By Jessica Starr
“Are you currently pregnant?” The new patient questionnaire asked, immediately getting to the topic ruminating in my head over the past few weeks.
Without thinking I hastily scribbled, “Please God, I hope not.”
The second questions asked, “Have you ever been pregnant?”
“No,” I wrote “AND I NEVER WANT TO BE”.
The exam room door opened and the nurse dressed in out of season holiday scrubs called out “Jessica Starr?”
I chose Dr. Carrie Miles as my new OBGYN based on her one paragraph biography on the women’s clinic website. She did not mention having children, however did enjoy spending time hiking with her two dogs and that was enough to put my reproductive health in her hands.
I sat nervously in the exam room, glancing at the pamphlets about all the possible STD’s I could have. Dr. Miles walked in, casually wearing a white lab coat with her name stitched in red cursive writing, her pants dragging a touch too long. She had green eyes highlighted by blue eyeshadow, kept a straight serious face, and had obviously read my new patient paperwork.
She confirmed that the purpose of my visit was to discuss my birth control options and described my various pill choices, in order from fewest side effects and to most side effects, describing these as my “non surgical options”.
I attempt to fake naivety and ask what my surgical options are and Dr. Miles matter of factly describes tubal ligation. I try keep my excitement under wraps. I had brought up tubal ligation to doctors throughout my 20’s and early 30’s, and none of them spent more than three seconds on the topic. You’re young, they all said. You’ll change your mind, they said.
“That’s what I want” I say, confidently and sheepishly at the same time.
“Ok” She states. “ I’ll have the secretary call you to schedule and discuss the pre surgery plan.”
“That’s it?”I ask. “Don’t I have to go through an interview or a counseling session or assessment or something?”
Dr. Miles finally smiled. “This is the interview. You obviously know what you want and what you don’t want and have felt strongly about this your whole adult life.”
I asked Dr Miles if I could hug her and before she could answer, squeezed her tight without embarrassment. After stepping away from our embrace, she said “ Your partner can come to the pre-operative appointment and be present at the procedure as well.”
My celebration halted. I hadn’t mentioned any of this to my new partner, Josh, and I suddenly realized that telling him would be the most difficult part of this procedure.
I knew when I was 13 years old that I was missing the mother gene. After a strenuous 6pm-11pm shift watching the Hanson children, I came home and loudly announced to my mother, “I am never having kids.” My mom didn’t argue with me, didn’t comment that I would change my mind someday, but instead made a slight grunting sound that implied, “Yeah, good idea.” I had thought the Hanson job would be a breeze. They lived on Cobblestone Court, the street with the biggest houses in the subdivision, had a roundabout driveway, and seemed like the type of parents that would have a freezer full of frozen pizza and ice cream to devour. But instead the Hanson kids pushed me to my limit. Their playing and rowdiness and screaming and yelling sounded like nails screeching on a chalkboard to me. I passed the wailing baby to the 10 year old girl to care for while I went outside to gaze at the stars and listen to the crickets in the thick warm Wisconsin air. I shoved the four 5$ bills I earned in my pocket at the end of the night, less excited about the money and more excited to see how fast I could run home.
No one in my group of friends gave a thought about children during our 20’s. We were taking week long road trips to follow Pearl Jam, writing graduate school papers, exploring hot springs in the Oregon wilderness, and deciding on our favorite wines. Some of us were maybe just starting to think about buying houses, or starting businesses, but not even marriage, and certainly not children. I had surrounded myself with girlfriends who appreciated fun and freedom and we did not see children fitting into that way of life.
Things changed in my 30’s when I began to experience the complexity of children and intimate relationships in a way I didn’t expect when I fell in love with Chris, a married man who had two children. He promised that he had well thought out the fucked up situation and that he and I could be together, and he could be an involved loving father as well. He left his family, moved in with me and I thought we had were just beginning to make a life together. He said he wanted to make oatmeal for me when I was 86 years old and take me to Paris on my 40th birthday. One day we were talking about buying a house together, and the next day he said he couldn’t leave his children and would be moving back home. The relationship was over between he and his wife he said, but he had to pretend to make it work for their kids. And just like that, Chris was gone. I had lost a soul mate and a friend and found myself shamefully thinking that if he didn’t have children, we would still be together. Heartbreak turned into depression which lingered for years.
