“Do you want children?” an acquaintance recently asked over coffee.
“No,” I replied. Unblinkingly.
I could tell he was taken aback by the speed and directness of my response.
So was I.
In the past, I would have rambled, “If the right man comes along and we both, you know, feel the desire … then, yes … sure.”
I’m now unsure that my childlessness has anything to do with finding the “right man.” After all, plenty of friends have made babies with the wrong one. And while it’s tough being a single mom or working through custody issues with multiple marriages, each would say she couldn’t imagine life without her son or daughter.
Maybe that’s why it hasn’t happened for me: I can imagine life without a child.
But the phrase “hasn’t happened” isn’t really accurate, because all along I’ve made choices. Some of them, I now see, were driven by ambiguity; others, by a deep knowing, beyond conscious thought. What truly surprises me about my “No” is the peace and clarity I felt speaking it, aware that I’d made a decision, which still is—and probably always will be—bittersweet.
Eight years ago, at the biological tick-tock age of 36, I fell for a man. Let’s call him Jim. His mother, a friend of a friend, set us up. She later disclosed that the moment we’d met, she thought: My future daughter-in-law. Because I, too, had a hunch that this was something big—and because I’d been burned in the past by jumping into bed too fast—I insisted that Jim and I take time to get to know each other before having full-out sex. Trust me, we had fun exploring other options … for almost two months! When we finally consummated the relationship, he wore a condom. I then went on the pill.
One Saturday afternoon while strolling through the West Village, we were struck by the urge to dash back to my place for a “quickie” before dinner with friends. At that point, I’d only been on the pill two weeks and didn’t want to take a chance. We ducked into the Pleasure Chest on Seventh Avenue South. Jim bought a pack of “Kimono” condoms, the only brand they had. In my bed, as we struggled to put one after another of the pinky-sized latex sheaths on him—each time, the condom popping off and shooting across the room like a rocket—we realized that they were designed by, and for, Japanese men. I worked with a Japanese company and knew some slang, including the phrase “chin-chin,” which means “little penis.” Laughter fueled our lust and we made love sans protection. It was good. Better than good. It was the best. Ever.
Then something happened. Something that I’d never before, and have never since, experienced.
As Jim gazed down into my eyes, I felt his presence intensely. I also began to feel another presence in the room. Not only in the room, directly above us—hovering, closer and closer, waiting …
“You have to stop,” I blurted.
“Are you okay?” Jim asked, stopping but still inside me.
“Yes, it’s … this is amazing, but …” I wasn’t afraid, just had a hard time forming words. “If we keep going, I’ll get pregnant.”
I’d heard some women claim that they knew when the moment of conception had occurred. Well, I knew with every cell of my body—as certainly as I’d ever known anything—that if he came inside of me, I’d be the vessel for whoever this being was floating above us.
Jim rolled over and held me. We talked. Only when we dressed to leave did the unseen presence disappear.
A month or so later, I had a phone session with a psychic. She asked when my “due date” was.
“I’m not pregnant,” I replied.
“Oh? When was your baby born?”
“I don’t have a baby.”
“You don’t? Hmm … When did you have the abortion?”
“I’ve never been pregnant,” I said, thoroughly confused.
She then went on to describe, down to his blue eyes and wavy strawberry-blond hair, the little boy spirit sitting by my side.
After that, I often sensed this boy’s presence—not when Jim and I had sex, but when we were cooking dinner or taking a Sunday drive. And yes, this phantom boy felt the same as the presence from that fateful day of the condom farce.
We were madly in love then, and began to talk about marriage and having a baby—something I’d never considered with any man before him. I shared what the psychic had said. We named our son-to-be Henry: after Jim’s grandfather and my great uncle, who, as a teen, worked at an import company, unloading boxes, which led to his untimely death from the bite of a tsetse fly.
Jim and I met our demise less than two years later. Looking back, it’s clear that the end was always there—a cancerous cell waiting to multiply. Once the passion that thrust us together turned and began to tear us apart, neither of us had the ability to stop it. He broke promises. Drank. Lied. I swallowed rage. Grew passive-aggressive. Cried.
After we said goodbye, I mourned the loss of our relationship.
More than anything, though, I mourned for Henry.