When my mother delivered me, she pushed so hard that she burst every blood vessel in both eyeballs.
I think about that—and about other stories I’ve heard from friends and family, of emergency C-sections and 40-hour deliveries, of weeks of bedrest, months of fatigue and swollen feet and withdrawing from social life in order to prepare for the new life you’re creating, and the new life you will have as a result—whenever I get an “I want to be pregnant” pang. It’s my conciliatory schadenfreude.
Last month, I might have celebrated my first Mother’s Day; this week, my husband might have celebrated his first Father’s Day.
On a Saturday last July, as my husband, Ross, and I drank beers on our front stoop and looked out at children playing in the park across the street, we talked about having kids of our own. I was having my annual pap smear a few days later and we agreed that I would ask the midwife performing my annual exam what I needed to do to start preparing my body for a healthy pregnancy and an easy delivery. The idea was that my next visit to her office would be for a prenatal check-up, not an annual exam.
Instead, I left that appointment and began a journey (which I wrote about in an essay entitled “Botox Saved My Sex Life”) that would include a very frank discussion with a pelvic floor specialist that would include the words: “You cannot get pregnant.” I have several friends who have struggled—often quite publicly—with their infertility or that of their partners, so I feel that I should clarify here. The doctor did not mean that I couldn’t ever get pregnant (my fertility status is still TBD—one thing at a time), just that for the duration of my treatment, be it six months or three years, I was not allowed to get pregnant. The multiple prescriptions and invasive treatments could cause birth defects or miscarriage, and that meant that the very feeble plans my husband and I had just made would have to wait.
After a few days of crying about it (which happened to coincide with Daphne Oz’s on-air pregnancy announcement—that was a particularly bad day), things got better. After a few weeks of obsessing about it, I became more comfortable with, if not accepting of, my situation. After a few months, it has become my everyday reality. I take my two pills and use my three ointments and insert my suppositories, all on a schedule so complicated that I’ve had to create a calendar for my medicine cabinet, with the hope that someday my doctor will tell me that I can stop following it.
Over the past two months, at least a half-dozen of my friends have announced their pregnancies, and another half-dozen became the proud parents of beautiful newborns. Both groups have posted the Facebook photos to prove it. With each of these posts, the reminder of what I do not, and at least for the time being cannot, have. Followed almost immediately by battling voices in my head, on the one hand scolding me for being so selfish, because there’s still a chance that someday I will while other people I love will not; and on the other, telling me that there’s no real hurry anyway. And in some regards, that second voice is the one I should be listening to: right now, I want to re-learn, thanks to the miracle drug that is Botox, how to actually enjoy sex with my husband. I want to keep sleeping in on lazy Sundays. I want to keep doing the traveling I should have done in my early twenties (I’ve been in five new countries in the past two years). I want to keep going to standing-room concerts, keep staying up late because I want to, keep (occasionally) drinking too much. I want to do all of the little projects around the house that we’ve been saying we would do since we bought it in 2010. And I want to keep the room in the house designated as my office, my office, rather than turning it into a nursery (which had been its purpose under the previous owners’ occupation).
I am 30. I am the same age my mother was when she had me (and she was on the older side for a first-time parent in the early 1980s). Some days, I feel way too young, too selfish to be a mother. But I also got my hackles up when a Facebook friend posted his opinion last month that to be a “real” mother, you had to have done more than just giving birth to, or adopting and raising children, and continued to define the types of people whom he felt deserved to be called parents. Aside from taking issue with his statement on behalf of my friends who would have loved to have someone call them “Mom” or “Dad,” I realized that I would have loved to have someone to call me “Mom” at that moment, or at least to know that the day was not too far off.
My friend Eve* calls me her “Jewish mother” because whenever she is having a bad day, I’ll invite her over for dinner (and make sure she takes home leftovers, if there are any). I know that our dog thinks of my husband and me as “Daddy” and “Mommy,” because when my husband says: “Go see Mommy,” or I say to her: “Go see Daddy,” she always finds the right parent. (The “dog parent” issue was another my Facebook friend raised—but that’s another debate for another day.) When I’m driving with a passenger in my car and I have to hit the breaks, the “mom arm” comes up involuntarily, even though it’s better for both me and my passenger if I just let the seatbelt do its job.
I do not have a child. I am not, cannot be, pregnant.
I am still, in many ways and to many people, a mother.
But for now, because pregnancy is verboten, I have decided to fill my time with things I won’t be able to do when I am pregnant, or that will be difficult as a parent. Wine club. Book club. Writers group. Bowling league. (My average is an 85. I didn’t say I had to be good at these things.) I held my crow pose in yoga class for ten full seconds last month—a new record for me. I went outdoor rock-climbing for the first time in my life, after taking up indoor version of the sport late last summer, and when it was time to descend, I trusted my friends and my harness enough that I let go of the stone wall to which I’d been clinging and swung, momentarily weightless, over my friends’ heads, the rough path on which they stood, and the gushing river behind them. My body, at that moment, was no one’s but my own. And I might not be able to say that for much longer.
As Father’s Day looms, my husband and I still don’t know if we are ready to be parents. We don’t know if we will ever be “ready” to be parents. I don’t know if anyone truly is, or if it really matters. I know that I love the life we have together right now, with our four cats and our dog and our freedom to come and go as we please…but also that I look at the photos of my beautiful pregnant friends, or their beautiful offspring, and find myself filled with a mix of anticipation and longing and fear and excitement and dread and an unwillingness to sacrifice my life and the knowledge that I would give up anything for the child or children Ross and I do, someday, want to have. Just not—by circumstance but also, at least a little, by choice—yet.
*Names are changed.