In the bible, Sarah is the first of the three Mothers of the Old Testament. She gives birth to Isaac late in life and spoiled him as older mothers tend to do. That’s why he thought he could get away with marrying two women. But that’s another story.
Before Sarah gives birth to Isaac her story is defined by a single fact: She is barren. In fact, she transitions from Sarai “the barren” to Sarah “the fruitful” when God promises he will give her Abraham’s son, just as long as her handmaiden Hagar gets to have one of his sons first. Sarai agrees, that’s how desperate she is to become a mother.
My husband and I were never sure we wanted to have children, even before we met each other. We both grew up with some impressive examples of couples we envied whose lives seemed complete and exciting without them. But it seemed inevitable that I would one day be a mother. Maybe it’s that I played with dolls until I was so old I had to play with them in my closet. Or maybe it’s the fact that when presented with a room full of people, I gravitate almost immediately to the youngest person in the room.
But even when I had a punk-rock short hair cut and a nose piercing and would walk around going, “I’m never getting married or having kids,” people would almost always roll their eyes and reply, “Yes you will.” Meanwhile, when my cool best friend said the same thing they’d just sort of nod and shrug.
I did end up getting married, so I suppose it goes without saying that I might begin to consider having children. For a long time I set the fall of 2012 as the deadline during which we would sit down, draw up pro/con lists, interpretive dance it out and make our final decision.
As fate would have it, we skipped the reasoning portion and instead discovered that I was pregnant. But there was a caveat: I had recently been diagnosed with a series of extreme internal gastric varices – like varicose veins in your legs, only throughout your digestive tract. They were part of a bigger genetic condition that will someday end my life if the meteor doesn’t get here first – or I don’t step blindly into traffic. I was told that having the baby gave me a 40% mortality rate. The fetus didn’t have much of a fighting shot either. What’s worse, the odds were even greater that I would grow sicker more quickly, even if I survived the birth.
However, there was a little glimmer of good news winking like a hooker on Sunset suggesting that I might be eligible for a procedure that would take the pressure off those engorged veins and diminish the mortality odds significantly.
The pregnancy did not end up viable, so when I was able, I had the surgery. I did not have it so that I could have a baby. As I mentioned, we weren’t even certain we wanted to be parents…But we wanted the choice.
That’s pretty much the thing about life. When you are told you have to go to school, there is no place you’d rather be less than school. But after you’ve graduated you consider taking evening classes, studying Spanish in your free time, listening to books-on-tape about the fall of the Roman Empire or tulips – for no other reason than that it is your choice to do so, because tulips are not that interesting.
I once co-authored a book with an expert who focused heavily on the notion of “agency” or allowing people to have a sense that they have chosen their path – be it at work or in life. It’s a fundamental tenet of happiness. When you start to feel trapped on the paths of have-to or obligated-to, misery must be close by.
The procedure to take the pressure off my insane vascular system was a failure. Two subsequent tries proved equally useless. And I found myself sullenly eating way too much green jello – Why is that a thing at hospitals? My husband and I learned that while I am not significantly worse off than I was before, I had lost the vital option to choose.
My path is now bound by the probability that I will impair my health substantially and endanger the health of a child if I try to have one the “normal way.”
It’s always best to focus on what is within your control than to rail against what you cannot have, says the universe. If I truly want a child, perhaps like Sarai, one will be granted me and then you can call me Joselah – or Joselin’s fine, maybe with some kind of jazzy arm motion.
Or maybe I’ll get my nose re-pierced and get a funky hair cut and try to believe that this is my chosen path. I have at times believed I had chosen this very one.
But I didn’t. Not anymore. Now this is and always will be the path that has forced its way beneath my feet. Now I am walking, but the roadblocks are everywhere and all I can see is where I cannot go.