At 46 I am past my childbearing years, especially since I had a hysterectomy almost 4 years ago. That lack of uterus is the pesky detail that slammed the door shut on any further adventures in that arena. Many women would be devastated by an earlier than typical hysterectomy, but at the time my son was turning 16, and I was single and not in a relationship. It seemed reasonable to accept the end of the other VERY pesky part of being a woman and enjoy a period free life from now on.
But how would I have felt if I had been childless and 34, like Claire, the heroine and voice of my debut romantic comedy novel, “There Are No Men?” This is a much more extreme version of my experience and my relatively minor surgery was merely an inconvenience, where Claire’s ordeal was traumatic and emotionally crippling, coupled with the end of her marriage.
When I began writing this story I wondered if people would take my understanding and empathy of Claire’s pain seriously – would I be able to get in her head and truly grasp the depths of emotion that attack women when they lose their ability to bear children? Would I be seen as a credible source of portraying this aching loss?
The answer was yes and no, but I would have to do a bit more sharing of my own if I wanted to be seen as a reliable reporter on fear and loss.
So here goes – towards the end of my marriage, when my son was turning 9, I had an ectopic pregnancy. There was nothing I wanted more than to have another child. I know the baby lust feeling all too well, and how it can consume your every waking moment, and haunt your dreams. One healthy child should have been enough for me. And in a marriage that was very troubled, I should never have even pursued an addition to our family. But I did. We did. Luckily I knew I was pregnant very early on and the medical part of it was dealt with swiftly and safely.
The emotional part was a deep well of despair. Fear. Loss. Guilt. Shame. I felt like a failure and less than a real woman. And worst of all, my arms still longed to hold my new baby. This was not to be.
My marriage ended a year later, but this incident was not the cause. But either way, now I was back in the dating world and my ability to give someone a child was iffy at best. On the wrong side of 35 with a poor performance history (a preemie and an ectopic pregnancy), it was scary and confusing putting myself out there. Maybe I was overreacting. Many women have babies into their 40’s and the doctor said I could try again, even though my odds of repeat negative incidents were higher. And men don’t even care about having babies as much as women do, right?
This is one of the many things I told myself to begin to cope and reframe my world.
Like Claire, I had been with the same man since I was 16. And also like Claire I was confused, naïve and vulnerable when it came to men and dating. But I am a girl who likes to devise and launch a plan, so I plunged into the word of online dating.
To say I was clueless would be an understatement. How was I going to ensure that I didn’t attract men who wanted children? I didn’t want my profile to say “36 year old divorced woman with poor childbearing skills seeking man who doesn’t require any.”
I decided maybe I should target men who already have children. So I did that. I heard a lot about joint custody battles, child support, exes who are bitches, and chaotic schedules.
Younger men often do want children, or will someday, so they were the scariest of all (and a topic for another blog post). But damn – do they look good when their profiles are alongside some of their less well preserved counterparts.
Even childless men my own age may still have wanted kids someday, and they could potentially father a child for a VERY long time. I also had the added problem of being a mother – sometimes childless men really are that way for a reason and they don’t want to deal with someone else’s child.
Then there were the much older men. Hmmm…maybe that was the way to go. Dear Lord, no. Just no.
The truth is that men in any of these categories could have been viable, but I had everyone placed in neat little boxes based on my pre-conceived notions and unsubstantiated opinions. Fear was swinging me around like the swirly teacups at a carnival (and I felt like throwing up!).
I considered applying for entry to the convent, but being divorced and swearing a lot would not qualify me for that life change. So I got involved with many men who were unsuitable, not ready, emotionally challenged and just not the least bit desirable – all because I was focusing on the wrong thing. Fear.
If you’ve read “There Are No Men” you have seen a few examples of how giving in to fear, and in Claire’s case, seeking out men who you think won’t have expectations of becoming fathers, can lead to disastrous, or at least comical results. However it isn’t funny in real life when your date looks like your father’s contemporary or strange men are chanting in your living room in surprising underwear. Sometimes if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry.
Sure all of this could happen to any unsuspecting single girl, BUT it is more likely to happen when you are screening men for the wrong reasons, and making ASSUMPTIONS. In Claire’s quest to rule out anyone who MAY want children, she is ignoring the viable opportunities for love right under her nose. And even worse, she is trying to make things work that are clearly train wrecks of “no freaking way in hell is this ever going to be okay.” Sound familiar?
It does to me. I did the same things. I was afraid and alone, and I feared the disappointment of falling for a man who would then decide he was ready for children, or he wanted more. I made decisions for them before they were given a chance, and let fear slam the door on possibilities.
Happily, all of this worked out for me in the end, but with much unnecessary distress along the way. I made it through to 40 – still out there searching. I decided to channel my maternal instinct into something very easy to obtain – a puppy. My miniature dachshund, Daisy, became the only daughter I’ll ever have. The unconditional love of an animal has been transformative for me, but I know it isn’t that easy if a dog becomes your ONLY substitute for children. But I have learned there are other ways to “mother” and that there are many different kinds of love (also a topic for another blog post).
Now in my mid-forties, I have ended up with a wonderful man who has a 15 year old daughter (now I have a stepdaughter!). He is 5 years older than me and was quite pleased to hear of my lack of uterus.
But fear still played a part. He is widower, and that is one of my BIGGEST fears. Replacing someone who has died. Grief over death. Death in general. I can barely type the words.
My next novel will explore this issue in great depth, but let’s just say I still have to stare fear in the face and beat it down with a stick repeatedly, in order to reap the benefits of this loving, supportive, and joyful relationship. I am marrying a widower. For me, that is like our frightened little friend Claire saying, “I am adopting a baby.” My third novel will continue Claire’s quest to get over that hurdle, and own life will carry on with the herculean effort of growth and faith. It’s a process.
Fear is a big jerk. It keeps us from everything we want. But if you jump high enough you can leap over fear, and see all the goodness on the other side.
I know there are women out there suffering not only from infertility or dealing with the past, but from every other imaginable disappointment, even horror. And I know it is easy to say that being brave can conquer all of that. I know sometimes that isn’t enough. But we are guided by our choices and we have them every day, even if they are only small ones.
I hope that all women can learn to value themselves enough to take chances, see alternate paths to happiness, and reinvent their dreams. Just like a flower, you can’t grow if someone is blocking your sunlight. Your source of power. So let’s push that bitch fear out of our light, and become illuminated with growth, opportunity, and love – in ways we never thought possible.