Five years ago, I was scrolling through Facebook when I came upon a photo of a friend’s new baby. His lips were parted in a perfect little pucker. His hair looked wispy and frail, like it might dissolve if you touched it. The visceral reaction of staring at a photo of this tiny human being surged through my body. Every inch of me, both physically and emotionally, wanted a baby, too.
I felt rather aimless in my early 20s. I went to college for advertising but really just wanted to be a writer. I was also convinced that I’d never make any money writing, so I should probably find something more lucrative at which to excel.
I wouldn’t have admitted it to many people at that age, but the one thing I did know was that I wanted to be a mother. I was jokingly appointed the “Soccer Mom” of our college friend group — often taking on the task of stroking friends’ hair when they were heartbroken, or holding it back over the toilet bowl later that night. I partied with everyone else, but usually with an authoritative self-awareness that made sure our group stuck together and didn’t do anything too regrettable.
Even in my most irresponsible, selfish years, I was motherly. Those nurturing instincts carried into my post-college, mid-20s when a bartending gig led to even more partying, but always with a persistent voice in the background that said, “You can give this up when it’s time to be a mom.”
I really, really wanted to be a mom.
Which is probably why it was so heartbreaking to end a pregnancy when I was 25. The man I was seeing was not exactly single. He also was not exactly nice to me. There were a lot of things that were ugly and emotionally dangerous about that relationship. I knew that I couldn’t tie myself to the situation any longer — certainly not for the duration of raising a child together. I terminated the pregnancy and the relationship, and slid into a pit of fear and guilt. The universe, I decided, would punish me. I’d given up the one thing I’d always wanted, and now, I might never have it.
The heartbreak of that experience forced me to grow up in many ways. I stopped partying so much, and I stopped dating men that were clearly wrong for me.
I went on to do things that would have been much more difficult as a mother. I traveled the world. I became a writer and I actually make a decent living at it now. I’ve moved to new cities and started new lives.
You often hear about women my age (around 30) experiencing a rising desire to procreate, like a siren that’s approaching in heavy traffic. It’s distant, but also urgent.
For me, that hasn’t been the case. The siren was gaining volume five years ago, but these days it’s fading. The traffic is thinning. I’m looking at open roads and realizing the many possible directions my life could go.
I have so much respect for my friends who have babies. And I have no doubt they cherish their identities as mothers, along with tangential titles: artist, wife, gardener, writer, daughter, executive, etc.
But women are waiting longer and longer. We’re seeing these open roads, and choosing to explore them alone, or with partners but without children. The average age at which women have their first child increased 1.4 years, between 2000 and 2014. The number of women having babies after 30 and 35 also increased, by a few percentage points each.
I’ve always lived in big cities, where that trend is even more visible — 40-something moms, carrying briefcases and diaper bags, hopping on the subways with their babies or toddlers.
And we’ve all heard the warnings. With waiting comes risk. We know the heartbreaking stories of long years of IVF and infertility. It’s even been dubbed the Aniston Syndrome.
Perhaps it’s naive, at only 29, to find comfort in the fact that I no longer view motherhood as a necessity to my future identity. Baby syndrome took a nosedive for me as I started to really know myself in all of my nuanced roles in life.
I may very well feel that visceral reaction to babies again someday, when my body seems to physically yearn to grow another human before it’s too late.
But I also believe that our freedom to wait longer and to consider more options, like adoption, single motherhood or simply not having kids, allows us to get to know our maturing selves in ways that may not be possible when you’re focused on a tiny, wispy-haired human instead.
To insinuate that the only risk lies in waiting is to diminish the value of our many other possible paths. Yes, we gamble with biology when we set our sights on other goals instead of starting a family. But becoming a mother is a gamble, too. I would have given up so much if I had become a mom in my 20s. And still today, I believe I’d be sacrificing the continued growth of certain aspects of myself if I were to focus on starting a family.
These days I know who I am. I’m a traveler. A writer. A homeowner. I’m a motherly friend. Maybe, someday, I’ll be a mom. But if the universe won’t afford me that blessing, I know that I’ll still be me.
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