If Egg and Sperm had come together . . .

The night I lost my virginity to the man who would become my first husband was probably the only time we had unprotected sex. If my math is correct, I was ripe for conception, my young eggs eager to hook up with his sperm. If I had conceived that night, almost two years before we got married .  . .

We were near Los Angeles, visiting friends of his whom I barely knew. We had spent the day at Disneyland, where he kept bugging me to have sex. We were drunk. Our friends had gone to bed, and he invited me to join him on the floor in the two sleeping bags he had zipped together. One thing led to another . . .

Before we did it, I said, “We’re going to get married, right?” He said yeah, but don’t tell anybody. It was Fourth of July. We announced our engagement in September, four months later, but there was never a real proposal.

My ex hustled me off to get birth control as soon as we got home from that trip. I remember I had told my mother, “We’re not going to do anything down there that we wouldn’t do here.” Ha. What if I had come home pregnant? My parents would have lost their minds. It was 1972. Out-of-wedlock babies were still a scandal. My reputation would have been trashed forever—or not, if we got married quickly enough to make it look like it happened on the honeymoon. But there is no quick marriage for Catholics, not with the six-month prep.

However it worked out, I would have had a child.

We probably would have gotten married sooner. I don’t think he would have left me. His parents wouldn’t let him, and he did everything they said. As it was, we got married two weeks after I graduated from college. If I had had a baby, would I have graduated at all?

Would we still have lived in that two-bedroom apartment by the freeway? We would have had to use my “office” for the baby. Where would I have done my writing? The sound of the typewriter annoyed my husband. Maybe we would have lived elsewhere. Or moved in with his parents, God forbid.

We would have missed some fabulous trips. Or maybe not. Maybe I would have been out in the desert or the mountains with my baby bump. Maybe we’d still be making love on the tailgate of the Jeep or on a rock by a river. Maybe our child would be a backpack baby.

I have a feeling he would have started cheating sooner. Maybe he would have been drunk even more often. The marriage would have ended anyway. We were just not compatible. But I would have that child, and maybe I’d be a grandmother now.

It would have been hard to do my newspaper work, very difficult, with all those late meetings and deadlines and all that running around doing interviews and taking pictures–not that I could get a newspaper job without a degree.

My parents weren’t the kind who would step up and babysit. My in-laws were still working. My ex clearly wasn’t up for childcare. He didn’t even take care of our dog and cat.

But I would have this child. When I met Fred, I would be a single parent. My child, around 11 years old, would be older than his youngest, who turned 7 shortly after we met. Fred would have welcomed him or her. He liked older kids, just didn’t want to deal with a baby. Maybe this child would have helped me through Fred’s illness and my widowhood. I might have had a daughter-in-law, too. I could live near them and do holidays with “the kids” like my friends do.

Maybe I would write about kids and motherhood instead of dogs and dying husbands. Maybe I’d write children’s books. . . .

At church Sunday, a young couple with a baby a few months old sat in the pew right beside the piano. I watched that baby the whole time. So cute. So magical with that perfectly clear skin, those tiny fingers, and those blue eyes observing everything. His parents clearly adored him. Mid-Mass, the mom nursed him under a blanket, and then he fell asleep. Oh, I melted. I started to think about how I never got to care for a baby like that. The pain started. I chased it away. Not here, not now. I had music to play. But . . . shit. You know.

I mourn the child I might have had, but at the same time, I know I was lucky. If I had had a baby with husband number one, I would have been tied to him and his family forever, even after I married Fred. That would have been complicated, to put it mildly. My career would have been trashed. I guess I should be grateful.

So that one time, I did not get pregnant. God knows, lots of people do get pregnant after one passionate night. In the movies, it happens all the time. One night together, and bam, the pregnancy test comes out positive. In the novel I finished reading recently, the couple didn’t have sex very often, but every time they did, the woman conceived. For a lot of people, it’s not that easy. Not even close.

Have there been times when you might have had an oops baby? What if you had? Does it kill you to remember what might have been? Feel free to share in the comments.

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One of our readers recommended “5 Flights Up” as a movie where the couple does not have children. I watched it last weekend and really enjoyed it. Morgan Freeman and Diane Keaton are the couple, and it’s a sweet feel-good movie. Put it on your list.

 

 

Can we stay happy without kids or spouse?

“I’m in My 40s, Child-Free and Happy. Why Won’t Anyone Believe Me?” by Glynnis MacNicol, July 5, 2018 NY Times

Dear readers,

The article listed above that appeared in the New York Times last month shows how differently people can feel about living a life without children, and in MacNicol’s case, also without a husband. At 40, she claims she loves the freedom of being single and has plenty of connections with other people, including many children who think of her as “Auntie Glynnis.” Yet when she dined with a famous author, hoping to discuss literature, he couldn’t get past the fact that she was alone.

Other women a little older warn her that she’s going to change her mind and dive into fertility treatments in a few years. She will regret her choices.

Go ahead and read it now if you want. Then come back here.

Ah, regrets. People ask here all the time whether they’ll regret it if they never have children. I can’t answer that question. Maybe, like MacNicol, they will relish the freedom to travel, work, socialize, and never have to order a “Happy meal” at McDonald’s or pay for someone else’s college education. Maybe in the case of people who are childless by marriage, they will be forever glad that they chose their partner and look forward to growing old together. Or maybe one day they’ll wake up sobbing because they missed their chance to be parents. I don’t know. We’re all different. And I think we experience different feelings at different times. I know sometimes I’m relieved I don’t have children, while at other times, it breaks my heart.

How do you know when you’re young how you’re going to feel after decades more of life? This may seem off-topic, but I watch “The Bachelorette,” “Bachelor in Paradise” and all those trashy shows. God knows why. It seems like someone is crying in every episode. After two dates, they’re in love, and if they don’t get a rose, they’re heartbroken. They’re ready to devote their lives to people they barely know. Most are in their 20s and early 30s. I think about the people in my life who are that age, and I think, “They’re so young. They have no idea what they really want.” Actually, I believe what most of the people on these shows want is simply to be on TV and all the finding-someone-to-love business is a sham, but you know what I mean.

Now, if you’re that age, don’t be insulted. You do know a lot, and I wish I still had your energy. I’m just saying you’ll know more later. When I was in my 20s and 30s, I felt wise and grown up, even though I looked very young with my long hair and miniskirts. People I encountered in my work as a newspaper reporter often questioned whether I was old enough to do the job. I’d plant my hands on my skinny hips and assure them I was a college graduate, I was married, and I was a professional journalist.

I was all that, but looking back, I had a lot to learn about writing, and my first marriage was a mistake from the get-go. A wiser woman would have seen the warning signs. I would have been better off following MacNicol’s example, at least for a while. But we were at an age when society said we needed to get married, so we did. Did I worry about regretting it later? No. I was ecstatic. I expected our love to last forever.

I made my choice based on the information I had at the time. That’s all any of us can do. We’re not robots. We can’t program our feelings or predict how they might change. Maybe MacNicol will change her mind. But right now, she loves her life. For all anyone knows, she always will. Who are we—or that famous author–to say otherwise?

What do you think?

  • Do you worry about regretting your choices, especially about having children, when you get older?
  • Do people in your life warn you that you’ll change your mind?
  • Is there any way to guard against making a mistake?

I welcome your comments.