pregnant pic

Fish Dreams and Fantasies: Contemplating Motherhood

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




lost opportunity

an expired biological clock

no legacy

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.

17 thoughts on “Fish Dreams and Fantasies: Contemplating Motherhood

  1. Wow. I could relate to much of this. I grew up in the outh. Many times throughout my childhood, my mother would announce that she had dreamed of fish the night before and that someone in the family would be pregnant. Without fail it seemed, a couple of months later an impending birth would be announced.

    Like you, I was told to forget about boys and sex until I “had finished my education.” Well, at age 35, I have three degrees, am not married, and do not have any children. In my 20s I alternately thought I didn’t want to ever get married or have children and that I would feel like a circus freak if I found myself single at 30. Well, I’m 35 and I feel like myself, not a freak.

    I’m still in the process of creating myself. And I’m happy with that. It’s funny, I was always more concerned with having a life partner (and possibly getting married) than having children. I have grown (in more recent years) to like and appreciate children. I work with them professionally. However, even at my age, I find myself ambivalent about whether I want to become a mother. While many people have tried and do try to convince me that I’ll regret not having children, I’m not convinced. I won’t have a child unless I really want to; it’s not something to take lightly. If I find that if and when I’m ready to have children and my body won’t cooperate, I’ll look into adoption. And I’m fine with that. I’m in a happy, healthy relationship (yayy for online dating!) and am content. And to be honest, after two graduate degrees, I’m not where I want to be professionally or financially. And I really don’t believe in the trope “there’s never a right time to have a child…it’ll work itself out.”

    I’ve found that the most important thing is to honor my feelings and not measure myself by anyone else’s yardstick. I also have women in my life who have chosen to not become mothers. And they’re very happy and don’t have regrets. Everyone has to walk their own path.

  2. Per No Wedding, No Womb your entire post is correct. You shouldn’t want children without a husband and a ring. A verbal commitment isn’t enough, even though marriage does not equal security or happiness.

    A marriage doesn’t guarantee that your husband won’t leaving you either by choice or by death.

    Becoming a mother, not in my ideal manner, has been the greatest blessing of my life. I have new motivation and new dreams. Parenting is work, single or otherwise.

    Keep in mind, that sometimes God’s plan for us is different than our plans for ourselves. If a child comes to you by your formula or another, that child is meant to be by the Grace of One Greater than All.

    1. I’m not at all down with the no wedding, no womb movement. The womb is not a commodity to be give in exchange for the security of marriage. Given the very real social issues surrounding Black women and marriage (in terms of statistical scarcity, which is a problem, however much we’d like to think it isn’t), reinscribing conservative gender roles in catchy alliterated phrases isn’t helping anyone. People parent in a range of ways, and we should be imagining ways for all women, but particularly Black women, to have the kinds of lives and partnerships they want and imagine, marriage or no. Yes, I personally prefer to be married before parenting. I do not however think that that should be the standard for all people. My father had real problems, and my life was much better without him in it, fortunately and unfortunately. So yes, we can talk about ideals, but we also need to talk about the real lives of women, and reimposing outdated marriage standards for women who may not want to get married or may not be able to because their partners are women is not the solution. No wedding, no womb gets no love over here.

      1. It gets no love from me, either. I blogged abou that, as well. Families come in all configurations. I keep stressing, what others seemingly want to ignore, and keep pushing this fairy tale, that marriage = security! When in fact it does not. Men leave, married or not, for a number of reasons. Divorce is an issue. So stressing marriage isn’t the solution. Nor is leaving out an entire population because they don’t fit into this ideal.

        The decision to have a child is highly personal, and as far as I’m concerned does not need to be policed by other people. That decision is between God & Myself. This is the one time when Men, fortunately or unfortunately, lose! Women have the decision making power. A point, also missing in the nwnw movement.

        Since they consistenly assert that woman are being duped, tricked, and pimped into having sex and getting pregnant, because they are too stupid to see a tired a$$ man or don’t have enough self esteem or brain power to know a good man!

  3. Wonderful piece, and brilliant commentaries.
    This article brings me Peace and kinship racially and gender. I really, really, REALLY appreciate it.
    This is on my mind every single day, because it warrants my attention, as it’s an issue, a decision, that I must come to terms with.
    I love children. I never envisioned my life without them. But like you all, my life and growing up and circumstances happened.
    Luckily and blessedly we’ve choices, we who are of advanced age. And who have our own minds.

  4. I didn’t have the fish dreams premonition in my family growing up, but I do relate to a lot of what you wrote. I am single and childless; having been raised by a single mother who is also brilliant and educated I saw psychic toll that she paid to raise myself and my sister alone (well, almost alone. My grandmother helped out. I miss you Granny!). I also saw young Black girls all around me getting pregnant before they were ready; in many cases having to either postpone HS or college graduation or drop out altogether. I wasn’t having that, and neither was my family.

