When Motherhood Wasn't in the Cards

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by Stephanie Gates

Every day I look in the mirror and a caramel-colored woman with closely cropped hair stares back at me. I look at a smooth, relatively blemish-free face. I peer at the slightly dark circles under my eyes that I think are hereditary. One of my sisters has them as does my mother. I Iook like a normal middle-aged woman; I am a normal middle-aged woman. I see a neck that doesn’t have another head growing out of it. But sometimes I don’t know. Because as soon as I say I don’t have children, I can almost feel a head pushing up and out of the side of my neck. I know that it’s not really there, but the way people look at me makes me think that there’s another set of eyes looking right back at the person looking at me.

I am an anomaly because I am a woman and I am childless. I am a Black woman and I am childless, so that makes me all the more strange. How can this be? That’s what we do, right? That’s what we’ve been doing—having babies for the masters, having babies to stay on welfare. Having babies to have babies. We are baby making machines, right? So, what does that make me? I am supposed to be somebody’s biological mother and I am not. The fact that I have been instrumental in the rearing of other people’s children doesn’t count. So steeped is the stereotype that every woman is a mother or should be one—especially a Black woman, that when asked about my childbearing status, the question is always How many children do you have? and not Do you have children?
And both the answer and the responses are always the same. Once they get over their initial shock, it’s as though I have invited complete strangers into my life to inquire why I don’t have children, and why I should. It doesn’t help that there are these crazy stories of women having babies up into their 70s. And when Janet Jackson announced her pregnancy at 50, I knew I was doomed. The Uterus police were coming for me. They tell me it’s not too late. I tell my self-appointed womb watchers that my eggs are fried, scrambled hard boiled. They’re not equipped to create human life. I try to lighten up the moment.

I know that if I insert humor into the situation, it makes the meddling comments more palatable. I’m still amazed at intrusive people are—telling why I should-have-need to have a baby to prove my worth to occupy the planet. I mean, what is my purpose? I have had men offer to be the father of my baby; women tell me why it’s ok for me to be a single parent; how selfish I am and list goes on. I don’t butt in other people’s business and say, Oh, why don’t you have another baby? Or you have too many children, why don’t you stop? Why do you keep having babies by deadbeat daddies? If you don’t really like children, then why do you keep having them? You know you’re not really good at this parenting thing. Though I mind my own business, I am definitely not granted the same courtesy.

I never bother to tell them of my history with fibroid tumors. When I talk to friends or family, they ask me why I don’t just tell the pushy people I can’t have children. My personal history is none of their business. There’s a huge difference between don’t and can’t. One implies my will, the other implies God’s will. The truth is I don’t know why I’ve never had children. It could be the fibroids or it could be that I’ve never actively tried to get pregnant. Why does it matter? If I say can’t as opposed to don’t, who is supposed to feel better—me or them? I have known women who prayed to have children, and their prayers have not been not answered. I’ve been reading about women who have fertility issues, and the heartache they experience when people keeping asking them when are they going to have children. I’ve never tried to get pregnant, and I’m bothered by the meddlesome questions so I can’t imagine how it feels to be bombarded with baby questions when a woman is trying but can’t conceive. It has made me rethink what I say to women about pregnancy.
I may not be a member of the Mother’s Club, but that doesn’t mean that I have not mothered. I have had major influence in the lives of nieces, nephews, great nephews, god daughters, and many of students that I’ve taught over the years. A childless friend of mine said she believed that some of us were put here to help others with their children. I must be one of those people.

My not giving birth does not make me selfish or any less of a woman. It takes more than a uterus to be a mother. And as a middle-aged woman past the age of natural child-bearing, I’m really not interested in the advances of science to help me conceive. This is the hand that life dealt me, and I’m playing it. There’s no reshuffling the deck now.

Stephanie is a an educator and freelance writer. She has a passion for sharing her perspective on life with the world because she strongly believes that we all have stories that need to be told.

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