A soft disclaimer: Before sinking into this essay, I want to preface by writing that motherhood is a fluid experience. My confusion about having children is entirely different than the experience of those struggling to have children, those who have lost children, and those who raise them. No matter the journey into motherhood, our stories are valid and different. This story is complicatedly mine.
This year, I’ve gone through an entire bottle of prenatal pills. I took them sparingly. Sixty pills lasted six months. I bought another bottle at Target the other day, scoffing at the name brand and instead opting for the generic version. Anticipating pregnancy would be expensive if I kept buying the $35 bottle.
I deleted my pregnancy app. It was checking too frequently. As if it was going to unlock a secret tell, an Easter egg. When its little blue bubbles told me I was ovulating, I asked my body a million questions it couldn’t answer with words. I felt every flinch: Was that a pinch of implantation? Does this app know I’m ovulating?
Despite the science of the thing, drinking alcohol or eating junk food was a sudden Gluttony Fest. I was doing everything wrong at the expense of a little calendar in my palm, a place to document sex and symptoms. Get the ovulation strips! Everyone told me this. But I didn’t want them. Strips were too addictive. Too real, routine. We weren’t trying but we weren’t not trying. And I needed the casual demeanor of the idea itself to stay that simple.
My husband and I aren’t trying to have kids. But we’re not not trying. Can that be possible? I don’t have the answer, but it feels okay to write through the feelings—the whole glass of rollercoaster emotions on the rocks.
It’s easy to feel alone inside your body, to wonder what’s inside. It’s easy and it’s foreign, all at once.
I don’t want this to be a sob story. And I fret about writing this. But, I want to be honest. F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, “What people are ashamed of usually makes a good story.” I think that’s what I’m doing here, pouring my shame and confusion all over the figurative floor. It’s easy to feel alone inside your body, to wonder what’s inside. It’s easy and it’s foreign, all at once. Building a family, in the beginning, is unchartered territory.
When self-definement is outward
When my husband and I agreed to “try but not try” to have children, I imagined pregnancy would happen like a match lighting. I had been on birth control for nearly fifteen years. Ovulation cramps were ghosts. My period was a perfectly timed sham. I had lived most of my life in shame of sex and wanting sex, in fear the potential of children could “ruin my life.” I took responsibility for all of my sensual desires. Pregnancy, its potential burdened with mistakes, seemed…too easy.
So, when we set aside the worry and said, “Okay, if it happens, whatever,” I expected the shift to appear casual. I wanted pregnancy to be a planned accident. I didn’t want to pee on ovulation strips or tap my wrist and say, “Get in the bed right this minute!” I didn’t want to try to have kids or feel rushed. My fantasy was chance, a cute mistake, a tasteful glitch in the timeline.
But, I had more to learn about who I was and what I wanted.
In January, I went to the doctor for my annual check-up. I told her not to refill my birth control and we started talking about planning. Because that’s what we do, we plan. Do you smoke? No. You can start taking prenatal pills. Okay. And if you want to do some blood testing, I can tell the nurse. Okay. That sounds good. And I typically tell all my patients, I always recommend losing 5-10 pounds. That can help get you pregnant faster. You know, be healthy. Wear your seatbelt. Right.
I thought about losing ten pounds for weeks and started to direct my losses inward. I wanted to be angry, but I hadn’t processed the pandemic yet. So, I ended up feeling tired. And guilty. Doubt sat there, the fat on my hips and the guilt. I thought, If I don’t get pregnant right away, it will be my fault.
Somehow, my body was no longer mine anymore. It could be someone else’s too. And that offering, that process, left me so aware of every twitch and feeling that I started to feel private in an out-of-body way. I looked over myself, imagining, forecasting, panicking.
It took a while for my period to be consistent after going off birth control. After the first month off, I convinced myself I was pregnant every cycle. I started to identify cramps and ovulation again and buffered a head rush when I imagined a life budding in my womb. Somehow, my body was no longer mine anymore. It could be someone else’s too. And that offering, that process, left me so aware of every twitch and feeling that I started to feel private in an out-of-body way. I looked over myself, imagining, forecasting, panicking.
