Recently, I had a big, big cry over a tender subject.
Though it feels vulnerable, I’m sharing it because the underlying pattern of this story sheds light on one of the most common ways I see people suffer.
When I was 34 and single, I froze my eggs. At the time I had no idea what the future might bring in the way of partnership and children.
Now I’m 41 in a relationship, and for the last two years, I’ve been courageously facing the question: Do I want to have kids?
I say ‘courageously’ because when I ask myself this question, it brings up so much more than just making a decision. It brings up:
- Growing old without community and support.
- Never knowing some deepest truest love and joy.
- Missing out on the challenge and growth that comes with parenthood.
- Disappointing my mom.
- Losing Vince, who is clear for now he does not want kids, or having a kid and then losing Vince.
- Not liking my kid, or motherhood.
Craving and Envy...
- Families with kids have certain kinds of adventures, intimacy, bonds, and community..
- Women who are mothers are strong, capable, courageous, passionate, and have awe-inspiring capacity.
- If I don’t want to have kids, I’m lazy, scared, selfish, small.
In asking myself this question over and over I rarely found much wanting to have kids. But I often experience a tremendous amount of fear of not having them. That fear can create a pressure so great, I sometimes question my whole life and discount everything else I am up to. I can wonder, terrifyingly, if I’m making the biggest mistake.
This is what happened a few weeks back, on the day of my big cry.
A brief encounter with an adorable kid sent me into a tale spin. I felt my throat close, my breath get shallow, a hardness forming around my heart. “Shit.” I thought. “Shit.” This feeling, I knew, if I allowed it, could threaten everything.
But I also know, through decades of experience, that avoiding feelings doesn’t work; it just makes my life small and scared because I have to avoid people and situations that might trigger those uncomfortable feelings.
So when I got home, I told Vince about the little girl and the physical and emotional sensations I was experiencing. I was dizzy, I was overwhelmed. I was scared. I asked him for help.
“Have you ever really, really, let yourself want to have kids?” He asked.
This was the right question.
I’ve thought that if I discovered I did want to have kids, I would have to leave Vince. Without realizing it, I had never truly opened up to that possibility. Now here was the man I loved, tenderly, presently, inviting me to feel what I feel, no matter the cost to ‘us’.
So I closed my eyes, deepened my breathing, and relaxed my resistance. I surrendered to finding out the truth, whatever that may be. For the first time I genuinely asked myself the question, not with my mind, but with my heart and body: Do I want to have kids?
What came through was a huge wave of Yes. There was wanting, yearning, grief, and terror. I sobbed and sobbed while Vince held me. I kept relaxing and letting the waves of feeling, thought, and sensation come through.
This lasted several minutes, and then it was over. My breath steadied. I felt a spacious emptiness descend. I opened my eyes and looked around at my man, at my life, and for the first time that I could remember, it felt like enough.
And this is the point: What I discovered that day was that I do, in fact, want to have kids. And I don’t. This is not a contradiction. They are both true.
Even as I write this I can feel the internal stretch of holding two seemingly contradictory experiences at once. But anything less than this would be dishonest. It would be the attempt of the mind to whittle life down to something simple and finite and known, something get-right-able, perhaps to avoid feeling the loss of the road not taken.
Because what is also true is that I seem to be organizing a life in which I won’t raise my own children, and though that feels right to me, it sometimes also feels very, very sad.
When I work with people, they often feel “stuck” in some way, and I usually find this exact formula underlying the stuckness: They have not allowed themselves to face and feel seemingly opposing wants and feelings.
Common ones are:
- Loving someone and hating them (or being furious with them).
- Wanting to leave something, someone, or somewhere, but also wanting to stay.
- Wanting to do two different things that seem to conflict in time, or money.
- Wanting something, and not wanting it.
- Feeling confident/insecure, empty/overwhelmed, lonely/smothered, special/insignificant, etc . . .
I remember just before I met Vince, I went through the process of facing how much I wanted to be in a relationship and how much I didn’t. By allowing both to be true, I could finally stop fighting with myself.
I haven’t figured out why allowing opposing feelings somehow creates the opening for clarity in change, but I have noticed that it seems to.
The day after my big cry, I got an email about an eco-community in Costa Rica that, when completed, will have hundreds of families, a school, even an orphanage.
Before, when I wasn’t allowing myself to feel my draw toward kids, I was keeping myself distant from young people and families. In retrospect, I can see now that it hurt too much to be near them, the grief of that unchosen path has been pulsing just beneath my awareness. Now that I’ve faced the wanting, fear, and grief, I feel drawn to finding natural ways to have kids in my life, even if it’s not through giving birth to them.
Next month, Vince and I are flying down to Costa Rica to see if this new community might be a good fit. Who knows what will happen? All I know is that I feel fuller, more honest, and more alive.
2 thoughts on “The Hardest Choice”
I needed to read this today. Thank you so much for your vulnerability and honesty. My struggle of wanting two things is different but you’re right that the underlying feeling is the same. I don’t know if it’s the same for you, but as someone who has experienced deep grief in my life I find myself avoiding what I consider “optional” grief. Like if I can avoid that feeling because it’s not about a loss over which I have zero control, I’m going to do it. But the truth is the grief is still there in different forms. Just quietly brewing under the surface looking for an outlet. Usually finding a way out at the most inconvenient times.
Oh Leah, I have been through this exact same thing, minus the fear of losing a relationship.
I love kids. From a distance. Is what I found out about myself. The social mores, the fear of dying without anyone to cry over me, the conditioning of ‘a woman’s role’ all made me want to have kids and hate the thought privately too. Till I got asked ‘why’. And then it struck me that I really didn’t. So I work with a not-for-profit that runs two orphanages. I sponsor a child’s education. I spoil my nieces and nephews (and their children, so technically my grandchildren!) silly.
I do, however, also find the same polarity also in other areas of life. I desire to be of service to others and I desire my own space. I desire to be in a relationship and I value my freedom and independence too much. I desire…
The space of clarity between this desire-resist is also perhaps what allows us to find ourselves the most, the deepest, the truest.
Happy to chat whenever you’d like to, too.