Three things to know about me: I'm in a satisfying, loving relationship. I want to be a mother. My partner doesn't (ever) want children.
I see a precocious toddler playing in the dirt, and I swoon. My lover growls.
Sound like a recipe for a failed relationship? If I were to write into most advice columns, or give Dr. Laura a call, I'd wager that's how mainstream pop psychiatry would characterize my situation. An impossible relationship. A dead-end. A sure road to unhappiness.
Maybe. Maybe not.
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I'll admit that it's a tricky situation I've put myself in. But I propose that this seeming paradox—my simultaneous desire for motherhood and my passion for a smart and giving lover who has absolutely no interest in parenthood—has actually cracked open a freedom in my identity as a woman and in how I approach relationships. I would even say this situation has contributed, not detracted from, the value of my contribution to our social fabric.
I've been with my partner for about three years. I knew in the beginning her feelings on children. I trust that her distaste for motherhood is honest. And by honest, I mean that I don't expect it or want it to change. I love her for who she is, not for what I would make her.
When I explain to friends, family or coworkers about our opposite takes on the issue of parenthood, I am often asked if I think she would ever change her mind. Not once has anyone asked me if I would think about changing my mind.
This happens in part because we are both women, and women are expected—even today—to want babies. This simple fact is easily evidenced by contrasting the ever-mounting barriers to women's reproductive rights with the untouched men's reproductive rights. Men can be in and out of a vasectomy in a day. Women who want similar sterilization face a firestorm of resistance.
Our society, on the whole, is uncomfortable with a woman who does not want to be a mother. It makes them nervous. I'll admit it made me nervous at first too, made my armpits sweat a little to date someone who would prefer to interact with people once they've at least hit their teens.
But, I've grown comfortable with the idea that I have no idea how I will get from point A (a unique joy and fulfillment in a relationship with this woman) to point B (a unique joy and fulfillment in a relationship with my future children).
Why don't I find this complicated situation a problem? Because I'm living my life in full position of my choices as a woman who came to adulthood in the last several decades of the 20th century in America, a place built on the principle of self-determination.
I possess the right to make up my mind about whom to marry (legally is a different story), or not. To decide if I think I will make a good mother to a child, or not. The right to grow intimate with another human being, even without a contract of commitment or an expectation that it will last for life and end in a nice bungalow with 2.3 children and a dog.
What I have is the free will to journey between points A and B, and to learn from all the wisdom, love and spiritual uplift that comes from that journey.
I'm under no illusions that my relationship will last forever (although sometimes we both would like to pretend it would…who wouldn't want love like this to last?). But even though this relationship of mine won't lead to the children I so want in my life, I refuse to write it off as a failure.
How can something, someone teaching me so much about the real fabric of society—joy, passion, intimacy, communication—not, in the end, have value independent of its contribution to the future fruits of my reproduction.
For Mother's Day this year, I would like to honor all the choices about our bodies and motherhood that we have in this country. I would like to honor all the mothers out there—married mothers, single mothers, reluctant mothers, would-be mothers, adoptive mothers, lesbian mothers, grandmothers, unconventional mothers.
I would also like to honor women who don't want to be mothers. Women who have chosen adoption for their children. Women who have chosen abortion. Women who want to be mothers but for some reason can't. These women deserve to be honored as much for their life choices—just as weighty and important as the choice to have children—as the mothers in our society.
And I would like to honor my own mother, who told me to take my own path. And meant it. For my body and for my relationships. Even when they don't mean the same thing.