I spent the better part of my flight from Seattle to Newark flirting with the baby in 27D. It wasn’t my fault: he started flirting with me first. I’m not a great flier under the best of circumstances, so when the chubby, blue eyed toddler across the aisle began to steal glances at me from over his mama’s shoulder, I was all too happy for the distraction from the turbulent air. As I contorted my face into all manner of silly expressions, he rewarded me by breaking into an enormous, toothless grin, and my insides turned to mush.
I’ve never been a “baby person.” I don’t lose my mind over basinets and tiny clothes. But lately, more and more, I find myself softening to all things kid-related. Maybe it’s the fact that so many of my friends have ridiculously cute children. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m at the age where everyone I know seems to be starting or growing a family.
Of course, that’s not entirely true. I have friends who are happily coupled who have made the – perfectly acceptable – decision not to have children. And I have other friends who want a family, badly, and are struggling to conceive.
And then there’s me: part of a whole tribe of women well into our thirties with otherwise full lives who haven’t met “the one,” and who aren’t willing to settle for any guy with viable sperm. For us – for me – the baby window is beginning to close, and for the first time in my life, I find myself wondering: what if “someday” becomes “never?”
I always thought I’d be a mother. You know, later. When I was “ready.” For a while, my life seemed to be heading in that direction. I got married when I was thirty. I was on the track.
Except I wasn’t. Less than a year after the wedding, my father was diagnosed with terminal cancer. And while he was dying, my mother drank herself to death. The sudden deaths of both my parents threw my life into crisis and exposed deep cracks in the foundation of my relationship. Cracks that had always been there. Cracks that I was no longer able to ignore.
My thirties began tumultuously and stayed that way. There were more deaths in the family, more drama. I couldn’t take care of myself, let alone anyone else. At thirty-three, I moved out on my own, determined to stay single until – through therapy and the passage of time – I was healthy enough to be in a relationship again. And for the most part, over these last three and a half years, I haven’t had much interest in dating. But now, I’m on the cusp of thirty-seven, staring down my approaching birthday like the barrel of a gun and wondering: should I change something, before my time runs out?
These days, my life is on a very different sort of track. Two months ago, I moved to New York, a city where being single in your thirties is not only normal, it’s celebrated. It means I’m focused on my career. It means I’m too busy hustling to get attached to someone who will divert me from my dreams. People in New York – or at least, the people I know – don’t go in for the white picket fence vision of life. And if that changes, well, they leave. A friend recently told me over dinner that I shouldn’t worry, because in New York it’s “totally acceptable” to be an unmarried woman in your forties. “No one will judge you,” she said.
But here’s the embarrassing part, the part where I’m going to sound like a terrible feminist and a traitor to my own gender: being single in my forties doesn’t sound appealing. And neither does being childless. It just sounds. . . lonely. And like I failed at something I always thought I’d do.
But there’s another layer to this baby dilemma, something more complicated than just the fear that the sands of time are slipping through the hourglass: I also carry the weight of legacy on my shoulders. I was my mother’s only child. My mother had one brother, who also had one child: a son. If I’m feeling kind, I’ll tell you my uncle’s son is estranged from our family, and if I’m feeling honest, I’ll tell you he’s a drug-addicted psycho who cut ties with everyone who loved him in the most violent and hateful of ways.
So, when it comes to carrying on the family line, it all comes down to me. My logical brain knows it’s not fair to shoulder that responsibility. But my emotional brain – you know, the one that flirts with babies on airplanes? – can’t help feeling I’ll regret missing the opportunity to create a new life that might have my grandfather’s laugh, or – by some miracle of DNA – my mother’s aquamarine eyes.
My life is good. For the first time in a long time, I feel like I’m where I’m supposed to be and doing what I’m supposed to do. I have the freedom to travel and explore and pursue my dream of becoming a working writer in one of the most exhilarating cities on earth. Nowhere does a baby fit into that equation. In fact, to deviate from a path that feels right for my life to incubate, care for, and raise another human – most likely, at least, the way things are going, on my own – would not only constitute an enormous detour, it could very well be a decision I’d live to regret. But if I don’t take that detour, if I stay the course, and my time runs out, will I regret that, too?
I don’t have the answer to these questions. I can’t tie up this essay with a pretty pink ribbon and tell you I’ve got it all figured out. All I know is this: I’m a woman whose need to trust in the timing of her own life is bumping up against the very real scientific reality of the biological clock. And I’m not sure what to do about that. But as I approach another birthday, I wonder one thing: will my thirty-seventh year be the year I decide to freeze my eggs? You know, just in case?