It’s Mother’s Day. Mother’s Day used to be all about celebrating my mom, and I never conceived of it as anything else. I can’t say when it occurred to me that it was something more than that. My evolving conception of it has been a few years in the making. As I’ve watched my peers get pregnant and have children, I realized the daughter age bracket had expanded into the mom age bracket, and I started to feel oddly out of place. It wasn’t until last Mother’s Day that it really hit me that most women my age don’t just honor their own moms, but also get to be honored as moms. Last year, Mother’s Day made me sad… really sad.
Unfortunately, not having kids hasn’t saved me from ever-increasing gray hair, so two weeks ago, I was at the salon to get my hair colored. As I stood at the counter to check in, I noticed a promotional sign they had posted for Mother’s Day spa specials, and I felt my stomach sink. The day was coming. Like plenty of grown women, my mom doesn’t live nearby, so other than a short phone call, there would be no brunch or other time spent celebrating my mom. Without that, Mother’s Day has become an uncomfortable reminder that I’m never going to be a full-fledged member of womanhood.
To put this into context, I know Mother’s Day isn’t hard for me like it is for women who have lost their moms, or those who have struggled with infertility and miscarriages. I would never pretend to know the pain those women experience on this day. I can only imagine how difficult it is for them, and my heart aches for them all. However, for reasons that are less clear than might be for those women, I am sad, and I feel alone.
When I was about 20, I started to think having children might not be a good idea for me. The notion stuck, and while I had lingering ambivalence about it, I figured it was the best decision for me, so I got a tubal ligation just shy of my 32nd birthday. A big part of my reasoning was related to diabetes. Having already needed surgery for retinopathy at age 25, and having ever-increasing levels of protein in my urine from kidney damage that was being treated with medication and regular check-ups with a nephrologist, I was fearful that pregnancy would be more than my body could handle. I was afraid of losing my vision, having kidney failure, and most of all, I was afraid of dying.
I was concerned about miscarriages or a complicated pregnancy. I was concerned about having a baby that wasn’t normal and healthy in all conceivable ways that babies are supposed to be normal and healthy, and of course, I was concerned about having a child who could develop type 1. I feel like the guilt of having a child with type 1 would kill me.
There were other non-diabetes reasons that I chose not to have kids. More personally, I don’t have a great deal of confidence that I’d be a good parent because there are aspects of my personality that don’t seem like quality ingredients in the recipe to make a great mom. I was concerned about my depression, how and if it could be managed during a pregnancy, and the likelihood that my child would eventually develop depression, a concern only confirmed after my father committed suicide in 2010, and I subsequently learned more about the mental health issues on that side of my family.
Less personally, I’m concerned about over-population and the environment, because, with all due respect to those who have chosen to have children, having a child is about the worst thing the average person can do to the planet. I’m constantly worried about the state of the country and the world with religious extremism, bigotry, and a long list of societal ills that make me cross my fingers that the world doesn’t self-destruct before my time is up. Not to completely devalue the things that make life and the world beautiful, but when I catch the news, I’m grateful to not be leaving a child in what seems like a perpetual socio-political shit storm.
I’ve given an incredible amount of thought to my decision. I set the choice in stone by getting my tubes tied, and I’m committed to following through despite ongoing ambivalence and doubt. I have very rationally weighed the pros and cons, and when the doubt surfaces, I weigh them again. I always, inevitably, without fail arrive at the same conclusion. Even when I consider the option to adopt, I still can’t reconcile the fact that I don’t think I’m really cut out to be a parent, at least not a parent to human babies – with all my heart, I love and am absolutely devoted to my animal children.
But I wonder. What would it be like to be pregnant? What would it be like to have a pint-sized version of me and Jason? Would the joy be worth the heartache and headache? Would I love it and think it was the greatest thing I ever did? Would I regret it, and wish I had stuck with the better safe than sorry approach I’ve ultimately chosen? Not knowing the answers is really hard.
Because having a child is not something one can take back or do over, my decision to not have a child has been the most careful, thoroughly-considered decision I have ever made. It was not necessarily a hard decision to make, but I’m finding it’s the most difficult decision to live with despite all my perfectly valid reasons for choosing as I have. I think I’ve made the responsible choice. I think it would have been an irresponsible risk to choose otherwise, a risk I wasn’t willing to take, but I’m struggling to be OK with it nonetheless. On Mother’s Day, when it feels like every woman my age and older is being celebrated, I wish I knew what I was missing, and I wish I didn’t feel so alone in my uncertainty.
I’m 39, and this is it. Jason has unequivocally said he doesn’t want children, and my mixed feelings persist – hardly a compelling case to apply for adoption, or get my tubal reversed. There was a time when we could have potentially changed our minds, but the window is closing, and I don’t think anything is going to stop it. Mother’s Day makes me afraid that once it’s closed, I’m going to regret our choice, that on Mother’s Day 5 or 10 years from now, I’ll be crushed that there isn’t a munchkin making burnt toast for me, and giving a handmade Mother’s Day card to me. I’m sad because the opportunity to have children is slipping through my fingers as I maneuver closer to 40. I’m sad because despite all the unwavering evidence to the contrary, I’m scared I’ve made a terrible mistake, and today, and every Mother’s Day for the rest of my life will remind me of that.