Two kids. One born of my flesh and one adopted. That has been my vision for as long as I can remember, since the days of playing MASH and passing notes to classmates.
I, like many of my childhood friends, naively believed we would be married with kids and owning homes by the time we hit our mid-twenties. Twenty-five was considered old. Grown up. You knew things when you were twenty-five.
Most who are currently in their mid-twenties, and certainly beyond, will find this concept laughable. Sure, some people do have the “white picket fence American dream” of starting a traditional family by the time they can rent a car. But it often doesn’t last. And it’s hardly without hardship. The Americana of yesteryear isn’t reality for the youngest generations today. The truth is that the number of hours one may spend planning their life often doesn’t dictate the outcome. Life is guaranteed to throw curveballs.
I’m thirty-two. It’s much more common for my peers to find themselves experiencing these traditional milestones at this age than when we were a decade younger.
I can count nearly a dozen friends and acquaintances who have either gotten engaged, married, or pregnant in the last twelve months. Of course I am over the moon with each notification of others’ life changing events, often crying tears of joy on their behalf. It’s not a race or a competition, and it never should be. But on the flip side, it can be hard sitting on the sidelines of highly celebrated milestones month after month. It can feel like I’m enthusiastically waving encouragement from a mud pit on the side of a road as people I love parade by with their good news. These two perspectives are both at odds with one another and entwined, making me feel selfish for the whole lot of it. And rarely have I shared this with anyone because the last thing I want to do is make my friends feel guilty or weird for wanting to share the highlights of their lives. Even on tough days, I need good news. I need to be reminded that life still goes on.
During the last five years my perspective has shifted gears a lot. I was in a long term, serious relationship toward the end of my twenties. Deeply in love and committed to my partner, I was for the first time confident that someone loved me mutually. We were supposed to get married.
He dumped me unexpectedly a month before the surprise birthday party I had planned for his thirtieth. My embarrassment was further fueled by the need to notify his friends in California and abroad that the celebration, only weeks away, was canceled. Several months of planning and anticipation quickly and brutally meant nothing.
We never once had a conversation about us getting married, only danced around the topic in general terms. The consequences were a heart-deep blow and an important lesson about communication.
In the many months post-breakup I channeled my grief and bewilderment into planning a solo, forty-eight state road trip. I won’t get into that right now as there is a whole other blog dedicated to that endeavor, but I will be mentioning it from time to time in this venue.
Forever will I reverberate: It was one of the best decisions I made during my lifetime.
Toward the end of those travels I fell in love with Denver, Colorado. I ached to move there with a friend who had similar aspirations. I looked up available jobs at a nearby national park. I scouted apartments and houses.
Shortly after returning from the road my journey as a caregiver began to take shape, leading me further and further from Denver.
I instead found my freedoms in hiking and camping and taking trips whenever my schedule or finances allowed.
As those, too, were replaced by the continuous addition of caregiving burdens, I launched into my thirties with a trajectory never foreseen by a younger me.
Dating became increasingly sparse, unimpressive, and frustrating, even when looking for the most casual of relationships. I’ve found my patience for modern dating practices, or lack thereof, wearing thinner as time goes on. Repeatedly dealing with dick pics, catfishing, and ghosting (Could I sound any more like a millenial?) caused me to begin making plans to approach parenthood as a single mother. I vowed that by the time I turn thirty-six I would either adopt or find a sperm donor. And with each passing year it looked more and more like that might be the case.
But of course this has also waned, succumbing to the grittier consequences of caregiving. Since last year any daydream of caring for a baby of my own makes me want to wail. As much as I have given thought about one day creating a family, in whatever form it comes to be, I can no longer bare it. Even while writing this I feel a physical reaction. Tears well up, my stomach braces itself to retch. Both shoulders tense as if for impact.
I cannot stand the thought of caring for another living thing right now. I will not do it.
And my widened understanding of sacrificing independence and money and emotional reserves for another person has definitely dampened my romanticization of motherhood. Maybe that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
I’m aware that I likely won’t always feel this way. This reaction is to the immense stress I have to deal with on a daily basis now. It’s part of why I become privately weepy when thinking about it. It’s a natural reaction to what I’m experiencing. I grieve my mother’s slow death. I mourn the life I once had, the opportunities that keep slipping away. I combat the frustration and resentment that bubbles up in challenging moments.
Yes, I am grateful for so much. I give thanks often to my many privileges. But my gratitude is allowed to co-exist with the grief.
I do secretly wonder if all of this will eventually lead me to my own family in the future. The lessons of patience and practicality, empathy and problem solving, that I stack up on this journey have to be worth something. I don’t think it’s farfetched to assume they might be applied to motherhood. For now, though, I bow to dementia. Not announcing defeat or accepting pity, but digging my fingernails deeper in anticipation for the day I can let go.