Whether you want to have “the talk” is irrelevant.
When you’re a woman and you reach a certain age–usually late 20s and certainly by early 30s–someone, even someone you don’t know well, will eventually engage you in “the talk.”
“The talk,” of course, is about whether you’re going to have children. Somehow I found myself party to “the talk” on two occasions last week, both times with women I’d only just met. I was one woman in a small group of women. All of us were writers or photographers. We were talking about our careers: who we worked for, what kind of writing or photography we do, what particular subjects excite us.
And then, someone asked “the question”: Do you plan to have children?
The question wasn’t directed at me. I had already established the fact that I’m a mom, so the only question left for me would be “Do you plan to have more children?” The question was directed to Matilde*, a writer who was on the older side of her mid-30s, the side where you have to start making decisions that feel awfully final.
“Oh, it’s been decided,” she said in a way that struck me as remarkably odd. “It’s been decided” was a closed phrase that omitted a clear subject, one upon whom responsibility for a decision could be placed. “I won’t be having children.” She went on to say that she was “getting too old,” that she was committed to her work, that she had been with her partner for years but… but what, I don’t know. I was stuck on “It’s been decided.” Who, exactly, had done the deciding?
The second conversation involves another writer, one who has just taken a big risk in her career, a risk that has paid off. To “interrupt” the risk’s anticipated trajectory would be, in her estimation, to undermine all the work she has put into a new project. She wants children, she says, but the timing doesn’t seem right. It doesn’t seem right for her project. It doesn’t seem right for a child.
“There’s never enough time. There’s never enough money.” That’s what I tell her. And this: “But somehow you make it all work. Because you have to. You tap into parts of yourself that you didn’t even know existed.” She’s encouraged, I think, but not convinced.
The conversations occur while I am in Mexico City. Francisco is at home in New York with Mariel, and there are moments on the trip when I imagine my life having taken an entirely different direction. I imagine myself living here. I imagine myself alone–not married, not a parent–but not lonely. I study for another degree, maybe. I go to lectures, films, tertulias with friends. I imagine myself writing in long, uninterrupted hours; maybe it’s mid-day, maybe it’s in the middle of the night. I imagine myself traveling when the opportunity arises. I imagine myself chasing every story idea that occurs to me, spending hours listening to interview subjects, or getting lost in reading in some dusty archive that no one’s visited in a dozen years.
Imagining these things is not synonymous with regret, and I want to explain this to both women and to friends, and maybe even to the small part of myself that feels guilty for even thinking about what that other path might have been. What I want to say is that I would have been happy with that path. But I am also happy–and, I imagine, most happy–with this one, the one where I make choices every day among all of the aspects of my life that are important to me. Ultimately, when I think about that other path, what is missing is a partner to share those experiences with and to grow with, and, eventually, a child to introduce those experiences to. No, there’s never enough time–for any of it: for the writing or the reading, the listening and the loving, the realizing every single plan that crosses my mind and feels possible. But what there is is always enough.