Bye bye baby

I’ve moved through life assuming that giving birth was always a possibility.  And now, at nearly 43, I have to sever that option or cling on to it.

Severing would mean better physical health, the resolution of medical issues, and a life liberated from menstruation.  Now that I spend more time menstruating than not, I can’t even begin to explain how fabulous that would be.

Or, I keep my womb and the opportunity to test my declining, or possibly non-existent, fertility.

According to, a hysterectomy is the second most common surgical procedure for women in the United States.  The first being a Caesarean section.  Hysterectomies were first performed by Soranus of Ephesus in the second century AD.

I have done nothing in my life to prepare for a child although I love children.  And yet, it feels so wrong to be forced to make an actual decision instead of passively allowing time and age to wear down my options.

Of course, there are many ways of parenting that do not involve any genetic connection.  And the planet cannot sustain the demands of the current human population.  But it’s difficult to walk away.

I know many women, straight and gay, that have not given birth, and who may or may not have children through other means.  I appreciate them as the complete and fantastic human beings that they are.   And yet, I fear I will feel diminished.  I will no longer be able to perform this fundamentally female act.  But why am I defining myself through my womb?

The most difficult question raised by this situation is about legacy and the purpose of life.  People who have genetic children leave a physical living legacy of themselves on the planet.  People who raise children leave a living legacy of their values and culture on the planet.  And when we are sitting around wondering why we are here, I’m sure parenting feels like a pretty important achievement.

Being a single, childless, woman in her 40s plays into the most archaic social stereotypes.

But, I’ve concluded this is probably like turning 40.  The build up is horrifying and then it seems like the least important aspect of your life.

26 responses to “Bye bye baby”

  1. lane says:

    parenting, “it”s great, but i wouldn’t recommend it.”

    that’s a quote spoken to a childless friend by a very responsible and very successful mother of two. not some goofball gen-x parent like me.

    i take comfort in the phrase because it captures to tumult of it all.

    another quote, from a very successful artist, who with his also pretty successful artist wife, once shared with a very well known art critic “parenting, you’re . . . not really missing that much.”

    it’s great, it sucks. i think my truest reaction was once, when asked what it was like to have a kid “it’s like the weather.” always there, much bigger than yourself. it’s scary at times, and lovely at times, and morally neutral. (I know that’s not what i mean) but like , , , morally flat, nothing to glory in.

    Parents are this gigantic secret society, mostly silent, ambivalent, nervous, trying to not fuck it up, knowing that in some way, you will.

    i have no answers . . . only pancakes.

  2. Literacy says:

    We two are in a similar situation, and are on the verge of facing the remainder of our lives without the internal expectation that one day the time will be right, or that we’ll receive some message from above sparking our decision to have a kid or two. Being around so many people our age (40+) who are having babies does nothing to convince me that it would be desirable, but hanging out with my older nieces and nephews (now about 10) makes me sad that I won’t have adult children one day.

    The state of the planet has been the driver of my decision for over ten years now. But there is also something very real (that many parents refuse to face): what if you have a kid, and it turns out to be a total asshole?

    I’ve discussed this fear to many people, and the ones with kids always say something to the effect of, “Oh, don’t be silly. With the right parents the kids are always great.” I don’t say it, but I think, “From what I’ve read, Hitler’s mom was a pretty nice lady.” I’m just saying.

  3. swells says:

    Oh Stella, I’m so sorry you’re facing this possible operation, with all the heavy emotional implications it carries. I think every woman, except maybe the ones who “just know” they want kids or never think to question it, wrestles with this at some point–not just the “whether,” but the “what does this decision” (whether to have or to have not) “mean for my identity and my femininity,” not to mention, of course, “my old age.”

    Someone once shared the word “child-free” with me as an alternative to “childless” with its Freudian sense of “lack.” The word helps, but it doesn’t make the decision a slam-dunk, ever. Good luck with your emotional negotiations. It seems like intellectually you are in a really healthy place about it all.

  4. Marleyfan says:

    Life can be tough, ‘eh? My heart (and online-friendship) goes out to you while you contemplate this difficult decision.

