The case of the missing biological clock
In 2005, I quit my job in Los Angeles and moved to London with my British husband. You might think moving to a new country is the heart of my gutsy story, but it’s really just a backdrop. My real gutsy story is about how, while living in England, I finally made the decision not to have kids.
This is a decision that may not seem gutsy to all. Accusations of selfishness abound for the childless by choice. And as if societal pressures weren’t enough, my own self-judgment was also a factor. Did my lack of desire to be a mother make me less of a woman? What was wrong with me? And where the hell was my biological clock and why had it failed to start ticking?
In fairness, there had been indications earlier in my life that I wasn’t destined for motherhood. Take, for example, how as a teenager I used to stand in front of the microwave when it was on and proclaim I was radiating my uterus to prevent impregnation. (In retrospect, I’m pretty sure I did that because I enjoyed shocking my mother.) Then later, as my friends started to have babies, I was not blind to my uncanny ability to make infants cry instantly upon contact.
But still some part of me held out for the possibility that I would change my mind. This was what was supposed to happen, right? After all, I had grown up in the eighties when well-meaning feminists were still pushing the belief that women could and should do it all: husband, kids, and a glass-ceiling-breaking career where you got to wear jewel-colored power suits with linebacker-worthy shoulder pads. Convinced I, too, could and should want to do it all, in my late-twenties I even went as far as to threaten to break off my engagement to my anti-children fiancé if he wasn’t willing to leave open the possibility that one day we may have kids. He caved, and I was a married woman at twenty-nine.
Then, in what seemed like the blink of an eye, thirty-five arrived and there was still no sign of my biological clock. This state of affairs made me uneasy. I knew beyond that age I was entering into high-risk territory for a pregnancy, my parents were highly vocal about their desperation for grandchildren, and my husband—eager to know once and for all if his life was going to involve children or not—was becoming as vocal as my parents in expressing his desire for me to just make a decision already. This is where my story takes a not-so-gutsy turn: I caved to the pressure and, that Christmas, my husband and I announced to my parents that we were going to “try” for a baby in the next year.
But even this game of chicken I had played with myself and my poor, unsuspecting family was not enough to kick start my biological clock. This became clear as the next year wore on and each month I somehow ended up at the pharmacy to pick up a refill of birth control. Despite the fact that I was still uneasy, I was finally starting to admit to myself that I didn’t really want to have kids.
Later that year I ended up in a neurologist’s office with what turned out to be symptoms of multiple sclerosis. It was a development that left my husband and parents as shocked as I was, and temporarily took the focus off the fact that I still hadn’t tried to get pregnant. As I grappled with the nature of that disease, which is unsettlingly mysterious in its cause, treatments, and prognosis, I tried desperately to get my neurologist to articulate something I could do that would lessen my chances of developing the full-blown ailment. After evading my previous attempts to pin him down, he finally caved at a follow-up appointment, half-heartedly mentioning a study that had shown some evidence pregnancy would reduce my risk. I couldn’t have been more shocked if he had said voodoo might help.
And that’s the moment when I realized I didn’t want to have kids. This was as good a reason as I was ever going to get to have a child, and yet my gut instantly said no. (Not to mention that as a strategy for lessening my chances of developing a chronic disease, pregnancy seemed at best risky and at worst unethical.) It’s been four years since that day, and, although I have since been diagnosed with MS—which in my case just means I have had a second bout of temporary and relatively benign symptoms—I can honestly say I have no regrets about my decision, other than the fact that I didn’t have the confidence to make it sooner.
JENNIFER RICHARDSON is the author of Americashire: A Field Guide to a Marriage, the 2013 Indie Reader Discovery Award winner for travel writing. The memoir chronicles her decision to give up city life for the bucolic pleasures of the British countryside whilst debating the merits of motherhood. Americashire is out now from She Writes Press, and you can find Jennifer online at:
- Website: www.americashire.com
- Twitter: @BaronessBarren
SONIA MARSH SAYS: Throughout your story, I sensed your “gutsy” side to be left alone and not influenced by what others may say or think. Interesting how your MS diagnosis strengthened your decision to not have a baby despite what the doctor said.
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Cathy Severson says
Good for you for making the right decision that meets your life. I’m older, but ours was really the first generation where women and couples could ‘comfortably’ elect not to have a family. There are so many people who have children when they shouldn’t. The least we can do is provide social recognition for people who elect not to. Thanks for sharing your story.
