I don't want to go through childbirth!

Though my fianc

By Cary Tennis
August 12, 2005 10:03PM (UTC)
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Dear Cary,

I have a huge problem and no one to blame but myself. I am a 38-year-old woman planning to marry, for the first time, in about three months. My fiancé is 37, never married, no kids. In a nutshell, he wants at least one biological child. I want to adopt.


I have known since I was a preteen that I would never, ever want to be pregnant and give birth. Those thoughts haven't changed in 28 years, not even now that I've met my truly wonderful fiancé. About three years ago I ended a serious relationship because I knew I could never have a child with him and that's what he wanted. It was amicable and he has now married someone who wants children. But the idea of breaking up with my fiancé over this issue just tears me in two. I can't comprehend living without him.

The reasons I don't want to be pregnant and give birth are fear and selfishness. Fear of the whole thing (and I mean heart-stopping, suicide-thought-provoking fear). And selfishness because I don't want another creature taking over my body for nine months, causing me pain and altering my body forever. I do also sincerely believe the world is horribly overpopulated, but the truth is that I'm scared and selfish.

Of course, I have talked to my fiancé about all of this. He is loving and sympathetic, and he has told me that he will never leave me because of this. However, he's a normal guy and he wants a kid. Badly. I don't fault him for it. I have no real defense to offer him. I'm not unaware that women have been having babies for quite a long time and that many choose to do it several times. But you might as well say "People perform brain surgery on themselves." The two things are equally irrational to my mind.


So, what I see happening is that one of us will resent the other. I would really, really like to believe that after I had a baby, my thoughts would change and I would be so in love with the baby and my husband that I would think I was an idiot for almost missing this. I think that's a possible outcome. I just don't know how likely it is. The other possible outcome is that I love the baby but I never forgive my husband for putting me through it or myself for agreeing to do something I didn't want to do.

Do you see any possible happy ending here?



Dear Anti-labor,

I see a possible happy ending though it's not a Hollywood happy ending, but then again Hollywood happy endings are a nightmare to finance and the unions bleed you dry and you never have a clue until the focus groups weigh in and even then sometimes it dies at the box office and then where are you? Back in Poughkeepsie picking your feet.


So this will be a different kind of happy ending because the motivation of the main character -- who happens to be you, of course -- is supplied not by the plot or the situation but by some invisible center of self-knowledge whose presence is hard to explain because it's not written into the plot that people read when they join the production. It's like a subplot hidden so deep you can't even see it on the screen but it's moving things around in your head just the same. It's like your soul or something. People like to believe that life is like the movies, so they will say you don't want to have a child because you were dropped on your head or had a painful birth yourself or there is some other back story that will be revealed before the credits. The a priori existence of motivations not in the script is indeed a troubling phenomenon. So people get you thinking that maybe your character's missing something if she doesn't want to add another mouth to the planet, so you just have to keep asking yourself, Do I want to go through labor? Do I want to go through labor?

And something in you knows that you do not want to go through labor. You can honor that. You can say, OK, I'm not going through labor. You could have a little conversation: Body of mine, do you want to go through labor? And the body says No! And you say, OK, Body of mine that I love, then we don't have to go through labor. And your fiancé as well can say, OK, you don't have to go through labor. And he's got to understand that before he gets married to you; he can't be thinking you'll change your mind, because then he's got a misconception.

This is still your life. You are still making the decisions that matter. Even if you get married, it doesn't mean that you throw away everything you have ever known about yourself and what you want and what you fear. To the contrary, when you get married you put everything you own and everything you fear into the trunk of a Buick Regal and you drive to a station in the desert and put it all on a train and take the train to an unknown destination where it's all unloaded by a one-legged porter who smiles and leaves you there to contemplate your objects. Everything is there, just the way you packed it: Your fear of going through labor, your desire to raise a child, your unease with the resultant contradiction, your suspicion that there's more to it than just the things you want and the things you need, that invisible forces are commanding you to bear a child of your own even though you don't want one and never have. So there you are with your suspicions in the desert, the one-legged porter disappearing into the stationhouse.


You carry your suspicions with you into the fertility clinic or the maternity ward or the adoption agency or the Pottery Barn; wherever you go seeking comfort and warmth, there is your bag of doubts and reservations that you packed along with your woolens and your lunch. It's always there beside you, sitting on the bench waiting for a bus. That's why it's not a Hollywood happy ending, with cheering in slow motion and what is supposed to sound like an orchestra but sounds instead like giant muscular men moving furniture and oboes inflated with helium ... it's not a Hollywood happy ending at all, but it's the thing that matters most.

Where are we now? We're coming back to the literal. You are faced with other questions, distinct from giving birth: Do you want to raise a child? Then raise a child. Just get married and adopt a kid. What's so hard about that? And if you really want a genetic connection with the kid, maybe that's possible too, what with all the things they can do today. But should you ignore this strongly held belief that you've held for, like, forever? No. Do not ignore this strongly held belief you've held for, like, forever. Heed it. Pay attention. It matters.

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