I woke up in our car with my partner, Alex, after dreaming I was pregnant. I didn’t give much thought to the dream until later that day, when we drove up to our favorite mountain spot. I stepped out onto a gravel trail to walk alone, and it occurred to me that I might have missed a period.
I started doing the mental math, and I mean “mental” in every possible way, including the nuanced insanity and the act of keeping my thoughts secret from Alex. Had it been more than four weeks since my last period? What was I doing two weeks ago, when I might have been ovulating? My hands were cold and clammy, one in the pocket of my down coat and the other exposed, holding a cooling cup of McDonald's coffee. I started interpreting everything as proof I was pregnant. I felt fatigued. Each sip of coffee turned my stomach. These were the same symptoms I felt when I was pregnant with my daughter five years ago.
So what if I was pregnant? I toyed with the idea for a moment, reflecting honestly on my reality. I’m living in a car. I’m not even sure what will happen with the custody of my own daughter, who is living with her father right now. I’m on a waitlist to begin medication for bipolar disorder. Alex and I are just beginning to get on our feet financially.
Clearly, then, if I was pregnant, I’d have to have an abortion or otherwise give the child up. Would my sister raise a baby, if I couldn’t go through with abortion? What about someone in Alex’s family? I know his aunt always wanted a child. After one lap around the trail, I popped my head in the car. “Would your aunt adopt our baby, if we got pregnant?”
“Are you pregnant?” he said, half-worried, half-knowing I was speculating. This wasn’t the first time I’d freaked out and made assumptions.
“No, but if I am, what do you think?”
“If you are, we’ll talk then,” he said.
On my walk, I have to stop myself from getting carried away thinking he might be fine—that he might even find fulfillment—as a father.
I stepped back out to start another lap. This time, I recalled the gut-wrenching pain of childbirth and the syrupy ecstasy that followed when I held my newborn daughter for the first time. It was bigger and more dazzling than any other feeling. Even in poverty, fighting for my life as I am now, would I be able to knowingly sever that tie and reject that feeling when the moment comes?
Nope, I think to myself. I would have to keep him or her.
But I’m not the only one who would have a say in this. Alex has told me before, point-blank, that he will never father a biological child. The risk of that child inheriting his own temperament is too much of a risk, and the effects on his own psyche could be catastrophic.
That’s not to say he isn’t wonderful around children. I remember a time recently when I was sitting in the driver’s seat, reading a book, waiting for Alex while he attended a free martial arts class. I glanced up and looked through the huge window of the facility. Kids, toddlers to school-age, chased each other in the lobby. One little boy with dark brown hair and pale skin approached Alex. He looked similar to pictures I’ve seen of Alex as a boy, and the mirrored effect made me stop, close my book and stare.
Alex was gesturing, probably asking lots of questions, urging the little boy to think. The boy looked up at him, studying every word. Alex makes it look like this comes naturally to him, but it doesn’t. In fact, it took him years in his adult life to even become somewhat comfortable in the same room as a child.
On my walk, I have to stop myself from getting carried away thinking he might be fine—that he might even find fulfillment—as a father. I have to stop myself before I equate his kindness toward my daughter, toward all children, as anything more than his commitment to being a good person. He does not want children. He has never wanted to bring a person into the world. Helping raise my daughter is an important thing, a necessary thing if he is to be in a relationship with me, but making another life is something he is actively against.
And you know what? I should be against it for the same reasons, too.
I would urge other women on the fence, other women with mental illness, to err on the side of caution too.
We’re having enough of a time figuring out how to take care of ourselves, each other and the daughter I already have, when she’s in my custody. Although my brain agrees with him wholeheartedly, my biology—and that tender, emotional part of me—still feels quite differently.
The walking path curved alongside a small pond where a shining mallard drifted alongside its duller brown partner. Immediately, I stopped and scoured the water for babies. If there are baby ducks, I decided, that means I’m pregnant.
I’m not superstitious. I’m not even religious: You’d never catch me actually trying to weave this experience to any thinking person as a sign from a god. Still, I stood there, my cup of coffee turning colder by the minute, and I maniacally eyed the gray water for ducklings.
There were none. When I got back to the car, my period started.
When I’m thinking clearly, I can identify my “need” for more children as driven by biology. I imagine it’s similar to the urge that drives people to have sex with many partners, or to get naked in the water or the woods. It’s also cultural. Americans are trained from birth to want more—and better—rather than peaceably embracing what they already have. More is supposed to make us happy. And once you’ve opened the floodgate to the all-encompassing rush of caring for one child, what’s one more? Aren’t kids happier with siblings, anyways?
The cultural voices and the biological urges are very strong. But I’m going to continue to fight them, because I think this is something a mature person would do. I would urge other women on the fence, other women with mental illness, to err on the side of caution, too. Look at your motives. In an overpopulated world, where children are suffering at the hands of their caretakers in your very town, what good comes of adding even more children? I believe it is almost always better to take the best possible care you can of those who exist, including you, than to hope for more ducklings.
But ask me again in a month—you may get an entirely different answer.