Cathy Severson recently posted..Stuffing Envelops Isn’t Enough for the New Retirement Volunteer
Jennifer Richardson says
Thanks, Cathy. I am still surprised at the amount of societal pressure and judgement out there around not having kids, whether by choice or by circumstance. I do think it is getting better and that, thanks largely to social media, there is a lot of information and support for both men and women who are examining a potential life without children. As you can tell from my piece, it wasn’t exactly a ‘comfortable’ choice for me. But, more broadly speaking, I think it is heading in that direction, and I am glad to be part of the discussion.
David Prosser says
I have to be honest. I was prepared to dismiss this story as not Gutsy because someone had chosen not to do something she didn’t want to do anyway, even easier when there was no husband battling in the other direction.Then I gave it some thought, hmm, here’s a lady who has given up her Country to live in the UK, that’s pretty Gutsy. Who has stuck by her guns in the face of pleas from her parents, that takes Guts and then has refused the chance to improve her medical condition by doing the one thing she doesn’t want to do. now that’s Gutsy.
I know how evil MS can be and I’m sure you made the best decision for yourself. I wish you all the luck in the world and hope you find the condition doesn’t hit too hard or too often.
xxx Hugs xxx
David Prosser recently posted..Homecomings, Happenings and Caught Out.
Sonia Marsh says
I thought I’d respond as well. I agree, at first Jennifer’s story did not seem “gutsy” in the same way at first, however, her medical diagnosis with MS, and then sticking to her decision, made me realize her strength and courage. Thank you David for always reading and commenting. I remember Julia’s amazing courage and compassion.
Sonia Marsh recently posted..“My Gutsy Story®” Jennifer Richardson
Jennifer Richardson says
I can certainly understand how my choice didn’t seem so gutsy on first flush! In retrospect, it doesn’t seem that gutsy to me either. But, at the time, it was such a big deal because deciding whether or not to have children is so tied up with the prevailing view of female identity. In sharing my story I hope to open up that definition a bit more to women who might be struggling with similar questions. And thank you for your kind words regarding my health. Much appreciated.
all the best,
Jennifer Richardson recently posted..Welcome to Americashire.com
Sharon Lippincott says
Jennifer, I’m happy for you that you were able to stand up to the pressure and do what is right for you.
Memoir land is filled with stories written by people born to parents who were ill-suited to the task of raising children. Had the choice of not having children been more clear and viable in past generations, legions may have been spared huge misery. Not to say you’d be one of them, but maybe it’s time for parenthood to become a profession, leaving those with less inclination to pursue other dreams as you are doing.
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Jennifer Richardson says
Your comments remind me of quote I love by a writer I love, Alain de Botton: “We accept the need to train extensively to fly a plane; but think instinct should be enough for marrying and raising kids.”
all the best!
Jennifer Richardson recently posted..Welcome to Americashire.com
Lady Fi says
A hard decision to make with all the pressure around.
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Sherrey Meyer says
Jennifer, I read with great empathy your story as I am one of those children born to a mother who was not well-suited to parenting. Granted she took good care of us with cleaning, cooking, laundry, and other household maintenance, but she clearly was out of tune with appropriate discipline. And as the mother of a son who chose not to have children, I applaud your choice and your ability to stick to your gun, so to speak. My son, a child of divorce and seeing the condition of our world and country, felt it prudent not to bring a child into the world. I’ve never questioned his choice. Instead I was proud of his making choices that fit his life, not mine.
I admire your courage and willingness to tell your story knowing that you may receive criticism and negative responses.
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Kathleen Pooler says
Good for you , Jennifer for reaching a point of peace about what works best for you. You may not think this is a gutsy story but I think it takes courage to go against convention and all the people around you who are placing their needs upon you. I admire your courage in speaking out.
Liz B says
Kudos to you, Jennifer! A very difficult decision to make. It pleases me to see my generation start to back off of “grandkid” pressure. I have four children ages 20, 21, 25 and 27. In my efforts to let them live their own lives, I never bring up the subject. It’s hard enough to find and make a life with another human being. You have managed to succeed on that one! I am sending thoughts and prayers for your MS struggles. Thank you so much for sharing your story!
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