I have been reading the posts in response to Little Kate’s open call – “Children” – with much interest and raw emotion. I don’t have any children of my own. I have no regrets; I knew in my early twenties that I didn’t want to be a mother. I now realize it was a premonition of how sick I was to become, my crappy childhood a precipitant in the severity of my illness. With parents addicted to alcohol and Valium, too fucked up and too high to fulfill their responsibilities as mother and father, they neglected my brother and me more in terms of our emotional needs than what are considered the basics of food, shelter, and clothing.
Growing up, I was a tomboy, heavily involved in serious athletics, playing on three varsity teams in high school, and two in college. My closest friends were gay and I began to wonder if I was as well. I never had a boyfriend; I watched my friends from elementary school flirt and date, and leave me behind and I began to wonder what was wrong with me, a feeling that persists until this day. It wasn’t until this past year, over thirty years later, when I finally got up the courage to explore my sexual fantasies in therapy with the help of my wise and skilled analyst that I have begun to understand what was taking place all these years.
My paternal grandparents were both depressed; my grandmother became psychotic in her geriatric years. After my father was married at twenty-five, and he moved out, my grandparents lived together but did not speak to each other. Finally, they separated and my grandfather moved out when I was in high school. They passed their depressive genes onto my father, who was also an alcoholic and their cold, unemotional style of parenting contributed to his diagnosis of schizoid personality disorder.
When she was a teenager, my mother was raped by her brother who was fourteen years older than her, and my therapist believes she unconsciously passed a feeling of anger and resentment towards men onto me. She became bulimic as a teenager (which continued into her sixties), before bulimia was considered a diagnosis, and after her marriage, began her addictive behaviors. She also became depressed, which was exacerbated by the stress of my illness and in the mid-1990’s she attempted to kill herself.
I created a scenario in my mind that if my mother had the choices that a woman had today in the twenty-first century as opposed to the 1950's/1960’s, she would have chosen not to bear children and instead chosen to focus on her career. In doing that, I am in a way denying my existence, stating decisively that my mother would have been happier and more fulfilled without having given birth to my brother and me. This theory sprung from the knowledge that after my mother graduated from New York University at age twenty, she was the only, if not one of the very few women working at Remington Rand, one of the first computer giants. She loved the logical thinking which computer science demanded and she surrendered a promising career in an emerging field to have children and stay at home with us.
I fantasize that my mother, at the time she married my father, did not know how heavily he drank, and it was only after they had been married for several years that the extent of his alcoholism became evident. Subsequently, having two children eighteen months apart trapped her into this hell of a marriage. I do know, my mother having told me when I was a teenager, that she endured two illegal abortions following the birth of my brother. She simply did not want any more children.
And then once the severity of my illness became evident, I absolutely did not want to pass my horrific genes onto another generation. I had inherited the depressive gene, the addiction gene, the eating disorder gene, the schizoid tendencies, and a negative attitude towards men and sex that my mother had unconsciously transmitted to me. A stance of aversion and disgust that ruined any chance I had for an intimate relationship, one that would take decades of therapy to repair. I only hope my genes have sidestepped and avoided the next generation of Luce’s, not my direct offspring but my niece, my brother’s daughter. And my brother did not escape unscathed either. He has his own demons perched on his shoulder.
In a book titled “Lying in Weight: The Hidden Epidemic of Eating Disorders in Adult Women” by Trish Gura, the chapter on pregnancy (in eating disordered women) is terrifying to read, filled with caverns and pitfalls. One of the statements voiced in the section, “Do I Want a Baby?” which resonated with me was, “She may have had dark feelings about having children based upon the way she was reared.” Another accurate projection was that, “…those prone to eating disorders often feel that they could never accommodate themselves to the bodily changes of pregnancy.”
I can imagine or more accurately I can’t imagine watching my belly swell, knowing I have to ingest more calories to sustain the life inside it, fighting the conflict within me to restrict in order to slow the weight gain and possibly hurt or destroy the fetus.
Gura writes, “Pregnancy exacerbates the anxiety that breeds [these] food and body rituals…With this kind of anxiety, it is not surprising that many women with more serious eating problems opt out of pregnancy altogether.”
I don’t believe I am being selfish, as some opponents of the childfree choice consider adults who choose to be childfree label them. In my case I feel that I am being selfless. My prime childbearing years came during the height of my illness. I would not have been capable of caring for a child, perhaps even conceiving due the probable infertility as a consequence of my anorexia.
From an article in Redbook Magazine by Briana Mowrey; film critic Kim Voynar describes the dilemma in this way:
“Wonderful though being a mother is on many levels, it also complicates your life in many ways, and that’s the truth, just as it’s also true that our culture tells us that a woman ‘of a certain age’ without a child is somehow incomplete and must be unhappy, even if she won’t admit it.”
Although I am a woman of that ‘certain age,’ I’m not unhappy about my choice, though I feel that the choice was made clear for me. I don’t feel incomplete without a child. I enjoyed reading the posts about the other OS’ers intense and unconditional love for their children and I do admit that I felt a twinge of worry as in “who will take care of me when I get old?
When my niece was born in late 2007, when I was forty-six, I got to hold her several days after her birth in the hospital. I was sitting in a chair in my sister-in-law’s hospital room and I held out my arms to receive her. My brother placed her carefully in my grasp. I held her gingerly and gazed upon this strange, wrinkled creature. I felt nothing but sheer, unadulterated terror. “Take her away from me.” I shrieked. Once she was removed from my arms, I relaxed and was able to admire her from a distance – in someone else’s arms. I studied her with her other aunt, with her grandmother – they were naturals, so at ease with her. I was still shaking from my brief encounter. No, twenty years later, I was sure I had made the right decision. I went over to the bassinet and kissed the top of her tiny head. “Thank you little Isabella.” I whispered. I may not have been able to be a good mother but I promise you I will be a great aunt.” Tears started to flow from my eyes as I cried in hushed tones, “Please, please whatever you do, do not grow up to be like this crazy old lady with her fucked-up genes. I’ll never be able to forgive myself if somehow they zigzagged over to you..” And I rushed out of the room leaving a whirlwind in my wake, before anyone could see my tears.