“Nothing in life is promised,” a friend once wistfully remarked as we sipped beers in a cabin somewhere near the Wisconsin Dells. We were midway through a girls’ weekend. Freshly 30 at the time, we two ranked among our group’s final few without children.
She: single. Me: married. She: longing for a family. Me: Well, frankly, at peace with my childless existence—especially after fielding one too many passive-aggressive remarks about said family status during this gathering of college friends.
“You get to sleep until 7 a.m.? Must be nice.”
“You just went away for the weekend on a whim? Must be nice.”
What I heard: You are incredibly selfish and have no right to complain about anything. Period.
Though my snarky side wanted to say something about feeling their maternal joy and planning to head home and get knocked up, stat, my rational side knew such comments derived from a sleep-deprived, stressed-out place. As I let them dissipate, I recalled how these dear friends had talked about motherhood since we met at the tender age of 19.
They were living their dreams. I was attempting to live mine.
Yes. I suppose it was nice to sleep uninterrupted and hop in the car on a whim. (It still is.) To be fair, they knew where I stood on having babies—absolutely not. As the oldest of four, I spent much of my youth feeling like a third parent. When I hit my twenties, I’d had enough and wanted a break.
But what about the painful reasons my life looked different than theirs?
They knew that I finished college at 27, battled clinical depression, and was six years into a marriage that was troubled from day one. (And they supported and believed in me through it all.) Not having kids was largely about getting my life to a good place.
Whenever I would hold a newborn in my arms, I felt doom instead of hope. For I wanted to create something, too, wanted to give life to stories on a page. Unfortunately, I suppressed the urge and gave the energy to other matters.
Her clock must be broken
“Maybe one day. We’re just not ready,” I began to respond after a few years of marriage, attempting to leave the door open. Peer and societal pressure had sparked flickers of doubt. Was I somehow delayed in my development as an adult? Would I look back and regret a life without children? Was I truly too self-absorbed after all?
“Well, nobody is ever ready,” people always seemed to counter.
Perhaps, but I believe in listening to my intuition, and it said: wait. Looking back, I understand my stance to be grounded in the knowledge that I needed to literally get my head together and attempt to give my marriage a fighting chance. In my circumstances, it seemed selfish and harmful to have children. Why did everyone feel free to pry into our family planning intentions, anyway?
For instance, the coworker who noticed me eating healthier and asked if I was “getting ready for something.”
“Huh?” I responded, confused. “I mean, I’ve been running, but I don’t have racing plans right now.”
“Oh, I thought maybe you might be preparing to [pauses and gives me a sly grin] you know, have a baby.”
Or the other coworker, who snidely responded, “Oh, I kind of thought that is why people got married,” when I told her we weren’t sure if we would have children.
These inquiries may have been well-intended, but they felt rude. I have seen one too many a friend struggle with infertility to know how painful this nosiness can be.
Instead of probing into a woman’s procreation plans, ask about her career, her passions, her dreams, her ideas. None of those things singularly defines our lives, and neither does motherhood—or its absence. As Walt Whitman wrote, “ I contain multitudes.” I am more than a womb in its prime. Or, rather, quickly passing it.
Unfortunately, my biological clock started ticking at the most unlikely time. As my marriage entered what would be its final months, I began to feel ready, really ready. Intuition proved itself right, as always. It is true what they say: you can’t love someone else until you love yourself.
“Well, at least you don’t have kids,” people would say repeatedly upon hearing news of my divorce. The same people so determined to see me knocked up. Oh, so now they were on board with my childless life?
To arrive late or not at all
As I write this at 35 years old, my friends are welcoming their second and third children into the world. I tear up with happiness every time I hear the news and see the first images of their sweet young ones. I weep when I learn about miscarriages, fertility issues and long waits to adopt. My heart is not made of stone. I want the people I love to be happy.
I also want them to respect my timeline and life choices as I have respected theirs. I will gladly listen to talk about raising kids—no need to say, “This probably bores you.” Let’s not confuse childlessness with disliking children. Let’s understand that, while their nature may be different, our lives each contain challenges, pains and struggles.
A few years ago, I hit the proverbial reset button. This month, I finished graduate school and am working toward some lofty writing and athletic goals years in the making. I am now strong, healthy, at peace, and ready to care for another life in the best way possible—surely watching my amazing mommy friends in action all these years will work to my advantage.
However, I understand that fertility waits for no woman. My choices may mean that when my partner and I decide to have children, my body may no longer be up to the task. But there are many ways to live and many ways to create a family, and I embrace whatever version transpires.
After all, nothing in life is promised. But life also has a way of working out just right.
Jenifer Kay Dorsey is a Boulder-based freelance writer who races track bikes on a velodrome and craves weekend road trips with weeklong agendas. Her motto: Read. Write. Roam. Ride. She chronicles journeys of all sorts at www.storiesshetells.com and tweets from @jeniferkdorsey.