So I found a new friend recently – someone with whom I had a lot in common, much more than I usually do with people I meet. We are the same age, each with no kids. She also likes cats, she spends time online, she lives nearby, she doesn’t have a day job either. She’s had some shitty people in her life and is also interested in figuring out what the hell happened. We usually text each other just about every day.
So the other day new friend drops a bombshell of a text: “I’m pregnant.” We didn’t even know they were trying, so this was completely out of the blue.
And because I have been able to identify with her more than with many people, this announcement had the effect of triggering me badly on pregnancy/motherhood issues, sort of as if it was me who was pregnant, or maybe an alter ego.
My issues on motherhood go in both directions. They include my own disinterested mother, and probably the infant abandonment as well, when she was hospitalized. Let’s not forget that the person who was probably my surrogate mother, my sister, also abandoned me when she went off to college the next year – as well as she plainly dislikes me, or at least wishes I didn’t exist.
I’ve never had anything you could call a loving mother. People talk about the “universal” bond between mother and child, the unfathomable, unbreakable, unconditional love a mother ALWAYS has for her child.
I have no idea what that is like.
But also, I NEVER had a positive model for motherhood, for seeing myself in the role: never spent time around babies, never got to see motherhood or pregnancy expressed as a positive thing. I’ve never changed a diaper in my life. In fact I have a phrase in my head that I don’t know where it comes from, but it is this:
“Babies are bad.”
(In my head it’s to the tune of “Feed the Birds” from Mary Poppins… as if maybe I heard someone singing it to me.
As it happens, the movie came out about 5 years before I was born.)
My own mother was so embarrassed about having had me at such a late age — I suspect mostly because it revealed to the world that SHE MUST HAVE HAD SEX — that for years, all through grade school, she wouldn’t put her birthday on the registration form and every year I got asked about it and had to say I DIDN’T KNOW HOW OLD MY MOTHER WAS because she was so embarrassed at having me.
She was ashamed of my existence, because of WHAT IT SAID ABOUT HER.
In the other direction, over the past few years, as I have figured out all the other stuff about my fucked-up family, I have come to realize that my choice not to have kids was probably mostly a result of the slanted, negative view of motherhood that I was shown, and that I never got a chance to experience the “good side” of it and thus form my own opinion either way.
I was 13 when my sister had her first child. (Fun fact: I am closer in age to my two oldest nieces than I am to my sister.) My lousy sister might, for example, have had me come and stay with her over the summers as she had her kids, but of course she would not have wanted me around (although you’d think she might have at least enjoyed turning me into a household slave, as was done to her).
My mother used to explain my childless choice away by saying that it was because “you had your own mother taken away from you.” She meant by my father, and The Divorce (because of course it had to be his fault).
(Note this also presumes my choice is wrong, and has to be blamed on something.)
I think she was almost right, but not for that reason. If my mother was “taken away from me” it was because of her mental illness. A distance of four fucking blocks is not enough to keep a loving mother from loving her child.
But being a self-centered narcissist who worried more about what other people would think of her, than about her own child — that will do the job. You can pull that one off in the same damned house.
So, I used to think that not having kids was my own choice. But for a while now I have been worried that I made the wrong choice, based on other people’s garbage. And I’m terrified that as I watch my new friend’s experience, and spend time with her and her baby, it will confirm that I made the wrong choice.
Confirm that once again, I have lost out on something important — maybe even essential to a happy, fulfilled life — that I should have had. Because of my fucking fucked-up family.
Over the years, as I’ve lost my whole family, and a few friends, there haven’t been a whole lot of new people coming in to fill up that empty space. My husband’s mother had her own issues, and certainly didn’t welcome me with open arms into their family. I had hoped my new friend would maybe fill up a little of that lonely, empty space — but of course that’s changed now. She will have new priorities, and a lot less time for friends. And that is as it should be.
But if I had had my own kids, maybe I wouldn’t be so lonely — I would have someone, a family of my own. And I probably got robbed of that opportunity. Certainly I was only given biased information, and didn’t have the opportunity to truly make my own choice about it. And it’s too late now to change that.
Maybe things will be fine. Maybe I will be perfectly happy with this opportunity to be an “aunt” to my friend’s child, and maybe, just maybe, the experience will confirm that I really made the right choice for me. I suppose there is a 50-50 chance, right?