  5. Dave says:

    This is such a tough issue and choice you’re facing, Stella, and I don’t have anything to say directly to your situation, really.

    For myself, I like kids but am not particularly anxious to have any of my own right now, or probably ever. I do worry about the impact on the planet of another little American consumer, and frankly I worry more about what the future of our planet is going to be like within the lifetimes of kids who are being born now. Luckily, I’m not in the right income bracket of gay men to be having children, so I face little to no social pressure about it, and of course there’s the unfair asymmetry of gametes that makes it at least a little bit plausible that I could have a change of heart and pass on my genetic material to a new little human several decades from now.

    I am grateful, by the way, for people like Lane who have kids but are deflationary about the whole rhetoric of “this is the greatest thing to ever happen to me,” etc. I find that discussing anything connected to having children brings out people’s most judgmental and defensive instincts, and it’s nice to defuse that a bit.

  6. Ivy says:

    I like it when people make the distinction between wanting to have a child and wanting to be a parent. And maybe understanding that the needs of the two are different. Parenting is hard. Glorious, possibly, but hard. And I say that as a mere observer.

    I always thought I would have children, and because of various life experiences, I think I would do a reasonable job of being a parent. But life hasn’t worked out that way thus far, and I have kind of given up on hoping that it will. I refuse to let this harm me. Life is good, regardless.

    I think all you can do is make your best decision and make your peace with that. Think about both futures and how you can live with them. It’s tough. Good luck.

  7. lane says:

    2. i agree, we don’t let ourselves think that.

    dave, all parents are deflationary, the real cool ones are, we’re all scared and nervous and really gen xer”s are probably worse, maybe not, boomers made more money, didn’t they? but i don’t know, it’s also art culture.

    lots of self centered asshole parents, rich fucked up kids, but the artists, tend to be kind of “oh my god! what i’m i doing!” kind of people anyway . . . so, we stick together i guess.

    parental ambivalence is one of the big secrets of the human family, BIG!

    god, and just so you know, i fuckin’ love that little guy, but he’s not a possession or a pet. he’s an LITTLE ANIMAL!!!!!!!! – – – LOL!!!!!!!!!!!!

  8. Nat says:

    Stella, I really wanted to respond yesterday, but couldn’t get out of LA until 11:00 in the evening. I read your post yesterday morning and was thinking about it the whole day. I wanted to say that I’m sincerely sorry about your situation – someone very close to me had experienced that same thing, and I know exactly what you are going through. Surgical intervention is not the only option though, what you have can be fixed, regardless of what the doctors say about it. I’ve seen it happen. Parenting is not for everyone – the colic, the sleepless nights, the terrible twos, the homework, the play dates, and the emotional drain. It will bring out your monsters, it’ll break you in ways you’ve never imagined, it’ll remind you of your parents, it’ll be a character building experience. Each hour of each day will be planned around your child. Instead of feeling like you have accomplished something, you’ll often feel like you failed over and over and over. But there will be moments, when everything will make sense. These moments will be worth a lifetime well lived. If a child is want you really want, you should go for it. Screw the statistics, the doctors, the age thing (it’s just a number), the societal norms, and the relationship status. It’s gonna be OK. You should not wait and start planning right away, not because you will not be able to do it a few years down the road, you will, but because it will bring immediate physical and emotional relief. It will make sense and will heal you. And don’t forget that you have virtual friends, who will support you and will help you in any decision you make.

    Literacy, Hitler had a father, who brutally beat him every day, nearly to death on many occasions. He also had a teacher, who beat him to “a shivering jelly” as he recalls. His mother worked as a maid for an abusive Jewish lady, and his brother died at a very early age, which changed his life forever. He wanted to be an artist, but his father beat him into changing his mind. This in no way justifies the historic events, which followed, but it should explain your concerns. If anyone ever tells you how good of a parent they are, and what an “asshole” of a child they have, they are cowardly lying to you, because they are afraid to admit the sickening consequences they have imposed on a single human being and the society. Do everything you can to save that child, if there is still time. There are no bad children, there are very bad parents. I’m sure you two are amazing, intelligent, and kind people. What if you have a child, who’ll be the next Mother Teresa? What if you have a child, who will become a great scientist and will reverse the effects of the global warming and save the earth?

