A soft disclaimer: Before I dive into this essay, I want to start by writing that motherhood is a fluid experience. My confusion about having children is completely different from the experience of those struggling to have children, those who have lost children, and those who are raising them. Regardless of the journey into motherhood, our stories are valid and different. This story is complicated mine.
This year I have gone through a whole bottle of prenatal pills. I took them sparingly. Sixty pills lasted six months. I bought another bottle at Target the other day, scoffed at the name brand and opted for the generic version instead. Anticipating pregnancy would be expensive if I kept buying the $35 bottle.
I deleted my pregnancy app. It was checked too often. As if it were to unlock a secret story, an Easter egg. When its little blue bubbles told me I was ovulating, I asked my body a million questions it couldn’t answer in words. I felt every back: Was it a pinch of implantation? Does this app know I’m ovulating?
Despite the science of the matter, drinking alcohol or eating junk food was a sudden Gluttony Fest. I did everything wrong at the expense of a small calendar in the palm of my hand, a place to document sex and symptoms. Get the Ovulation Strips! Everyone told me this. But I didn’t want them. Strips were too addictive. Too real, routine. We didn’t try, but we didn’t does not samples. And I needed the relaxed demeanor of the idea itself to remain so simple.
My husband and I are not trying to have children. But we don’t try. Is it possible? I don’t have the answer, but it feels okay to write through the emotions—the whole glass of roller coaster emotions on the rocks.
It’s easy to feel alone inside your body, to wonder what’s inside. It’s easy and it’s foreign all at once.
I don’t want this to be a sob story. And I worry about writing this. But I want to be honest. F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, “What people are ashamed of is usually a good story.” I guess that’s what I’m doing here, pouring my shame and confusion out onto the figurative floor. It’s easy to feel alone inside your body, to wonder what’s inside. It’s easy and it’s foreign all at once. Building a family is uncharted territory at first.
When self-definition is external
When my husband and I agreed to “try but not try” to have children, I imagined the pregnancy would happen like a match. I had been on birth control for almost fifteen years. Ovulatory cramps were ghosts. My period was a perfectly timed sham. I had lived most of my life in shame about sex and desire for sex, in fear of the potential of children to “ruin my life.” I took responsibility for all my sensual desires. Pregnancy, its potential laden with failure, seemed…too easy.
So when we put the worries aside and said, “Okay, if that happens, whatever,” I expected the shift to seem relaxed. I wanted the pregnancy to be a planned accident. I didn’t feel like peeing on ovulation strips or tapping my wrist and saying, “Go to bed right now!” I didn’t want to try to have children or feel rushed. My imagination was coincidence, a sweet mistake, a tasteful mistake in the timeline.
But I had more to learn about who I was and what I wanted.
In January I had my annual check-up with the doctor. I told her not to refill my birth control and we started talking about planning. Because that’s what we do, we plan. Do you smoke? None. You can start taking prenatal pills. Okay. And if you want to take some blood tests, I can tell the nurse. Okay. It sounds good. And I typically tell all my patients, I always recommend losing 5-10 pounds. It can help you get pregnant faster. You know, be healthy. Wear your seat belt. Right.
I thought about losing ten pounds for weeks and began to direct my loss inward. I wanted to be angry, but I hadn’t dealt with the pandemic yet. So I ended up feeling tired. And guilty. The doubt was there, the fat on my hips and the guilt. I thought If I don’t get pregnant right away, it’s my fault.
Somehow my body was no longer mine. It could also be someone else’s. And that offer, that process, made me so aware of every twitch and sensation that I began to feel private in an out-of-body way. I looked over myself, imagined, predicted, panicked.
It took a while for my periods to be consistent after I went off birth control. After the first free month, I convinced myself I was pregnant every cycle. I began to identify cramping and ovulation again and felt a head rush as I imagined life sprouting in my womb. Somehow my body was no longer mine. It could also be someone else’s. And that offer, that process, made me so aware of every twitch and sensation that I began to feel private in an out-of-body way. I looked over myself, imagined, predicted, panicked.
