“Do you want to get sushi?” I asked a friend I hadn’t seen for months, looking forward to catching up.
“I can’t have sushi. I’m pregnant,” she told me. The joy in her voice was understated, but clear.
“Congratulations,” I told her excitedly, once I was sure this was good news. She assured me it was — the father is out of the picture, but she’s going to become a mom in 2013. Like me, she’s 36. And like me, she loves kids and wants to be a mom, but her ideal scenario would be marriage plus baby. However, faced with an unplanned pregnancy with a guy she’d only been seeing for a few months, she’s willing to embrace the challenge of being a single mom. When we did get together (over frozen yogurt), I marveled at how much happier she looked than the last few times I’d seen her. She’d gotten highlights and gained a little weight — but not enough, in her first trimester, for someone to be able to peg her as pregnant. The extra weight looked healthy on her, like she’d been missing those pounds and had finally found them and brought them to their rightful home. She showed me her sonogram photo on her iPhone, pride radiating across the table, and in that moment, as she explained to me technical terms about which part of the fetus’s body were visible on the screen and what size fruit it resembled, I had to admit, if only to myself, that a part of me was jealous.
Before I continue, let me make it clear that I’m not trying to glamorize single motherhood — or any other kind of motherhood. I know that no matter how many parents I talk to, no matter how much potty training I witness or toddler tantrums I overhear, there’s no way I can possibly know how much work is involved in raising a child until I actually do it. But that doesn’t mean I can’t have feelings and opinions. I know plenty of moms, single and partnered, I’ve read Jessica Valenti’s Why Have Kids? and single parenting memoirs like Mary Pols’s Accidentally on Purpose and Rachel Sarah’s Single Mom Seeking. I’ve considered what my life would be like if I never become a mom. And I still want to do it, very much. With each year that passes (I’ll turn 37 next month), I know my chances of conceiving drop, but that’s not what I think about when I tell my friend I’ll be happy to serve as her on-call babysitter, or I waggle my glittery pink fingernails to make a baby gurgle happily at me on an airplane. I want kids of my own, from babyhood on up, ones who turn to me when they need or want something, ones who look to me for reassurance, ones who ask me questions, ones who I can dote on and cater to — and I’m reaching a point in my life where I almost don’t care how I go about it.
I have dated several men, and one woman, who I’ve considered having kids with, but we never came remotely close to actually preparing for it. With some I’ve discussed it in a vague way, but never with a concrete plan in place. I’ve never taken prenatal vitamins or childproofed my home or looked at schools. In none of those relationships did we discuss the logistics of raising a child. The closest I’ve gotten was once, while doing a rather frustrating jigsaw puzzle (I would not recommend an M.C. Escher black and white one unless you are a genius at jigsaws) with an ex, he casually said, “Maybe our 4-year-old can figure it out someday,” and I was both pleased and shocked. If all I’d wanted was to become a mom, I could’ve settled down with him and gotten busy getting knocked up immediately, but the longer we dated, the more our differences became glaring. That choice made me realize I do want kids, but I don’t want them at any cost. That wouldn’t be fair to the kid(s), or to us.
I’ve never dated anyone who wanted to become a parent as strongly as I do. I don’t want to put someone I love in the position of dealing with an unplanned pregnancy, which is part of why I recently decided to get serious about birth control with my boyfriend of nine months. We’d been using the pullout method, and had never discussed the issue, since it seemed to be working, until a recent pregnancy scare when we both decided condoms are a necessity (unless I were to start taking the Pill or using another method). He’s 34, and has known I want kids since early on in our relationship. He’s not 100% sure he does, but hasn’t ruled it out. We’ve started talking about moving in together, and before I do that, I will make sure we have a more settled plan than just figuring out the issue of kids “someday.” I would never want to push him into parenthood if he’s not fully on board. By contrast, if I got pregnant with someone casual or a one-night stand who didn’t care one way or the other, it would be a relief of sorts. I’d be free to raise my kid(s) however I want, and wouldn’t have to defer to someone else’s expectations about religion or nutrition or education.
That’s not to say I have hard and fast rules about what I want for my future children in any of those areas, but I like the idea of having control, as much as it’s possible to, over those kinds of parenting decisions. Maybe single parents long for someone else to share those decisions, but from the outside, having that power seems like more of a blessing than a curse. I’d have to seek out alternative father figures, but at least I wouldn’t be dragging someone unwillingly into a lifelong commitment. It’s not necessarily rational, but it does make a twisted kind of sense to me. And maybe because I was raised by a single mom, the idea of not being financially self-sufficient scares me. I don’t want to put myself, and, potentially, my child, in a situation where I’m financially reliant on someone else — even someone I love.
Whenever I’ve floated the idea of single motherhood to my mom, who raised me largely on her own (I saw my dads on weekends and vacations, but they had disputes over child support, and my mom was the one who made the day-to-day decisions), she has been very vocal about how hard single motherhood is. I know that. I don’t think my friend’s life is going to get easier, but despite that I think she will be happier because this is a child she is eager to welcome into the world.Do I have a plan about what I’d do if I were in my friend’s position? No, but neither did she, and somehow, she’s stepping up and handling it, as plenty of women have done before her.
My life would certainly have to change in every way, from downsizing apartments to decluttering to making sure I can pay my rent on time every month. Becoming pregnant would force me to finally take on the full responsibilities of adulthood, rather than floating along and hoping things will work out, which is my basic strategy these days. I’m just entering my second year of self-employment, and have chosen to spend my money on recreational travel rather than, for example, health insurance. If I were pregnant, I would have what feels like a better reason — someone else — to go for regular doctor’s visits. I’m the kind of person who sometimes needs a major life event to force me to do what’s in my best interest, like filing my taxes. Having a child who looks up to and requires me to be their caretaker would give me additional motivation to push through the challenging times rather than wallow and feel sorry for myself.
The mere fact that one of my first reactions was jealousy highlights for me the knowledge that if at some point I had to choose between having a romantic relationship and becoming a mother, I would choose the latter in an instant. Why? Because I could always meet someone to date later, but I have a limited amount of time to give birth. Not knowing exactly how much time is left is unnerving, so the idea that I could have my greatest wish granted to me out of the blue is a bit like a fairy tale to me. I don’t necessarily expect it to have a perfect happy ending, but at least I’d know I was taking charge of that ending, rather than simply waiting passively for it to show up.
Just because I’m jealous, though, doesn’t mean I’m stupid. I’m not going to throw away my serious relationship in order to have a kid with someone I don’t know. My friend eventually wants to meet someone she can have a child and be a co-parent with, and I know plenty of women who’ve moved from single motherhood to just such a loving family situation. I hope we both wind up with partners who love us — and our kids. But I also know that if we don’t, we’ll be okay, and will be moms who’ll make our kids proud.