When my ex and I separated, I was faced with the impossible task of securing an affordable and safe one-bedroom in Los Angeles. I ended up where we began, signing a lease on a unit across the courtyard from him and my old life, the home where we got engaged, raised a dog, decorated Christmas trees with ornaments collected from our road trips, drank basil mojitos on the balcony, and tried and failed to become parents.
Whenever someone asks, “Are you married?” and I respond with, “I’m divorced,” I inhale and wait for it. No one invited them to ask a follow-up question, and yet they always do: “Do you have kids?”
It’s as if they are looking for something to brighten up the space. It’s their opportunity to be a confidant or sage advice giver. They are prepared to play either role contingent upon my response.
When I say no, the common refrain is: “At least you don’t have children.” It is intended to be a kind of consolation, but I’m left wondering what the gift is. I open my mouth to explain how this doesn’t make anything easier — in fact, it makes the split harder — and yet I say nothing.
It’s a yes or no response. I can’t maybe have kids. I can’t almost have had kids. It doesn’t matter if I watched one grow from a poppy seed to a lemon before her heart stopped beating. It doesn’t matter if I tried again and watched him run down my leg and become a thick red mass on the tile floor. Almost having kids doesn’t count.
I know what they mean — that the divorce process must have been easier — but that is not necessarily true, nor is it on the bright side that I don’t have children. When parents say that they would die for their kids, I believe them. As challenging as a divorce may be, it is less than death. And as a parent navigating a divorce, one may be challenged by the difficulty of dealing with their child’s parent, but they are generally not fighting for life. Everyone is still alive and breathing. When I separated from my husband, I was exhaling love that was not enough and inhaling the emptiness that took its place. I am still fighting for the life I would like to bear, but now I am faced with the insurmountable task of going at it alone.
As an adoptee, the only definitive way I can connect with a blood relative is by conceiving one. So far, I’ve failed at it three times.
While adoption is an option, I know what it feels like to grow up without access or knowledge of one’s personal and medical history. I still know very little, as my records are sealed, and have made my way in the world feeling like I never quite belonged anywhere. I am not ready to give up on seeing myself reflected in a child I created; it is something I have never experienced before. It is not just watching my biological clock slow, but the chance to discover pieces of myself.
Motherhood was not the only thing I wanted out of marriage. But as a single woman with fewer eggs in my internal basket, I have regrets that I didn’t try hard enough. This is a ridiculous notion, but still I punish myself with the if onlys. If only I had gotten married in my 20s when I had more time to conceive. I was so foolish, selfish, and now there is no warm body in rainbow pajamas with my gray eyes to read bedtime stories to, to untangle her hair after bath time, to watch her grow into a little person.
One night I hear my ex pacing our old balcony, talking softly on the phone. We may have both realized that we were better as friends, but he is kind and true. His future children would be quick to realize how lucky they are to have him as a father. My eyes well up, knowing that he has years, maybe another decade, to give and receive life. I try hard not to envy him or the way that, in some ways, men can live with no concept of time passing. They get to live longer as children before having them and are far more experienced at being young than women are.
There is no equation to marriage, divorce or conceiving. Try as we might to plan, these things take on their own undefinable shapes. What happens when the ability to give birth to a child begins to slip away? We redline the past, freeze in the present and fear the future. We are told to consider other options. We are reminded that we are nearing impossible. We are reminded that we need luck. A miracle. Money. And to be realistic about things, that we need to prepare for a life without motherhood.
One friend tells her live-in boyfriend that she is taking the pill because he does not want to have any more kids. She does not take the pill. Another is contemplating an arrangement with a man her mother met who is interested in having kids, too. I reminded her that this man will be a part of her life forever. But so would my child, she says. I can’t argue with this logic. Some swipe right on Tinder only when they are ovulating and steal away to the bathroom to lie on the ground and throw their legs up against the wall after having sex. Others go back to their ex-husbands or ex-boyfriends, knowing that although the relationship didn’t work, their sperm might. It’s a familiar and direct transaction.
My house is deafeningly quiet. I have multiple jobs, friends, activities, passion projects. But what I have too much of and not enough of is time. In that space, I cannot give myself the thing I want most in this life. Once, a friend said how much she envied me for having clean and organized cosmetic bags. I could never have that with the kids, she said with a laugh. I couldn’t even feign a smile. When she left, I dumped the bags on the floor and looked at the mess I wish I had. I cried at how easy this life was supposed to be for me. Me and my organized eye shadows. I’d trade my “easy divorce” for a more complicated life so that I could say: At least I have children.