Expect “the best part”
In Meg Mason’s book Sorrow and Bliss, she wrote: “The time between finding out you’re pregnant and telling anyone, including your husband, even if it’s only a week or a minute in my case. No one talks about that part [the best part].” The moment Mason describes is a feeling I deeply anticipated in the first six months of going off birth control. The idea of that specific privacy was so singular and ecstatic that it made me light-headed.
And then there was the fear. It’s hard to slap a timeline on kids. So why did I feel this way? We can want both. But when we actively seek both, the world becomes foggy. I want to be a mother and I don’t. Something so magnificent, so life-changing, is one Great wish. There is no way around it. Despite the paradox, how are we allowed to “wish big” when we don’t even want to think about the idea?
I want to be a mother and I don’t. Something so magnificent, so life-changing, is one Great wish. There is no way around it. Despite the paradox, how are we allowed to “wish big” when we don’t even want to think about the idea?
It is impossible to ignore the obsessions about having a baby. Imagining being pregnant has an intoxicating pulse; most of the time I can almost feel the lust in my groin. Sometimes, before I go to bed, I let the glow of my phone bathe my face while I Google “How does implantation feel?” Or “Tricks to get pregnant.” Or “How do you know you’re pregnant?” My story is a virtual card mix of anxiety, questions and doubts.
Every cycle I do the soft calculation: the star sign of a ghost baby. Anticipate the feeling of being really pregnant within a season or holiday. A whole life flashes before me. And every month it’s there: the blood and the wonder. Women are seasoned at shouldering the blame. And I immediately imagine that the emptiness is my problem. I’m empty because I’m too fat, too irresponsible, too incapable.
I am so aware of my body that it feels as if I am outside it – I see it as a theater, up on the upper level, as the velvet curtain lifts. When I ride and feel out of balance (pregnant). When I’m bloated and soft and tired (pregnant). When ovulation pings my insides (pregnant). I am my own humble reminder that I am capable of intense awareness of life.
I am so aware of my body that it feels as if I am outside it – I see it as a theater, up on the upper level, as the velvet curtain lifts.
In article forums online, many couples say “We got pregnant a few months after resigning ourselves to the idea of being childless.” Like somehow, magically, the idea of not wanting children will get you there; Being deficient in family planning will bop a wand on your head. Bippity, boppity, BABY!
Looking and wanting the glow
When friends get pregnant, I feel joy and shame How can I survive this? When they show up to happy hours looking like a calm glow, I order a cocktail; Imagine destroying my body from the inside out. I see the angelic mother figure holding her belly. I feel so far removed from her privacy, the things going on inside her womb, swirling in sensual proximity. I am so far away from myself in these moments and wonder what it will ever be like to hold something like this.
Trying but not trying is also a gap; one that is easy to ignore. The in between is not “the big announcement.” It’s not the “reveal”. It is nothing new or old. Middle ground time is just there. Answers are not available. Figure things out and wait. What are we doing in this room? How do we get through it? Can we feel peace?
Trying but not trying is also a gap; one that is easy to ignore. . . . What are we doing in this room? How do we get through it? Can we feel peace?
Conditions change by themselves
Peace can mean many things; appear in different scenarios. I don’t know what to do in this middle ground. In my fantasy version, I would go on with my life. I am lucky and healthy. The journey does not have to be stamped or defined.
“Everything is broken and messed up and perfectly fine. That’s what life is. It is only the relationship that changes,’ writes Mason. “Usually on their own. As soon as you think that’s it, it’ll be like that forever, they change again.”
This is what my life is to me, imagining having children. It’s smashed, just fine, a long weekend, old underwear, new underwear, happy anniversary, I love you, I’m tired, will you buy a pair of sunglasses on BOGO deal, leftovers, fancy wine, deadlines, PTO. Mason writes about life: “Conditions change by themselves.” And they do. We cannot expect time to move in a straight line or be linear in relation to other lives.
My life, creating a life, is incomparable to anything else. Which so far is a good enough ratio for me.
Brittany Chaffee is an avid storyteller, professional empath and author. On a daily basis, she is paid to strategize and create content for brands. Outside working hours, it’s about a well-lit place, warm bread and good company. She lives in St. Paul with his little brother cats, Rami and Monkey. Follow her on Instagramread more about her latest book, Borderlineand (most importantly) go hug your mom.