On Being Childless at Fifty-Two
It happened again the other day- another well-meaning person asked me why I didn’t have children. Didn’t I miss them? Had there been a health problem? How sad! I have heard this many times over the years, especially as a teacher with a great love of young people, and it still jars me every single time that someone could venture a judgment on such a personal issue…especially when they assume that my life is somehow less-than because by circumstance and by choice, I do not have children.
I have a very strong maternal instinct, having always nurtured it by the dedication and compassion I show for my students (I’ve taught middle school through college-aged young people since 1986), with the animals in my care, and, I think, with my mother at the end of her life. I know that it is not the same as having your own child, but it is how my life worked out. When I married my first husband at almost twenty-four, we were both completely focused on our careers as band directors. He had been adopted, and during the rare occasions when we did discuss children, we always said that if we decided some day to have a family, we would adopt. ‘Some day’ never came, and if it had, it would not have been a good thing, as our relationship deteriorated after almost sixteen years of marriage. I have always been thankful that I never had to put children through what I experienced as a child of divorce myself. Many people live through it all very amicably, but no matter what anyone says, there are still scars that remain, even if they aren’t always visible.
If I am completely honest, there have been times that I have thought, “what if?” I remember early in my first marriage when I suffered from nausea in the mornings for several days. I went in to to have a pregnancy test done, and when the very cold and businesslike nurse told me as an afterthought that I was not pregnant, I felt disappointed, sad. I had gotten my hopes up, perhaps wishing for what I thought might be, looking for the spark that might come to a marriage between two very different people. It wasn’t to be, though. Everything happened as it was meant to happen.
So now, at the age of fifty-two, I wonder…did I do the right thing? Dan would have been an incredible father, and I like to think that I would have been a good and caring mother. However, when we met, I was 41 (the age that my mother had me), and Dan was 51…that ship had sailed. I look into the future knowing that I won’t have someone there for me as I was for my mother. Dogs are wonderful companions, but not so good at care-giving. Even as I write these words, I realize that somewhere deep inside of me, I just never truly wanted to have a child. I have, however, always wanted to help shape children’s lives, and I have done that. There have been countless young people who have come to me to share heartaches, to tell me they were pregnant and afraid to tell their parents, to tell me they were gay or lesbian and afraid of what their family’s reaction would be. There have also been the hundreds of students who just needed encouragement, a boost, to know that someone cared about them as a person, someone believed in them. Through music, I have no doubt that I have been able to make a difference in the lives of young people, even though I did not give birth to one.
Dan and I often kid with each other, saying, “In our next life, we are going to have wonderful children together.” Dan always tells me he can see my little shadow, short-haired and wearing overalls following me around with a toy clarinet, and we laugh. Our lives are rich and full, and while a part of me will always wonder if I would have been a good mother, the vast majority of my mind, body, and spirit know that I have been a good mother in my own way. Motherhood is a gift, a sacred thing, and I am in awe of those women who bring life into the world and nurture that life into adulthood and beyond. I will do my best to help make as many of those lives as I can better people through my teaching, always doing my best to set a good example of a kind and caring human being to them. It takes a village to raise a child, and I am happy to be a villager.
(The featured photo is me with Heavy D…a wonderful example of motherhood.)