My freckles will conceal my liver spots. I’ll worry less about a flat stomach, and more about my knees. I’ll have a nest egg and struggle to keep my teeth. I’ll have laugh lines.
But, in the meantime, I have to decide what to do with my womb.
You’re young. There is still time, say my parents.
I am nearing thirty, I remind them.
What is your plan? Where is your security? ask my parents-in-law.
What is my plan?
Mourning for the world, weighed down with a responsibility beyond choosing UNICEF greeting cards and buying fair trade coffee, I reasoned it would be irresponsible to procreate.
How, I asked myself, can I introduce another soul to the world in a time when the neighbouring superpower detains people without trial, when my own country is rumoured to do the same? How can I intentionally subject another child to global warming? As infants develop bed sores in group homes, how can I consciously decide to not choose one of them? How, when hordes of parentless children are placed in foster care, only to be subjected to further abuse, can I give my maternity to someone who doesn’t yet exist?
Besides, I might be infertile.
I have two sisters. The eldest once declared she'd never marry, and never have children. Her son came as a bit of a planned surprise, and is now a beautiful and agreeable eleven-year-old. The junior sister by one year, demonstrated far greater interest in reproduction: a degree in early childhood development, tolerance of me (the littlest sister by thirteen years) as her shadow, and a declared desire for several children. She had one, now also eleven. Two, if you count the amount of time she babysat me, now twenty-seven. Three, if you count her ex-husband, now forty. Today she battles, via lawyers, to do what she believes best for her daughter.
Where is her security?
If I were to have a child now, it would be a bastard. I would have no maternity or insurance benefits. It might bear my imperfections. But, I don’t think I am supposed to think about that.
I shortlist names. I don’t think my spouse likes any of them, but I’m not ready to compromise. I suppose with children I would learn. I suppose, if I did carry full-term, I would celebrate that 1970s medications administered to my mother to prevent miscarrying the foetus destined to be me, don't apply their now-known side effects to my particular reproductive organs.
But, first thing’s first.
On a strategic path to a career with maternity leave, keeping my options open, I sit on several committees with a particularly strong-minded, socially-conscious childless professional. Occasionally, she asks personal questions that can’t be answered without careful consideration.
What do you want? she asked.
Feeling particularly vulnerable, made sensitive by my in-laws’ prodding, I justified my decision to probably not have children by recounting the ongoing collapse of civilization and environmental ruin. She listened, entirely unconvinced.
When I was your age, she began (as many advice-givers do), I felt the same way. Her hand was nestled in her grey curls, absently scratching at her head.
Vietnam. Pol Pot. Agent Orange. Thalidomide. The Cold War. I was convinced, she said, as many were, that the world was ending; that it would be unfair to bring children into the world as it was. Thirty years later, and we are no better or worse off, but now I’m fifty. Had I known, my choices would have been different. Happiness for me now, is being a really good aunt.
I thought of my sisters’ children. And, of how we live a thousand kilometres apart. And, that there will always be drought in the Kalahari.