While it seems like everyone I know has a bun in the oven, fertility has always been up in the air for me. But it wasn’t until weeks before a major surgery and my 30th birthday that the desire to have a child hit me like a ton of bricks. The feeling has since died down, and for now, the idea of motherhood doesn’t dictate or validate my existence, but it’s definitely on my radar.
I recently watched The Back-Up Plan, starring Jennifer Lopez for the first time. After a self-imposed deadline to find “The One” passed, Lopez’s character put her back-up plan to have a child into action. She was willing and ready to raise the child alone because it was what she really wanted.
Statistics are scarce, but there are an increasing number of single women conceiving and adopting children alone. Called “Choice Moms,” these women, mostly in their 30s and 40s, have decided to become mothers through conception or adoption with or without a partner. In a 2009 CNN.com article, Mikki Morrissette, founder of ChoiceMoms.org said there were about 50,000 Choice Moms beginning families. Given their contemporary approach towards motherhood, I wondered if after giving birth would they consider their lives complete or just beginning.
There’s a scene in the television adaptation of Gloria Naylor’s The Women of Brewster Place between Oprah Winfrey’s character, Mattie, and Miss Eva, an elderly widow whom she lived with, with her young son, Basil. Miss Eva would badger her about her life, and romantic relationships especially, even asking, “When’s the last time you had somebody in your bed?” Mattie replied, “Basil sleeps in my bed every night.”
I cringe at that scene because Winfrey’s fictitious character, more than 20-years-old, is the mirror image of so many women today. They are unconsciously are using their children to fill voids, leaving them unfulfilled and unhappy. (Mattie, though the story’s matriarch and nurturer, remained alone throughout the movie, by the way. She was chastised for it by several characters.)
Though having a family is beyond important to me, I’m terrified of becoming a victim of what I think Mattie had: the ‘Just Me and My Baby’ syndrome. This occurs when the woman has a child and officially checks out on her own life. Should she get the opportunity to gain anything else of value that could be added to her or her child’s life, she passes it up out of fear, complacency or the goal to be Super-Mom. She thinks, “It’s just me and my baby (against the world).”
I pose this question, which might only be answered with time and experience: Am I wrong, or selfish even, for wanting the entire package—a mate and a full life, or am I just an ignorant, childless woman who has not yet experienced the matchless joys of motherhood? Will that be enough?
A friend summed up my thoughts succinctly, saying, “I don’t want my kids to be my life. They’re gonna leave me in 18 years … then what?” When my nest is empty or even when the children are away at a summer camp or visiting friends, will I ask myself, “Who are you again?” Attempting to live your best life can easily become lost among children’s education, extracurricular activities and everyday motions. True living includes not only being a good parent, but nurturing romantic relationships and friendships, social involvement, spirituality, career development, etc.
Most mothers peg their biggest accomplishment as having children, but it doesn’t have to be their only accomplishment. We should be encouraged to begin or continue to pursue personal interests and passions, as well as family interests after children are born. That is not selfish, but attempting to be a whole person, which affects the whole family.
Conversely, there’s nothing wrong with getting off the train at the baby stop. If a woman’s only desire is to bear children and raise a family, with or without a man, there’s no rule book that says she can’t. My personal hope whenever and however I begin my family is that I experience joy and satisfaction in my life, and ride it until the wheels fall off. That joy could come from seeing my child’s smile when he or she wakes me up for breakfast, carving out time for a Girls Night Out or completing a volunteer project.
I hope that’s not asking too much.