the anguish of postponed motherhood


I have no children, but I am a mother. I feel it in my bones; I have always felt it in my bones. So the fact that we “are not ready” to start our family grates at me, scraping the flesh of my heart on a daily basis. Sometimes, it is the only thing that I can think about, a constant thrum of anguish at the centre of each day. All of our “reasons” look flimsier and flimsier next to the raw need in my heart.

I work with children; every day, I look at each one and think, “I could have a child like you.” I sit with the preschoolers at nap time, so pleased when they want just me to rub their backs, melting into a puddle of goo when they make funny comments or do sweet things, like the four year old boy who took my hand in his and cuddled it to his chest, saying, “I’ll keep you warm,” when I told him I was cold. I watch every child that goes through my care and think, “My future could look like you.”

There is a list on my phone entitled “Baby Names” which I have had since I was nineteen or so. The names haven’t changed much. I’ve had the same ones picked for several years now. I have names for every eventuality: two girls, two boys, boy and a girl. A surprise third child. Except for middle names, mostly because the idea of middle names confounds me. (What is the point?) In idle moments, I entertain myself imagining the little people that will go along with the names that I have chosen. I wonder how their names will shape them. I toy idly with the name Khaleesi (though I agree 100% with my BFF when she said to me, “Jessica Michelle McGale-Cooper, I will not be an auntie to a human child named Khaleesi.” Thank you, voice of reason.)

One day, while babysitting for the sweet six month old baby boy that I get the pleasure of looking after every week, we were sitting on the floor, playing, and amidst all the babble and the joyous kicking of legs and blowing of bubbles he went still, and he simply looked at me, with his impossibly wide blue baby eyes, and he did not look away for at least a minute. He held my finger and stared at my face, and tugged so hard at my heart that I burst into tears right there.

I was born to be a mother. Of this, I have always been certain. And so it kills me a little bit to have to postpone this transition.

Not only that, but it feels like a lot of pressure. Because, it seems to me, if I am postponing the one thing I want more than anything in the world, I better have a damn good reason for it. I better be spending my time wisely. I better be accomplishing absolutely everything I have listed on every to do list I have ever made. I better be checking things off my bucket list left, right, and centre. Because if I’m not, if I am simply whiling away the time, staring at the biological clock as it ticks away, then what the hell is the point? I might as well get knocked up now, reasons be damned.

But if any of this agony is to have any meaning, I need to be doing something with my time. And so, anxious person that I already am, I have become exponentially more anxious about how I am spending my life. Am I doing something productive? Am I moving forward on anything? Am I achieving anything at all?

Some days, it feels like I will buckle under the pressure: the anguish of postponed motherhood, and the pressure of it, too. I am stuck between a rock and a hard place, and no matter how I wiggle and twist and push, I cannot seem to find a way out.

Someone hand me an exacto knife.

Do you have any suggestions for improving the situation I find myself in? Have you ever experienced anything similar? (Doesn’t have to be baby related.)


the anguish of postponed motherhood

Split Personalities

There are two halves of me.

One longs for roots. Thick, deep, strong roots that will anchor me to a place and never let go. A warm home, with a well-curated library, comforting possessions, a garden. Children running wild, a shaggy dog, a purring cat.

The other yearns for freedom. The kind of freedom afforded by owning next to nothing and living in a camper van, or taking to the road to travel long term. The kind of untethered existence that sets a person loose upon the world and allows them to float wherever they damn well please.

One is anchored in comfortable convention, the other blazes like a bonfire, seducing me away from the conventional. But as of now, I have not been brave enough to turn my back on what I have always known to explore what I have always dreamed of. I do not know how to put down roots that will also allow me to float around at will.

There is a cliff approaching, and I do not know if I am brave enough to jump.

I close my eyes, repeat my new mantra: I am courageous enough for this. 

I see the edge.

What do I do?

What do I do?

Split Personalities

Babies, But Not Yet

As any of you who have read this blog before know, I struggle a lot with finding “purpose”; that career or lifestyle that will fulfill me and make all my wildest dreams come true. But while I have flopped back and forth in that arena almost constantly for the past, oh, decade or so, there is one thing in my life that I have always been 100% certain about: motherhood. I love kids. I even love other people’s kids (it is why I choose to work with them). I have never wavered on my desire to have children of my own.

Since I got married, my desire to have children has intensified exponentially (who knew my biological clock was so sensitive to socially acceptable context for procreation?). My ache to have children has gotten to the point where it is a constant companion, but intense enough that it is a struggle to handle it every day. My cousin, who is one of my best friends, is the same age as me and has two children, and there are days when I burn with jealousy over that. When I am driven to distraction by the need to have a baby of my own in my arms.

But then again…there, too, are days when I am driven to distraction by my need to travel the world, to write many novels, to start my own business. To live in Melbourne, Australia, to laze on the beaches of Thailand, to work on an organic farm in Hawaii.

For a long time, I felt like life plateaued after the age of 30. When making decisions, I would often think, “But will I be done and established by the time I am 30?” Like there was no way for me to change my mind or start anything new after that age. Like 30 was the magical number whereby I would have had to make all of my decisions and forever live with the consequences.

