When I was 18, I doubled over, crying during a college biology exam. The culprit? Cramps. I got an A on the test, because I love science, but I also got something else: a prescription for birth control.
I’ve been on birth control for years. I love the control it gives me over my body. I love that my cramps don’t ruin tests — or work — anymore. But now that it has been a full half of my life on this, my tiniest, most favorite candy, I’m contemplative.
You see, I always thought I’d have kids by now. It’s not really my fault — I was widowed in my 20s — but sometimes I have days that serve as a big reminder that many people are doing what I thought I’d be doing already.
Some days are quite stark.
On one such day, I went to a baby naming. I got to meet my tiny new best friend, who I know will be an advocate for good and change — her parents are rabbis and teachers and leaders and volunteers and organizers of the highest degree.
From there, I went to a party that was about half tiny babies, half young city dwellers either responsible for or fans of tiny babies. I held a 2-month-old friend and bounced him around a bit, jiggled another 7-month-old to sleep in his stroller, and made faces at another recent addition, marveling at his brilliantly blue eyes.
I have spent the majority of my career working with kids, with parents, surrounded by young people just starting their families. For every time someone referred to a roomful of whatever-graders as good birth control, I would hesitantly agree. Inside, I was wondering if I’d ever get to have the chance to raise one of my own.
I have always been encouraged to celebrate every birth, mourn every loss. I found my failure with the former was in complete contrast to my expertise at the latter. I was good at loss, felt my loss(es) daily, but everyone else’s joy reminded me of my losses. For me, joy did not beget joy. It raised notes of sadness at what my life is not, was not, and may not be.
What I’m describing may sound like jealousy, but that’s not really what’s happening. Allow me to explain:
Not long after I was widowed, my very religious cousin said that I could be comforted by how many babies were born on the day that my fiancé died. I pondered this point, and decided that each of those babies represented my imagined, future babies that had died as mere dreams. I think I said that those babies didn’t help me, and my cousins, stymied, fed me some dessert.
Imagine being forced into a limo to celebrate the future of a friend you truly love; then, into a bridesmaid dress and makeup; then shoved down an aisle with a bouquet. All this just a few weeks after you walked down a similar aisle to deliver a eulogy for the person you had planned to marry. All this within weeks of when your canceled wedding was supposed to be.
Imagine the countless weddings, the vows to live long lives together, the baby namings, the shock delivered by an old photo falling out of a book long-shelved. We were so young, so full of dreams. We would’ve been really good together. Our kids would’ve been so nerdy and cute.
It took the better part of a decade for me to rejoice at a wedding.
It took the better part of a decade for me to find my own joy at others’ celebrations.
The whole while, my chances at having my own celebrations were becoming less statistically probable. Egg donations are not accepted from woman over 36 — nobody’s picking up what I’m putting down. I am 36 and change (439 months old, to be exact). My eggs are undesirable these days. Who knows if they’ll even work?
While I’m worrying about this, I’m better at celebrating the joy of others, just not all the time. It’s not possible for me to be happy all the time (is it possible for anybody?). I am proud of my grey hairs, and my smile lines around my eyes, and I wonder if I’m aging internally in the same way. I’m proud of my friends and their kids. On the other hand, frankly, I find it easier to celebrate those who have overcome strife, because they give me hope.
And so as I approach the half-of-my-life mark anniversary with these giant little pills, I’m left with hope that one day…what? I won’t need them? I will experience more joy in whatever my life will become? I’ve certainly healed a tremendous amount from my initial grief — perhaps I will move to a stronger place?
And who knows? Maybe one day I’ll get to raise my own little human, with feelings, and thoughts, and medical needs and wants. Or maybe I won’t. Either way, I’ll do my best to hold it all — all the sorrow, all the joy, all the hardships, and all the fantastic coincidences — like badges of honor, the way I proudly display my grey hairs.
Header Image via Helena Perez García on Flickr.