  9. lane says:

    i’m sorry nat, but that is the most overheated comment.

    you make this list of the suckey parts. and conclude that with “you will feel like you failed over and over”

    and then go on to some cheerleading routine about “you should do it!” and as to the virtual friends thing helping you . . . i’m not changing any more diapers, thanks. you know full well that’s bullshit.

    parenting is a hardcore, private business. everyone that’s doing it is on their own.

    Ron Howard’s movie “Parenthood” is, to me, one of the best social documents about how tricky it is. The roller coaster or the merry-go-round.

    take your pick.

  10. Literacy says:

    So let me get this straight:

    good parents = good kids
    bad parents = bad kids
    violent father + jewish lady + corporal punishment = fascist dictator

    Thanks, J.A.K. Gladney.

  11. Literacy says:

    …and what exactly does Stella “have?”

  12. lane says:

    just nerves about moving on.

    move on dot org!

  13. Nat says:

    Lane, all I’m saying is that parenting is not easy, but at the same time it’s rewarding. I had my first child, when I was 25 and had my second, when I was 27. I was not emotionally ready, and it was hard. I was literally on my own. I blamed myself for many things, but in the end, I pulled myself together. I’m grateful now, and most importantly, I wouldn’t change anything. You are right, each parenting experience is very personal, therefore we can’t speak for other parents — we can only speak for ourselves. Would you not have your kid, if you knew how difficult it would be? Also, it’s probably not fair to tell others that they shouldn’t have kids, if you and I had experienced difficult times; it’s all relative after all. I felt that Stella might really want to have a baby, and I wanted to be supportive. Thank you for bringing it up though, I tend to be overly dramatic with my notions of happiness.

    The hell with you Literacy, I was just trying to be nice. You don’t understand nice. I forgot: this is a no-happiness-zone with you. “I shall wise-crack her and name-drop her until she bleeds. After all, I can’t stand her for reasons unknown to me. I’m better than her, I know more about the language by birth, about all the big artists, philosophers, and writers by, well, fortunate circumstances, and she is so f…..g happy all the time. I must put her down! I will wait unwearyingly until she makes an overly fluffy comment and I will execute her with my iron logic and my radiant knowledge. I will say ridiculous things like “what if you have a kid, and it turns out to be a total asshole? (Do you actually walk around asking people that?)” and introduce by a seemingly coherent prelude like, “But there is also something very real (that many parents refuse to face):” and everyone will wow at my brainpower and my altruistic sacrifice at the alter of the communal decency. I will be a hero! Luckily for me, she will respond trying to cheer me up and idiotically explain Hitler’s history assuming that I don’t know better. Ha! Sucker! I will call her J.A.K. Gladney ….. and draw a brilliant formula (although shallow and prejudicially concluded, you should certainly! use and never have kids of your own) That would be so clever! Wheeeeee! ” You remind me of the folk tale about the sad Elisa, who went into her basement on her wedding day to get a jar of pickles, saw a dagger hanging on the wall, and wailed for another twenty years terrified that the son, she never had, would eventually have to go into that basement to get a jar of pickles and get killed by that dagger. God have mercy, if I could only be that grotesquely pessimistic and perpetually dismal, things would certainly pick up! Oh, and I’m not even gonna respond to your second comment, that was just obtuse … Whatchya gonna do now — pick on my grammar or my punctuation?

  14. lane says:

    way to go nat! nice defense.

    Yeah the whole parenting thing is so touchy, it’s actually probably the most touchy subject there is. how its done, everyone’s opinion on how to do it. and what makes it so weird is the basic understanding, it seems to me, that you don’t tell your kids about it. NEVER play the hero, BE the hero, just don’t brag about it.

    and being comfortable with all the ways you’re screwing up.

    and how you learn about what your parents did for you. your own total helplessness when you were an infant. and all that work just keeping you clean and dry and fed.

    and the importance to cuteness. cuteness is the only thing that saved any of us from the wolves.

