By Dena Landon
I’ve always wanted at least three children. My life plan—married and a kid by twenty-eight—didn’t work out. I had my son when I was thirty-two, and it was both everything I’d imagined and more of an adjustment than I’d thought it would be.
I struggled with the loss of independence and received little support from my spouse. When friends gushed about how they fell deeper in love with their partner after watching him with their children, I felt lost and alone, desperately urging mine to please close the laptop/put down the game controller/turn off his phone and pay attention to us. Watching my husband parent I realized that, while I wanted another child, I didn’t want one with him.
Fast forward through a nasty divorce that dragged out over a year, I decided to dip my toe into the perilous waters of online dating. Oh My God. We’ve all read and experienced plenty of horror stories, and I’d been forewarned, but what shocked me the most was the absolute scorn for women who wanted or already had children.
“No ticking biological clocks need apply,” one forty-plus-year-old man actually wrote at the top of his profile. At least he was honest. Some men lie outright about it, probably because they know that a lot of women want children and, like me, won’t talk to a guy who checks “no” in that little box. Perfect example? My ex-husband, who, on his Plenty-of-Fish profile, put “undecided” as to whether or not he wanted more kids. He’s had a vasectomy.
Having also discovered that many men didn’t care to date women who already had children (even if they had children themselves), I learned to indicate that I had a kid at the top of my own profile and to slip my custody schedule into the discussion early on. Something along the lines of, I can meet for coffee Tuesday and Thursday but I have my son the other nights this week. Because men tended to unmatch me once I mentioned him.
Women who see the end of their fertile years approaching are often criticized for rushing to have kids or making other arrangements when they haven’t found a mate. They are “selfish” for having a baby without a partner or “desperate” enough to “settle” for the wrong person. But why do we look down upon women for a biological fact that they can’t change? A recent Gallup survey found that only five percent of Americans aged 18-40 do not want children and 74% already had kids. And the fact is most of us prefer to do it with a partner. Given all this, why do we make dismissive comments in 2016, when women have so many options, about those who acknowledge that they want children and freely admit it’s one of their life goals?
Imagine if, for example, I wanted to be in management and the world was structured in such a way that if I didn’t get promoted before forty I’d never have the chance again. If I was out there taking classes, volunteering for projects at work, and working hard in order to impress my supervisor and get that promotion no one would blink twice. I’d probably be commended for “leaning in,” or chasing after my dreams, or being a go-getter. Flip the script to when what a woman wants is another child…and the reactions aren’t the same.
If I share the details of my dating plan, and how I’m trying to meet a like-minded man, I get strange looks. From outright surprise, “You want another kid? Why?” to disdain, “Aren’t you getting a little old?” to pity. I have yet to receive a positive reaction when I bring it up. These responses often come from other women, something I still haven’t figured out. I make enough to support another child, even if it were by myself; I own a house and have a fully paid-off car and no credit card debt. It would not be a financially irresponsible decision. My son was the only good thing to come out of my marriage and every time he asks me to buy him a brother at Target my heart aches.
I could, given my financial independence, choose to have a child on my own. But I can’t let go of the ideal of having a partner with whom to raise that child. Of wanting someone there in the delivery room when I’m pushing, who isn’t a friend or family member, someone as excited as I am about our child’s birth, someone who’ll want to change diapers and be there at 3am. When I start feeling desperate I remind myself that I already have a beautiful, wonderful son, and I know how lucky I am after watching multiple friends’ struggles with infertility.
I’m pushing forty and while the clock may be ticking louder, Tinder isn’t getting any better. The men my age only seem to want sex, not a commitment, and certainly not a baby. I’ve made my peace with the reality that I’m unlikely to have another child and I’ve stopped mentioning it to most of my friends. While it’s true that women are no longer defined by our status as mothers, a lot of us still want kids. I feel like we have fought for so long, and are still fighting, to have a place at the table in the workforce that we sometimes look down upon other women who openly express this desire. But the desire for children does not in any way diminish or negate our other goals—like mine to finish my MBA and sell another novel.
I’ve only been on two dates in the past eight months. I wonder if that little box checked “yes” next to the question “Do you want more children?” could be part of the reason why. Sometimes I debate unchecking it, but ultimately I think it’s preferable to be upfront about what I want rather than start a relationship under false pretenses. Whether or not I find someone in time, I’m doing my best to drown out the loud ticking in my ear with bedtime stories, sing-alongs in the car, and the joy I’ve found in the one child I do have.
Dena Landon is a single mom who eats raw cookie dough, passionately debates intersectional feminism, and frequently tangles herself in yarn. She blogs at www.femmefeminism.com.