When I was finally capable of imagining being in a relationship again, the men I seemed to be attracted to were newly separated or divorced men with children who were rarely available due to their wounded emotional states or their children’s extensive extra curricular activity schedule. I became used to dates being cancelled at the last minute due to a childcare conflict.
You will always be second, a voice inside said.
Years of professional single life under my belt, one night I handed the bartender a cocktail napkin with my name and number to give to the tall man with a million dollar smile standing at the end of the bar. Andrew, a charming Canadian, called the next day and admitted that while he would never pick someone up in a bar, he appreciated my moxy. We had a full summer together, biking to outdoor movies in the park, kitesurfing, barbecuing, paddle boarding, and camping along the Oregon coast.
Andrew lived an enviable bachelor lifestyle and I assumed that starting a family was not on his agenda. But the way he talked about his twin nieces made me uneasy; his face lit up and he seemed to genuinely miss them. I couldn’t imagine this 39 year old who savored taking off for a surfing weekend at noon on Friday and who had a spotless house that looked like it was straight out of a West Elm catalogue, wanting to have little beings to take care of.
We sat on his couch one night, legs entwined, discussing the next steps of our relationship. An ache in my stomach grew and I knew I needed to directly ask him.
“Do you want children?” I asked, my hands clenching each other.
He laughed and shone that million dollar smile.
“Yes,” he said, squeezing my leg, “Don’t worry. Yes I want kids.”
I looked down, tears filling my eyes. I thought I vomit all over his West Elm couch .
He stared at me, eyes slightly confused and his smile slowly disappeared.
“I don’t” I said, my voice cracking, tears rolling down my face.
We sat in silence for minutes, both of us taking deep breaths.
“Are you sure?” he asked.
I thought about when I was 13 years old and proudly announced my decision to my mom and how over the next 24 years I had never wavered, never given that decision a second thought.
I knew the answer, but instead of answering, suggested we go to bed.
We laid quietly in his king size bed with 800 thread count sheets, both pretending to be asleep.
For six days I tried to imagine what it would be like to be pregnant, to be a mother.
After I started to consider the idea for more than 2 seconds, a part inside me seemed to laugh and shake its head, “Silly girl, you know it isn’t in you.” I had always known.
A week later Andrew and I walked around his neighborhood, holding hands for the last time.
He was certain he wanted his own children, and I was certain I did not. From outside appearances, he respected my wishes, but I could tell he had never been close to a woman who felt the way I did, and a small part of him looked at me like I was strange, like I was different. And I wondered too if something was wrong with me and again felt that I alone, just me, was not enough.
Two years later when I realized that celibacy was starting to seem like a realistic option,
I gave in and along with the help of my best girlfriends and a few Bloody Mary’s, decided to try online dating. My Number One pick was Josh. Josh was divorced with two kids and his profile stated that family was paramount to him and that he saw his kids on a daily basis, whether they liked it or not. Somewhat surprisingly, I still wanted to meet him. Was I just asking for a replay of further pain? Or did I still want to believe in the possibility of someone loving me and their children simultaneously?
I referred to Josh by his real name; not by a nickname created by my girlfriend’s, such as Blue Eyes, Widowed guy, Bartender, Banana guy, etc. My girlfriends all separately used the word “solid” to describe him. He would pick me up for trail runs in the Gorge or let me drag him out to karaoke with my best friend. Most of all, he was kind, thoughtful, and generous. I never imagined I would fall in love with someone that treated me so well. And he got me. He got that my girlfriends were my family, that I loved a hard workout followed by champagne, that……..
