Sometime in my thirty-sixth year, my body changed. No more twenty-seven-day cycles. No more like-clockwork ovulation pain at day fourteen. No sleeping for nine-hour stretches. Most nights, between two and four, I thought about kicking the starlings out of the eaves. Everything inside shifted. Then, at thirty-eight, my husband and I split and the changes intensified: more hair to sweep from the bathroom floor. Night sweats. I figured it was stress, big life-shifts like moving, separating, and marrying off the other two women in my family, my mother and sister.
Though I’d never had children, my husband had two sons. They were ten and eighteen and living on the opposite coast when I came on the scene. I never considered them a replacement, but I am sure they helped me avoid thinking about having my own kids. It wasn’t until the younger one left California with his brother for a cross-country trip and college that I felt the merest shadow of what an empty-nester faces. I was thirty-seven and there go the kids. But what nagged me nights when I’d bolt upright in bed wasn’t that I didn’t have children; it was that I hadn’t finished a book.
Newly on my own, I wrote constantly. I turned down dinner invitations. I quit walking with a friend on Sundays. I saved Saturdays for writing the way some set aside time for family. Consider it a practice, I told myself.
By then, the time between my periods was longer or shorter. I wasn’t feeling bad, but I felt different. The young gynecologist, who ran a series of tests, told me that I was coming to the end – quickly – of my ovulating days. “At forty?” I asked. “Everyone’s different,”she said. The markers indicated to her that it might be a couple years and then over. “Done.” I can’t remember how she phrased it, but I knew she was skirting around a major life-change and trying to throw it in the best light: “This is just a normal process,” she said, “unless you are thinking of having children . . . ” I answered: “Not really.” It was true.
In my twenties, I put myself on a path that didn’t lead to having a family. I turned away, serially, from relationships that might have made for two people, down the road, wanting a child. I’m not saying they were bad relationship decisions; I’m saying they weren’t accidents. I favored playmates over partners, parental figures instead of equals, men who wanted to be boss or to be taken care of themselves. There was the man who was too young, the one who loved Dungeons & Dragons, the one who said he’d never travel, and the one who’d been married twice and had two children.
In all of this, I never said, when I’m thirty-five, I want kids or when I’m forty, I want to have my dream job. I was slow to understand myself; I was in school far too long and trying to find the discipline – if that’s the word – to write. And it’s not because I thought I had talent; it’s because writing made me feel sane and connected. Whenever I’d write, I’d feel like, I’ll have more of that. Two helpings, please.