From Electric Lit:
Last December, with some hesitation, I posted a personal essay I’d written for Racquet Magazine on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. The piece examined why Serena’s retirement from professional tennis, in order to have another child, had prompted an existential crisis for me. Serena and I are both 41, and her sadness around the word “retirement” echoed my own sadness around the word “motherhood.” While I came to no firm conclusions, I ended the essay suggesting that my husband and I would likely not have children, given my age and our ambivalence, despite family and social pressures to reproduce.
One week after posting the article, I found out I was pregnant.
I had initially written the piece in early August, when Alejandro and I were still in the will-we-won’t-we throes of removing my IUD and playing pregnancy roulette. Writing the piece felt like finding solid ground after trudging through a steaming, buggy, couples-therapy swamp. After finishing it, I knew I would be okay without kids, even if a twinge of sadness remained. Still, in September, that very twinge led me to remove the IUD and roll the dice. We decided we would try for six months, a year at most, and then pat ourselves on the backs.
When I posted the article, a week before Christmas, I was smarting from all the photos of young families on Facebook, and what I knew would be the inevitable round of questions about my childbearing desires at holiday parties. I captioned each post as a semi-manifesto. On Instagram, I wrote “As a childless woman at 41, I’m constantly fielding inappropriate questions from total strangers about having kids. It was healing to find my truth on the page instead of stammering something at a cocktail party.” On Facebook: “There’s a lot of pressure on women to not just have kids but to unequivocally want to be a mother. In this time of holiday cards and families posing together, I’m sending love out to those women who are on the fence and whose photos might look way different.” And on Twitter, I leaned even more provocative: “When a woman feels new life stirring inside, does it always have to be a baby?”
I felt like I had made some sort of declaration, that I had finally side-stepped the pitying looks from mothers when I said I didn’t have kids. But what had I declared, exactly? By claiming temporary childlessness (which is so often treated as temporary insanity), I had simply admitted that I didn’t know what I wanted, but I was tired of feeling ashamed. In the days after posting, I basked in the glow of my friends’ praise and congratulations, for another creature I had birthed: my essay. I made plans with an acquaintance I met in Spanish lessons to grab a drink in the new year and talk more about the subject. She, too, had huge doubts about having kids, even though she was ten years younger, and had been relieved to find companionship in my essay.
But holding the positive pregnancy test in the bathroom a few days later, even before going down to tell Alejandro, among the waves of excitement, fear, dread, and joy, I felt that old stand-by, shame. I had just gone on the record as (probably) not having kids. Now I was switching sides? And, indeed, the first person we told, Ale’s sister, after shrieking and congratulating him, asked: But what about the article?
What about the article?
Link to the rest at Electric Lit