TRUE STORIES: On Womanhood
I’m a woman. I’m 36 years old. I’m 70 days shy of 37. I’ve never been married. I have no children. Who am I?
Words: Aisha Tyehimba
When I was 13, in a pink and blue diary, complete with lock and key, I scripted my life. I had spent the year prior going over in my head what would actually make sense for me. I was neck-deep in love with a boy named Richmond, playing up to his sister to be liked from the top down and welcomed into the family. I was 12 and scheming on making the in-laws like me. By the age of 13, I liked a boy named Michael who was in high school, older brother to a boy who liked me who was in junior high—both were considered players. Richmond was the better option. He seemed stable. At 13, I understood that stability was key for the family I was intending to have and raise.
Me, my husband, three adopted children and three natural children. A boy adopted first, so that he could protect his future younger sisters and teach them to fight. This was my dream. My diary says so.
Before I’d exhausted all of the pages of that same diary, I’d become a little edgier in my thinking, coming into a better understanding of who I was or would eventually become, even if only a phase. These pages would outline how I’d marry three times. The first two husbands would be placeholders for a man I met before them, but who was unable to stay and play at that time. I’d be sitting at an outdoor cafe with husband number two, enjoying a cup and a plate of decadence with someone I’d grown to appreciate deeply, when I’d notice a familiar feeling in the pit of my stomach as a figure walks by. The feeling would be followed by a familiar face and the feeling would take over. He’d look at me with great surprise and intense resolution. I’d look at husband number two, apologetically slide my wedding band off of my finger and walk away with my soulmate.
My only explanation for this is a grandmother who swore by three hours of soap operas daily and the fact that I started writing in elementary school. As this story unfolded, I never wavered on the number of children I’d have… (How many years ago was that?)
If you ask my mother, she’ll tell you that I’ve always been a mother. I mothered my dolls like none other. I took on the babies of family friends like they were kin to me. I helped raise my little sister, adding to the “big” people in her life who loved her. I dreamed of nothing more than motherhood, far more than being anyone’s wife, even taking personal offense the first time teen pregnancy and the prospect of an abortion came up for a friend. It was at that time, two years after scripting my path that I discovered I would be unable to carry my own children in my own body.
Since then, from age 15, I’ve lived with the knowledge that the one thing that separates men and women—for most of us— was far outside of my reach. What did that make me? As I matured within that reality, many of you have grown up questioning whether you wanted children at all. The chase for degrees, not being encouraged to go to college specifically for the purpose of finding husbands, recognizing there were far more available options has blurred the lines on when and if motherhood should ever enter the picture. Some of you identified with not enjoying the domestic schtick. You hadn’t changed any diapers and truthfully preferred the plastic bag lifestyle of dog owners. Cooking has never been your thing, your mother wasn’t successful in passing on that love or those skills.
Sacrifice is a four-letter word and you can’t imagine why you’d want to give up all those things you enjoy doing for some brat who will eat up your designer handbag money, the dough for your shoe habit and your reserves for cruise vacays….I can dig it.
While you were getting clear on all of the ennnhhhh of it all, I was going back and forth trying very hard to understand what I was. Still.
Not only didn’t I know how to identify, but I wasn’t sure how I was going to find one man interested in having no seeds, let alone three. My identity went through major shifts, especially from the ages of 19 til…30. Fifteen years. Fifteen long years. By the time I reached 30, I’d had enough validating experiences with men affirming their desire to be with me despite the barren land of it all. Actually, the fact that I’m not still with any of them could perhaps be looked at as disaffirming, but I choose to look through rose-colored glasses.
As I…grew more mature…and worked more with children (I’m a teacher), I began to feel less like I needed children to validate me as a woman. Children do take a great deal of work. They require, if you’re going to do it right, a great deal of sacrifice. As I’ve finally gotten into the years where I can begin to enjoy my money, I’m not really sure I want to share it with children. It helps, or perhaps doesn’t, that I’m not bound by ring nor vow, so I don’t have to actually want children right now. I don’t have to consider the prospect of living in good neighborhoods with acceptable feeder schools. I don’t have to consider whether my in-laws are people I’d trust with my babies. I don’t have to wonder if I’ve contributed enough to college funds so the kiddies will be able to grab their piece of higher education without having to strip or pimp their bodies to athletic programs.
I have, over the last 14 years, come into the understanding that motherhood also occurs in far more ways than vaginal expulsion. I have had the great pleasure of participating in raising a wonderful little girl, now a young lady. The only way I could love her more is if she were actually of my body, but she is of my heart. If my womanhood, when it’s all said and done, were to be judged based on my contributions to another human being in my care, then yes, I AM a mother. Prenatal visits, delivery room, shots and pierced ears, parent/teacher conferences, and much more in addition to being called “Mommy.” I have also spent time in a state of stepmotherhood to two wonderful little boys, who are now young men. I have learned to make vegan food for them alone, assisted with homework and projects, fed them on Sunday mornings while their father slept, championed for them to have age-appropriate privileges and taught them about responsibility. I even went to bat against the other oft irate parent, and taught their father how to create a home for them.
The truth, however, is that if I were with a man, right now, who inspired me to want to be with him, riding it til the wheels fall off and avoiding sidewalk cafes, I’d do what it takes to have children with him. The world is literally my oyster, or my egg, such as it is. I’ve got the dozens, just no oven to bake them. I could rent space in a friend’s or a stranger’s womb and give the gift of parenthood to my betrothed. I could just as easily not. My identity is no longer wrapped up in what I am unable to do, but focused more on what I can. I am a good teacher. I do have many talents. I do have many interests. I can and do love with great purpose and intensity. I do have great examples of womanhood to draw from, helping me to be a good woman and mother, if necessary. I do have a great love of children and should there ever be any, not just in my heart but in my home, I would absolutely be whatever is the female equivalent of “all in balls in“. Surrogacy, adoption…even step-motherhood. I could. I even would.
But I don’t have to.
Motherhood is less about if, but when. When I find myself in a committed relationship with a man who wants children, I will have to seriously consider whether it can still be placed on my To Do list and then move into how.
I’m 36 years old. I am 70 days shy of 37. I’ve never been married. I have no children. I am STILL a woman.
Aisha Tyehimba is a realist, poet, blogger and budding novelist. You can find more of her musings at her personal blog, Broken Silence, HERE.