“But,” I interrupted, “I don’t know if I want to do it alone. I’m not even sure I want to have a baby.” Immediately I could hear it: the whiny tone in my voice. I launched into my list of things I still wanted to do in my life that were likely impossible if I had a baby. “I still want to spend a year in India studying, healing, and singing.” My voice began shaking. “I won’t be able to go back to Cuba or go out dancing.” I went on and on, complaining about the independence and freedom I’d have to give up.
“I’m not sure I want to have a baby if I have to do it alone,” I said. I could remember how badly I’d wanted children when I was younger, but my rational adult mind dreamed up every reason under the sun to avoid motherhood. “I’m afraid I’ll end up single forever if I have a baby alone. Who wants to date a woman who already has kids?” I implored. This fear of remaining single forever loomed over me. I was adamant that no man would ever want to be with me if I already had a child. In my search through online dating profiles, I myself had eliminated men who already had kids. Even before online dating, in my early thirties when my girlfriends and I talked about whether or not we’d date a guy with kids, the consensus was, No, too much baggage.
In fact, when I considered my mantra, “I won’t know if I want kids until I meet my partner,” I realized it had risen out of a similar fear of rejection. I was afraid of scaring men off if I showed that I was committed to having a child. Having never known any boys who were obsessed with babies, I assumed that most men were somewhat indifferent to having children. Women were the ones who really wanted kids, right? When I thought about trying to date as a single mother, I assumed that a man would be unmotivated to raise a child that was not his own flesh and blood. And that man, whoever he was, would have to fall in love with both of us. The dating equation already seemed difficult enough without adding a child into the mix. At the time, I could only think of one male friend who had married a woman who already had kids. I blame 12 years of Catholic school for coloring my view about dating with children.
“Will I even be able to date again if I have a kid?” I asked Chris, my Qigong teacher and now someone I call a dear friend who knew me inside and out.
“You might be freed of dating forever,” Chris laughed. “You did start this session with a list of the dating horrors.” I loved the way he and I could banter with each other. It helped lighten my mood. But I also knew on a deeper level that Chris had a plan, and his irreverent joking was helping me break down my barriers to see the absurdity of what I was saying.
“And, how will I support myself?” I continued.
“I don’t worry about you financially,” Chris said reassuringly. “You’re very smart, and you know how to make money.”
I paused and tried to articulate what was coming up for me next, but it was having a hard time coming out. I held my breath, fighting back tears, a lump stuck squarely in my throat. “But what if I can’t have a baby?” Now tears started to stream down my face. “What if I can’t do it alone?”
After a few moments, Chris spoke gently, “So, the list of rational reasons not to have a baby is long. But what does your heart yearn for?” And then, chuckling a little, he continued, “No one would ever have a baby if it was a rational decision. Can you shut off that lawyer mind of yours for a minute to listen to your heart and gut?”
Chris’s voice calmed me, yet when he asked what I wanted in my heart, I held my breath and that telltale lump formed in my throat. I tried to hold back the tears. It was futile. Tears dripped out of the corners of my eyes, rushing into my ears. “I’m so confused,” I managed to say. “I don’t know what I want.”
I wasn’t sure why I was crying. At the time, I thought the confusion upset me. Eventually I would understand that Chris’s words had touched some deeper part of my knowing. The mere mention of my heart’s desire stirred something, connecting me not only to my purpose but also to regret for not yet living that purpose.
“That’s okay,” said Chris reassuringly. “Don’t worry. It will become clear. For now, just rest.”
Over the coming weeks, the internal debate would kick up again and again, my lawyer brain squawking away. I couldn’t hear my heart’s voice over the din. It’s surprising to look back now and see how far removed I had become from my maternal longing. Had I lost my longing to become a mother, or had the fears about doing it alone clouded my desire? I was no longer ignoring the baby question, but still, I could not decide.
This essay was written by Sarah Kowalski and is an excerpt from her new book, Motherhood Reimagined, coming in October 2017. Sarah Kowalski, Esq., is a fertility doula, family building coach, postpartum doula, and author. As a single mother by choice who conceived her son via sperm and egg donors, she is a go-to guide for women who are contemplating single motherhood, having fertility issues, raising donor-conceived children, or navigating life as single mothers.