Sunday, May 13, 2007

On Being A Mother - Why I'm Not

I never set out not to be a mother. I always assumed I would have kids, along with the obligatory husband, 2 car garage and white picket fence. That’s what people did, wasn’t it.

When H & I were in college, before we were married, we planned on having six children. I don’t know why six. I do know that one of them was to be called Megan; the other five were name- and genderless, I suppose. I recall sitting at dinner in the dorm cafeteria one night and he/we were playing house with our imaginary six kids. Suddenly, I don’t know how, he had all six of them in league against me. About what? I don’t know. I just remember the searing feeling of injustice, of being odd man out, without a recourse. It’s interesting to me now that I can only recall that emotion, the strength and taste of it, but no other details of that night. When I say ‘interesting’, I mean ‘telling.’ It’s telling isn’t it that all I can remember is the feeling and not the facts.

When H and I got married, the time for kids never seemed right. First he was in drama school and then a lowly rep actor. I supported us with a variety of secretarial jobs, menial labor of the female sort. We lived in furnished digs, bedsitters where we shared a bathroom with sometimes fifteen others, none of whom ever washed the tub, some of whom refused to even pull the plug after they’d bathed. I couldn’t imagine bringing a baby into that; it was so antithetical to my understanding of motherhood as to be beyond belief.

When we finally got a real flat with real furniture, albeit 2nd hand, there was a real mother with two real kids who lived downstairs. She was my role model for what not to be. Her life was an endless cycle of lugging huge garbage bags crammed full of dirty towels and peed-on sheets, kids clothes stained with breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and her husband’s work clothes to the Laundromat down the street, bringing them home still damp, hanging them out to dry in whatever-weather-London-was-offering and then starting all over again the next day. It was her oldest son, the six year old, who nightly wet the bed. The three year old was potty-trained, but exhibiting what I now recognize as symptoms of Oppositional Defiant Disorder (that’s the one that often leads to sociopaths). His mother, who had become my friend, was his captive slave, running after him endlessly to right the death and destruction that went in his wake. “There’s a good boy, Peter,” she whined endlessly, uselessly, feebly.

In the six years that I was married to H., I don’t believe the subject of children ever really came up between us. Friends started having kids and I would say, when they get Pampers in England, I’ll get pregnant. Maybe they already had them. Maybe it was just an excuse because I knew that this was not a marriage in which to create a family.

When H and I finally split up and I moved back to America, I brought with me my prescription for birth control pills. I was a single woman now, and this was---hey, hey, hey! The Seventies! And The Eighties! But somewhere along the way, I stopped taking the pills. I was in a Long Term Relationship that I Thought Was Going to End in Marriage. Maybe I thought getting pregnant would make that day happen sooner. Maybe I just wanted to see if I could. I couldn’t, it didn’t, and when D and I got together, I just didn’t bother with birth control. Que sera sera, was my mantra.

What would be was zip, nada, not even a smidgeon of a pregnancy scare. In the back of my mind, I always kept an eye out for telltale signs: the swollen breasts, the darkening line down the belly. Nope. Not for me. And so it went until it was past the point of no return. Until it was, as they say in Yiddish, fahfallen, which is what they say to a bald man who is hoping for hair.

And now here I am, lo these many years later, a woman with no children. A non-mother. I’m ambivalent about that fact, and maybe I always will be. I don’t know what I’ve missed; I only know what other people say when they wax eloquent about their children. I started this as a post with the subhead, Why I'm Not & How I Feel About It. But I don’t really know. I would have to stutter and explain and maybe wave my hands a lot. And that seems to me to deserve a post of its own. So consider this Part I and Part II will be, even as my progeny were not, forthcoming.


  1. Hi Jane,

    I can relate to your story of how chidren *don't* happen. My first marriage lasted briefly a year. My second one, about eight years (although if you ask him, it was over at less than five...hmmm, what happened to all those other years we were living together???) I always believed that I didn't want children if there wasn't going to be the right man to be the father. I'd seen my mother go thru terrible humiliation, and cling to me so bad that I felt she should sometimes be called "S'Mother." I never wanted that. Call it bad role models and inability to choose the right mate, coupled with time going by and *bam!* No kids happens...

    It's nice, however, knowing I'm not alone...

  2. Tish:

    I suspect there are a lot of us out there; certainly the BlogHer response was strong. We all have different reasons, but what I'm looking at now--or about to--is how I actually feel about it. Putting that down in black and white is kinda scary.

  3. Anonymous9:17 PM

    bliss...the few times I have spent with you...I feel you are very maternal! so for what it is have lots of me out in the universe that think of you as a great women with a blissful amount of advice and a good friend. thats what a mom can be... lisa


So--whaddaya think?