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Friday, August 30, 2013

Hold On, Hold Out

Mary Fox

“Do you remember what you were like at 26?”

Since I have just turned 57 and often can’t remember why I entered a room, the question posed at the birthday party for a woman just that age made me laugh. And I do remember what I was like at 26.

Coincidentally, I had also just been paging through Huffpost and had been stopped by an intriguing post by Melanie Notkin: The Childless Life. The post is a prelude to her forthcoming book, Otherhood, where the subject is something she calls “circumstantial infertility.”

What Notkin’s book promises to be is a compilation of the stories of dozens of women and men who want so much to be in love, married (or at the very least, in a committed relationship) before becoming parents. Her post sheds light on the heartache over childlessness due to being without a partner, exacerbated by the inexhaustible myth that women and men have chosen not to be mothers -- and fathers.

At 26, I had my dreams for prospective mates. I had the names of my children picked out: Luke, Grace, David, Claire. I remember when I heard that the man I had been madly I love with had gotten his (obviously not so) former girlfriend pregnant. I was 29. After I picked the shards of my heart from the floor, I remember thinking: “Well, I could have done that.” But that wasn’t all that I wanted. I wanted something deeper: love, marriage, and children. In that order. I don’t know why those relationships I had such hopes for didn’t “take.” When I sit down to have my cup of coffee with God at the end of it all, that is one of the questions I’m going to ask.

Compounding the disappointment of those unfulfilled relationships was a Newsweek article in June 1986, “The Marriage Crunch.” Two months before I turned 30. To wit: white, college-educated women who failed to marry in their 20s faced abysmal odds of ever tying the knot. According to the research, a woman who remained single at 30 had only a 20 percent chance of ever marrying. By 35, the probability dropped to 5 percent. In the story's most infamous line, Newsweek reported that a 40-year-old single woman was "more likely to be killed by a terrorist" than to ever marry.

It took me four years and a move to another state to recover from that one.

So I took my broken heart for a geographical cure to the Jersey Shore and channeled my disappointments into a passable business. I never totally abandoned the hope for marriage and family, even gave that relationship stuff a few more laudable efforts. I have to admit, though, this time, my heart was just not in them. When my biological clock finally did stop ticking, while I felt an incredible sadness, I also felt just a little relief.

My affirmation from the cosmos came in the form of a letter I received a couple of years ago, left at my door, from one of the men I had loved and wanted to marry. After more than two decades, in which he was married to another woman and father to two children, he decided to confess to me that he should have married me after all. How dare you? was my first response and my final one. After spending a few dizzy days in an emotional time warp. I closed that door forever.

Now, Notkin’s blog has given me solace.

I am humbly grateful that I never needed to make a confession like the one I received. I admit I entertain backstories of what life might have been like if any of those lost loves had blossomed into a lifelong partnership. I admit I envy my sisters and friends their families. But those moments pass. Today I believe I am right where I am supposed to be.

I hope Notkin’s forthcoming book provides support and comfort for those still waiting for true love to come along. I posted a comment on her blog encouraging those still looking to remain true to their dreams.

Oh yes, I remember what I was like when I was 26. And then some. And I wouldn’t change a thing.


  1. Mary,

    Great post on love and being true to yourself. I don't know that I dreamed of being married and having kids as you did. I kind of fell into it at far too young an age and that didn't work out. Then I was a good example of the over 30 odds of not finding a mate until age 47 when I found love in an unconventional way.

    But I love your resolve in this post. I can hear Frank singing in the background, "I did it my way...."

  2. Well said, Mary. A beautiful post with a meaningful message. Many days I just sit and consider whether I am where I am supposed to be. Silly question, of course I am. Thanks!

  3. Mary, so much in your post touched me, I'm not sure where to start. I remember being that 26 year old so full of dreams of love and family . . . and the fears I'd never have them. Everyday, I count loving and being married to Jim as my greatest gift in life.
    Childless--well, maybe your post will give me the courage one day to write that post.
    Like Chris, I love your resolve and acceptance

  4. This post struck such a chord with me. At 60, and after 2 childless marriages (children being my most cherished goal when I was 26)I have reached the same kind of peace, uneasy as it seems at random moments. Yet I find myself pressured by women of my generation who are frantically internet dating and wanting me to do the same, the goal is to find a partner to share the golden years. But I like my place in the world right now...and I hope they find resolve, too; with or without a partner. Marvelous post :)

  5. Mary, you could write my biography!

    Julie V.

  6. Well said, Mary! Like Julie V. said, you could write my biography. I don't know how well you know Julie, but you really COULD write mine. Another bit of relief for you - had you had Luke, Grace, David, and Claire, you'd have been out about a million bucks in the cost of raising them. ;-) I know the rewards would've been worth that and then some, but maybe that'll give you something else to be grateful for.

    That being said, I do believe that we are where we're meant to be. As much as I'd have loved to have (in my case) 5 kids, I'm happy with how my life has turned out, so far. And, it wouldn't have done so had I not had the life experiences I had.

  7. Mary, I was really touched by this post. I dreamed of motherhood as a young woman, and it took many years before my child came to me. I remember the fear that it wouldn't happen, the mixed feelings as many of my friends and family became parents, and the joy of holding my son (what? I still find this phrase shocking) in my arms. Motherhood is one of the greatest gifts of my life, and I am truly grateful for it.

    I also know that children need many people to raise them. I have cherished relationships with aunts, older sister types, women mentors and role models, and I have much gratitude to all the women and men who parent Daniel. Years ago, a friend told me to "Raise children whereever you find them." I think that's a beautiful thought, and our world can really benefit from the love of nonparents for children.