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:
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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