Before I entered the precarious childbearing zone, ovaries fast approaching their expiration date, people used to ask me if I would have children, as if possessing a womb made having children a requirement and not only that—an open invitation for friends, acquaintances and strangers to inquire about the state of my womb readiness. They might as well have asked, “Are you planning to have sex?” But that would have been considered rude. Asking about the outcome of sex, however, would not have been.
When you’re a woman of a certain age without a brood in tow, The Question is always on the tip of peoples’ tongues, or, if not there, foremost in their minds. This is one way to discover if you’re looking too old maid-y. If random strangers don’t ask The Question, you’ve got your answer.
I’ve always felt obliged to have a reasonable defense at the ready. I’m not sure why. Perhaps I suspected I was letting humanity down and failing at the only act we’re on Earth to perform—replacing ourselves. Perhaps the truth is my ovaries belonged to mankind and by letting them languish, I’ve committed some sort of crime against humanity, punishable by banishment, at least in earlier times. Now it is simply punishable by the swift look-away or downward glance or the you’ll-regret-it-when-you’re-old grimace. Or perhaps I’d failed at doing what women are expected to do—shake and bake their egglettes into mini-mes.
“I never met a man who was Dad material.”
“I wasn’t prepared to be a single mom.”
“I met Mr. Right at 45. Too late to start a family.”
All acceptable-sounding reasons for letting my ovaries go to waste—right? But the real reason is none of those things. The truth is: I was terrified by the idea that a harmless microscopic egg-sperm collision could set in motion a nine-month science project with me as the rapidly expanding test tube. First I would be so utterly exhausted that I would have sudden onset narcolepsy at the wheel or while operating heavy machinery. I’d be so nauseated that I would throw up into crisp little barf bags during staff meetings, if my aim was on, if not, I would nail my boss. My body’s rapid expansion project would be the envy of any small business venture, not to mention the envy of women on Weight Watchers trying to shed the pesky 20. Why? My weight gain would have been sanctioned—applauded even. The only time in a woman’s life this is permitted. Bring on the ice cream binges. And the quad cheeseburgers. And the entire jar of peanut butter. Hell, combine all three. Everyone, people who wouldn’t have considered doing so before, would fondle my swollen belly, as though it now belonged to them. Although fondling non-pregnant bellies is considered creepy, for some reason belly petting is socially acceptable when there’s a bun in the oven.
Meanwhile, I’d be reading scores of books about the things that could go wrong, which, incidentally, total in the hundreds of thousands—misfiring cells, faulty DNA, misshapen body parts, ill-formed organs, missing parts, genetic mutations, in-utero distress. I’d be a basket case thinking that just thinking about all the bad things could make things go very wrong.
Once I had made it through the Mononucleosis Phase of pregnancy, the Trapped Alien Phase would begin—the burping, farting, hiccupping, wiggling, shifting, squirming, kicking creature that was living inside me. If we weren’t all brainwashed into thinking, “Oh, how beautiful, life is growing inside that belly,” we’d really think it was the best horror movie segment ever, the sloshing, oozing, bloody, secreting, parasitic organism that possessed my body.
What if I wanted Little Miss Thing to high-tail it out of me and take up residence in someone else’s oven? I know I shouldn’t admit such a thing. It doesn’t sound maternal instinct-y, but that’s just it.
I’ve never had such an instinct.
When the goddess of all things created me, she failed to connect the maternal instinct brain command center with my womb. When women in their childbearing years would moan about their wombs aching for babies, I would check with mine. “Hello, womb. How’d you like a little urchin to move in?” Zero yearning detected for an implanted human.
Well, that’s not entirely true.
There was one day in my early 40s when I was at Whole Foods looking for Tofu Pups or some other colorless, bland, tasteless food. I was gripped by hormonal repro fever, which is a little like disco fever without the driving beat, disco ball, and bellbottoms. The strapping men wielding cleavers and grinders behind the meat counter looked especially potent as sperm donors. Even the smoothie guy with a WF! cap and hippy hair, although clearly possessing inferior DNA, was tempting. My ovaries radioed frenetic SOS signals to my brain. Use me or lose me! Instead of shopping for fermented soybeans, I desperately searched for my sperm donor.
That lasted about an hour. Without the nerve to proposition Grass-fed Hamburger Guy or Wheatgrass Juice Dude, I drove right past Last Chanceville.
Back to the science project. Once the squishy slimy critter had been squeezed out by yours truly during The Labor Show with lights, camera, action, and docs and nurses staring at, poking, jabbing, and jarring my previously private parts, breaking blood vessels, tearing vaginal walls, stretching the hell out of everything Down There so that nothing is ever the same, the Preventing Uncertain Death phase would have begun. And, incidentally, would end 30 years later. As a baby, she could die from choking, suffocating, or rolling off the changing table. She could be stepped on, eaten by the dog, or squished by mommy or daddy rolling over in bed. While enduring extreme sleep deprivation, post-partum mood swings, and teetering on the edge of sanity, I’d be charged with the task of safeguarding a fragile human life. In a sleep-deprived stupor, I would leave the stove on, grind my hand in the disposal, drop the baby, scald her with bathwater, or forget I left her in the car until it was too late.
And people would wonder why I was having a bad hair day. Weren’t these the same people who just nine months before had inquired about the state of my ovarian development and who had later fondled my belly? Wouldn’t this all be their fault? And the niggling sperm’s, of course.
The good news is: once you’ve made it past your ovarian expiration date without incident, humanity retreats. I dread the day biomedical advances make it possible for women to give birth until death. Women will never be liberated from The Question.
Will you save humanity from extinction?