I didn’t want one. At the sound of a crying baby in the supermarket, my ovaries would ball up like fists. I’ve never understood how women can hear that wail and want to move towards it. To me, these women are like emergency responders, running counterintuitively towards the blast while I’m leaping from the flames, pushing other people back to propel myself ahead faster.
My friend Nieve once told me that having a baby is like getting a tattoo on your face; you have to be really, really sure. I’ve never had face-tattoo levels of commitment to reproduction, but at the same time, it sucks that our eggs come with sell-by dates, and at 40, it’s pretty much the end for me. If my reproductive system was in your refrigerator, you would give it a cautious sniff (Ew, I think this is now my most disgusting metaphor. Whatever. The whole thing is gross, is what I am saying), trying to decide if it fell under “When in doubt, throw it out.” (I follow more of a “When in doubt, microwave it for an extra thirty seconds.” But that’s just me). Fertility: it’s that “Act SOON! Soon it will be too late, SOOOOOOON!” as-seen-on-television-sales-pitch-iness that makes my heart pound. Fertility is a limited-time option, and like the women known as everyone, I do not want to miss out on something, or to regret something later.
This feeling is intensified as some awesome women in my life start having kids. These are not the women who had no higher ambitions in life than to eat their own placenta; these are cool, smart, tough ladies who managed to make their third trimester look punk rock. I am thinking of a friend who had a daughter, by herself, at age 42 and moved to Italy (With the baby; it would be terrible if you had a baby and moved to Italy and did not tell the baby). I am thinking of Wren, who when I meet her and her progeny for lunch, rolls her eyes and tells the crying infant to stop being such a baby. Neither of these women waited for the perfect relationship, the wedding-party with the stupid dress, to have a badass kid.
These are the women who make motherhood look possible, even appealing, at moments. But I know I would rather regret not doing something than doing something. I’d rather wonder what if I had actually gotten that face-tattoo than wake up every morning, look in the mirror, rue the decision. “Babies are stupid and useless,” my friend Dawn declares in a recent text to me, which makes me want to grab my needlepoint thread.
But still, I see a toddler from time to time on the subway, usually one of those super-cute half Chinese ones, and I am curious what the kid would look like, transposed onto my life. It’s like seeing a man with a handlebar moustache, and wondering, what would that look like on me? (The man or the moustache, take your pick.)
A while back, I completely freaked Sketch out by ruminating on this theme out loud (the baby musing, not the handlebar-moustache fantasy). I have an unfortunate tendency to do this; without having given it that much thought, I just go ahead and say, “I’m thinking of taking up the bassoon” or “my hair needs to be cobalt-blue” without any real, specific plans for doing so. It’s like a public-opinion poll, but I feel you get a more authentic reaction when you are all this-is-happening rather than soliciting a theoretical opinion. So when, after years of telling Sketch how inherently horrifying I find infants, with that creepy mushy spot on the top of their skulls where their brains are not done cooking, I suddenly told him, “I’m thinking about a baby,” he took me seriously, when really I kind of meant it along the lines of “I’m thinking of a number from 1-7.”
This is one of the things that backed him right out of this relationship, his hands defensively raised, warding off my bad ideas. “I didn’t really mean it seriously,” I explained later. “It’s just a thing I was saying.” Sometimes, it is impossible to figure out if I mean something until I go ahead and say it out loud.