Sometimes, when no one is watching, I stand sideways in the mirror. I push out my stomach until it rounds and I ever so gently place my hands around it, imagining. Feeling for a twitch or pulse that will never be.
Last year, I had an ultrasound of my entire abdomen in an attempt to diagnose my mysterious health issues. My partner sits at the end of the cot, holding my hand. The room is dark and quiet, and I hear the gurgles and echoes from the ultrasound machine and for a moment I imagine that my fear and anxiety over what is wrong with me vanish. For just a minute, I allow myself to imagine the sound of a heartbeat, the concern on my partner’s face replaced instead with joy, as we count fingers and toes on the screen.
I watch on social media as friends get pregnant, have babies, grow families. I feel a twinge of jealousy from time to time as I watch their lives march on. That’s not my life.
It’s not that I can’t get pregnant, it’s that I don’t want to have children. But it’s not a black and white decision that is made easily. Despite being told how selfish I am, how I will change my mind, I know that I will never smell that newborn baby smell or hear my baby’s heartbeat in utero.
I’m not prepared for motherhood.
I like the idea of motherhood on the best day. But I know myself well enough to know that I am not prepared for that life. I can barely take care of myself, pay my own bills, make my own way. Despite what outward appearances sometimes suggest, I am severely mentally ill. Bipolar I is one of the most hereditary mental illnesses we know of. So not only would I have to deal with my own mental health, I’d likely have to try to manage the symptoms of a child who is almost guaranteed to have some kind of mental health issues.
Addiction is also extremely hereditary. Most addicts and alcoholics have at least one family member who is also afflicted, often their parents or grandparents. For me personally, it’s just not responsible to knowingly conceive a child that could have these issues if you’re not prepared to deal with them. And one thing is for sure, I am NOT in any way prepared for any part of motherhood even in the best of circumstances.
What if a relapsed? What if I relapsed and died? Who would take care of my child? Who would pay her way? Would my parents raise her? Would she wind up in foster care? Worse, what kind of damage would my addiction do to a little human being if I lived? I had rough times in my childhood which by comparison to many others was a walk in the park. I could only imagine what it would be like to be the child of an active heroin addict. It’s just not fair to the child.
It’s not a risk I’m prepared to take.
Maybe I am selfish. I like to come and go as I please. I like to spend money on luxuries and on a flight of fancy. I like to travel and go fun places. I like to sleep all day on my days off. I see parents arguing with their children in stores over what they’re going to buy and what they can and cannot have. I am not prepared to argue with a child. Especially about how I’m going to spend MY money that I went and earned.
Mostly when I look at children, I see annoying, dirty, obnoxious burdens. I see loud, screeching, whining little people that ask never ending streams of questions and are never satisfied with any answers. I see babies that don’t sleep through the night, crying and screaming while I cover my head with a pillow and offer my own tears of sacrifice to the gods to please make this baby stop crying. I see a hole in my wallet from which all of my money falls out and is lost. I see crayon on my iPhone and my priceless make up collection ground into beige carpet. I see disaster, I see chaos, and most days I want no part of it.
But sometimes, very rarely, I miss it. I ache for it. I allow myself to wonder what it would be like or what kind of mother I would be. I hold my little dog like a baby and kiss her little forehead. I cradle her in my arms and sing her lullabys as she drifts off to sleep, her eyelids getting heavier. I count the eyelashes on her tiny little eyes. I listen to her quiet snores while she sleeps and wake up during the night sometimes, checking to make sure she is still breathing.
For me, it’s enough. It has to be enough. Because I am not prepared, I am not capable, and when I truly think about it, I just don’t want to. It’s not for me. I can never be sure, truly sure, that I won’t relapse back into my addiction. Not sure enough to bet a child’s life on it.
This is just one of many consequences of my addiction. I will never have children. I embrace and accept that fact. But that doesn’t mean it’s always easy. It doesn’t mean it’s always black and white. It’s complicated. It’s a ball of yarn that’s wound up into a knot that is so tangled that it’s impossible to pull it back apart. It’s not that simple for me.
So sometimes, when no one is looking, I stand sideways in the mirror. I push out my stomach until it rounds and I ever so gently place my hands around it, imagining.
And then I stand up straight, shake off that other life, and open the bathroom door and walk out into the world, prepared to be a strong, capable, childless woman. And I’m okay with that.
©Copyright 2018 In Angel’s Arms and Lauren Goodkin