I have since changed my mindset on that. I am fairly certain that I will be changing my mind and trying new things for the rest of my life, and so I am not quite so obsessed with the threshold of 30. With that shift has also come the shift in thinking about kids. I used to believe that my desire for children at a relatively young age (I want to start having kids before – ha – 30), meant that I would have to opt out of a lot of things. Of course, having kids changes things. It changes your priorities, your time commitments, your whole life. But it does not mean that you have to give up on everything else that you have ever desired. There are plenty of people who travel the world with their children, or pursue high-powered careers, or launch their own businesses. Just as life does not plateau after 30, it does not plateau after children either.

I know that we are not ready for children yet. Financially, that would be disastrous. Emotionally and mentally, we just aren’t there. I would like to enjoy a few years of marriage just the two of us. I would like to do some hardcore traveling without a child strapped to my back. I would like to selfishly explore my own wants and needs. I’d like to sleep in on the weekends and go out with friends until the wee hours and pick up and head to the mountains at the last minute just because we feel like it. I would like to get to know myself – and Bryan – a little bit better outside the context of parenthood.

The torch of my longing for children is the brightest and longest burning of all the torches that I carry. It will burn for a little while longer, while I pursue the other ones that flicker in the background, begging, too, for my attention.


Babies, But Not Yet

When The Universe Speaks, You Listen

I am not a religious person. I am not even sure that I believe in a god of any sort. However, I do believe that there are forces outside of our comprehension that work in our lives in ways that we aren’t even aware of. And when these forces start talking, I think it’s in our best interests to listen.

For a while, I have been struggling with what steps to take next. Though I love the life that I am living quite a lot, still, it felt like things weren’t quite right, like I was straining to figure out which direction to turn next, like I wasn’t quite all in, not quite all there. Bryan and I discussed moving back to Edmonton. I was constantly looking for an escape hatch, a trap door I could throw myself down where nothing was permanent and I didn’t have to make any decisions.

Then, during my informal performance review last week, I was told that I was “killin’ it.” Notes from the universe, volume one.

The next day, during my time with the kids in the afternoon, three of the girls said to me, “Ms Jess, are you going to be here next year? You’re soooo nice, we’ll be so sad if you aren’t!” Okay, universe, I’m listening.

Then, this week, I was informed that my name had been put forward for a position at work that I never would have considered for myself, that would be an intense challenge, and would require us to stay right where we are, for at least a year.

Hmm. Now I’m really listening.

I haven’t made any decisions yet. Maybe some people make major life decisions in a day, but I’m not one of those. But the universe has certainly caught my attention.

When The Universe Speaks, You Listen

Nothing is Ever Perfect

photo (22)

I have often struggled with what I want to do with my life. I feel like I have to have it all figured out, that I will be a failure if I ever change course. This fear has played a huge part in keeping me hostage in administrative jobs that were of zero interest to me for the past two years. I felt like I could not start off in any direction without being absolutely certain that that was the direction that I wanted to go. Instead, I stayed put, more and more miserable with every less-than-ideal job I took.

When Christmas and the new year rolled around last year, I felt burnt out, stressed, frustrated, and completely miserable. I felt stuck in a job that I disliked with a surprising ferocity, and I didn’t know what to do about it. Bryan and I had just gotten engaged, I was taking a class in the winter semester that my job was going to pay for, and I knew that there were people who would be disappointed in me if I quit. On top of that, the pay was good, the benefits even better.

It took me a while to realize that those were not the things that mattered. These were the important things: three days out of the week, I cried in the shower because I didn’t want to go to work; I came home mentally depleted and incapable of finding the energy to do anything I valued; Bryan and I fought all of the time because I brought all of my work misery home with me. These were warning bells, the sign posts that were telling me that I was on the wrong path, turn back now! And so I made a pact with myself that this was the year that I was going to pursue a job that actually meant something to me, even if it wasn’t going to be my forever career. I was going to stop drifting and take a risk on my own happiness.

And I did. I quit that dissatisfying job without another one lined up, and threw myself into finding a replacement that would actually fire me up, make me excited to go to work every day. Within two weeks of my last day, I had landed that job.

I’ll admit it: I thought that having a job that I loved would fix everything. That everything would be sunshine and roses. I can see many of you shaking your heads at me, smirking at my naivete. I thought that I would never be too exhausted to do the things that I love, that I would never want to up and quit, that I would always love every minute of it.

That’s not the case at all. I work with kids, and though it is wildly fulfilling and more satisfying than anything I have ever done, it is also more challenging than anything I have ever done. There are days when I feel entirely inadequate, like I have no right to be doing what I am doing, when I want to go home and pull the covers over my head and never face my job again, when I spend the day taking deep breaths and trying not to burst into tears.

But I get up every day, excited to go to work, throwing myself into it with more vigor and passion than before, unwilling to give up on it, and here’s why: I have something to fight for now. I care about what I am doing and who I am doing it with more than I ever thought it was possible to care about a mere job. I have a purpose in what I am doing: I love the kids I work with, and I want to do right by them, always, and I want to be a positive influence in their lives. That’s an important cause for me, and I am more than happy to get up at 5:45 every day, and feel unprepared and out of step every minute of the day to do it. There are moments that are just as hard as any at my previous jobs, but I never had the wherewithal and desire to overcome them before.

This job challenges me, stretches me, fulfills me. It’s important. It’s imperfect.

And I couldn’t possibly ask for more.

Nothing is Ever Perfect