• May 2009
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My Secret Love Child

I am the proud mother of a 5 year old daughter.

If any of you are surprised by this birth announcement, you are not alone.  So am I.

I was unaware that five years ago I gave birth until recently when a student asked me (in the abrupt, slightly inappropriate manner common among 8th graders): “Miss, you got a baby?”  I was explaining the rules to a game of tag that a group of the girls wanted to play while we had a little down time; hence I was expecting questions along the line of: “So, what happens if the octopus tags you” as opposed to random inquiries into my parental status.  The inappropriate 8th grader was sitting out this round of octopus so I quickly called across the gym: “Uh…does that sound like a question you should be asking while I’m trying to explain something to your classmates…ponder that for a moment, why don’t you…”

She apologized immediately (not for being intrusive, mind you; only for interrupting).  She explained her reason for the inquiry with: “They said you have a daughter…and she’s five.”  For a brief second I wondered who ‘they’ was and why these kids kept listening to what ‘they’ said.  ‘They’ seem to always disseminate inaccurate half truths that normally result in some kid getting in trouble. Yet, the kids keep taking ‘they’ at their word.

I informed this gullible 13 year old that “Once again, ‘they’ have lied to you.  You should stop listening to ‘them.’  ‘They’ never know what they’re talking about.” And here is the truly hilarious part: The girl INSISTED that I did, indeed,  have a child.  She even went so far as to remember seeing a picture of my daughter.  “Remember,” she tried to remind me.  “Last year, when I would come into your classroom.  You had a picture of a baby on your desk.  That was your daughter, wasn’t it?”

When I explained that this ghost picture she remembered so vividly could have been a picture of my niece or one of my friends’ children, she looked perturbed.  “So, you don’t have a baby?”  I apologized for disappointing her, but assured her I would have remembered giving birth and raising a child.  “No baby.  I am certain of it.”

I teach in East Harlem.  At an all girls school.  Half of the girls are Latina.  The other half are Black.  I am a Black woman  in her mid 30’s who does not have children.  And does not seem to be concerned that she does not have children.  I am an enigma.

This is not news to me.  I have been quizzed by students, boyfriends, family members and the occasional friend on my lack of frenzied panic over my dwindling childbearing years.  While grown ups don’t interrogate you about a child that does not exist, they do seem to assume that you are preoccupied with thoughts of your non-existent children and plans to bring them to fruition.

There are many time-honored misconceptions about the modern-day single gal.  Out of all of them, my favorite, hands down, would have to be: We all secretly yearn to be mothers.  If Black single gals, particularly, manage to make it to their mid-30’s childfree, it is only because they are bizarrely committed to the concept of having a husband before having a baby.  So, in short, if you are single and childfree, it is most likely a circumstance in which you have happened to find yourself.  One which you dutifully accept until you finally meet HIM.  And speaking of meeting HIM…yeah, you better get on that because well…don’t you want to be a mother?  There’s only a very short window of time we have to work with, now don’t we?

Over the last few years, I have spoken openly about my genuine disinterest in giving birth and raising children.  The reaction I often get explains why my students naturally assume I either have children or eventually want them.  EVERYBODY assumes what the 8th graders do.  The look of relief that takes over a date’s face when I tell him I don’t have any kids usually morphs into one of disbelief when I eventually share that I have  no desire to have them either.  For those men who have managed to make it to their 30’s or 40’s without children, this news gives them pause.  And something from which to save me.  Myself.  They either brush off my lack of interest in motherhood as a sign that I have not met the right guy or pity me as a woman who will live my latter years in remorseful sorrow.  Either way, this denial of my maternal instincts can send an overly eager hero-type into rescue-this-confused-pretty-woman nirvana.

