thing.  But not me.  No, I look ‘natural’ holding a baby.  Yes, thank you.  It’s good to know that I don’t seem like some kind of monster who should never be around infants.  If only I had the kind of body that enabled me to produce an infant.  Unfortunately, successful pregnancy is about more than the photo op.

And I don’t really know what my point is, either.  Just that it hurts to have people say those things to me.  And it’s hard to bite my tongue when what I really want to do is tell them to shut the fuck up, to not be so insensitive.  If I wanted to have a child and could have a child, I’d have one.  If I wanted to have a child and don’t have one, how unpleasant do you think it might be for me to have you telling me — every single time you see me holding a baby — that I ought to have one of my own?  If I didn’t want to have a child, how annoying do you think it might be for me to have you telling me that I’ve made the wrong decision and I really should have one?

Sigh.

_____

Yes, I wrote once before about considering adoption, about starting that thought process again.  I haven’t set it aside.  Not exactly, but every day I feel like I’m moving a little further away from that possibility.  There are so many pieces to put into place before I could be looked at as any kind of halfway good option, and every time I think I’ve begun to figure out one piece, a mountain of other things start piling up in the wings. I’ve been following Erika and Jenn’s process, so happy and excited for them, so much more clear how far behind them I am in anything that could be called a process on my end.

So what am I saying?  That I’m going to keep holding other people’s babies and playing with other people’s kids because I love babies and I love kids … I just don’t want people telling me how I ought to have a kid of my own because eventually that will get ugly.  Maybe one day I’ll a) be further along in this process and feeling more optimistic about a positive outcome or b) finally be at peace with the fact that I’m not going to have or get a child, and I’ll have found a way to rework the picture of myself that’s been in my heart since childhood.

(Given how hard writing this post has made me cry, that last is a long way off.)

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19 thoughts on “What I’m meant to be doing.

  1. molly

    I am sensitive to this issue because of close relatives who have similar situations.
    My ex-boss once told my colleague who has no children (and has never told me why she has no children — and I have never asked) that he was having her do the extra work because “Molly has stuff she has to do with her kids, you know.” I did rant to her about that a bit, and she just waved it away. There are some areas of life that really are private.
    I think it’s appropriate to respond with something like, “You should develop your sensitivity about childlessness. And no, I REALLY don’t want to talk about it. You should just learn that this is a issue for people, and actually, I am irritated that I had to be your educator.”

    1. There are so many ways that childless people are told that their lives aren’t as full as parents’ lives. Is it just a coincidence that it’s always the three childless women in my office who work the latest on nights when grant proposals are due … even when the proposals are to support the programs of other women who went home and be with their kids? I don’t have a problem with leaving work at a reasonable hour to be with your kids, but if you know you’re going to do that, it’s your responsibility to be sure the proposal is done before you leave. Don’t just expect the non-mothers to cover for you.

      A thousand little and big ways.

      I wonder if I could ever be strong enough in those moments to say what you suggest. I like it very much, but — when it happens at the moments that I’ve got a baby in my arms — I’m always so close to crying, I don’t know if I could pull it off.

  2. I e-mailed you so not much more to add except I think it’s perfectly appropriate to say what Molly suggests above. And that I think it’s far worse to say those kinds of things to people who might want a child than to someone who doesn’t. When you don’t you mostly just laugh at the people who insist you should have one. I find it kind of funny. If I wanted one I’d be annoyed.

  3. I was at a birthday party yesterday with about six couples and their dozen kids…people can be incredibly insensitive around the issue of parenting–and I’m always amazed at the intelligent women I know who have kids and then “join” that “mother cult.” I’m coming to terms with the fact that I don’t want to parent; I, too, have considered adoption, and am keeping that option open, but know I’m not stable enough now (financially, emotionally) to create a home for a child. I have reproductive issues, too, but don’t share that with members of the cult b/c they assume that’s the “natural” reason for not having kids, whereas just opting out of parenting is “unnatural” and makes me some kind of freak. Same with the coupling convention: if you’re a lesbian and you’re single, that’s ok, but if you’re straight–why don’t you have a man!?!?! We must start imagining and modeling different kinds of communities where there’s a place for everyone–a way for everyone to contribute, and have their needs & desires fulfilled.

    1. Oh, the single thing is crazy-making, too. One of my students told me last week that she had a dream that she was looking at photos from my wedding album. “That’s my dream for you, Miss Stacie. I want to see you married and happy.” Oh. Ok.

