Updated: Mar 3, 2021
Sometimes I talk to the children I did not have. And sometimes I can hear them, too. It’s a bit mysterious. I have (alive) children to know and love. As an Aunt Mary, 7 times over, vibrating with fierce, profound, familial love for my remarkable nieces and nephews, and for my many cousins’ beautiful children, and friends’ kids truly dear to me, even med-students -- around the age now of children I did not have -- my life feels well enriched with younger persons to love.
Still, I feel connected to souls who did not meet bodies that might have issued from mine.
Doesn’t feel like guilt, or even regret. My life has woven along threads of a thousand decisions, some conscious, others not so much. For the whole fabric of it, I’m grateful. Grateful to sit exactly in this hard chair in my cottage on a rain-showery Sunday with a washing machine downstairs laboring for me, without my having ever given birth, or adopted and raised a child.
My generation of women friends may be the first for whom motherhood was not a presumptive expectation. In black-and-white reruns on our childhood TVs, women were homemaker-mothers in belted dresses and pearls, often with domestic help to handle chores. These women seemed almost imaginary, like Betty Rubble or Jane Jetson.
We watched women-mothers on newer shows, like Carol Brady in poly-blend pantsuits and a blended family, and “Julia” Baker, a nurse whose husband had died in Vietnam, now raising their son, alone, with work friends and neighbors somewhat alongside.
Meanwhile, our kid brains also soaked in “That Girl” Anne Marie, who kept her own professional identity without ever marrying Donald, which culturally (at the time) acknowledged she wouldn’t have children, either. Then news-producer Mary Richards appeared, living an interesting and respected life without spouse or children. Even if we could imagine having a spouse and children, were we bound by the historical and “natural” presumption of motherhood? Nope, not necessarily. We had options, as per our TVs. In so many ways, subtle or overt, our childhood TVs informed our brains of certain realities, and possibilities within them.
Personally, I did not set out to reach the other end of maternity without having had my own children. I love talking to children more than many adults! Always have. It's who I am.
Yet. Neither did I set out to ensure I would have kids, though, and there are numerous ways a woman could ensure that.
It did help to know, along the way, that my brothers and sisters could (and would) come through for me with a next-gen to refresh the branch of our vast tree with new – and literally familiar -- persons to meet and love. And it helped, as one of 45 first cousins (on both sides), to know there would be no shortage of new leaves for our vast tree -- without my pushing out a leaf, specifically.
So, talking with my spirit-based kids now? Might be more from curiosity.
Curiosity about the nature of soul itself, as much as Why not (for me), children-wise. A way for so many uncertainties – baked into the human condition – to find their way through and out of my imagination. To work through (See also: ) Hegel’s dialectic (I promise to draw that for you, sometime later).
Why not talk to the souls I did not bear into being?
Especially now, as a human* female, that I’ve aged out of the possibility altogether?
* menopause happens to females of only 3 species: orcas (killer whales); one type of pilot whales; and, yes, human beings, of primate membership.
Females of all other long-lived species, like elephants and tortoises and parrots? They can still have babies on their 150th birthdays. (Unborn kids: did you know that? I had not known that.)
We humans grow up understanding this (peculiar) biological status as if normal; we take for granted that our maternity will end before our lives do. Why human women (or orcas, or pilot whales) “of a certain age” can live much longer than our reproductive usefulness? 'Tis another mystery, less so if you believe we have implicit social value, in and of ourselves, for others, even if we can no longer make more humans.
Speaking of tortoises, this very afternoon, heavy sigh. Just before sundown.
When I took a break outside, I hiked upon a no-longer-alive and much-larger-than-expected lake turtle, only a foot or so removed from the lake in a regional park. I had to imagine that he or she, at the advanced age of 187-or-so, gave up the ghost in the lake and then washed ashore, having understood both the gift and cost of an earthly life.
Such a gift, and cost, the whole being alive thing. Just to feel. And to be felt, as social animals.
I imagined this long-lived wonder had reproduced – or bonded with another, whose terrapin-kin had well-reproduced, and thus bonding-wise, also reproduced by loving association --
before exhaling a final breath from advanced age, so effin’ grateful for all the feelings it had felt in its 187 years ... possibly unconcerned with its own very specific genetic reproduction, regardless.
I added a few more logs around him -- not quite enough for a circle, but then I realized the opening made it better. I could only thank this lovely new friend for washing ashore on this specific day when I had been thinking about turtles and elephants and parrot.
Although I've never been able to spy any turtle eggs, I've seen palm-sized babies, loaf-sized teenagers, turtles that lift only one eye out of the water to suss me out, turtles making the beast with two backs on a sunny log, and turtles that just disengaged,
Biological impulses persist, and deep historical concepts do, too. Samuel Butler wrote in 1877,
“A hen is only an egg's way of making another egg.”
So, like fictional Anne Marie or Mary Richards, as a Hen I have failed. Or, the egg that turned into me has failed to turn another egg into a hen to make even more of itself, wherever the eggs end.
(This sentence is the chicken-egg reference you’ve been waiting for, since that quote.)
I failed to be the vehicle, the vessel, for even one child to make another. Part of me has always understood, I think, that the presence of hens and eggs would be safe without me.
(This sentence is me, unable to ignore the huge and consequential question of overpopulation. Another powerful image and message, in poster form, from my childhood, our planet as a bomb with too many people on it, so dangerously many people that some were already falling off it, as its fuse burned down. But I digress. I think.
(Just. Right. In 1960, there were roughly 3 billion people on Earth. We are now, in 2021, homing in on 8 billion, in spite of cheeky microbes like novel corona-virus, trying desperately to make other 'eggs' of itself. That is one huge crowd of more great-ape bodies for one water-based planet to absorb, a planet with resources neither infinite nor equitably shared.)
