I was not the only daughter in a dyad of this kind. When I looked around, I saw them everywhere: in my extended family, at my lectures on college campuses, on line at Target, on their own show on TV. Childless and codependent, the daughter did some macabre human version of dying on the vine. The mother kept the reality of her own mortality at bay by thwarting her daughter's every attempt to psychologically leave the nest. It seemed that these mothers did not realize that they had to give adulthood to their daughters by stepping down, stepping back, stepping away, and letting the daughter take center stage. These mothers did not seem to know, with all their potions and philosophies, their desires to rehabilitate ancient scripts of gender and identity, that there is a natural order, and that natural order involves passing the scepter to offspring with unconditional love and pride.
Or pay the price.
Because as a writer I do my best research on the lives of others, at least once a week I sat conversing -- over tea, on subway platforms, at the farmers' market, in ornate, fancy hotel lobbies -- about motherhood with women who either had done the deed and lived to tell, or who were surveying the same terrain of possibility.
I spoke to single moms and partnered moms, and moms who lost their children to disease. I spoke to stay-at-home moms, working moms, CEO moms, moms on welfare. One mom I met conceived through in vitro fertilization at age forty-five. Another orchestrated different sperm donors over several pregnancies. One "got pregnant" at eighteen and spent the rest of her life trying to recover. I spent an afternoon talking with a poor mom who relied on faith to provide for her sixth child on the way. I spent several years talking to middle-class moms who couldn't figure out how to support the two kids they had been raising for years.
I talked to men, too, about the joys and risks of parenthood, but my time with them was different. It wasn't punctuated with anecdotes, or even held together by narrative. Men explored the topic of my pregnancy with meaningful glances and gentle touches of assurance to the small of my back. They encouraged me with knowing nods and unwavering attention, sometimes silently offering themselves, other times letting me know they wished it could be them.
Women gave me narrative and men gave me alchemy, their approbation running like a current into my womb.
My life was full of these elucidating encounters, but strangely, none of them seemed to bring me any closer to what I said I wanted. Unconsciously, I longed to give birth to a child. Consciously,I managed the risk of actually having one by viewing it as one option among many, a wonderful possibility to peruse at will. Like choosing which coast to live on or what apartment to take, I would consider potential outcomes and make my best, informed decision.
Because I am a woman of privilege, a product of the women's movement, and a student of cultural relativism, I believed that neither choice would be inherently better than the other. Each had pluses and minuses, and so it would not be the choice itself, but howI interpreted the choice that would make the difference. Los Angeles or New York? High floor or great location? To baby or not to baby?