BY BEVIN BRANLANDINGHAM
About a year ago, my weekend plans to go away were torn asunder by an emergency vet visit. I got home from the gym and my cat ALF was slumped against the wall, meowing at me. He couldn’t walk, he looked scared and confused. I scooped him up and paced around the apartment doing the math about whether we were going to go to the vet, was this an emergency. I realized pretty quickly that it was, called a couple of friends to get some support at the vet and was really grateful I had borrowed a car for my weekend away because I was able to get right over to the clinic.
The vet was very kind and expensive and I spent that weekend sitting next to ALF on the couch while he slowly recovered, which thankfully he did. He couldn’t really sleep and kept breathing laboriously until eventually he was drinking water and walking again.
On my way to the vet I was crying and sort of glad that ALF was a cat and not my child and so I didn’t have to be “brave” in front of him so he wouldn’t flip out. Being a single mom to pets is hard but not like being a single mom to kids.
I think about having kids a lot. I’ve been wanting to write about this for the blog for a really long time. I want to preface what I have to say is that this is my journey and I don’t want to put my journey on anyone else.
I have a lot of privilege in that my body can bear a child, or at least that is what I know to be true based on regular GYN exams. Lots of folks who want kids don’t get the luxury of being able or willing to bake the baby themselves inside them, so I acknowledge this is my own experience of what is going on with my parts.
So about four years ago I started flipping out about my eggs. I was thirty. Everywhere in the media people talk about how as you age your fertility becomes non-existent. Suddenly I was aware of this ticking time bomb in my gut and I wondered if it mattered if I ever did anything about it. I had heard all those stories about Martha Stewart’s daughter trying to get knocked up and her foreboding warnings that women should not forget about their waning fertility. It was one of those worries that was at the back of my mind. Something I consider now recreational stress, but I used to partake in that kind of stuff a lot.
Then all of my old co-workers from the job I had for five years when I was first out of law school started getting pregnant. They were younger than me, but here they were, married and having kids. I wrote myself a note, “I want to have a baby but I am going to give birth to a talk show and a book first.” I realized I was putting my decision to change careers at thirty from lawyer to artist ahead of becoming a mom.
Then a bunch of my queer friends started making babies. And I’ve witnessed how time-consuming fertility is, and how complicated and expensive it is to create life or adopt life. It reminds me that I’m already fighting an uphill battle when I decide I’m ready to start walking up that hill.
The fertility stuff really started hitting home for me two years ago when I began to read Michelle Tea’s journey in xoJane about getting pregnant, aptly called “Getting Pregnant with Michelle Tea.” I adore Michelle so much as an artist and writer, so when she, a punk rock queer femme writer who I have been inspired by for over a decade, said she turned forty and realized she forgot to get pregnant I was like, “Oh shit!” It only added to my arsenal of recreational worry about the age of my eggs and whether I was going to be able to get pregnant when I wanted to. Seriously, every time a new installment of Michelle’s journey was published I would feel a panic about my own fertility.
I think about having kids all the time. So do a lot of women I know who are in their thirties. It’s a thing. It’s this decade in our lives where it feels like we have to make this decision or else!
But what this panic inspired in me was the knowledge that I had to do something about the panic. I couldn’t live like that. I have a lot of complicated feelings about my waning fertility, but I also knew it wouldn’t help me if I just got pregnant because I was scared that someday when I was more ready to do it I would fail. So rather than cook up a kid and become an intentional single mom to allay my panic about fertility, I decided to resolve the panic.
Holding mutliple conflicting emotions at once is an extremely human experience, so the first thing I did about the panic was just to recognize I have lots of feelings about becoming a mom and that’s okay.
I want kids. I do. But I also don’t want to have a kid on my own. Sometimes I feel guilty about that; I don’t want it enough because I don’t want do it on my own. It feels kind of selfish to want to wait for a partner, someone I know I can rely on, who is invested in mutual growth and creating a family that is spiritual, smart, both independent and interdependent and most of all fun.
I grew up with a single mom. She left my dad when I was eighteen months old for lots of good reasons, including fears for my own safety in the home. She was a single mom with a really young child who was not a single mom on purpose but it was really hard.
I have such a wildly different understanding of her now than I did when I was younger. Once I turned thirty and I realized my mom was single, struggling to put herself through school and raise three and a half year old me when she was my age and I was blown away by her strength and resilience. Everything about being raised by a single mom has colored my entire life–growing up poor, worried about money, class passing–continues to affect my emotional and mental health on a daily basis.
Lots of people in my life have chosen to become single moms and I completely support them making those choices. I can’t do it. I know there’s nothing that prevents me becoming a single parent circumstantially but at this point i don’t want to do it by design. There’s too much I’ve had to overcome. My mom did an amazing job with what she had, but I want to give my kids a different life if I can.
