Thursday, September 4, 2014

Staring Down The Barrel At Year 35

In less than a month I’ll be 35 years old (it’s Sept 23rd, if you’d like to write it down, text me, send me a gift, serenade me). Thirty five is a really tough birthday for me, and I don’t say that about a lot of birthdays. I’ve always felt like an old soul, so the fact that I annually move closer to the age that I actually feel doesn’t tend to affect me too badly. But thirty five is rough. To explain, I have to dig down deep and talk about a subject that, for purposes of my blog, I’ve put a complete taboo on up until this point - my former marriage.

I always said that if I had a family, I’d be done by 35. When I got married over ten years ago, this seemed like a very reasonable and feasible goal. We had a five-year plan. As in, we’d start trying to have a family in five years, figured two kids not super far apart, and within seven to eight years - putting me at 31 or 32 - we’d be a happy family of four. Well, six if you counted the furballs. But things changed.

First of all, marriage was both everything and nothing like I expected. I suspect a lot of people feel that way. I tried to be pragmatic, forcing myself to believe that long term relationships must be more slow, steady, and consistent than fiery and emotional and passionate, the latter being my natural tendency toward just about every aspect of life. I tried and I tried to adjust, but deep down inside I couldn’t reconcile that way of thinking with what actually made me happy. It was one hundred percent my fault. Nobody who ever met my ex-husband would say that he was ever a super fiery, emotional person, and in fact, his stability and grounded ways are what drew me to him in the first place. But thinking you know what’s best for you, and living with that day in and day out for the rest of your life, are two completely different things.

As our marriage passed the one year mark, my then-husband decided he wanted children sooner than four years from then. He broached the subject increasingly. Meanwhile, I was twenty five, unhappy, blaming myself for it, and petrified of bringing another life into the world, particularly in the current situation. The more he suggested starting a family sooner, the more I freaked out. There’s no other word for it. I completely freaked out. And eventually, I ran. I ran from him, and I ran from my marriage. The thought of us starting a family opened the virtual floodgates, and I finally couldn’t hold back my emotions. Everything that had been making me miserable came to the forefront. While our divorce was mutual, and as friendly as a divorce can be, I knew it was more or less one-sided. Don’t get me wrong, he wasn’t perfect, and there was plenty wrong between us without the family issue, but he would have stayed in the marriage out of love for me and desire to have the settled life he'd always wanted. I couldn’t. My ex-husband is a good person, and I have always felt guilt about the entire marriage. I believe he’s remarried now, and I truly wish him happiness. I hope he ends up with the family that he so wanted.

After my marriage, the idea of children continued to freak me out. I liked my “single” life - not always single, but not tied down to a house and children. I was traveling a lot, and enjoying the freedom that I’d never found in my twenties, having been settled down by the ripe old age of 23. As the years went on and I got engaged again, I reconsidered perhaps having a family once married. I was 30, and getting past what had happened in my marriage. For reasons that don’t need to be blogged about here, my engagement didn’t last. Time ticked away.

About a year ago, I started to realize that I’d been wrong. All those years ago, I’d given up potentially being a parent. I’d allowed that mindset to sink in, and it became part of my identity. Everyone knew I liked kids if I could hand them back to their rightful parents. Everyone knew I was the free-spirited one who wouldn't be tied down to family. It had practically become a joke amongst those who knew me well. But suddenly, it wasn’t me anymore. I desperately wanted children. I knew what a wonderful parent I’d be. Except that now I have discovered that I have this genetic condition that would most likely be passed on to my children. Now, I’m on medication that I’d have to stop if I were pregnant, and that, combined with pregnancy hormones, could be disastrous. Now, I’m going to be 35, and my womb feels like a ticking time bomb. Now, I cry about this on a weekly basis. I know I should get over it. I can’t. It feels like the worse form of karma.

Technically, I could adopt. Except that a non-married woman who barely makes ends meet and has a mental health disorder isn’t exactly the prime candidate for adoption. I could foster, but there are the same issues, and besides, fostering isn’t actually my child. I want my child. I realize it's selfish, but it's true. I want to be a permanent mom, not a temporary one. I do have a lot of other people's children in my life, and I feel incredibly fortunate for them. I know it could be worse. I know people who cannot physically have children and have tried for years. I know people have lost babies in miscarriage, or possibly even worse, lost them once they were born. I cannot imagine going through that. My childlessness was, and to some extent still is, my choice, even though at times it doesn’t feel like it. At times, it feels like a big old “F.U., you made your bed, now lie in it” from whatever powers that may be.

One of my favorite pieces of inspiration, the anonymous poem “Don’t Quit” says: “life is queer with its twists and turns, as every one of us sometimes learns.” You never know what to expect, and which direction your decisions will take you. I fully understand that it’s my choices that have brought me to where I am, and I don’t regret the decisions I’ve made, as much as they’ve caused me pain. At the times, they were the right ones to make, given my situation, and I have to imagine I’d make the same ones again, knowing what I know now. Perhaps thirty five will surprise me. Perhaps as my birthday passes, as that self-imposed deadline comes and goes, I’ll be able to make peace with it. It will be behind me, instead of looming down on me. In the mean time, I’ll enjoy those that I am lucky enough to have in my life, and be thankful that I have been gifted with them.


  1. Ok. 3rd time trying to comment - hope they don't all go through, so sorry if they do.
    I am so inspired by the truth and courage of your post. Allowing yourself the grace to change is tough when you hold your convictions/decisions so passionately and close to your heart. Karma IS on your side this time. Painful as finding the truth can be, it always brings you growth. What was right for you at 25 can not possibly be the same as what is right for you now. Which is such a good thing! 35 will surely bring you a great reveal of clarity and peace. Sending birthday love!