(But again, I digress. Possibly.))
Anyway and mostly. What I think about most -- what I wish?
I wish these unborn souls of my own issue could, just once, ride a bike.
Feel that breezy freedom, the quick maneuvering, the sheer rush of pushing a street behind them, via pedal and wheel.
Just once, even, eat a sandwich! In a diner! With a gash in the vinyl bench-seat, so, hours later, some of the stuffing still clings to their jeans.
To lean on a blanket on a hill, with a few good friends at a music festival, while the sky turns purple and rose and the grass dials up a buggy, bass-line hum of its own. Oh.
Or hike through an old forest, crunching underfoot the life that has seemed to die -- a rich decay of plants, fungi and animals – but that, within their deaths, all sustain altogether new life. To inhale it all, from a carbon-based and tactile dimension? Oh.
To sip espresso macchiato at some sun-drenched, wobbly table, where an unfamiliar language carries like music, and an angle of light in a different latitude, or hemisphere! licks you no less than the foreign tongue in your ear. Oh, my.
What a ride, living within a fleshly package! Might be the whole, basic, comes-down-to-it thing, for my conversations with my kids-I-did-not-bear.
Something deep in me wants to share that ride with the very eggs who missed out on palpable life. I want to describe for them: at that wobbly table at the café? Your upper lip feels a surf-tap of foam while your taste-buds roll in dark roast and your skin grins from the sun’s warmth (even through a tall window).
It’s a synthesized experience, this whole alive thing, Kids.
Within a few minutes, your brain revs up from caffeine, and the synthesis of surf-tap-foam-warm-dark-roast-skin then re-synthesizes, from your recalibrated brain. Good great morning to ye, I would say and share.
Oh and sometimes in the woods, when a mob of green-bottle flies swarms a pile of horse-droppings, the flies can sound just like rain falling -- especially if you look slightly away. If you’d ever been born and able to hear, and survived long enough to know the sound of rain? Looking away to hear that better, on a dry day, would be so worth the possibility of stepping in manure.
Itself, the manure, a gorgeous brown-red-brown color, and which, if fresh, glistens beneath the green-bottle flies that aren’t so much green but more a teal, even turquoise, at certain hours of daylight. I’d want my kids to know that the sound of this rain (not-rain) (especially if you look away) can literally, physiologically, cool and refresh your heated skin, which itself changes colors! by the angles of light and shadows of trees, while the smell of horse-processed hay rises, to your grateful nose.
I ‘hold space,’ as they say today, for whatever possibilities might synthesize for me, as I keep not dying, over days, months, years, however none-the-wiser.
This is all I can do for the souls I did not bring into a neonatal unit -- try to paint a wee corner of experience, alive-wise, maybe to prepare just one meal of specific terrestrial life (mine, sorry) into which I did not bear you (sorry), my own, incarnate, Kids.
You know what? Just once, I would love to have fixed you a sandwich, or baked a single actual muffin, sweet kids.
In my nearly-9 years with a specific man and cocker spaniel, I fixed our animal companion meals that I hoped would expand her earthly experience, inside our humble, breathing pack.
Couple chunks of potato, some boiled chicken or roasted lamb – she would dance, prance in front of a hot oven window! -- mixed into her cup of crunchies from the vet. She knew I would come home from any restaurant with a tantalizing secret inside a napkin in my left pants-pocket, a bite of leftover from whatever I had enjoyed, with both our taste-buds alive. It fed me, to watch her anticipatory dance into the kitchen. (Her given name, Caddy Compson, a character (from a book by an American named Faulkner) who “smelled like trees.”)
A meal for souls, though? I don’t know what food for the purely spiritual involves, much less where your galactic but fleshless coordinates lie.
Sometimes your souls feel more proximate, sometimes many light-years away. Both could be true. And as a human woman, I have to embrace that, as one of my many uncertainties.
Here, from my cottage’s corner, I can picture you at all ages – simultaneously -- running barefoot through puffy dandelions on the lawn, running late for middle-school garage-band practice with two different socks on (advertently), running drills for varsity soccer or baseball, running into your friends after slamming my car door in a parking lot on AP-Biology day, myself running to the bathroom, to wipe my mascara just before your wedding ceremony, sweetjesus you are gettingmarriedtodaytodaytoday? I can hardly.
I can only want that you should love, and bond, with love, well-matched, not necessarily well-timed, but truly well-matched, and likely a surprise.
Kids, I’ve been able to picture you all along, I guess, even if never-borned. Even if I were not able to hear you for a while. Maybe because my 7 nieces and nephews’ lives have so paralleled your own potential ages, and they are the very easiest younger humans for me to picture, and absorb, with love and all of life, into myself, no effin' regrets.
(Oh. Well. One wedding, to date, by this very rainy afternoon in 2021. My oldest of 7, Aunt-Mary-wise: Carrie Anne. Most of them, now, yes, they make their own lunches. Thanks so much for asking.)
Kids-I-did-not-have: This is the sentence where I confess our conversations began way back in 2012, when I heard you ask: Why didn’t you have us? while I pushed chlorinated water behind me, on a long weekend of Fathers(ish) of our Country.
So, right. That was 9 years ago, and I am surely none-the-wiser now. Seem I can't shake your question, for my own sake. Why did I not?
The threads that weave my life of memories might be asking for directions? Some new path? In any case, and however this conversation with you, not-incarnate souls, began, I am grateful for everything.
Maybe we can figure this thing out together. More ... later.
Got a niece to wish a Happy Birthday! in another time-zone.
- thanks again for reading, dear reader