By: Lisa J. Manterfield
My husband and I were at a major crossroads in our lives and in our relationship. Behind us were five years of trying to start a family together. There’d been surgery to reverse a vasectomy, twice-weekly acupuncture treatments, and IUI attempts. Then there’d been an unexpected diagnosis of Premature Ovarian Failure, followed by a zealous sprint into the foster/adopt system. Our hearts had been broken, our stamina worn down, and we were ragged. Standing at this intersection were two people who loved one another, but no longer had the strength to show it.
We had both had enough of the crazy quest for a baby, but Jose was ready to call it a day. He already had two grown children from his first marriage, and his daughter had just announced that she was pregnant with his first grandchild. He was 53, but feeling like 73, and if we kept going with our quest, he really would be 73 before our child made it out of high school. None of it made sense to him any more.
I, on the other hand, was a maniac. I had always wanted to be a mother, and the less likely that seemed, the more I wanted it. The more I saw other families, the more I wanted my own. The more difficult having children became, the more determined I was to find a way to make it happen
Finally, I came to a decision. The solution was so clear to me, I didn’t know why I hadn’t thought of it sooner. I would become a mother with or without Jose. If he was no longer willing to have children with me, I’d just go ahead and do it without him. I didn’t want to divorce him. I loved him too much to leave, but I’d just read Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking and I knew that people’s husbands dropped dead all the time. So, I decided I’d just wait.
Fortunately, Jose had no plans to check out any time soon, which gave me time to consider the decision I’d been so quick to make. I was 32 years old when Jose and I had finally found one another; he was 47. We’d been great friends for several years before, until one day we’d crossed that invisible boundary of friendship and realized how completely mad we were for one another. This was it. He was The One, the Big Love. It was amazing. I’d been in love before, even been married before, but I’d never experienced this absolute unequivocal connection with anyone else. For the first time in my life, I had found someone that I trusted enough to be the father of my children, and I knew that we would have a family together.
And now, five years later, I was waiting for him to go away. Actually waiting for him to die.
I didn’t receive one single wake up call; it was more like a barrage of alarms and taps on the skull. Hello? McFly? I realized how lucky I was to have found Jose, and how some people never found love like this. I also knew that I didn’t want to have children without him; he was the catalyst that had originally changed motherhood from a desire into a real possibility for me.
But the biggest turning point came when a friend confided that she and her husband had also dealt with infertility. “We just decided that our little family of two was enough,” she told me. At first I thought, Yes, but…Yes, but that’s okay for you, but not for me. Yes, but a family is a mommy and a daddy and babies, everyone knows that. But when I looked around me, at the people I loved and whose company I chose to keep, I saw families of all types: some with moms, some with dads, some with grandparents raising children, and some with no children at all. They were all real families.
My own perceptions of a family had been shaped by the family I’d been born into. We were a group of people –mommy, daddy, three babies– who loved one another and made an effort to get along. We had things in common and spent time together. We cared for one another, and when the chips were down, we looked after one another. My family had been made up of people I could count on, people I loved and trusted. By that definition and by the feeling in my gut, I knew that Jose and I were a family too. We were a united front moving through the world together. We would be there for one another, in sickness and in health, when times were flush, and when they weren’t. We were a group of people (plus a cat and a fish) who had chosen to live together. We were a family of two.
After making the decision to live childfree, Southern California-based writer Lisa Manterfield founded the online community www.LifeWithoutBaby.com. She is currently working on a memoir.