    “love me, i’m cute!”

    well anyway,

    “I can hardly wait, to see you come of age, but i guess we’ll both just have to be patient.”

    “beautiful beautiful beautiful, beautiful boy.”

  15. Rachel says:

    Hi, Stella. Somehow, with all the back-and-forth and this Nat’s logorrheic defense, your ideas got kind of lost.

    Thanks for writing this. The question of a child (and childbearing) is on my mind, too, and it feels so vulnerable and private that I admire your courage for putting it out into the open. Maybe it will generate some genuinely illuminating conversations.

    Ultimately, whether you do or don’t decide to be a parent, I know you will be fine–you’re such a wonderful person, with a huge heart and a great support system.

  16. Literacy says:

    13: So let me get this straight: my pointing out that you can tend to be somewhat of a know-it-all makes me a bad person? Duly noted. I just sit here and roll my eyes next time you argue that global warming isn’t a result of human activity, then make an argument that I should have a child because maybe he/she will fix the global warming problem.

    And I think you have the wrong Literacy here. I’m not the smart one who knows about punctuation and whatnot. I do, however, live in a “non-happiness-zone.”

  17. Literacy says:

    Thank you Rachel. You are totally right. I’m sorry to you all for this nonsense.

    Stella, I think you and your post are amazing, I’m sorry that my comment devolved into this name-calling BS.

  18. swells says:

    maybe everyone should take a step back . . . and focus on stella’s ideas here. and lane’s.

  19. Dave says:

    Or more name calling. This is the internet!

  20. Marleyfan says:

    Just when I thought TGW was getting kinda boring…

  21. Literacy says:

    Dave I’m home.

  22. J-Man says:

    I was going to respond to Stella with something that actually was apropos to what she had posted. Instead, things have once again degenerated into a high-school bullying session, which certain members of this clique, uh, I mean blog, are so good at. Literacy, perhaps you’re afraid that your kids would turn out exactly like you, and I’m tired of watching as you and others verbally take your own self-hatred out on someone who ventures onto your playground. If reading these kinds of attacks makes me a tacit supporter of this kind of behavior, then I’m going to have to quit participating in this blog. Have fun fighting over the trikes.

  23. Stella says:

    Note to self: controversy sparks comments….next blog: I love Sarah. (Write reminder on hand to help aging childless memory.)

  24. lane says:

    well, stella, yeah,

    i was given shit here recently for being “the artist” and a “lover of controversy” or something like that.

    i mean, come on folks, this is our dumb little blog with 14 people. I don’t love controversy for it’s own sake. and i guess i could be perceived as a member of some clique (meaning I know some GW people but not all, so i’m more open with some of these people rather than others.) And while I’m not looking to drive anyone away, (because my years of active GW promotion are over, so if you leave, I’m almost leaving with you.)
    There is a point to just saying what you HAVE to say.

    J-man’s point about “self-hatred” is a good one. I fall back on an art critic’s crack I once heard, “I”m fine with my self-loathing, we all hate certain things about ourselves.”

    Being a parent is in direct contridiction to the myth of the hip, worldly “ARTEEST!” That character is totally self contained, detached, alone. I’m kind of that person, I wasn’t raised to be that person, The person I was raised to be lives in Long Island and commutes by mini-van.

    “Clowns to the left of me, Jokers to the right. Here I am, stuck in the middle with you.”

    It’s not controversy for it’s own sake, it’s dealing with what it real.

    Dave Hickey to me “So you’re a California artist, who happens to have been born a Mormon, trying to function in the New York Artworld? Boy, you must have faultlines running through you a mile deep. You have got to go the faultlines because that is where the art is.”

    Thanks for keeping it real Stella, and Nat, and Literacy.

    If we all just want to be nicey nice why don’t we just go read The New Yorker . . . .

  25. Marleyfan says:

    I fell on an art critics’ crack…

  26. lane says:

    alas, haven’t we all . . . god . . .