Adventures in making and raising our test-tube babies

Monday, April 14, 2008

Nature and Nurture

I have expected to be a mother ever since I have been a daughter. Then there was a point when I thought that being a mother would hold me back from being an accomplished woman. And finally I came around again to thinking that if I weren't a mother, I couldn't be complete.

Here's how it all went.

First, I became aware of "my daughter" when my mom showed me her childhood diary. Instantly the idea of having a daughter looking back at my childhood stuck. I wrote in diaries for years and years and years. And every single word was written with my daughter-reader in mind. Mostly I kept track of what I wore every day and who I had a crush on. It's horrible reading.

Next came something that I didn't think would be related. My mom moved away and I lived apart for her for a few of my teenage years. I had no lack of doting adults around me, especially my dad, but the mother-daughter bond is unique. I missed Mom so much I could feel it in my chest and in my stomach. I tried not to let anyone know. I tried to seem that I was completely self-sufficient.

In the meantime, I was taught to be a feminist. I think I misunderstood what that meant. I thought I had to be dazzling, famous, super-smart, all things to all people, all on my own. I thought I had to scoff at the idea of pairing up with a man. It helped that I didn't think anyone would want to be my boyfriend anyway. I went ahead and proved how much I didn't need anyone. If anything, I acted motherly. Take care of everyone and need no one. But MY GOD I wanted a boyfriend!

I carried it all to college, where my crushes and mothering activities were legion. I tried my best to be phenomenal. It was harder than it had been in high school. When college was done and we scattered to the ends of the earth, I thought I might as well go abroad and have big adventures, since nobody in the US wanted to be my boyfriend. It was just as well, too, since people who got married after college were forfeiting their feminism, throwing away the chance to be famous award-winning superstar accomplishers. When I heard of people coupling up, and especially starting to have babies, I pitied them. That's what I thought.

And then, after I'd lived in two foreign countries, learned two different languages, and was working on my Master's, I felt something one day. I was walking down the street in New Orleans and I felt a tingling in my right hand. I looked down and realized that what I felt was the absence of a child. The absence of a little baby hand to hold. The same year, I started having a similar sensation in the inside of my left upper arm. It was where I might cradle a baby's head. My arm would not leave my mind alone.

My so-called "feminism" was crumbling, losing out to my biology. I started to obsess about a baby. That was ten years ago. I was still ashamed of wanting to procreate because it seemed so weak and so needy. I didn't tell anybody. Until I told my friend Betsy. And she told me. In whispers. We freaked ourselves out about how our fertility rates would start declining soon. That started the panic.

Within a few years, traveling internationally, going to law school, being a star at work, I was desperate for that baby. Secretly desperate, but DESPERATE. I went to a bookstore and found a book that I thought I should bring home in a brown paper bag: The Surrendered Single: A Practical Guide to Attracting and Marrying the Man who's Right for You. There I was, admitting to the cashier anyway, that I wanted to get married.

How feminist was that?

What started out as a quest to find a baby-daddy ended up with the love of my life falling in love with me. I had given up hope that anyone would want to go out with me for myself. Maybe my accomplishments, but not plain old boring me. I couldn't imagine a relationship between equals. I couldn't imagine being myself, and being loved for it. I thought at least I could find something that was good enough, so I could have my secret desire - that baby.

But nope. Here was James. We met at the multi-state ethics exam in the last semester of law school. We had assigned seats together and the first thing I said to him was that I was going to cheat off him. We giggled and fell in love. Entirely accidentally, I found myself in a relationship of equals, characterized by bliss and acceptance. With not a smidge of compromise to be found. At that late date, I started to realize that if I'd been more of a true, wise feminist, with real self-esteem and a little self-knowledge, I could have had some power and happiness in a relationship before then. Sigh. Boy, was I lucky to fall into something this good. And that was just the beginning.

With James, I was able to confess my big bad secret: that I wanted to be not just a wife but also a mother. And he didn't see that as a sign of failure, weakness, provinciality. He took it as normal. Yeah.

We dated for two years and have been married for two more. As the prospect of having a baby seemed closer, I started to relax about it. And then we started trying, and I started to not relax again. Two years of trying can return a woman to desperation.

It's been interesting to compare my approach and James's to the procreation imperative. As we grow into our own little family, I've fallen deeper and deeper into the need to have a baby. James wants us to be a family, wants to have children that have half him and half me, and wants me to fulfill my dreams. But his feelings aren't as visceral. Me, I've sunk straight to the way I felt when I was separated from my mom. It's exactly the same feeling. It's in my throat, my heart, my stomach. I miss my babies. I miss them. I need them. Never mind that I've never met them. I've known them for 35 years. Almost 36.

My 36-year-old feminism is very different than my 16-year-old feminism. I have a fabulous partner in life, and I have the chance to be creative and do art all the time. I use my law degree only as much as I want, to make money and otherwise put no pressure on myself. I have learned that lawyerness, higher education, fame on Google, single-handedly changing the world in every way, none of these make me a feminist or even a more important person. Knowing who I am and what I need and what I want, and acting accordingly, those are what make me successful.

And so with that I can proudly announce to everyone on the Internet that I want to be a wife and mother and artist. All of those things make me a better person, and from those platforms I can make the greatest impact on the world. Feminism-wise and otherwise.

And I want to have a baby, and damnit, I will use everything I have to make it happen. The irony of it all is that I can't "achieve" myself into conceiving. But with my favorite person, James, at my side, we'll keep trying.

We currently have six embryos growing in a petri dish in Maryland. Soon we'll have a couple of them inside me. We'll see what happens.

1 comment:

Greg said...

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Gregory E. Lang
Author of “Daddy’s Little Girl,” “Why a Daughter Needs a Dad,” “Why a Daughter Needs a Mom” and more.