En route to the waiting room, where I was to disrobe and re-robe, remove my underarm deodorant and wait to be pressed, squeezed and radiated, the technician leaned against the door and glanced at my paper. She backed the door open, pointed me inside and asked:
“So, you didn’t have kids?”
“Nope,” I replied, before the shock and indignation of being asked such a question set in. Then my mind created a few better responses:
1. “You gotta problem with that?”
2. “Oh, did I accidentally forget to take my pariah mask off from Halloween?”
3. “Whoops, I forgot, I totally have kids! But accidentally checked ‘no’ on all those related questions. ”
Way to hit a nerve, lady.
On my way to get my underutilized boobies smooshed, no less.
The nurse’s inquiry hit a theoretical nerve as well as a private one. Who knows why she asked that question, not to mention the somewhat snooty tone, but as I sat in a frumpy robe waiting, I thought about difference. My choice not to have children is different from the norm. The human tendency, I’m sure you’ve noticed, is to be threatened by difference, to cast it out, and to gravitate towards sameness. Perhaps this had some tribal value years ago, when it alerted humans to potential invasion, but it has no place in today’s world in which you cannot lead or love effectively without honoring difference.
Effective leadership, with clients, colleagues, followers or employees, requires the understanding that others think, process and behave differently than you do. Cultivating an open mind towards difference enables you to accurately assess the talents and unique needs of others. When you acknowledge another’s difference, it makes them feel seen and valued. You become trustworthy. Opportunities to learn and create abound. If you don’t know how to honor difference, you might get a reputation for being a bigot, dimwit, tyrant or a bully; one who might be feared but not truly respected.
At home, in love, it is much the same. We all know the sad story of the parent who cannot express love for their different child. When you celebrate the differences in your loved ones, your relationships can flourish. You are freed from the judgment and fear that binds when your need for them to be the same as you runs the show.
In addition, the difference between two lovers provides a sometimes painful but valuable space, and that space, because it reminds us that we are separate, enables each to move towards the other. If you and your lover cloak that space with sameness, how, over time, will you feel attracted to each other? Sameness may feel comforting to some because it makes them feel less alone, but it is not at all sexy.
Differences provide essential opportunities to create something new together. Wasn’t that the original idea behind procreation? And so we are brought full circle, and thus ends my prattling on about difference and begins my summation of my choice for childlessness.
In 2004, a disappointing break-up led me to a brilliant astrologer, one who told me that if I didn’t have kids by 2008, it wasn’t likely to happen. I didn’t believe in those kinds of deadlines, but I took on the hunt for a good partner, something I wanted more than children. I spent my birthday of 2008 in bed for two days while my younger sister birthed her second beautiful child. Finding the right partner took longer than I thought.
And, well, I sort of missed the boat. Things are different. My priorities, hormones and my energy have changed. I don’t want kids anymore. I feel clear and relieved. And despite copious amounts of grieving, still a bit sad. That’s where the nurse’s arrow pierced through.
In that waiting room I became once again aware of a mere fraction of what I will miss. Some things easily come to mind, like holding and gazing at a being from my own body, which will never know what it’s like to carry another or expel that precious soul into the world. And of course there is cherishing that little body and soul and watching it develop and grow in its own difference from me, while at the same time seeing a smile exactly like mine or my partner’s or my father’s beam back at me. I will certainly miss the rich experience of having grandchildren; and of having to show up again and again, to do The Right Thing and feel great, or do The Wrong Thing and rack myself with guilt. First steps, tooth fairies, late nights, adolescence all come to mind, as does watching a pitifully adorable Christmas pageant, or watching tenderly and with deep feeling as my child drifts dreamily off into sleep. And on and on and on.
In tandem with the grief is the sheer gratitude that I can visit with my amazing nieces and nephews and then give them back to their amazing parents to do the real blissful and grinding tasks of raising them.
When the nurse came back to get me, I walked in peace into the dull beige room with those daunting, icy machines.
No, I don’t have kids.
There is so much that I do have. I have time. I have space. I have my work. I have my integrity.
And . . . my (cancer free!) boobs.
A funny thing happened on the way to the mammogram. . . .
I fell in love with my childless life.