Fish dreams signal pregnancy in my family. The premonition, which was mostly my grandmother’s or another maternal figure, has been consistent and accurate for as long as I can remember. All girl children were implicated by any dream that featured fish. . .
Menses signaled to my family that I was to be watched, warned, and if need be threatened with the many ways that motherhood would limit my options, embarrass the family, and guarantee me a life of struggle. I was told that I should keep my head in the books and my legs closed. So I followed directions and resisted temptations. I also learned the synchronicity of fate and the intentionality of swallowing a tiny pill at the exact same time every single night. Fear and abstinence kept me from doing what I was perpetually warned not to do, “come around here (home) with no babies!”
I am not sure that anyone expected me to still be child-less in my twenties, but I approached that decade as I had my earlier years, masking heartache and loneliness with focus and determination, seeing a potential pregnancy as an unnecessary complication, and pouring my maternal longings on other people’s children. I always imagined I would have plenty of time to have a family, and in my fantasies (where love and fairness is spread out equally, regardless of race; where beautiful black men are not scarce or disinterested; and where our ideal time lines and expectations about love are met) my soul mate would emerge with enough time for us to spend a decade falling in love, followed by an intentional and well orchestrated pregnancy. I would give birth to a son, who would favor his father and my mother. I would teach him how to be a feminist, an artist, and a football fan. My fantasy about being a mother usually ended there.
The reality is, women don’t always have the luxury of waiting until the time is right to decide if they want to be a mother. Biological clocks start ticking loudly when you turn thirty, and I imagine they ring like an alarm by the time you are 35. Having recently had a birthday I am suddenly utterly cognizant of the fact that with each passing year, I am less likely to have a biological child. I also know that the decade-long courtship of my fantasies is unrealistic, if not impossible, especially leading to a blissful and uncomplicated pregnancy in my thirties or forties. I don’t know how I feel about that.
When I was in my twenties I convinced myself I didn’t want children, so the inconsistencies didn’t matter. Like Sula, the main character of Toni Morrison’s novel by the same name, “I didn’t want to make somebody else, I wanted to make myself.” But now I am faced with fleeting moments of baby blues, punctuated by the fact that “making myself” isn’t a permanent process.
For most of my life not getting pregnant has been a tremendous accomplishment. The hallmark of my success as a girl, and my mother’s greatest accomplishment as a parent, was getting me through school without having a baby. My sister and I were the first of my grandmother’s female grandchildren to make it out of high school without getting pregnant.
Sometimes I cry for my would-be son, wondering if he will ever be born. I cry because I want him so bad, but at the same time not at all. I cry because I don’t have time for him now. Because I haven’t met his father yet. Because if I miss the opportunity to meet him or be his mother I will be devastated. I imagine my maternal aspirations are transitory. They will pass. I may not want to be a mother tomorrow.
When I think of living a child-free life, a life that may or may not be my destiny, I fear
an expired biological clock
no one with my mother’s eyes
my grandmother’s skin
my sister’s smile
my father’s dimples
no piece of me or part of me left in the world when I’m gone
The possibility of having a baby scares me, but the impossibility scares me more.