He knew about my OBGYN appointment to discuss birth control, but I hadn’t told him about my decision to get a tubal ligation. The surgery date was nearing and my anxiety was slowly raising. Would he judge me? He said that he didn’t want any more children, but not wanting children and removing the choice to have children were different.
As we were flying back from a long weekend visiting my best friend in Napa, I squeezed his arm and said “I made an appointment a few weeks ago that I need to tell you about” I said in a loud whisper, hoping the man snoring next to me really was asleep. My throat was tight.
I told him how I knew I didn’t want to have children when I was 13 years old. I told him that I was thrilled to be meeting his children and have them in my life, but I didn’t want my own.
I told him how I had thought about the surgery since I was in my 20’s but it wasn’t until now that it seemed acceptable and possible. I told him I had the surgery scheduled in 3 weeks when he would be in Brazil for the World Cup.
What felt like 3846 quiet seconds, were probably only 3. He nodded his head and said something kind and supportive that I could barely hear because my heart was pounding so hard in my ears.
Once I knew I had Josh’s support, I could fully relax and embrace the whole process.
My decision represented freedom of choice, body, politics, and power. Running through the park one day, I thought about how my active decision to not have children was just as an important and a celebratory decision as a woman choosing to have kids and being pregnant.
So I decided to throw myself a No Baby shower. No Baby Shower invitations were sent out to 25 girlfriends stating I was registered at my favorite boutiques and requesting attendees to bring alcohol, sushi, or unpasteurized cheeses. Josh joked that I should order a fallopian tube piñata, and within a half hour I was on the phone with Boom Boom Balloons ordering one. “Yes I said fallopian tube piñata” to the woman who barely English on the phone. I had the party the night after my surgery, and girlfriends brought bottles of vodka wrapped in ugly baby blankets, gift certificates for facials and massages, and flowers arrived from Josh.
Afterwards, I found myself surprisingly wanting to meet Josh’s children fairly quickly, and realized that in some way, this would be a kind of validation for me. I had never met the children of the men from prior relationships and by meeting Josh’s kids, some part of my heart thought it would prove that this relationship was different. But I already knew that it was. I was with someone who adored me and was fully available.
I told him I was ready to meet his children when he was ready. He said it wasn’t up to him, that it was up to me. I fought back feeling irritated, asking how a decision like this could be up to me.
“I only want to introduce someone to them that plans on being a part of all of our lives for the long run. So it’s up to you when you want to meet them.”
I sat speechless for a few minutes.
Could I do this?
My mind was slightly skeptical but my heart was confident.
I told him I was ready.
A month after meeting the kids for the first time, I am on my way to pick them up at their mom’s house by myself. I call a girlfriend and we laugh at the amazing beautiful absurdity and normalcy of the moment. I pull the car over to the side of the road a few blocks away and I think about how this might be what it feels like to fully completely love someone, unconditionally. I loved him, he loved his children and he loved the happily childless me. His main priority would be to be an amazing father to his children, but he wanted me to include me in his and his kids world, together. And I wanted to part of it too.
One year later I live with Josh and his kids. It is exciting, fun, challenging, beautiful, frustrating, sweet, scary and lovely. There are many moments where I wonder what the hell I am doing, especially in regards to any conversation about what to make for dinner, Christmas decorating, and soccer game transportation scheduling.
But then there are the moments where his daughter asks you to speak at her middle school’s Career Day, you give his son a piggyback ride wading through the Oneonta Gorge, their mom includes you in an invitation, his son calls you his “almost stepmom” endearingly, and you get a goodnight hug for the first time from both of them.
To experience the moment where consciously choosing on a daily basis to listen to yourself and keep your heart wide open has brought you to a place you didn’t even know you could be a part of and it crazily feels right.
Jessica Starr spends her days working as a medical and psychiatric social worker, teaching yoga, trail running, and drinking champagne with girlfriends. And much to her surprise, occasionally helping with transportation to and from kids soccer games and listening to Taylor Swift.