“Forty is the old age of youth; fifty the youth of old age.” ~Victor Hugo
It’s official! I have arrived, in the ‘old age of youth’ . . .
This quote was a bit depressing at first read, but I guess I will instead choose to focus on the fact that the description of my age also includes the word “youth”.
What will my forties bring for me? I am not certain, but one thing I do know: this is not my mother’s fortieth birthday.
I didn’t even know my parents when they were forty. My dad was about 42 when I was born, and my mom was 40. But I still know that my big 4-0 is very different from my mom’s, about 40 years ago.
In 1971, at age forty, my mom had a newborn (me), a nine year old (my sister), a 15-year old (my other sister), and a 17-year-old son on his way to college. Both of her parents were still alive. Also, at that time, my mom was also just ten years shy of becoming a widow.
I think about that a lot this week. As I turn the corner into my 40s, (notice I didn’t say anything about going over a hill!) I do so with so many blessings in my life – husband, friends, family, and fulfilling work I love.
However, I cannot ignore one big thing that is missing. And I honestly don’t know how to feel about it. In addition to not having any parents on this milestone…
I’m 40, and I’m childless.
That wasn’t really the plan all along. After my husband and I got married in 2000, we often talked about having kids “a bit later” or “in a few years.”
Then, after about three years of being married, around 2003, we started “trying”. Or at least, we stopped trying NOT to have kids, if you will. Then, after my mom got sick, those plans got put on hold, not really consciously or deliberately, but in the midst of my grief and depression, the priority just fell away.
So that was, and is, the reality. And honestly, I’m not sure how I feel about that. I really don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing for me, that I haven’t procreated.
No One Expects the Spanish Inquisition
The week before my ‘big’ birthday, as if I hadn’t already been struggling with the issue of childlessness in the face of 40, I was intensely grilled regarding my parental status, or lack thereof, by a complete stranger.
Within 30 seconds of being introduced to a visitor at the office (a friend of a coworker apparently, who rattles off a few life facts as he makes the brief introduction), I am drilled by my new acquaintance with the dreaded questions:
“So, you’ve been married ELEVEN years?”.She says this with a smile, as if she’s pleasantly interested; perhaps she’s going to comment on, or commend us for, the longevity of our marriage, as many often do, just exchanging pleasantries. But no, I had misread her devious smile for a friendly one.
“And, you don’t have any kids? Really? Why not?” she asked, with very real condescension, and feigning concern, “You don’t like kids? You just don’t want them . . . ever? I mean, WHY?”
Wow. Nice to meet you too, oh fabulous mother of three who is here chatting up my married coworker for no legitimate reason… perhaps we should talk about that? But no, that’s why the questions were all fired at me, to make sure I didn’t have time to wonder about this attractive wife and mom, sitting cozily in my coworker’s office, in full flirt mode, in the middle of the day.
So here I am, in the middle of my workday, with an unknown vamp and a male coworker, confronted with the most personal, sensitive, and uncomfortable line of questioning I could possibly endure anyhwere, much less at work. I should have politely told her to (other F word) off. But instead, in my overly tolerant and accomodating way, I stood there, explaining to a complete stranger, why I don’t have kids:
“That’s so sweet of you to ask. I used to have three children, but they all died tragically in a house fire two years ago. It was very painful; thank you so much for your concern.”
Of course, I didn’t really say that. But I wish I had had the intestinal fortitude to say it. Maybe it would help her realize how inappropriate she sounds.
What I did say in reply to her was rambling and apologetic. As if somehow I’ve failed this unknown person by not reproducing, I nervously explained how I haven’t really tried NOT to have kids, but it just hasn’t happened… that I do like kids, and am open to them, but don’t feel compelled to go have some manufactured or purchased, although I may at some point in the future.
Treat everyone with politeness, even those who are rude to you – not because they are nice, but because you are. -Author Unknown
Apparently, within minutes of meeting me, this woman felt very strongly, it was very important to her, that I want, and bear, children. Perhaps it validates her decisions to have three kids in four years, I am not sure.
After my driveling, nonsense reply, I look at her pleadingly as I trail off, trying to read her expression for some sort of signal that I can stop talking – have I satisfied her curiosity? Can she, Ms. What’s-her-name, with her skinny jeans and smug, fruitful, triple-child-bearing uterus, accept that answer about my fertility, or lack thereof?
I could tell I had said enough, because she was about to speak, indicating that she was done listening, and I could stop explaining. Phew. That’s over.
With a final, swift kick while I was down, she opened her mouth to wield her sharp tongue once more, taking one final stab, this time aimed squarely at my husband’s virility. I won’t even justify her comment by repeating it here, it was so distasteful. But suffice it to say, the basic message was that someone younger, and perhaps in athletic form, could have had more success at impregnating me.
With that, I politely excused myself from my lovely new acquaintance and my coworker. I left his office and slinked back to the safety of my own, where, after at least 15 minutes of deep breathing, rehashing, and cooling down, I was once again able to gather my thoughts and get back to work. Quite frankly, I’ve gotten used to having my own fertility, motives, health, and decisions questioned… it was the added attack on that of my husband’s that really caught me off guard.
Is the issue of my childlessness on my mind as I turn 40? Yes. Is it weighing heavily on me? Maybe. Do I know what I’m going to do about it? Not a clue.
“If you really wanted kids, you’d do something about it.”
Another favorite declaration of the baby-boosters, the above statement, or some variation of it, is often proclaimed in a stern tone of reprimand, as if to say: what the heck have you been doing all these years without kids? Have you no life? No sense? Get busy dammit!
Yes, I’m forty!
Yes, I’ve been married 11 years.
And NO I don’t have any kids.
And NO I’ve not been to a fertility clinic.
What really seems to confuse people even more, is that, as much as it seems to appear that I absolutely do not want kids, I cannot say with 100% certaintly that I absolutely do NOT want a child either.
Being officially undecided and uncommitted one way or the other, is even more perplexing to people (not that it’s their job to understand my personal, intimate decisions, but they seem to need to) than flat out declaring I do NOT want kids under any circumstances. Especially now, “at my age”, my lack of conviction against having a child seems to make people very uncomfortable.
My own confusion bewilders me, so why wouldn’t others be confused by my stance, or lack of one? It’s my life, it’s my family, and it’s my situation and my body, so other people aren’t necessarily entitled to explanations or clarifications, even though many people enjoy asking for them, or demanding them, apparently.
Maybe I should start asking other people more questions:
Her: I have two kids.
Me: Really? You have two kids? How nice. Why?
Her: Excuse me?
Me: Well, I’m about to tell you I have no kids, and I’m sure you’ll ask me why, so I’m asking the same, just wondering why you have two kids…go ahead, I’m listening!
Maybe I will try some new tactics in handling future interrogations, and report back, as to how they go over with nosy strangers… I’m sure it won’t be long, before I’m questioned again… until then, I’m Left Behind, and Living Life, with no parents, no kids…and looking forward to my forties!
Old age is fifteen years older than I am ~Oliver Wendell Holmes
A [wo]man is not old until regrets take the place of dreams ~John Barrymore
Do not regret growing older. It is a privilege denied to many ~Unknown