A Baby: The Road Not Taken

My mother and me

Never had one. When I was 20 years old, I thought I never would. I seriously considered tying my tubes.

For lots of reasons, well cataloged by my fellow writer Sarah Wildman in her post Best Age to Have a Baby? A) Before 26? B) After 26? C) Never?

Besides, babies are noisy. They’re grabby. On their foreheads are neon signs: I want! I need! Right now!

Even on your lap, they squirm. I never thought much about it until a mom said to me: “That! That’s what I hate. That squirmy thing they do when they’re trying to get down.”

Parents have ugly plastic crap in every room of the house. They even bring some with them on the rare occasions they venture out.

A British study revealed that, acoustically speaking, the sound of “many babies crying” lands in third place of the earth’s most noxious noises, tying with “horrible scraping” sound. Obviously, the evolution gods decided humans should do whatever it takes to make the crying stop.

For me, the biggest roadblock to bearing a child was the immutable fact that babies are not returnable. Whenever I heard the faint sound of my biological clock ticking, I would just go shopping. Eventually I’d see some exasperated mom slapping her kids. That’s me, I’d think, after my husband leaves me.

Such was the very definition of the life I did not want. My self-image was closer to an ex-pat writer living in a Paris garret than a woman waling on her kids at the big-box store.

Even so, there was this little girl in my imagination. I suppose that’s because I used to be one myself, and I had such a sweet mother.

When my sister and I were young, we would drape bedspreads and blankets over our backyard clothesline, and I’d tear my mom’s wooden clothespins in half, and use them as tent stakes, pounding them it into the ground with a rock. Now and then my mother would make a halfhearted attempt to protest, but ultimately she resigned herself to owning bed coverings with holes in every corner. Occasionally I’d see her toss a new package of clothespins in her basket at the A&P.

At the age of 24, I married a man who said “yup” to kids before we wed and “nope” to kids soon afterward. Which dovetailed perfectly with my big-box, single-mom nightmare.

A hysterectomy at age 35 removed all possibility of children. People would helpfully say: You can always adopt. Oh, really? “I couldn’t talk my husband into having his own kid. How am I going to talk him into adopting someone else’s?”

For a while I worked in child care. I did some babysitting too. The children were lovely creatures, but they weren’t mine. I was protective to a fault, and exhausted by the time mom and dad got home.

Now I’m four years older than my grandmother was the day I was born.

I accept my fate. I’m childless (or child-free, depending on your point of view) and I like my life. I’ll never know what kind of parental catastrophe — or paradise — I sidestepped by having no children.

Today’s pregnant women wear body-hugging outfits, not at all like the modest sailor-suit dresses my mom wore when she was pregnant with my younger brother.

I’m happy for friends that bring new lives into the world. With any luck, they’ll share with me. But I admit the paths I’ve taken and not taken haunt me a little. To quote from an obscure poem about a daughter never conceived and never born:

I thought she’d fade
but still she calls
in the sleepless night:
give me your darkest winter
it will be spring to me

[originally published by Politics Daily in 2010]

~ ~ ~

[ed. note: Readers asked which poem was quoted; here it is.]

My Daughter Undone
by Donna Trussell

Not a single cell.
She was just an idea,
a morning vapor
gone by noon.
My womb disappeared
with the sweep
of a surgeon’s knife.

I would apologize
but she can’t believe it’s over.
I thought she’d fade
but still she calls
in the sleepless night:
give me your darkest winter
it will be spring to me

About Quixotic Chick

I write. I take pictures. I survived cancer.
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