    1. Thank you, Melissa! And, your comment only came through once. Sometimes Bloggr is wonky, sorry about that! I do hope that you are right and that, even if I don't see it now, karma is on my side this year, and going forward. I too hope 35 will bring clarity in peace. I just have to be open to accepting it and acknowledging it. As you said, it's very difficult sometimes to let go of your convictions/decisions when you've held them strongly.

  2. As the other member of the family who found myself single and childless on my 35th birthday I can certainly relate to your post. As a twenty-something I think many of us have the image of the perfect life as one that involves marriage, a house in the suburbs, and 2.3 children by the time we turn 30 (or maybe 35 if we were raised in an urban, more educated environment.) As females we have been hearing our whole lives about how our fertility is drastically diminished after the age of 35. Men can have children into their senior years, but as women our time is running out in our mid-30s. It is scary and upsetting. It makes you feel like a failure.
    As women in our society we are programmed to equate being a woman with motherhood. We are told "until you have a child of your own you will never truly know what love is." We are told we are missing out on the greatest job in life. We are warned that there will be no one to take care of us when we are old. We are informed that nothing we do is difficult because we don't have to balance it with having a family. Essentially we are told we will never be a real woman. Even if you cure cancer and establish world peace in your later years you will never give birth to a child and therefore your life will be lesser than those around you
    I am well past the age of 35 and still childless (or childfree as it is called when you are trying to put a positive spin on it.) I still hope to be a parent. In my quest to have a child, however, I have learned many things that will help me whether or not I ever have a child:
    • Families are built in all different ways and come in all shapes and sizes. There may be step children, foster children, adoptive children or no children. A family can be made up of people who have no biological or legal connection to one another. Your family is how you define it and there is no right or wrong (as long as it meets your needs). We do not all need to fit into the cookie cutter stereo type.
    • You can experience the joys of children without actually parenting. There are nieces and nephews, friends, you can mentor a child, foster a child. They are not your child and it is not the same. But it is still rewarding. And you may develop meaningful relationships with these children that someone with children of their own will never experience. They are too busy with their own children to be an attentive aunt or friend.
    • Adoption is not easy or cheap and it is not the same as giving birth to a child. But it does exist as a wonderful option for those who cannot have biological children and wish to parent (and for those who can have biological children, but that is a topic for another day). You can adopt at a later age when you are more settled and in a better situation to parent. Even with medical issues (including mental health issues) you can be home-study approved with a note from your doctor saying that you are fit to parent.
    • Children in foster care are (this is a broad generalization for the sake of brevity) in one of two groups. The goal for most children in foster care is temporary care until they can be reunited with their parents. There is a second group however, for whom reunification is not an option. These children are categorized as "Foster to Adopt" and are looking for permanent homes. This is less of a "sure thing" than private adoption, but does remain an option for those seeking to adopt who do not have the money to afford a private adoption.
    • Having children does not mean you will be cared for in your old age. Lots of kids do not have the money or the inclination to care for their parents. Additionally having children is expensive. You can pay for care for a lot less money than the cost of raising children. Statistically, childless people retire earlier and have a higher standard of living than those with children. Take that $20K per year you are not spending on childcare and put it in a 401(k).
    • You can have a full, happy, and meaningful life without being a parent.

    1. Thank you very much, Maura. I completely agree with all of this. Families come in "all shapes and sizes" (literally and figuratively), and I am incredibly lucky to have lots of nieces and nephews and other children in my life who I can spend time with. I think that if I felt that adopting or fostering (particularly foster to adopt) I would definitely feel better. however, being unmarried, working for myself - which therefore makes it rather tough to prove steady income - and with my condition, I feel like that might be a tough sell for adoption/fostering. I honestly think a lot of this is the feeling of hitting 35 and feeling like "here's where I thought I'd be/might have been based on my 'previous life', than the feeling that I'm completely unhappy or unfulfilled. For some reason this birthday is one on which I'm doing a lot of soul searching and thinking about life. Perhaps it's because I feel too old to celebrate it by going to the bars, so I have to find another way to mark its passing. :-)

  3. I think one of the most upsetting parts of getting older and realizing that your opportunity to have a baby is passing is feeling like you have missed out on something. This is FOMO to its greatest degree. And it is true that if you don't have children you will miss out on being a parent. If you adopt you will miss out on pregnancy, childbirth and (usually) breast feeling. But, think of how many other things in life we miss out on. We all have a limited time on earth and we can only have a limited number of experiences. You have had more opportunity to travel and see other people, places and cultures than most people. If you had had children at 25 you would have missed out on that. I have moved across the country several times and lived in a number of cities. I could not have done that if I had babies right out of college. There are lots of things we will never experience in our lives. I will never know what it is like to be a male or an African American. I will never be a singer or an astronaut or a pro athlete. If you do decide you want to be a parent that door is not closed even if your biological clock runs out. If you decide it is not in the cards for you then that is a valid option. It does not mean you are less of a person, less successful, or less of a woman.
    And from where I sit, 35 still looks pretty young!

    1. I think you're right. It's one of those things you truly cannot do (biologically) after a certain point. There are so few things like that, and I think that's why it hits hard. You hear stories about people going back to school and finish colleges in their 70s or finding the love of their life at 90, but one physically cannot have a child after they reach a certain stage of their life, and as you get closer to that, it looms on you a bit - I think especially so in my case because I actually walked away from a situation in which having a family was the plan, and when you're feeling "older" and reflective, it's easy to ask yourself if you indeed made the right choice. I still think that I did, but it does make me feel like I'm paying for my choices at times. And I agree, in a few years, 35 will look pretty young - just as my early 30s, and my entire 20s do now!