"You're going to hate me for saying this," says my good friend, a married mom of three, as we stand on the beach and look toward the ocean. "But you're never going to find a man. They're just not out there. No single woman I know can find a guy." She takes a breath and adds: "So you should have a baby. Do whatever it takes and have a baby. You should at least become a mother." I don't hate her for saying it. She is saying what so many others are thinking.
"I just don't want to see you alone the rest of your life," she adds softly to mitigate the harshness of her advice. The rest of my life, I think to myself as I look toward the horizon. It's too endless to imagine.
"But this is the rest of my life. Right here and right now, this is my life. I am alone. And I'm OK. It's not what I want. It's not what I expected. It's not where I want to be. But it's my reality," I say, more defiantly than usual. I'm running out of ways to show I'm not a victim to friends who wonder if I am.
When you're at the end of your fertility, at the end of the summer, at the other end of an argument you can't win, all you want to do is wait it out.
But your good friends want to know you're OK. And I feel the need to defend why I'm not a mother even though being a mother is all I ever wanted to be. "I don't want have to have a baby on my own," I argue. "I can't imagine how lonely being a single mother can potentially be. It's hard enough to meet a man, and it's even harder to meet a man who wants to be with a pregnant woman, or a new mother, or a harried single mother. Besides, I don't have any support. I don't have parents nearby or siblings who can help me. And honestly," I add tepidly, "I don't want to have a baby from the sperm of a man I don't know. I want to know where my son's clef chin came from. I want to know where my newborn daughter's long fingers came from. I want to look into my baby's eyes and see the love of my life."
I'm a hopeless romantic. When I fall in love, which happens very rarely, I fall deeply, madly, spiritually-on-a-whole-other-level in love. It's not a naïve love. I know there are problems -- most often it's that he has no desire to be in a long-term committed relationship -- but it's love. At least, that's how I remember it.
I look at the families on the beach. Little boys chasing little girls in the sand. A couple sharing a glance. A father and son running into the waves.... My friend sees it too and softens her tone even more: "I'm just saying you'd make an amazing mom, and it's just a shame that you'll never be a mother. It's sad that you'll never have a family."
I'm sad too, but I know I'm not the only one dealing with this. Just last week, a business colleague, a single woman in her mid-thirties, confessed that an article I wrote made her cry on the treadmill in the middle of her morning workout. "I saw myself in your writing," she said. Later that night, an acquaintance stole me away at a party, where the ratio was at best 80/20 women to men: "I never thought it would end up this way," the very pretty brunette told me. "I can't believe I'm turning 40 next month and this is my life."
"All the single women I know are fabulous," a 50-something divorced mom and business colleague said over the phone. "I was in a meeting yesterday and looked around the room. Each woman was in your shoes. It's a different time now than in my day. Maybe you have more financial freedom and social acceptance to wait for the right guy, but the right guys don't seem to be coming along."
"I have a friend who is 45, and she's involved with this guy, madly in love," said another business colleague, a married mom of two, later in the week. "But he doesn't want more children. And all she's talked about since I've known her is how badly she wants to be a mother. And we all know she'd make an extraordinary mom. How can she stay with him if he doesn't want kids? How can she give that up?"
"She's in love," I said. "She chose love. She knows what she's potentially giving up. But she's found love, let her have it." I realize I've stepped over the line, but those who have found love and have had children tend to be laissez-faire about their good fortune. "We just never thought she'd choose not to have children," she added. "She didn't choose not to have children, she chose to have children with a man she loves and when that didn't happen, she kept the love," I explained.
I'm burying my feet in the sand. "If you don't do something soon, you'll never be a mother," my friend warns. "I know," I reply with a sigh. "I am aware of my age and fertility. But I have grieved that I won't ever be a young mom. I've gotten over that I probably won't be an older first-time mom, either. I have made a choice not to have a baby on my own. Having a baby on my own is not something I ever imagined, dreamed of, desired, nor is it something I believe I am capable of. It doesn't mean it's not heartbreaking. It doesn't mean I don't still have hope I'll have a baby. It means I am holding out to have a baby with a man I love."
"But what if love never comes?" she adds. "What if Mr. Perfect never arrives?"
"I'm not waiting for Mr. Perfect. I'm not even waiting for Mr. Perfect-For-Me," I argue, digging my heels even deeper into the sand. "I am waiting for love. I am waiting for love with all its bumps and bruises and imperfections and hard times and good times and over-the-moon-times and laughter and intimacy and.... and I simply haven't found that love yet. Or I haven't found it when he was ready for it. But I know without a doubt that I deserve love. I deserve to have my heart skip a beat when I merely think of him. I deserve to be held like the world is standing still around us. I believe in love. I believe when I meet him he will make every lonely day I waited worth it.
"It hasn't happened on the timeline that I expected. And it's possible it will come too late for motherhood. And you're right, it may never come at all," I say, hoping it isn't true.
"However, I can say this," I add. "I've never been happier with who I am. I feel more 'me' than I've ever known me to be. I've never been more proud of my strengths or more self-aware of my weaknesses. I have made mistakes. Big mistakes. I have taken risks. Big risks. I have done things I never imagined I could do. I have met people I never imagined I'd ever meet. I have put everything on the line to live my life to its potential and I am living an extraordinary life. This is me. And I am the very best version of me I have ever been.
"I am ready for him. And when he meets me, he will know he's met the best of me. And together we will be the best of us. In the meantime, I am waiting. I am waiting. I am waiting for love."
The tide comes in and washes the sand off my feet and I'm reminded that it's only a matter of time.
I know many single moms by choice and I have the utmost respect for them. My choice not to try to have a baby on my own is not a reflection or judgment of any sort on their extraordinary choice to be mothers. I admire them to the utmost, truly. I only wish I had the courage they posses.
Melanie Notkin is the national bestselling author of Savvy Auntie: The Ultimate Guide for Cool Aunts, Great-Aunts, Godmothers and All Women Who Love Kids (Morrow/HarperCollins)