I’m still learning to mother myself

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By Anna Bedsole

When I married 10 years ago, my bridesmaids placed bets that I would fall (accidentally) pregnant within the first year. And I laughed along with them. After all, I had always imagined myself as a mother. As a little girl, I played “mama,” stringing up hammocks for my baby dolls in the branches of the mimosa tree that constituted our playhouse and bottle-feeding the neighbor’s kittens. I tried to mother my younger brother, and when he would have none of it, toted my baby cousins around on my skinny hip and taught them their colors using soggy fruit loops. I babysat through high school and college, and even worked a summer in a preschool.

In the early years of my marriage, the possibility of having a baby excited me, despite our precarious financial situation. I was on birth control, but took pregnancy tests anyway at the slightest hint of nausea or exhaustion and was always more disappointed than relieved when the little pink line didn’t appear. I saved nursery ideas on Pinterest, and lists of essential baby items and parenting tips from mommy bloggers. Even entering a PhD program didn’t pause my plans at first; I simply looked at the five-year program and declared that I would have a baby the summer in between my third and fourth years.

I used to look at young families with pleasure and even envy, dreaming of when I would be the cute mom pushing a stroller. But somewhere in those early grad school years, before I even knew my marriage was faltering, a heaviness began to settle on me: if I saw a couple with a stroller, or holding hands with their toddler, I wondered if they felt shackled to each other. I wondered how tired they were from getting up in the middle of the night. I wondered if they resented spending their money on diapers and daycare instead of trips to Parisian streets and Greek islands.

I didn’t even realize how heavy my dread weighed until I left my marriage. The first month I moved out, I saw a young family. Instead of a pit of lead forming in my belly, I gazed at them with something like shy curiosity instead. But curiosity is not desire. Even though I never again have to worry about being stuck to my ex-husband by a shared child, the anticipation and hope I used to have for my own family has never really returned.

At 34, I’m the same age my mother was when she had me after years of the heartache of infertility. But instead of the desperate desire for a child, I feel a deep ambivalence, even reluctance. Part of it, surely, is being 10 years older than that naive 24-year-old bride I was. I have a more realistic view of finances, for one, and enjoy spending my money on myself. I also don’t have a partner, and no desire to raise a child by myself. But money and the right co-parent aren’t the primary factors of my lack of desire for a child. What does seem to lie at the heart of it is that I still feel I have so much growing and exploring to do, whole swathes of myself I’m still coaxing into blossom.

I may have a child one day— either through my own body or adoption or blending a family. I may not. But the answer I have right now is deep and true and fills me with peace. Not now. Not now. Not now. I don’t ignore the realities of fertility and aging, but I do refuse the pressure and anxiety. Right now, I’m still learning to mother myself— to listen to my own needs and my own heart, to give myself the attention and whole-hearted acceptance that many of don’t get us children, despite having loving mothers.

This type of mothering is also exhausting, but infinitely worth it: the life I choose to bring into the world right now is my own, full and joyous and flourishing.

After teaching for 10 years and receiving an English PhD, Anna Bedsole moved back to her beautiful hometown of Birmingham, Ala. and works in software. She’s currently working on a memoir about all the things she’s left (religion, marriage, a career) and wants everyone, especially women, to know that leaving the life we thought we wanted empowers us to live our truest stories.

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