While visiting a friend in Houston, Texas, recently, I attended a birthday party for two sisters, ages 3 and 5, classmates of my friend’s kids. I walked into a church complete with basketball court, bowling alley and plenty of play structures to keep the kids busy, enough that it blew my Jewish, suburban New Jersey mind.
This is what I have to look forward to, I told myself as I nibbled on chicken nuggets and observed small children try not to drop bowling balls on their toes. I was having a great time—yes, I’m the kind of person who will gladly look at any and all photos of your children and is more than happy to spend my vacation playing Candy Land and Chutes and Ladders, or in this case, air hockey—until I went to the bathroom. There, two days early, I discovered I’d gotten my period.
Amidst all the children climbing and running around with birthday-cake-fueled sugar rushes, I wanted to cry. It felt like my period was out to get me, especially coupled with the recent month where it chose to arrive four days late, prompting my jubilation that, maybe, just maybe, at age 39, my dream of becoming a mom was finally coming true.
Clearly, that was not the case, then or now. I had packed pads in my suitcase but didn’t bring them that day, because my cycle usually operates like clockwork. Here, the clock was playing pesky tricks on me. I found it hard to be quite as amused by the fierce competitiveness over foosball or the adorable pre-K fashion as I’d been moments before.
I hate the phrase “having it all” as much as the next modern woman, but the only thought I could focus on in those post-bathroom moments was how hollow having only part of it all made me feel. I’m now going into my fourth year in a monogamous, serious, in-it-forever relationship with a man who dotes on me more than I feel I could ever deserve. I’ve edited over 50 anthologies in my chosen genre of erotica, have two sex columns and just had an article published in The New York Times, a publication I’ve been reading since I was a teenager. Last year I started teaching an online writing class whose fee was at least three times what I ever would have considered charging if I’d been setting the price, and it sold out. When friends ask me what my dream career would be, I tell them it’s the one I have now. I’m incredibly lucky—except I don’t feel that way at all. I don’t want to give up what feels like the pinnacle of my career, but if a genie landed at my desk right now and asked if I would in return for a healthy newborn, I’d say yes in a heartbeat.
When I first started realizing I wanted to be a mom, I was 30. I still had time—or so I told myself. I was busy throwing myself into the life of an adult magazine editor by day and trivia, bingo and comedy show nerd by night. I didn’t have a five-week plan, let alone a five-year plan. Now, I track my life largely around my period, feeling gloomy when it arrives, hopeful when it hasn’t yet. Thirty-nine feels perilously close to the point of no return, even though I have plenty of friends who’ve given birth at 41, 42 and beyond. My gynecologist urged me to try to have my first child before 40, and even though I’ll miss that deadline, that’s not my biggest concern. Hitting 40 in November will mean moving into a new phase of my life, one where, from my vantage point, most of the women I know who want kids have already had them. I’m hopelessly behind, just like in high school when I was one of the last of my close friends to graduate a virgin.
My career and love life, after teetering precariously close to the gutter for most of my 30s, are finally thriving, but sometimes, all I see is what I don’t have. I don’t have a kid to play Sequence with or dress up in clothes I wish they made in my size. I don’t have a son or daughter to plan birthday parties or decorate cakes for. I do live with the most supportive boyfriend I could ask for, one whose selflessness amazes me every single day (as just one example, last year he became what we jokingly call “butt nurse” for me for a week when I had an abscess on, yes, that most sensitive area). I don’t want to sound unappreciative of him or the life we’ve built together so far, or of the professional opportunities I could only dream of five years ago.
Yet I still wake up and feel like something huge is missing from my life, which often makes it hard to go about my daily routine, especially when I walk outside my door and see kids walking to or from school with their adorable backpacks, or take work trips and watch them rolling suitcases almost as big as they are.
It’s a daily struggle to act as if I am going to have kids, and make decisions according to what would be best for those future people when I’m still not entirely convinced, cynic that I am, that they will ever exist. Should I order a glass of champagne or stick with seltzer? Is $100 too much to spend on a bra? Should I visit a friend in Bangkok this summer or save my money for a rainy day? WWAGMD (What Would A Good Mom Do)?
But that cycle of questioning can turn into a trap of its own. It presumes that moms always make the most correct, carefully calculated decision about every aspect of their lives, which I know from spending enough time with my family and my friends who have kids is not true. I get it—parents are people with flaws, just like me. I hope I can join their ranks sooner rather than later, but until I do, my otherwise awesome life will continue to feel incomplete.