      Your last line reminds me of the pitch a friend gave me about joining a co-housing group she was going to move into. They seemed to have this idea, too, that the community could be that kind of place. It sounded nice … but also like I would be looked as a built-in babysitter for the parenting families. Not sure that’s exactly what I want, either! But I like the idea. And I keep looking at co-housing for exactly this reason. Maybe one day … or perhaps someone will develop a nice little co-housing community in Jamaica?

  4. I know a few people that have dealt with infertility – and it has been a horrendously painful thing. My sister, who loved kids, was unable to have her own due to her cancer treatments. People can be rather insensitive with their comments. Sometimes people really don’t think before opening their mouths. I’m sure I’ve been guilty of putting my foot in my mouth. I’m so sorry you’re hurting right now.

    1. Thanks, Gwen. I just wish people could think for a moment before speaking. I really am going to try to find a way to respond the way Molly suggests above — or some really sugar-coated version of same because I’m such a wimp! We’ll see how that works.

  5. My friend Marie works with the elderly, and co-housing is her plan for us, too! That our core group of friends–single black women without kids–will buy one large home or several homes on the same block. That way we’ll be able to pool resources and help each other out as we age…I was like, “I love you guys, but I can’t live with y’all.” Community is imagined, so the dream is more satisfying than the reality most of the time. Ironically, I need a community that lets me be alone 80% of the time! I don’t babysit and I don’t do diapers or romper room–but I do like to think I “help” my parent-friends in other ways. I’m the book aunty, and I’m dreamy and strange when their parents have to be realistic and no-nonsense. Your reply reminds me of that Essex Hemphill poem, “Commitments,” where everyone in his family takes advantage of his presence/labor/availability yet overlooks his loneliness and misery. That’s definitely not the community we want…

    1. Years ago one of the women in my writers’ group had a big 10-bedroom house in the Catskills, and we used to talk about all of us retiring there eventually (for all of them that was a little closer, there are about twenty years between me and the next youngest member of the group!). Sadly, the house is gone and our group is almost completely changed. But I’ve always liked that idea. Fox and I talked about it a little for a while, finding a house we could buy together. Room for all the pets she’d want to have, room for my garden and my crafts. Even though we’re so very different, she’s always been the person I live most easily with.

      And wow. I just googled the Hemphill poem. It’s beautiful, but you’re so right: not the community we want. I feel myself being pushed there — more by friends than family, but pushed all the same. And I need to push back …

  6. Isn’t it wonderful when people transpose their values of what matters most onto your life? (Sarcasm.)

    People can be such jerks, even when they don’t mean to be. Clueless. That’s what they are — clueless.

    And while J and I have begun the process (we’re probably knee-deep at this point), we still ask ourselves The Big Questions, or at least I do — is this my path? Am I meant to raise children? How will I be as a parent? Why do I want this? Is my life complete without it? Will they like me?

    I praise you for NOT knowing, for NOT jumping on the train before buying your ticket or even choosing your destination. And, really? A) You are already a “mother” as a teacher and 2) It’s never too late for anything — to change your mind or not to change your mind.

    1. A) You are already a “mother” as a teacher and 2) It’s never too late for anything — to change your mind or not to change your mind.

      Thank you for this. It’s perfectly said, far better than I was able to.

  7. Thank you both, Erika and Fox. I’ve been asking myself these questions for many years. I keep talking myself around to being ‘fine’ with childlessness, to believing I’ll find some other path to put myself on … and then I keep coming back around to how not fine I am.

    I definitely feel like a mother to some of my students. How could I not feel that way when they so clearly need some serious, unconditional mothering? Since my very first teaching years I’ve responded to my students from a maternal place. In that way, I guess it really is something ‘natural.’

  8. molly

    this is a good discussion.
    I think people don’t realize that “family” is no solution to “loneliness”.
    Good parents raise children so that they will leave them, and that no marriage is forever. Half of them break up and in the other half, somebody dies first.
    I think a realistic long-term solution, for those of us who do not like the idea of being alone, lies in commitment to a group of people. That is what “family” should mean.
    I don’t know what village life was like, and sometimes I think it was probably much worse than loneliness. I have never been alone, so I don’t know if I would hate it or love it. Sometimes I feel very limited by my inexperience with the single life.
    I am sorry if I gave you the impression that you “should” say anything to an insensitive person. Maybe just “you are being insensitive” is enough. Or just the look on your face. Send out those death rays! I don’t think there is any obligation to be nice about this, any more than there is an obligation to be nice about racism or sexism.
    You are “meant” to be a really cool person.