    Now, I’m at that age where it may be too late to get pregnant, but like
    “tmaismb” I am also very open to adoption. There are so many Black children who need homes and unconditional love. But the issue remains that I do NOT want to be a single parent. I told myself that if I was still single and financially comfortable at age 45 I would go ahead and adopt a child. As I get closer to that age, I steel myself for the possibility that I may have to pull the trigger on motherhood on my own, and I pray that I’ll be ready.

    Separate from the child issue, I really want to be in a solid, mature, loving relationship. I’ve always been very independent and self-sufficient but I get tired of not having that “partner in crime” that will root for you or hold you when you’ve had a really shitty day. And of course, there’s the sex thing. Sex with a random guy is not the same as it is with someone that you care about. I find it frustrating that Black women in particular are punished romantically for being something that society forces many of us to be: strong, independent, motivated. And unlike
    “tmaismb” I have had LOUSY luck with online dating. And the guys I dated after meeting in person haven’t gone that well either. Sigh.

    1. From my circle of friends, relatives, associates, and acquaintances, I’ve seen that online dating yields mixed results. Some folks I’ve known have met their now spouses; others only had a few lousy dates, and some, had some promising dates and interesting stories.

      For me, venturing into online dating was my way of shaking off the doubt that plagued me when my previous relationship ended. 34 at the time, I was questioning myself, “What if the statistics are true? Am I going to be able to find someone? Am I too old? Am I a tragic black woman stereotype?” It was a bit ridiculous. But then, I remembered that before I had entered the relationship that was over before I was ready for it to end, I had promised myself I would try something new…online dating.

      I did it like it was my part-time job. I was diligent about following up on e-mails, phone calls, etc. I also liked the fact that online dating made me realize that there was a whole world of men out there that I would not have been privy to had I not tried that avenue. Also, it made me more open (and I was already pretty) open to new experiences. I realized that at 34, I’m nowhere near old. In a weird way, it was like I was just getting started. Mind you, I had some weird/bad/crazy dates, but overall it was a great experience for me.

      So, filmfemme, if real-world and virtual dating isn’t working for you right now, take a hiatus and chill. And while you’re chilling, write down/think about/visualize what you want in a partner. Do things you really enjoy. and when you’re ready, go back out there…with gusto and conviction. I know the meantime isn’t easy…boy, do I know. But all these moments, right now, are your life. Squeeze all you can out of it.

      Sorry for the lengthy reply. 🙂

  5. I don’t want kids at ALL!
    Kids are too expensive and I have no patience at all. Those are just TWO reasons I don’t want kids but they’re two very good reasons.

    I’m so glad I’m a lesbian because pregnancy is not something I have to worry about.

  6. I still have a few years before the ticking of my biological clock becomes an urgent concern. But going through a divorce at present, I’m not sure if I ever want to be married again so I am definitely not wedded to the idea of being married before becoming a parent. For me, the decision to become a parent is a personal one (as someone else mentioned in their comment). And my ideal is to parent with someone who is committed to being an equitable partner in raising our child, and to have a community of support for our family. I stand in the tension echoed throughout this post, but particularly in these eloquent words:

    “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.”

  7. I found this piece very moving. As a young father of 24, who — nearly everyone around me had doubts to my capacity as a parent — pulled it off, I think, real good — I wouldn’t take it back. In general though, I think, what I like about this piece, is the idea that feminists can want children! I know that may sound totally bizarre, but, perhaps it’s just the Anarchists around town who give me this impression that having a child is some kind of mortal sin against Freedom — something you referenced in your essay above, where, your mother seemed to believe the same thing, albeit for very different reasons. It surely can be in a patriarchal, authoritarian relationship, but, otherwise — it’s always a struggle though. What I’m really looking for is blogs about men being parents and not being authoritarian or patriarchal. There is a group in Boston called NOMAS which gets men together to discuss their heterosexsism and become better feminists, but, I do feel the draw of machismo. My partner isn’t very supportive of my ideas: Freedom, Justice, Gender Equality – so forth. I think she would very much like it if I was a man’s man, something which, I don’t think I even know what to do. This post may have been semi unrelated, but, felt like I had to write something — I really loved it.

    Another curiosity- while at the same time State institutions and their religious components continuously push for the birth of children, motherhood, and fatherhood the Liberal NGOs and their advertisements push quite the opposite? What does this deadlock really mean?

  8. Things don’t always turn out as you plan them. My daughter taught me that. When I found out I was pregnant I had just broken up with her father, stil pregnancy was something I longed for. Single parenthood was never anything I planned, but I wasn’t scared to do it by myself either. I like you, expected courtship and planned babies. Things changed. I thought my daughter would be an older sister by now, she’s not. Meeting a good man seems to be harder when you are a parent already, you have other standards.
    Just trust that whatever is planned for you will happen, there are no mistakes in the Universe.

  9. “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.” <— Exactly how I feel… and I already have a child.

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