I had three Cabbage Patch kids when I was little: twin boys named Manny and Hector and a preemie baby whose name I cannot recall. I am not sure how old I was when I got them and I definitely don’t recall how old I was when I stopped playing with them. I don’t recall much about them, including where they are now, but I have vague memories of carrying them around, of possibly even having a stroller (though I may have made that up). These are the only dolls I can recall having. I suspect there were more, but I have no memory of them. I had Barbies and My Little Pony’s but there were not baby dolls. They did not require to be play cared for, to play feed or play change a diaper or play tucked in at night. In my memory the only things that I had that resembled playing mom to a play baby were those three Cabbage Patch Kids. And I do not recall being all that crazy about them. I was a stuffed animal lover at heart and my true childhood devotion and joy came from the large collection of stuffed bears and cows, pigs, and dogs and other animals that lined my shelves and my bed. That was my family of furry companions with whom I would have wild adventures and explore the world. And I remember all of them very clearly and with great fondness.
Sometimes I am ashamed to admit that I did not always want kids. I did not even want kids until well into my late twenties. I know this is a perfectly reasonable path, and I know it’s a perfectly reasonable thing to not feel the urge for kids until you are in a place in your life where having kids makes sense, but still, in some small place in my mind I feel ashamed. Not because I think it is shameful, only because I now wonder if I am being punished in some way. If I have ended up infertile because I didn’t want it bad enough, or I waited too long, or I was just too damn selfish all those years.
I have never really believed in there being a “maternal instinct.” In the debate between nature or nurture, I am all on the nurture side. Accepting that gender is socially constructed and gender characteristics are inscribed on the sexes since birth, how could we not be led to believe in a maternal instinct when young girls are given dolls and shown how to care for them and boys are given trucks and encouraged to smash them? Did I have a desire to have kids because I wanted them or because society encouraged me to want them? This fundamental debate – is it me or what is expected me – has haunted me for most of my life in every area, not just related to children. It doesn’t help that having been raised Catholic in an Italian family, I am particularly good at doing what is expected of me, regardless of whether I want to or not.
But while debating the role of social construction on my free will followed me through most of my twenties, the question of having kids did not. Nor, frankly should it have. I spent most of my twenties in higher education. I followed college with a stint in graduate school getting my Master’s degree, and then headed off to law school. I was twenty eight years old when I was finally out of school, with no job, no home and a student loan bill to rival the nation’s deficit. I don’t think it’s surprising that getting pregnant was not a priority for me.
If I am being completely honest it was being with MJ that made me want to have kids. I suppose a part of me always wanted kids, I was never against it per se, it just never seemed right. It didn’t become something I was ready and willing for until settling in with MJ, into our house, our two-pet family, our comfortable, loving relationship. It is here that the desire for children has flourished within me. It is here that I long to have children, our children. And now that desire is almost all consuming. I cannot think of anything I want more, and I can’t help but start to doubt myself and wonder what all my previous indecision might have caused.
MJ tells me when I am sad that there is nothing I can be blamed for, nothing to regret. I don’t regret not having kids before meeting him, there isn’t anyone or any other time that would have been right. But I worry anyway. I nag myself. What if I had made different choices in dealing with the endometriosis. Maybe I shouldn’t have been so quick to agree to surgery, to let them remove the one ovary. Maybe I shouldn’t have stayed on the Depo Provero for so long, not knowing what effect so many hormones and chemicals could have on my system. Maybe I should have been healthier, never gained so much weight. Maybe I shouldn’t have eaten so much soy – all those years of being a vegetarian and living off of soy. Maybe I should have jumped MJ the second we got together and not have even waited a year to start trying.
There are a lot of books and forums and websites that give advice for trying to get pregnant. They suggest to eat this and don’t eat that, take these vitamins, but avoid these others. They suggest acupuncture and yoga and losing weight but not too much weight and maybe while eating more dairy. I have read them all. And for each suggestion I come across, a new worry ignites in me: what if I’ll never get pregnant because I drank so much coffee for so many years? What if I’ll never get pregnant because I have always disliked dairy and never drank real milk?
There is something about infertility that makes a person question themselves. I have never had so much self-doubt and self-criticism in my life. But how do you deal with something that is wrong with you but for which there isn’t an actual explanation? A doctor can tell me I am having trouble getting pregnant because my egg count is low, but why is it low? Why is it different from other women my age? Other women my body type? Other woman just like me? All I know is there is this thing I want, this thing my body is supposed to be able to do, this thing other people around me are able to do, but I can’t. My body doesn’t. Is it any surprise that I am left wondering what is wrong with me? Which leads inevitably to, what did I do wrong? What did I do to cause this? Was it waiting to long, or was it all those childhood years of not playing with dolls?
Sometimes I am ashamed as a feminist to feel this way. I ashamed that while the rational side of my brain tells me I did nothing wrong and I didn’t cause anything, this is still no comfort to the emotional side. I still do not believe in a maternal instinct. Maybe I believe in a procreation instinct, a non-gendered desire to produce offspring and to care for and nurture another living being. I have that kind of instinct toward Munchkin and Cat, who are my fur babies and are treated accordingly: fawned over, cared for and loved immensely. I sometimes tell MJ that if we never have kids we may end up with lots of dogs and cats all at once. In this way I will not be any different from that childhood version of me: eschewing baby dolls for stuffed animals.
At work many of my clients will complain about things not being fair. The police did this, a witness lied about that, the Judge said something mean – it’s all not fair. I listen for a bit but after awhile I always hit my limit. “It’s not fair,” I will say with annoyance, “You have to get over this idea that life is fair. It’s not.”
Life is not fair. Infertility is not fair, but because I cannot take my own advice, because I cannot accept this reasoning from myself, I stay up at night and try to think of what I did wrong that led me here. I try to wrap my head around why this happening to me, and for some reason I think that if I can just find what I did wrong, if I can just put a reason behind it all, then it will suddenly make sense to me; it will start to feel fair, and I can learn to get over that.
This is probably not true; I don’t really know. I just know that not knowing why means I don’t know if it will ever change and I don’t know what to do to make it better. All I know to do is sit and wonder why, and it’s the “why” which tears me up inside.