But what if the opposite does happen? What if I hold my friend’s baby, and my heart breaks? What if I find out that yes, I got manipulated into making this hugely important choice WRONG, based on my mother’s fucked-up bullshit, and the collusion of a bunch of selfish angry teenagers (my siblings)? How angry will I be then? I don’t know if I can live through that.
ETA: after a few days and some help, I’ve been doing a lot better with this.
Since I don’t have a current therapist, I consulted with a longtime online friend who also happens to be a psychologist, and she said several things that helped a ton.
For one, she pointed out that if I wanted to change my mind, it isn’t too late, and she’s right: I am not actually past child bearing age. Ironically, my mom had me at about my age. One year younger, I believe.
Of course, that doesn’t much help with the one-sided, negative view problem. Nothing can fix that, but overall it seems my gut reactions are still holding. One of my other online friends is babysitting her great-nephew today, and discovered she can’t use a computer around him because he keeps grabbing and touching. My immediate reaction was “holy cow I could NOT deal with that.”
For another, she said this : “Your feelings about your friend do not actually come from her having a baby. You are jealous because that baby is going to have a wonderful mother and that mother was your friend before she had a baby. So you have to give up your friend to a third party that isn’t going to bring you any joy. Even her baby gets a good mother and you have to give up your friend and hear about how much someone else loves their baby.”
Which is pretty accurate, although there is probably something in there about how that baby is going to have a great mother WHO IS A LOT LIKE ME. And that makes me feel so sad.
Let me be clear: I totally don’t grudge that baby her great mom – but I just wish so badly that I had had the same.
Sometimes I see moms hugging with their kids, out in the grocery store or whatever, just happy to be together, and it just about kills me. I can see how reassuring, how comforting that must be to have.
In the recorded conversation, my sister speaks wistfully about a family they knew with several kids in it about their own age, one of whom my brother Joe was good friends with and another my sister apparently dated for a bit. Joe refers to them as second parents; my sister remembers how they were a warm, loving family, and how the dad always hugged her when he saw her and how much she appreciated that physical show of affection.
Yet she can’t understand how it makes me feel when she doesn’t hug me in greeting, or barely speaks to me when we are together.
It’s also strange to me that our father’s physical affection to a 5YO me was so easily cast as “dirty” — yet this physical affection of an unrelated older man to a 16YO is perfectly innocent and a good thing. Just goes to show the deeply ingrained prejudice against any action of my father’s, no matter how normal it might have been.
My online friend kept saying, “Your kids are never your friends,” and that was kind of “off” from what was making me feel so bad — but that helped me realize that when I was saying that “if I had had kids, at least I would not be so lonely” it was not so much a desire for friendship, as that A FAMILY THAT I CREATED WOULD NOT BE ONE THAT I COULD BE KICKED OUT OF, or have to struggle to earn a place in — or in the case of my in-laws, never let into.
And that is probably the heart of the whole thing. I’m always outside looking in. I’ve never had a mother’s love. Never had the experience of a real family. I’ve experienced a dad who did a damned good job of filling in for that unloving mother, but I lost that when I was pretty young. And I have a wonderful loving husband. But I’ve also had five siblings who never quite allowed me the membership in the tribe that was rightfully mine. And I had a mother-in-law who, for reasons of her own, kept me out of “her” family.
Now I am faced with being outside looking in again, at a warm, loving, happy family that I’m not truly a part of.
That may or may not come to pass, but it is painful to contemplate.
My online psychologist friend said that what I am feeling is pretty normal for the situation. And she also said some very nice things about how far I’ve come in the time she’s known me. So that was good to hear.
And finally, I’ve decided that if I had to get it wrong, I’d still rather make this mistake than the other one: where I had a kid, and found out that motherhood wasn’t what I really wanted, and ended up being a mom who was neglectful and disinterested.
Of all the things I’d hate myself for, doing to someone else what my mom did to me would be the most unforgivable.
Maybe that means part of my original choice and my child-less identity is less about “Do I want to have a child or not?” and more about, “I’m going to be smarter and more considerate and a better, healthier person than my mother,” but so be it. It’s my choice, and I own it now.