Late one night, after my brother and sister were finally asleep, I found my usually cheerful and seemingly happy mother crying in the kitchen. My father had been gone for two weeks of a three-week-long business trip, my younger siblings had been sick with the flu, and I had been “acting up” (puberty was getting the best of me). I thought she was just tired, but I learned it was much more than that.
“I thought I would be someone else, but here I am,” my mother said. And then she cautioned me through her tears, “Don’t make the same mistakes I did.”
Like so many children, I had never thought of my mother as her own person. But that night I saw her in a different light. I realized she was lonely, far from her family, a housewife who was financially dependent on a man, living in country that was not her own. That night she went from being just my mother to a person with her own dreams, wishes, and regrets.
Years later, when she had her own career as a clothing consultant and became one of the leading salespeople for her company, she would tell me she regretted saying what she did that night, that it had all worked out in the end. And it did, but her words that night made a deep impression on me, as did society’s message during the 1970s and 1980s, when I was growing up, that having a wildly successful career mattered more than anything, including having a family. I came to believe motherhood and marriage were patriarchal institutions in which women got the raw end of the deal. I wasn’t going to let them get in the way of accomplishing my dreams and goals.
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And then I met Bill. Talk about ruining my well-laid plans. I surprised my closest friends, my mother, and especially myself by marrying him the day before my twenty-fifth birthday. My mother asked me if I was sure, and I told her, “No, but somehow it feels right.” It was.
In the years that followed, Bill and I never discussed kids in any real way. He assumed we would eventually have them, and I willfully ignored the subject. He went to business school and then I did. We got jobs, saved money, bought our first house. Life was going along swimmingly until Bill’s mom and my mom started hinting they wanted to be grandparents.
Bill’s mother, who rarely interfered, asked us one night, “You’ve been together for nearly seven years, what are you waiting for?” When I shared with my mother what my mother-in-law had said, she responded somewhat wistfully, “Well, all of my friends are already grandmothers. It does seem it’s about time.”
Time? I was in my early thirties; I had all of the time in the world. Or so I thought. I watched as one friend, and another, and then another, had problems with fertility. They spent months and even years getting shots, enduring in vitro fertilization, and suffering with miscarriage after miscarriage. Some were successful and had children; others were not.
“If you want children,” one of those friends told me, “don’t wait any longer.”
And yet, I still I wasn’t sure. If you have children, shouldn’t you be sure? And then I unexpectedly got pregnant.
I’ll never forget the bright blue line in the e.p.t. home pregnancy test. I hadn’t told Bill I thought I might be pregnant before I took it, and as I stood in our bathroom staring down at my future, I wasn’t sure what to tell him I needed time to let this new reality sink in, to ponder what it meant for me, for us. I decided to keep the news to myself, at least for a while.
A few days later, I miscarried.
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