Men who already have children seem to hold the look of relief longer on their faces. I assume they are more relieved than their childless counterparts because my choice to remain childfree signifies one less thing to complicate things between us.  I will, hopefully, be an easy one to please.  A woman who is not ruled by a ticking biological clock, thank god, I imagine them saying to themselves.  Interestingly, though, they still seem a bit incredulous and question if I am avoiding having children because of other reasons.  “You don’t have to worry if you don’t feel maternal right off,” one of them told me.  “When you see your child and it hits you that you’re responsible for him, then that parental instinct kicks right in.”  (I chose not to mention that over the four years I have taught I have encountered at least a half dozen kids whose parents continually disprove this sweet little theory of his.)

If men refuse to accept that a woman is perfectly happy with her choice to be childfree, other women seem to be practically floored by it.  I have found that for many women, particularly those who have children, my not wanting children is not the peculiarity.  Apparently, what makes me odd is my not having a good enough reason for not wanting children.  From comments I’ve gotten over the years, it appears that a woman who actually voices disinterest in motherhood has to put that disinterest into context.  Her disinterest goes down smoother if she has a valid excuse for coming to this place of childfree joy.  She has to preface her assertion with a long history of dating mishaps and heartbreaks that she has dealt with in some form of therapy that has brought her to this difficult conclusion that perhaps, marriage and motherhood are not in the cards for her.  “And now, I have decided to make peace with it.”

Medical reasons also place high on the Acceptable Reasons to Reject Motherhood list. Fibroids.  Rare blood diseases.  Infertile husbands.  Those not only get you nods of approval, but they grant you one of those get-out-of-jail free cards.  Women who share their medical reasons for not having children are not obligated to defend their childlessness again.  They are no longer asked about it.  Nor are they ever again casually chided for still not sporting a baby bump.  They have a real reason.  A sad one at that.  They get a pass.

One friend spent a good 30 minutes trying to help me find the real reason why I was claiming to not want children.  She spoke tentatively about my childhood as one of five children.  She speculated that my parents’ divorce and my mother’s subsequent single motherhood status soured me on having children.  “You had a lot of responsibility for your little brother,” she inferred.  “I mean, maybe in  your subconscious you decided that you had already raised one child while you were still a child yourself so now you don’t want to do it as an adult.”    I had thought about this years before when I was in my 20s and confronted by all of my friends’ quests for future daddy material in their boyfriends.  Back then, I thought a lot like my 8th graders.  If I didn’t want children, something had to be wrong with me.  There had to be a much deeper reason behind my disinterest than I was willing to admit.  Something I had buried.  So, my friend was about 10 years behind me in this armchair pyschological analysis.

“Perhaps, you have a point,” I allowed her.  “But, what if my reason for not wanting children is much simpler.  Much healthier?  What if I realize that motherhood is a calling?  And just like every person who happens to have a Bible probably shouldn’t be in the pulpit, perhaps every person who happens to have a uterus shouldn’t just by default carry a baby in it?”  That’s what confuses me about this disbelief that women can choose childfreedom from a place of RESPECT for the role of motherhood.  Why is it so difficult to believe that a woman chooses not to be a mother because she looks honestly and objectively at what such a role means and makes the responsible choice not to sign up for the job?  Doesn’t such a decision make a woman…thoughtful, smart, SELFLESS?  Isn’t the I-have-a-uterus-so-I-might-as-well-do-something-with-it mentality really the one we should question?

I have won over more than a few adults with the afore-mentioned perspective on childfree by choice women.  However, my 8th graders, although very bright, are not yet capable of grasping such nuanced philosophies on life.  So, I am left to construct an acceptable response to their inquiries into my childfreedom.  After the young lady interrogated me on my ghost daughter, rumor spread around the 8th grade that the English teacher had a baby that for some strange reason she didn’t want to tell people about.  (13 year old students get really bored around May.)

So now when the question does reappear, I have a response.  The next time I am randomly asked, “Miss, you got a baby,”  I will look the inquirer in the eye and reply, “Yes, I do.  I keep Rose in the book closet.  Could you give her this pb&j, please?”

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