So you found a girl with really deep thoughts
What’s so amazing about really deep thoughts
Boy you best pray that I bleed real soon
How’s that thought for you
– Tori Amos
My period began as annoyance, embarrassment, and pain. I was a late bloomer. After years of wondering what the hell was wrong with me, my period finally came at age 15, shortly after the last bell rang on the last day of middle school. Of course I was wearing white shorts. Of course there was a pool party the next day.
Over the years, my period has represented many things to me. Growing up. That thing I don’t want on Spring Break. Black underpants. A signal that I won and anorexia lost. A wedding day menace. Crying, ecstatic relief that I’m not pregnant. A discreet circle in a paper calendar.
A way out of the broken condom and the morning after pill I picked up from Planned Parenthood (forever devotion and thank you). An app on my phone. Erin, Unplugged: No birth control! Now with more cramps!
A week without it, a near-barf in bed, and a plus sign on a white stick. One daughter and several months of blood in maxi pads. 17 months of nursing and one delicious break.
People ask me if I’m going to have another kid.
This is the weirdest question. In my experience, people feel much more comfortable asking if you want to have a second kid versus asking if you want kids when you have none. Apparently we are open books once we have given birth (and remembering the undignified way I was splayed out in mortal pain, there’s something to that).
But the question is harder to answer now. I have seen the awe-inspiring, knock-you-on-your-knees love that comes with parenting. I am frankly addicted to babies. But I’ve also lived the endless exhaustion, the sleepless nights, the high-octane screams, and the daily responsibilities that fall on me with greater heft, even with an egalitarian husband who kicks ass.
I have a career I love, I have a daughter I love, and I have a husband I love. Our life is ridiculously fortunate. There are two dogs that can be more work than the kid, and a cat who has stuck with me through every phase of my adult life.
I love babies. I want more babies.
I love my life. I don’t want more babies.
I love my work. I don’t want anyone to know I have a conflict about babies and discriminate against me.
It is love that drives my conflict about my fertility, but more practically it is time. I am 35.
Every 28 days my period comes and I don’t know whether to be sad or throw a celebration. I go to the OB-GYN and ask her if her practice is willing to accommodate vaginal birth after caesarean and also how I can get an IUD inserted next week. I find myself angry that there is no forum to talk about these feelings, that there is so much silence about the ambivalence a woman can feel about her fertility.
Perhaps what I find most unsettling during the autumn of my childbearing years is the near-intolerance our culture exhibits toward a woman who isn’t 100 percent sure what she wants. After all, telling women what to do is practically the great American pastime, and watching our bodies and judging our sexuality is a sport with millions of male and female referees. If we’re not trying to tell women what to do, we hate-pity them instead. Oh it’s so sad she can’t figure it out. Hope she finds a way to deal with it.
It’s not just social bullshit; vocal ambivalence about fertility has economic consequences. It’s no accident that many driven young women (including me once) loudly declare that we are not going to have any children. No matter how earnestly this may be felt, and I do not discount someone who says it for a second, saying you don’t want kids comes with a significant professional bonus. Women who say they aren’t having any kids or any more kids are more attractive colleagues and potential hires no matter what those pesky laws on the books say.
Honesty about ambivalence is fraught with risk.
What if I were to start trying for more children, and tell people? Would others participate, and gossip, and evaluate my body and my sex life in telephone conversations with others? Would professional contacts write me off?
What if I were to close that door, or my body were to make that decision for me? Would you tell me I should have another, for the sake of my daughter? Would you celebrate my devotion to my work and my family, and those few shreds of time I have for myself?
Would you cry with me anyway when my period stops?
I don’t want to be judged. I don’t want advice, either. I will figure this out and continue living my best life, even in a world that can be hostile to women, hostile to mothers, and perhaps inclined to shit on me for being honest. I have a great family and a great life. I am trying to break stigma.
It is astonishing how much we talk to women about fertility, without giving us space to talk, and be messy and contradictory, just the way humans are.