    1. I think a realistic long-term solution, for those of us who do not like the idea of being alone, lies in commitment to a group of people. That is what “family” should mean.

      I like that. It makes me think of what I saw in Jamaica after Hurricane Dean tore through the community where I stay. As soon as the wind died down and the light started to come up, everyone was out on the street checking on everyone else. People were immediately pulling together supplies, mobilizing to help those who had lost roofs, etc. Yes, it’s an extreme case, but that kind of effort is created out of day to day closeness, a sense that everyone is part of the same community family.

      Ok, there are plenty of things about small-town life that are less than ideal (the whole everyone-knows-all-your-business part leaves a little to be desired!), but there are so many nice things about it, too.

      Maybe that’s part of the reason I keep going back to the same place in Jamaica: I can feel that I could make a place for myself in that community, that I would find a way to make a ‘family’ even on my own.

      Like Zetta said above, I need the kind of ‘closeness’ that also always for me to be alone a lot. I don’t always want the people I love and need to be all up on me, you know?

      Don’t worry, I certainly wasn’t thinking you were telling me what I should do. I liked your suggested response very much. I wish I could do the Death Ray Stare (what, in my family, we like to call The Face of Beligerance). My mother and my sister have it cold. Me? I just don’t seem able to pull it off with any consistency.

      I like what you said about there being no obligation to be nice about this. Because it does come back to that, doesn’t it? We have all that ‘nice’ beaten into us from early days. And sometimes it really doesn’t serve.

  9. hey, stacie, this is an interesting conversation! Being single and childless is territory I am familiar with! My blog is singleforareason, after all.

    So characteristically brave of you to put it out there. And, yet, your brave soul quivers to speak with a baby in your arms. Yes. Is all I can say. Contradictions is what life serves us. Sometimes, painful ones.

    But, here’s the news from my lighthouse…I don’t think the issue you are facing is with some of the insensitive souls around you. Although they may need to read this blog and get educated, there shall always be a new child on your lap or arms that comes attached to an adult who shall say the same thing. If their words did not reflect your own inner dialogue they would have no power to hurt you to the degree that they do.

    Does silencing those words within yourself help you feel more positive about its outcome? Or, in your own words, rework the picture of yourself that’s been in your heart since childhood?

    Your writing about this subject with your hands on a keyboard or piece of paper, a medium that brings you comfort…may help you bring some clarity to the conflicted part of you that these well meaning but hurtful remarks trigger in you.

    Yes, you could probably “silence” them by a head on approach, but my lucy five cents is that it won’t further your inner journey one bit.

    The nurturing nature of yours is obvious to all, even those of us who don’t know you. Nurturer, nurture thyself with your words and let others read (or not).

    We are listening.

  10. Hi, Pat. I’ve tried to respond to your comment twice and it keeps getting erased … is it the cosmos telling me I need to think more before I answer? Weird. I am pretty wowed by this comment thread. I hadn’t imagined it would stir so much discussion, but I’m really glad it did. I don’t get to talk about this topic so much in my day to day.

    I hear what you’re saying about my internal dialogue affecting my reaction to the comments I get. I accept that, but I also think people need to think about the things they say. Infertility isn’t a new issue, so — forgetting about all the other reasons for not having children — it’s reasonable that someone without might be dealing with infertility and might find comments like the ones I get upsetting. Even if people can’t conceive of any other reason for why someone wouldn’t have a child, that one is reason enough for them to hold their tongues.

    I wouldn’t say that I’m conflicted on this issue. I’m struggling with accepting a difficult thing, but my feelings about it aren’t conflicted.

    I’m certainly not done thinking/living/writing my way through this, so I’m sure there will be additions to this topic to come …

  11. Stacie, I agree! People need to think about the things they say. Your post would be a good ‘education” and a worthy thread to enlighten those who are open to it. I just wouldn’t put yourself in a position to have to “say” something directly to them if you are not comfortable and fear breaking apart…there are other ways to get your point across, like this thread. Perhaps, make a card with this URL and hand it out to any future well meaning but insensitive souls??

    I’m kidding, of course. But, you get my drift, I’m sure!!

    Anyway, onward!

    1. Pat, you’ve got it! A little business card with Molly’s suggested response and the url of this thread! In truth, I think this is a fabulous idea. It would be such an odd response, it would really push people to think, to go look up this thread and think some more. Hmm …

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