As we sat listening to the grim prognosis of my mother’s breast cancer, the doctor asked, “Do you have any children?” After hearing my response, he went on to say that health insurance, no matter how excellent it is, does not take care of us nearly as well as our children as exemplified by my presence in the exam room. I have heard this before and that this, situation is the very reason why I should have children. This in fact should have transformed my biological clock into a ticking bomb… very quickly. It does not. But, I have to admit that my mother’s current health crisis does add a chill of apprehension about facing my own elderly years… alone. I am not the only one facing this dilemma.
Jane Gross’s article, “Alone in Illness, Seeking Steady Arm to Lean On” in many ways describes the future that is in store for me and as a result, I am a member of a nascent community of friends; some of whom do not have families. Let’s take the proverbial pen and draw the shifting demographics of America.
Currently, there are approximately 99.6 million unmarried people in the U.S. over the age of 18. Considering that this data begins at age 18, many who qualified for this data could marry at some point in their lives. As of now, one in five women has chosen not to reproduce and may or may not marry. Others may divorce and never remarry. The standard statistics for divorce in the U.S. is at 50%.
There are also a growing number of heterosexual married couples who have opted out of parenthood. And to add the final statistic, 70% of African American women, of which I am one, never marry. As Generation X ages, many of us will have to rely on a “mandala” of friends to get us through the tough times.
When I had orthoscopic surgery on my knee last year, it was my friend Margaret who drove me to and from the out-patient procedure along with “D” and various friends stopping by to check on me. On the emergency forms that are filled out in doctor’s offices and at work, I have left them blank because I am reluctant to place anyone in a position where they may have to make a life or death decision on my behalf. Legally, they cannot do much without some classification of our relationship since we are not blood related.
Plus, my experience in emergency situations has taught me that hospitals/doctors can choose to honor the wishes of adult children in their choices about their parent’s health but they can also choose to forgo family input. The exception is heterosexual legally married spouses and their minor children. All others outside of this narrow scope must appoint someone to have power of attorney over their health and/or financial matters.
Thus, friendships are relegated to the periphery while the nuclear family is considered the nexus of adult life even if your siblings or other kin live out of state or if you are an only child. In response to the doctor’s comment, I wanted to say:
I would not be able to care for my mother to this capacity if I had children. In addition, because my mother was diagnosed with Schizophrenia thirty years ago which is now compounded with dementia along with chemo-brain, she requires the attention that someone would give to a whole family! Thank God I don’t have other people to care for because someone would get kicked to the curve!
Over the years I have heard the entreating of a few friends, family, random people at large who have attempted to cajole, intimidate, scare, or manipulate me into looking for someone to marry and have children. I admit that I have not actively sought a companion with whom to journey into my golden years. As for children, I still do not desire them and I believe that it is ultimately selfish to have children as “insurance” against dying alone. I chose my path because I love my mother and she has always needed me in a way that most parents do not need their adult children. Moreover, I would not want to have a child of mine placed in my position, therefore my womb does not detonate.
Alternatives to Marriage Project. (n.d.). Statistics. http://www.unmarried.org/statistics.html
Gross, Jane. (2005). Alone in Illness, Seeking Steady Arm to Lean On. http://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/26/health/26alone.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all
Smith, J.,J. (2010). Real Reasons Why 70% of Black Women are Single. Black Star News.http://www.blackstarnews.com/news/125/ARTICLE/6191/2010-01-01.html
Wikipedia. (2012). Post Chemotherapy Cognitive Impairment [Chemo-Brain]. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Post-chemotherapy_cognitive_impairment