My path to parenthood was anything but easy, mainly because I made the types of dating decisions that led to dead ends and tears. Chalk it up to low self-esteem or misguided interpretations of feminism, but by the time most of these interactions—it would be far too gracious to define them as relationships—ended, the only thing baby-like in the room was my blubbering self.
And that was only in my 20s.
My anguish amplified once I hit 30. Literally. The night before my 30th birthday, I was staggering around an enormous bonfire on a dude ranch in northwestern Wyoming, swigging whiskey from a bottle of Jack Daniels, and mourning the kids I feared I would never have. Bedecked in a silk bridesmaid dress with my hair shellacked into a French twist and held there by copious amounts of hair spray and bobby pins, I had commandeered the after party of my best friend’s wedding. I had been her maid of honor and spent my last day as a 20-something toasting the happy couple and nursing a very deep well of self-pity and loneliness.
It had been a beautiful, outdoor wedding in Jackson Hole, with jaw-dropping views of the Tetons. I’d played my maid of honor role well—walked the aisle, held her bouquet, and toasted her and her wonderful husband. Then I drank a series of mojitos in quick succession, privately ruminating on the prospect that I was doomed to a childless future. Eventually, long after the bride and groom spirited away and most of the guests had called it a night, I found myself soggy with drink and desperately seeking affirmation. I learned how easy it is to get married men whose wives have gone home to relieve the babysitter to do shots of JD around a raging fire. Normally respectable guys were happy to make mine a birthday to remember, and I reveled in their attention until I found myself staving off an eager suggestion to strip naked and skinny dip in the hot tub at 3 a.m. Even in my inebriated state I knew that was a terrible idea. I liked these guys. I liked their wives. Plus, I’d spent the earlier part of the evening looking at pictures of their adorable kids and feeling my own ovaries pulse at each flash of a gummy newborn smile. A quick call to the taxi service in town took care of the problem—at least for the men, who returned home without violating their marriage vows.
Three hours later I crawled into a car with two sober wedding guests who dropped me at the airport for my 7 a.m. flight. My hair hadn’t budged from its updo. Mascara smeared under my eyes, and I smelled like a distillery. The turbulence on takeoff throttled the plane. I clutched the barf bag and filled it. The woman next to me gasped and glared.
“Disgusting!” she said.
I mirrored her disdain. “It’s my birthday,” I snarled. “And I’m 30.”
Her look said it all: I was a loser. I felt like one in that moment and the months that followed. With no romantic prospects and a burning urge to have a child, I morphed into an easily mocked caricature. I was no longer a bright, single woman. I was a desperate 30-something who broadcast my desire for a baby at every opportunity. My guy friends warned me that bringing up babies on a first date guaranteed there wouldn’t be a second one. My married friends with children refused to take me seriously and told me, essentially, to pull my head out of my ass. Even my own mother, a resilient woman who raised my older brother and me by herself announced I was clueless when I said would simply follow her example and be a single mom. “I didn’t set out to do it alone!” she practically exploded. “You have no idea how hard it is to have a baby, much less to do it without help. Absolutely none.”
So I was stuck—admonished not to pursue my dream of motherhood—at least not on my own—and warned not to discuss my desire with potential partners. I thought I would scream if one more person told me that I would find true love (and a sperm donor) as soon as I stopped looking.
And while close friends were telling me not to rush, society at large had an entirely different message: At 30, I was looming on the precipice of infertility and my reproductive organs would soon sputter and quit if I didn’t get pregnant ASAP. In one week alone, I must have heard 100 times about how fertility wanes between ages 30-35 and then how it plummets after 35. Friends looked up the statistics and repeated them to me, as if being helpful. Tick tock.
Here’s the spoiler alert: I eventually ended up meeting, marrying, and having babies with a great guy, but not after consuming many pints of Ben & Jerry’s, flirting shamelessly with any man, hooking up with random strangers, spending entire months worrying about being a loser, and wallowing in self pity.
Here’s what I wish my mom-self could tell that sad and insecure 30-year old me: Choosing to have kids means inviting a certain amount of filth, drudgery, and fatigue into your life. It’s guaranteed to put pressure on your relationship and change you in ways you can’t anticipate. There truly isn’t a rush. Once those kids come, you are tethered to them. You will fall in love with a ferocity you didn’t know possible, and you (or at least I) will have days when you mourn the loss of your freedom.
Parenthood is super demanding. Somehow, in all of my yearning for babies, I didn’t think that one through. It’s like focusing on the wedding and forgetting about the marriage that will follow.
All of which is to say is this: be present. If you’re single, be single. If you’re not, be whatever you are at the moment. Kids will come if you want them. You may birth them or you might adopt them or you might marry a partner who already has them. There are many ways to become a mom, and once you’re a mom, you’re going to need a hella lot of humor and perspective. So instead of wasting your childless days worrying about being childless, figure find the funny things in life and cultivate your gratitude and perspective. Doing so is guaranteed to make your path to parenthood less stressful and more enjoyable.