I am excited to introduce a new guest blogger! GK Burch and I met in Pasadena last year at the Gateway Women’s Reignite Weekend. After meeting for drinks, a group of us decided to go grab dinner. We were cautiously optimistic but still unsure of each other. Before crossing the street, we all slowed down to obey the DO NOT CROSS sign. All except one. One woman kept walking and told us to ignore the traffic light…because “no one is going to hit a pack of childless women”. THAT woman was GK Burch. With one sarcastic comment, she changed the tune of night….and everyone relaxed.
Guest Post Author: GK Burch
Somebody, somewhere once said “Life is what happens when you’re making other plans.” That was stupid. Someone else said, “Life sucks and then you die,” which might be closer to the truth. Regarding life quotes in general, though, my favorite is one that I don’t want to be my favorite because it implies that we need to accept what is and get on with it.
We have two lives. The second begins when we realize there is only one.” – Confucius
Ugh. Anything but that!
My entire life I wanted to be a mom. My favorite playthings were: a fake kitchen, toy vacuum, plastic high heels, a ruffly apron, lipstick, and DOLLS. Dolls that peed, pooped, cried, blinked, grew hair, crawled, or just sat there without joints of any kind. I couldn’t surround myself with enough babies to care for and love. I named several of them Susie and slept with them every night. (This is, of course, before we were informed of the dangers of co-sleeping.)
When I got older and moved onto Barbies, I couldn’t wait for them to have sex so that they could have babies and complete the cycle. I knew how life worked and after one hot night in the Barbie van, bundles of imaginary love would round out the Dream House nursery. Forget weddings, forget Ken. In my dreams I never even fantasized about being a bride or practicing my new signature for when I got married.
I just knew deep within my heart that I loved my unborn children and I couldn’t wait to meet them. I spent all of junior high and high school babysitting so that I could make money and practice for being a mother. Diapers, tantrums, bedtime – nothing fazed me. Kids really did love me and I adored them, too. It was obvious that I was a natural. I knew that God had plans for my talents.
In my mid-twenties I lived in Chicago and when I blew out the candles for my 25th birthday, began to get nervous that maybe my dream wouldn’t come true how I wanted it to. I pictured getting married at 26 and having my first child at 28 (a very doable timeline for someone in college in the 90s). I had strong opinions about “old mothers” and judged them to be selfish, wrinkled and ridiculous. So, I was going to be a young mother with energy, beauty, patience and charm. By this time I had serious relationships in my life, but they all ended with me heartbroken. And empty-handed. And feeling less certain by the day that I wouldn’t end up an old maid (which was a game that I detested losing as a child. I could think of no greater insult than ending up unwanted!)
The decades and the birthday candles came and went. Each year I wished, I prayed, I got down on my knees and begged God with tears on the hardwood floor to please send me a partner so that I could start a family. What was taking so long? I taught Sunday School, went on dates, gave up dating, went to therapy, took art classes, got my masters, did online dating again and again and again. I had fun with girlfriends, enjoyed being alone, traveled, stayed home….did it all and then I undid it all and still couldn’t figure out where I needed to change. Spent HUNDREDS of hours knitting gifts for other people’s babies and thousands of dollars on weddings, showers, other people’s celebrations. And at the end of every party I came home broken, alone, and ashamed.
By age 38, the panic was all-consuming. I was old. Although not my first choice— in fact it was a last resort—I knew I had to try getting pregnant on my own. I went to a (shitty) doctor and had three failed inseminations over the course of the next few years. This is about the time I started dealing with shortness of breath, trouble sleeping, nightmares and constant mid-level anxiety. I watched friends get pregnant, get accidentally pregnant, and other friends with older kids make mothering decisions that would keep you awake at night. The unfairness of it all was a constant source of anger that turned into bitterness. Yeah, I got bitter. Sorry/not sorry about it. It was the natural progression of feeling like I followed the rules; I was a good girl, a smart girl who loved her parents, believed in God and justice, bought herself a house, brought delicious appetizers to parties. And yet I didn’t get rewarded with my dream.
I’m sure a psychologist could go back through what I’ve written and tell you that I have entitlement issues or that I was trying too hard to control the situation, but honestly, I grew up raised on the idea of “If you work hard and are a good person, you’ll get what you want.”
The thing is, no amount of hard work or ethics was going to end up as a baby in my arms. Biology makes certain of that.
I did end up getting married to an amazing man (and using my childhood Old Maid cards as my reception table numbers— ha!) at age 42, after we tried one valiant swing at IVF. It was unsuccessful and I didn’t know how much the failure would hurt. Because this was really the end. No more maybes. No hope for a miracle baby. The dream was dead and bloody and all over the floor, the ceiling, the walls of my heart. My babies, my real-life babies made of hopes and dreams and the best intentions… would never be born.
That’s what I would hope that others could understand; to me, these babies were real. As real as breath, as real as a name on a page. I see nursery signs in décor stores that say, “We loved you before you were born,” and that always makes me sad because I believe it. I know it’s true to feel expectation and love for something you haven’t yet held in your arms. So why is that love “real” when it ends with a baby and just “imagination” when the cradle’s empty?
I’ll never hold my baby, read to him, send him off to school. I’ve lost teaching him how to ride a bike, how to drive, watching his dad help him tie a tie for his first dance. When I meet other people and they ask if I have kids, I know they are only looking for common ground but there’s none to be had in that direction for me. I have lost all the memories I was looking forward to and even the ones I wasn’t. My grief could fill the pool in front of the Bellagio and still overflow.
What happens once the nest is empty?
I’m hyper-aware of how people (almost always women) define themselves in terms of their children. I will look up an Instagram account of an author or artist and before listing achievements, it will say “Proud Momma of 3,” or “Fierce Mama,” or something like that. It is no wonder to me that women go through severe depression when their last little one leaves the nest. Who are we if not mothers? Do we matter as individuals?
I think that this intense, culturally-saturated ideal of motherhood being the ultimate accomplishment hurts all women, not just the childless. Moms are still humans with dreams and feelings and hurts and wants that don’t go away just because they had a child. They struggle, too, to feel whole and loved and satisfied. But society says, “Hey! You had a baby. You’re done! That’s all there is to life!” and so there’s guilt if they dare to ask for more. There’s shame when motherhood is unfulfilling. There’s deep failure when your child turns out to be a loser. What if your child doesn’t speak to you? Are you still worthy of calling yourself a mother? Focusing on women as reproductive creatures holds us within the bounds of a certain frame that doesn’t allow for other narratives. It keeps us in the metaphorical kitchen, barefoot and pregnant instead of valued as individuals. We don’t judge men by their reproductive status as much as their other accomplishments. Why is that?
Being childless has broken me down to my very foundation. It blew the roof off my Dream House and left me with nothing but shards of plastic and one tiny high-heeled shoe without a mate. I had to accept that I built dreams on ideas that don’t withstand reality. But now I see that, like Kenny Loggins sang, “This is it!” This is all there is. Make the most of it. Sometimes your first life doesn’t turn out as you hoped but as long as you’re alive, you have a second one waiting for you. Confucius says, “Man who stand on toilet high on pot.” Oh wait… that’s a whole different lesson.
- GK Burch
If you’d like more information on the Gateway-Women’s Reignite weekend, click here for the calendar. All facilitators have been certified by Jody Day.
As of today, we only have TWO Reignite Weekends scheduled in the US in 2018.
And….look for more Guest Posts from GK Burch! She will be featured again!