Accepting without judgment that I want to find a good partnership with someone who wants to create a family with me was a big part of pulling the plug on my panic about my fertility.
I was once engaged to get married and we broke up six months before the wedding. We were getting set up to move away and get pregnant. We said it was an “eventually” but I know we would have jumped right into it and had kids. I thought I was happy but I was really living an inauthentic life and not serving my purpose on this earth. I was just doing what I thought other people wanted me to do and walking lock step into what I thought I needed to do to be happy.
Everything about me is different than it was six years ago and I feel really great about that. But for a long time I would think about that relationship ending and hurt myself by thinking, “I lost my shot at having kids.” Such an abusive thing to say to myself, but I’ve done a lot of work to learn how to crawl out of saying self abusive things!
Learning how to change the tapes that my brain plays was another thing that was essential to easing my stress about whether I was ever going to be a mom.
People get really caught up in the fear factors around fertility. Like obesity, people just link age and fertility as forever bad news. But sometimes it’s not bad news. My aunt started trying to get pregnant when she was thirty six. She went off the pill and poof, that month she got pregnant with her first daughter. She had two more pregnancies after that (one miscarried). I also know plenty of people who have had easy times with fertility at lots of different ages, and people who have had hard times with fertility at lots of different ages.
It’s interesting being a homosexual, too, if you’re cisgendered homosexuals. In a pairing where one partner can’t get the other one pregnant there are automatic fertility issues. For me, I’ll always have a shortage of sperm unless I can get a friend to give me some, which is still a whole transportation logistics situation. Getting pregnant seems like it happens so easily when you grow up in a culture where 90% of people are opposite sex partnered and getting a kid is actually a lot trickier when you have non-procreative sex. No matter what if I want to become a mom, short of randomly being named in my friends’ wills as potential guardian of their kids, getting a kid will be A Thing.
Whenever a fat friend of mine who is getting married starts talking about going on Weight Watchers I know it’s because a doctor told her she should lose weight to get pregnant. I am always dubious of medical advice to lose weight because I am suspicious of the medical industrial complex that pathologizes weight.
I am also dubious of all the doom and gloom about how old you are and how your eggs wither. Sure, obesity is linked to lots of different things, but people can also be completely healthy and fat as well. Frankly, I think stress and anxiety seem to be the bigger preventions of fertility than fat. I know lots of fat people who have gotten knocked up (either intentionally or accidentally) and I know lots of stressed out people who have not gotten knocked up despite herculean efforts.
I choose what information I participate in by choosing my media. Media is so toxic about weight and my readers know that I choose to love my fat body in a culture that says that I shouldn’t. Well, I choose to have faith in my fertility in a cuture that says I’m practically barren at thirty four because old people can’t get pregnant. There’s a whole line of legal thought called the fertile octogenarian and I know that pregnancy is totally possible and I’m not buying it.
Being critical about the media I consume helps me to not buy into other people’s panic about fertility.
One of my favorite genres of reality television is the big family ones. I especially love Sister Wives. I like watching the experience of having a big family with lots of siblings. I also really love that show because I think it’s a genuine portrayal of people living an alternative lifestyle that is faith-based and grounded in a common spiritual purpose. I think about how I probably won’t be able to have four kids like I thought I wanted when I was in my twenties.
I read a lot of mom blogs (my latest favorite is Michelle Tea’s new project Mutha Magazine). I love them. I know a lot about teething necklaces and cribs. I know I can celebrate and appreciate other people’s motherhood without stressing out about not having that in my life. It’s good detachment, learning how to separate my experience from other people’s experience. We’re all on different journeys with different struggles! Probably there are folks out there who are moms who experience my plus size party girl lifestyle similarly.
There are lots of ways to be a mom. There are lots of ways of getting a kid.
I made the decision to let go and let my faith lead me about how and when I’m going to get or brew a child. It helps me be less anxious about it and in the last six months I’ve really calmed down.
You know that saying that worrying is like a rocking chair? It gives you something to do but it doesn’t get you anywhere. I’ve decided worrying about my fertility is optional and only serves to stress me out. Getting at the root of anxiety provoking behaviors, thought patterns and lifestyle choices and removing them is what I’ve been doing to be less stressed out. Maybe even these choices I make now about learning how to live an abundant, stress free life will help my body be primed to get pregnant if that is ever my decision.
I think I just want to know that when I have a kid it is going to be because that is the right next step for me. And right now it’s not the right next step for me. Right now the right next step is get my rent paid, continue doing the self care I need in order to finish my memoir, continue to produce really meaningful and fun art. Make good human connections. Do the spiritual and life work I need to do to be truly happy and love myself exactly where I’m at, which is mom to two squishy faced pets and mom to myself.
Originally published on QueerFatFemme.com