Childless, Not By Choice

Today is week four in an almost 40-something (39) woman’s six-week journal of her “time out”. After quitting her job, she is taking some time to take stock. As part of her process she is writing about her journey and reflecting on what she is experiencing now and how it’s different from her 20s. Today she shares her feelings about being childless at almost 40.


Childless, Not By Choice

Last week’s entry was a lot more fun to write (go figure that replaying sex with a 20 year old is more enjoyable than trying to capture what it feels like to accept that you may never have children of your own…but so it goes). There all sorts of caveats that accompany the topic of a 40 year old woman figuring out whether she can and whether she should have children, but the most important one of all is that it is an entirely personal and sometimes difficult situation – one that is made all the more complicated by myriad societal pressures and opinions.

Unlike some women who ardently profess that they’ve never wanted children, I always thought I would have children. I grew up in a family in which family was more important than anything else – more than professional success or academic achievement, certainly. I’m extremely close with my parents and while less so with my siblings, we’ve spent nearly every holiday together for the past 40 years and I’d do anything for them and their children. Family, and in particular the parent-child relationship, has been a central tenant in my life.

So here I am, 39 and single, with friends who have children, friends who want children and are struggling to conceive both naturally and via IVF, friends who are single and panicking about not being able to have children, and friends who are contemplating going it alone.  In fact, I thought about having a child on my own this past year. I thought about it A LOT, made the doctor’s appointment to check the various levels and even looked up a sperm donor facility in Virginia.  I talked to friends and family and I thought about it some more.

What I learned is that, for me (the important caveat again), having a child is less about being a mother – and being able to experience what has to be one of (if not THE) most important and miraculous things in nature – than it is about having a child who is created out of a loving relationship with a partner and a child who will carry on traits of my family. If I am lucky enough to meet another man one day with whom I have such a relationship, I am sure it will make me ache in a terrible and profound way that we’re not able to have a child together, but my hope is I will, in some way, get to experience the beauty of motherhood. Perhaps I will be a stepmother one day – in fact, my friends and I think I’ll be a fabulous stepmother if I am afforded the opportunity!

There are many books and articles speculating as to what path a young woman should be taking if she knows she wants children – some say marry young; some say freeze your eggs; some say go it alone when you know what you want; and some say to settle early on if you’ve met a man who would be a good or decent enough partner. I would never pretend to know what is best for somebody else – but my strong advice for 20-somethings is to pay more attention (this seems to be a recurrent theme these past 5 weeks, in fact) to how you feel about family and children and why you feel the way you do.  That awareness will no doubt shape some of the decisions you make along the way and, ideally, ease some of the strange and powerful angst that comes with the complex formula that concludes with you either having children or not having children when you arrive at 40.

The other thing I’ve learned and continue to learn as I think about whether I’ll ever get to be a mother is that life is far simpler and more rewarding if you concentrate on what life is rather than what you want or expect life to be. Yes, I thought I would be married and have children by age 39, and there is a certain sadness to what I’m acutely aware I’m missing. On the other, better hand, I never thought I would be 39, single and unemployed, visiting family and friends for six weeks and discovering an entire richness to life that I might not be experiencing if I was married with 2 children. In fact, I’m headed to Paris later this month. C’est la vie, indeed!

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