I do not come from a family that applied any undue pressure on me to "settle down." The same can be said for my brother, who has been living in blissful sin with his lady love for a number of years. Our parents could just never be arsed to tell us what to do beyond "Get your elbows off the table"; "Don't talk with your mouth full"; "Mario, stop hitting your sister"; and "Rachael, lower your voice." Even the former dropped somewhere between my junior high and high school years.
So having kids - ah, correction - the desire to have children comes as a natural maternal urge within me, as opposed to a necessity built on societal and familial expectations. It has always been there; as far back as I can recall, as far back as my mom can recall. Harkening back on my pre-memory making days, mom recalls how I played with baby dolls in a way she never did; she who hacked off my hand-me-down Barbies' hair off never had the desire to cuddle a plastic doll to her chest and play house. Mom was about Creepy Crawlers, Erector-Sets, Chemistry Kits, and Mini Private Eye play sets, whereas I wanted stuffed animals, My Little Pony, Sweet Secrets and Care Bears. Gender biased be damned, Mom's tomboyish nature was not connected in any way to her maternal urges and children came to her at a "ready or not, here they are!" young age. So when her own ragamuffin took to dressing up her kitten with doll clothes and referring to it as her "baby" mom figured it was only a matter of time before I'd be opening Rachael's Orphanage for Wayward Children.
Which was, of course, a problem in the sense that my health was poorly and probably going to remain a jungle of issues throughout the duration of my life. Children...should not be an option, all of the adults decided for me in my early life. Well, decided for me is not a wholly accurate term as I do not believe anyone would have snatched my uterus from me like thieves in the night. I believe the correct way of describing this is my mom and my doctors took an active role in making sure my forming brain knew there were other options available in the wonderful, wide world of child rearing.
It is a fact that my first preschool teacher, who ran her care from her certified home, was also a foster mother, and whose (then) two (eventually three) children were adopted. Whether this was just a twist of kismet or if this was a domineering factor in my placement in her care remains to be known. Either way, from the age of three onward my mind was aware of foster children, adopted children, mixed-ethnic families, blended families. It was part of the norm right when my brain was developing, coming to realize there was indeed a world wider than the span of my arms.
For years I didn't have the need to worry about these silly, grown-up and seemingly faraway troubles. I had fun in my childhood, in spite of my health, climbing trees, wading knee-deep in the creek that flowed not fifty yards from my house, riding my bicycle to the neighborhood convenience store and spending my allowance on a slice of pizza, candy and a rented movie. These were my simple joys in life. Kids...they were always "Some day" while I was content enough to be the mother figure of my friends, of the younger children in my annual summer day camp, of the younger children I shared a hospital room with at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.
An incident happened. Something so deeply personal, not really to me as I was an unfortunate witness, but to someone I once called a dear and best friend. Though we are no longer in touch, I feel it would be a disservice to her to share her past with the world. Let us say an incident happened, one that changed our friendship dynamics forever and made me suddenly hyper-aware of my desire to have children, of the actions I must take to not let this happen prematurely and even if did...what then?
What then indeed. For the first time in my life I experienced resentment toward this situation; it was no longer acceptable to adopt children. What about the joy of naming a child? Of that new baby smell? Of being able to beam with pride when strangers complimented me how much my child looks like me? Of noticing inherent interests, behaviors and quirks? Why was I to be robbed of these things? It wasn't fair and I wasn't going to accept it.
I consoled myself with child care; I took Regional Occupation Program classes in child development, earning myself a certificate by the age of 17 as I spent time out of my school day volunteering at St. James Church preschool, got an after school job babysitting in both my junior and senior years and eventually a full-time nanny position as I went to college for early childhood development/education.
My career in child care was cut short in 2008 after my health was too effected by the germs my little petri dishes carried around themselves, making me ill if they so much as coughed in the next room over from me. It had been a good decade full of high's and lows, with many a funny story to share with others.
So I returned to writing, telling myself that I was starting to lose my patience working with kids anyway, and that it was going to ruin my temper for my own children, so best to get out now while I can repair what nerves a tirade of irritating parents and their coddled children didn't trample to death. I'd already been well adjusted back to the idea of adoption, even surrogacy. My moment of self-pity was simply that; a moment.
Around this time I became aware of the "Childfree by Choice" community. I would never say I ever actively engaged in the community, but I admire and appreciate them. Their humor brings me solace and is something I strongly empathize with because I have a handful of friends, not to mention my own sibling, who is childfree by choice. Despite kids always being part of my agenda, the active decision to not have kids was never weird or unusual to me. The fact that there has been such pressure, ostracizing and social taboo placed on these good folks for simply not populating an already overpopulated planet with their offspring is just mind-bogglingly ludicrous to me.
So I walk a fine line; a balancing act between laughing with abandon at those sorry enough to take themselves and their offspring seriously, to revel in my ability to sleep in however late I so please, to pick up and take-off whenever I so please; balanced against the ache I feel when I see infants snuggled in a makeshift sling as mom shops the Farmer's Market, little shoes, dresses and overalls hanging on little hangers in stores, and elementary school Halloween parades.
The line had to be crossed last year when I decided to take my women's health issues into my complete control and, as I so eloquently worded it recently, "dumped my uterus like a bad news boyfriend." Truly, I did not have to cross that line. I could have gone as I had been: on another pill, a limited sex drive, 7-10 days out of my life dedicated to pain, unpredictable heart arrhythmias, and more blood than a Freddy Krueger movie. All of that without the guarantee I would not suffer any accidents, accidents that led to choices of life and death, decisions I believe it is a woman's right to make, but unsure I would make it myself. I could have gone on living like that. Frankly, I am a distrustful person and it was that distrust that made me cross the line and say, "Enough of this tightrope act. If I fall, there might not be a net below to catch me. It's time to solidify my loyalty to one team here."
I chose Team Adoption/Surrogacy.
People, I am not the most definitive decision maker. Dare I admit it; I am actually quite indecisive. When I do decide to draw a line in the sand, though? I will usually cross it, cartwheel and stomp on it with steel-toed boots.
I walked that line for so long, though, that What If line that is the very definition of my life in oh so many ways, that even though I know the decision I made was the correct decision for my life, my health, my future...It doesn't mean I am not, at my weaker moments, grieving the loss of What If.
Just because it was the correct answer doesn't mean it was necessarily the easy answer.