Anticipating “the best part”
In Meg Mason’s book Sorrow and Bliss, she wrote, “The time between finding out you are pregnant and telling anyone, including your husband, even if it’s just a week or one minute in my case. No one talks about that part [the best part].” The moment Mason describes is a feeling I anticipated deeply the first six months I went off birth control. The idea of that specific privacy was so singular and ecstatic it made me light-headed.
And then, there was the fear. It’s hard to smack a timeline on children. So, why was I feeling this way? We can want both. But when we actively seek both, the world gets foggy. I want to be a mother and I don’t. Something so grand, so life-changing, is a big want. There’s no way around it. Despite the paradox, how are we allowed to “want big” when we don’t want to think about the idea at all?
I want to be a mother and I don’t. Something so grand, so life-changing, is a big want. There’s no way around it. Despite the paradox, how are we allowed to “want big” when we don’t want to think about the idea at all?
It’s impossible to ignore the obsessive thoughts about having a baby. Imagining being pregnant has an intoxicating pulse; most of the time I can almost feel the desire in my groin. Sometimes, before bed, I let the glow of my phone bathe my entire face as I Google “What does implantation feel like?” Or, “Tricks to getting pregnant.” Or, “How do you know you’re pregnant?” My history is a virtual card shuffle of anxiety, questions, and doubts.
Every cycle, I do the soft calculation: the zodiac sign of a ghost baby. Anticipating the feeling of being really pregnant inside of a season, or holiday. A whole life flashes ahead of my grasp. And every month it’s there: the blood and the wondering. Women are seasoned to hold blame. And I instantly imagine the emptiness is my problem. I am empty because I’m too fat, too irresponsible, too unable.
I am so aware of my body it feels like I’m outside of it—viewing it like theater, up on the top level as the velvet curtain lifts. When I’m riding horses and feel off-balanced (pregnant). When I’m bloated and soggy and tired (pregnant). When ovulation pings my insides (pregnant). I am my own humble reminder that I’m capable of intense awareness of life.
I am so aware of my body it feels like I’m outside of it—viewing it like theater, up on the top level as the velvet curtain lifts.
In article forums online, a lot of couples say “We got pregnant a few months after resigning ourselves to the idea of being childless.” Like somehow, magically, the idea of not wanting children will get you there; being lackluster about family planning will bop a magic wand on your head. Bippity, boppity, BABY!
Watching and wanting the glow
When friends get pregnant, I feel happiness and a shameful How can I survive this? When they show up at happy hours, looking like a calm glow, I order a cocktail; imagine I’m ruining my body from the inside out. I watch the angelic mother figure holding her belly. I feel so far away from her privateness, the things going on inside her womb, swirling in sensual closeness. I am so far away from myself during these moments, wondering what it will ever be like to hold something like that.
Trying but not trying is also a middle ground space; one that’s easy to ignore. The in-between is not “the big announcement.” It’s not the “reveal.” It’s not anything new or old. Middle ground time is just there. Answers aren’t available. Figure things out and wait. What do we do in this space? How do we get through it? Can we feel peace?
Trying but not trying is also a middle ground space; one that’s easy to ignore. . . . What do we do in this space? How do we get through it? Can we feel peace?
The ratios change on their own
Peace can mean many things; show up in different scenarios. I don’t know what to do in this middle land. In my fantasy version, I would go on with my life. I am fortunate and healthy. The journey doesn’t have to be stamped or defined.
“Everything is broken and messed up and completely fine. That is what life is. It’s only the ratios that change,” Mason writes. “Usually on their own. As soon as you think that’s it, it’s going to be like this forever, they change again.”
That is what my life is for me, imagining having children. It’s shattered, totally fine, a long weekend, old underwear, new underwear, happy anniversary, I love you, I’m tired, do you want to buy a pair of sunglasses on BOGO deal, leftovers, fancy wine, deadlines, PTO. Mason writes about life: “The ratios change on their own.” And they do. We can’t expect time to move in a straight line or be linear to other lives.
My life, creating a life, is incomparable with any other. Which for now, is a good enough ratio for me.
Brittany Chaffee is an avid storyteller, professional empath, and author. On the daily, she gets paid to strategize and create content for brands. Off work hours, it’s all about a well-lit place, warm bread, and good company. She lives in St.Paul with her baby brother cats, Rami and Monkey. Follow her on Instagram, read more about her latest book, Borderline, and (most importantly) go hug your mother.