Originally published on xojane.com.
One of my closest friends told me she was pregnant the other night over taco salad.
I imagined us a year from then sitting in her living room. She sits across from me in her pajamas — her child latched to her breast – and resents me a little for being able to come and go as I please. For not completely understanding what it’s like to have to share my body, to nourish another human with it. She remembers I never really liked kids in the first place and wonders if hers is different. Hers is different, but I don’t know how to express it. I’ve always been awkward around children and it makes me come across cold. I am uncomfortable, because I want to be more helpful. I want to carry a conversation that will contribute to her new life. But I don’t know what to do. I keep coming up short. I decide to leave early. I give her a hug. Tell her I’ll see her soon. Things will come up. Months will go by. Years.
I took a swig of my fishbowl margarita. Managed a congratulations. Smiled.
That night, the moment I got home, I turned on the shower as hot as it would go and sat under it crying. I know it’s irrational. I realize my experience is limited thus far, and therefore much of how I feel stems from ignorance. But I’m afraid of losing my friends and it’s preventing me from being able to fully celebrate and experience this significant chapter in their lives. This is what my life has come to and it’s pathetic.
I’ve led a somewhat unconventional life up until now, especially for a woman in the deep south. The nutshell version goes like this: I dropped out of high school at seventeen and ran away with a boyfriend who, after about a year, was arrested for domestic violence. I left and, not long after, became a flight-attendant at the age of nineteen in an attempt to be independent and fulfill my dreams of traveling the world. I reconnected with a high school love interest via Myspace at twenty, we fell in love, and we married three months later, just before he would deploy for Iraq for the second time. He was wounded three weeks after he was deployed, eventually losing his left leg and making me a full-time caregiver. When things seemed to be calming down, we got pregnant. Looking back, the decision was more of a Band-Aid than us genuinely wanting to be parents. We thought something positive would be good for us, and when the pregnancy test showed a plus sign, we were thrilled. I miscarried at eight weeks. The news broke me. Made me bitter. Two years after that, my husband died and I was left, grief stricken and devastated, to rebuild my life.
Today I am thirty, unmarried, and childless. I’ve spent my days since my husband died attempting to make up for the years I lost by going to college, by traveling, and by building friendships that I hadn’t had the time for. I like my life right now. It’s free. It’s quiet. I feel like, for the first time, I have some control. But what I’ve realized is that there isn’t enough time to do everything I want to do. My clock is ticking, louder than ever – something that I am reminded of often by friends and family — and I find myself having to cut corners to keep up. One of the corners on the chopping block is having children. Somewhere among the tragedies of my past, my maternal instinct has gone missing, and if it ever shows up again there is a strong chance it will be too late. So, I’ve decided, tentatively, to focus on my career. Not having children makes sense for my life. But as my friends are having babies all around me, as their lives and priorities dramatically change, I’m not sure how I fit into their worlds anymore. And there is a side of me that is afraid I will wake up one day, old and alone, and realize I’ve made the worst decision of my life.
I was raised in Alabama. Though I was never explicitly told what my role would be when I grew up, I always knew. When I was sixteen someone asked me what I wanted to be when I graduated high school. My response was “mother.” I didn’t know what else to say. In the south, it is common for people to marry straight out of high school. To have children by their early twenties. And my family didn’t have the money to put me through college. They also didn’t have the time between having to work multiple jobs to keep food on the table to instill in me just how important school would be if I wanted to be independent. I made mediocre grades, eventually giving up on learning altogether and quitting high school. I did get married. I almost had a child. I was so close to finally meeting the south’s expectations, but it just didn’t work out for me.
Part of me feels like I’ve failed. Up until this year, I felt proud of my accomplishments since my husband died. If I am being kind to myself, I admit that I have overcome some pretty shitty circumstances. But recently, it seems everyone is moving past this phase of life – this learning and exploring the world phase, this selfish I-am-my-only-responsibility phase — and I am not ready to let go. As I watch them move on with their lives, it’s hard not to feel like I’m flawed for not wanting to move on with them. Like I’m doing something wrong. I question my character: Why don’t I melt when I see a baby? Am I a bad person? A bad friend? Has my past ruined me?
As of this year, most of my friends have either had children or announced their pregnancy. Someone asked me at a baby shower recently if “my ovaries were sweating yet.” “No,” I said, “My ovaries are pretty cold.” “It’ll happen,” they said. And I thought, “But when?” Babies all look similar to me. They scream a lot. They don’t do much else other than sit there, be cute, eat, and poop. They change your personality and your body. They eclipse goals. I simply don’t see the appeal. Still, I was once genuinely and outwardly happy if my friends were happy. I helped them celebrate by throwing showers, sending gifts, travelling to see their new family members. I still do. But as pregnancy announcements keep coming, as topics of conversations change from careers to diapers, from workout routines to breast feeding, my reaction to such news has changed.
You know how they say your life flashes before your eyes just before you die? Well, my life flashes before mine when yet another friend announces they’re pregnant. When I hear the words, “I’m having a baby,” my gut reaction is not to say congratulations, to cry tears of happiness, to squeal in excitement. Instead, I think about how much time I don’t have to make that decision for myself. About my empty uterus, surely coated in a layer of dust. About my missing instinct. I think about how much I’ve enjoyed my independence and how I’m not ready to give it up. About how much more I want to accomplish before I can commit to raising a human. I realize that, despite what the most optimistic of feminists say, it is not plausible, at least for me, to both have children and to follow my dreams of going to graduate school, and of writing and traveling the world. I think about how much I love my friends and how my decision to not have kids could sever us. How I’m already missing some of them desperately.
When my friend sat me down — glowing with pride, bursting with happiness — and announced that she was pregnant, I didn’t think to say congratulations at first. Instead I wanted to say, “I love you and I don’t want to lose you.” I thought, “Please don’t leave me here alone.” I thought, “I am selfish,” and I wondered, “Why am I so fucking selfish?” I had never seen her smile that big. I leaned in for a hug. “Congratulations,” I said finally. I curved my lips into a smile that took a little too much effort than it should have. Listened to her complain about morning sickness with nothing to contribute to the topic. Gushed over the name she is considering. I shoveled taco salad into my mouth, and I felt like I was mourning. I could feel the shift. Irrationally, I missed her already.