I have always had a Mama-Bear in me. Growing up I was envious of those around me that knew what they wanted to be when they became an adult – I never had that confident knowledge. All I knew was that I wanted to be a Mom. There were men that I refused to date through the years because I knew that they didn’t want children. I found the strength to leave my first marriage (in my early 20s) because I realized that it was abusive and I would not allow this man to raise my children (and then realized the problem with my thought pattern that his behaviour was unacceptable and I was feeling protective for children I did not have yet but was accepting the way he treated me). After leaving that marriage I was gun-shy for nearly 10 years.
When I was about to turn 35 I found myself in a little pity-party. My dad had passed away the year before, I was on my own and without a family, and felt that the passion in my life was at a minimum. I decided that I needed to do something I was passionate about for my 35th birthday. Armed with that thought I found and within a week booked a trip to Kenya and Tanzania that was actually traveling between the two countries on my birthday. It was meant to be. Before and during the trip I thought that I had made the decision that perhaps children of my own weren’t meant for me. I was not guaranteed to have a healthy child in my early 20s, I had friends that had known great loss through miscarriage and / or not being able to conceive, and now was on my way to my 40s it was even less of a guarantee in my mind. I would find a way to make a difference in children’s lives and fill that void another way! I say I went to Kenya for the animals but fell in love with the people. Though I thought it would be the trip of a lifetime I returned a year later with “A Better World Canada” on a humanitarian trip, visiting orphanages, working at eyeglass clinics, and seeing a school opened that my company had decided to sponsor. I knew what a difference education would truly make in the lives of these children, and I still know that I had a small role in that. For that I am grateful.
Eventually, at 36, I met and became serious with my now second ex-husband. One of his first questions to me was “why don’t you have children?”. My response was that I had always wanted them but that I felt life had never presented myself with the opportunity. Although I have HUGE respect for single parents, it was not a life I wanted to set up for myself or a child. I know me, and I would be hugely jealous of the daycare worker/homecare provider that I would feel was raising the child I would need to work to support and raise. I asked him the same question to which he responded he never wanted children. I responded saying that had we been in our early 20s this would have been a deal breaker for me and, wishing him well, I would have moved along. Being 36, and having “made the decision at 35 that it likely wouldn’t happen for me” I felt that this should no longer be a deal breaker. As I look at things now I realize that I had resigned myself, that for whatever reason perhaps I was not worthy of motherhood but that this man and our relationship was good enough. I understand now that I was always hopeful that he would change his mind. I could see the loving man within him and thought that if he were to hold his child he would immediately melt – but that was never an option for many reasons.
I have just read “Honouring Missed Motherhood; Loss, Choice and Creativity” by Kani Comstock in collaboration with Barbara Comstock. It was recommended to me by a woman that has shown me support over the 15 months or so and helps me to walk my journey with a wise and loving guidance. This last year has provided me with many reasons to truly look at whether or not biological motherhood would be in the cards for me; not the least of which was my decision to have my ovaries and fallopian tubes removed in an effort to avoid the ovarian cancer that is prevalent in my family.
In January of 2015 I was briefly stopped in my tracks after meeting with the gynaecologist well versed in the BRACA1 gene and the inherent risks associated with it. He is a very kind and compassionate man, and he listened to my story. He heard that I had just separated from my husband in December, was in my early 40s and that as I had concerns about a biological child being a real option for me at this point anyway I felt I might as well go ahead with the surgery to reduce my risks of cancer. He pointedly looked at me and without any punches said, “There is a difference between standing in front of me and being able to confidently say I do not want biologicial children versus saying it likely won’t happen for me now. Yes, it may be more difficult to get pregnant as your eggs get older, and there are higher risks, but that is why we have the extra screening and tests.”. I left there feeling deflated (I had thought the decision was finally made after 6 years of screening), confused and exhausted. I spent a couple of weeks searching my heart for the right answer to that question and realized that it was more important to me to be able to know that I would be around long term for potential children than to force the issue that I needed a biological child to love and perhaps risk causing them the loss of a mother early on.
I had the decision to have the surgery which took place on October 30, 2015. A week later I was called back to be told by my surgeon that they had found ovarian cancer. What a blessing! I never need to question whether or not the decision to give up on biological children was the right one at that point in time. They had found cancer, my biggest fear, but they found it early. As I journey through the chemotherapy treatment I have the advantage of knowing that this is just the final cleanup, the F-YOU to any microscopic cancer cells that might think they could hide, float around and rear their ugly head later. Though the news of cancer was tough, I was in celebration that I will never have to regret the decision to give up on biological children.
It has taken some time for me to understand that I still need to grieve that loss – real or potential. Perhaps I was never even able to conceive a child – I will never know. I do know that through the years I have put up protective walls as it became more apparent that biological children were not in my future. When I was younger I would crave babysitting. When new babies came to the office I was always a baby-hog. As the years passed I began to distance myself, eventually no longer participating in baby showers as I felt out of place at these celebrations, somewhat jealous (though happy for the new mothers), and always reminded of the hurt that I didn’t have children of my own. The sadness I feel when being handed down something from my mother that I feel needs to be handed down to the next generation and leaves me searching for a cousin to give it to.
And yet I look at my life and I understand how full it is and has always been. I am grateful beyond words to those in my life that have shared their children with me – allowed me to be a part of their worlds. There has been my “surrogate spouse” that included me in many hockey and ringette tournaments with her kids when her husband could not attend – how fun it was to not only cheer them on but know the teams so well I could cheer for the other kids by name as well. The friends and family that share their stories of their children and allow me to laugh, cry, celebrate and live vicariously. The children of friends I have had the honour to watch grow into beautiful young adults, some of whom are now parents themselves (oops – aged myself there). The children that I have been privileged to spend a few precious moments with through my travels and have left footprints on my heart. The children of colleagues that I have been allowed to watch grow, sometimes helping with little things along the way. I don’t know how to express the honour I felt when a dear one told me she wanted her husband to marry me should anything happen to her because she knew I would love their children as my own.
And the opportunities I have had because I haven’t had children…. to travel, to take care of myself, to grow and question and reflect and change.
So though I have missed (biological) motherhood, I thank those of you in my life that allow that mama-bear in me to still be active. Please keep sharing your stories with me, and know that when you allow me to be present and invite me into your children’s lives there is no greater honour that could bestow upon me.
With great love,