“The more you praise and celebrate your life, the more there is in life to celebrate.” ~ Oprah Winfrey
October 14th is my born day as Nas would say. Getting older and living to see another day are blessings that I cannot take for granted. I am here and that alone means something. It means that my work on this earth is not done, that there is a lot more for me to experience, feel, accomplish and hopefully share with you.
With every year that passes, I get to discover new things about myself and I get to learn to love every single one of those things, including the flaws. I get to improve. The only competition I am in is with the woman in the mirror. My goal is to be better today than I was yesterday and becoming older gives me an opportunity to celebrate this new me every single time.
Growing older, however, is not embraced enough in my opinion partly because it comes with challenges we don’t necessarily want to acknowledge or deal with. Our appearances change, our bodies experience more problems, life seems to be getting shorter and existential questions start multiplying.
Actress Gabrielle Union revealed in her newly released book, We’re Going To Need More Wine, that she has been struggling to conceive a child for the past few years. She and her husband, Dwyane Wade, have undergone IVF treatments and although she was able to become pregnant, she suffered several miscarriages. It was heartbreaking to read, knowing how hard it must have been each and every time. Being in the public eye has not helped because as a woman, and a sexy one at that, she and her body are constantly scrutinized. As a married woman past the age of 40, she can never seem to escape questions about expanding the family such as “When are you going to have a baby?”, “What are you waiting for?”, etc. How many times have we seen photos of her through the years, accompanied by a caption speculating on a possible pregnancy? She always handled these stories with class and humor but it could not have been easy, considering what she was going through privately. I am not in the public eye and I haven’t reached my forties yet but just like her, I have been subjected to these kinds of intrusive questions regarding my personal life since my early to mid-twenties. And with each passing birthday, these questions and comments have become a lot more frequent and plentiful. Except for the occasional Bitter Betty, who would ask more to spite me than out of concern, people who inquire about the activity in my heart and uterus do so because they want the best for me and, for society in general, being single and childless past a certain point in a woman’s life is a cause for worry. Now, there is a sense of urgency and at times of panic in their eyes and voice when they ask me. The fact that I spent the past 4-5 years at home dealing with my health issues did not help either because these years, to the outside world, seem like lost years. Years during which the world around me kept moving and I, in contrast, did not accomplish anything productive. Yes, no doubt about it, the world kept moving, people got promoted or changed jobs or even careers, people got engaged, got married, had children, some divorced. Things happened for me too but it is hard to see and appreciate if you are not in my shoes. So, from the outside looking in, I have missed out on life, it seems, and now it is time to catch up.
Here is my truth. I would definitely love to get married one day but I am not sure if I want to have children. For the longest time, I did not want to have children because I did not think I could ever be a good mother, which, to me, meant being at the very least half the mom my mother had been to me, to my brother and anybody else she has nurtured over the years. My mother has many gifts and can do an infinite number of things very well. And being a mother seems to be what she was meant to do and be. Nobody is born knowing how to be a parent or with all the answers to parenthood but I truly believe that some of us are instinctively more drawn to it and better at it than others. Some are simply not interested at all for a variety of reasons. Others, like me, are somewhere in-between. Since those days of doubts about my capabilities as a person and especially as a mother, I have grown tremendously and so has my perception of myself. I now know that I am a pretty awesome person, that I possess a lot of the same qualities that make my mother such a great mother, and that I would, when/if the time comes, be an amazing mother as well. It is no longer about being just like my mother or competing with the type of mother she has been to us, but rather it is about being the best parent I can be with the tools I have, the knowledge I have and most importantly the love I would have for these beings I would be raising. I know I can be a great mother, I just don’t know if I want to be a mother. The urge has not been a part of my life so far. When I see babies and/or when someone I know becomes pregnant and has a baby, I don’t get “baby fever”, as it is often referred to. I love babies and children of all ages, and they seem to love me back and gravitate toward me, but it stops there for me. For now. Also, my health, and especially having endometriosis and a bad back means a high possibility of having trouble conceiving and spending the entire pregnancy bed-ridden. I am used to dealing with pain and discomfort and I would go through all that in a heartbeat if this was something I absolutely wanted and needed. Right now, it isn’t. Yes, sometimes, I worry that these feelings might change later when it is too late. That biological clock they keep telling us about is very real and ticking, and just like Father Time, it remains undefeated. I have heard stories from women who woke up one day with plenty of regrets because they put their career first, waited to find the right man, and/or made other things a priority in their lives only to find themselves at an older age, unable to conceive and with very little recourse, if any, to remedy the situation and make their belated dream of motherhood come through. What if I end up experiencing the same thing? Is there anything I can do now in anticipation of a potential sudden epiphany in a few years? Freeze my eggs, maybe? Consider adoption? None of these options are cheap nor guaranteed and they require a big commitment both financial and emotional. Commitment that I don’t feel like making right now. It is somewhere in the back of my mind, though… If I never get to this point, it is fine with me. Although society wants us to believe that there has to be something wrong with women who do not want to have children, it isn’t true. Not wanting children right now does not make me odd or wrong. Changing my mind, later on, would not make me odd or wrong either. And neither would never changing my mind at all.
As I continue to age, I will keep getting these questions and to feel others’ sense of urgency about my life and have accepted that. I wish none of us had to answer personal questions like these but it is what it is and I will keep giving cheeky answers. I thought about wearing a t-shirt that says “My Business Is None of Yours” but I doubt it will have the desired effect. Not to mention that I have no desire to wear the same outfit every single day just to prove a point that folks are going to miss anyway.
Growing older allows us to make decisions for our lives and to learn to be comfortable with these decisions regardless of what others might think. The worst thing we can do is live our lives on other people’s time and terms. I refuse to do that. I have no desire to and I cannot afford to.
Birthdays are also great opportunities to look ahead. I am a planner. That is what I do and that is who I am. I plan things because I enjoy it, because this is how I get things done and because it works for me. However, I have learned, through experience and through the many curveballs life has thrown my way over the years, that planning cannot and should not be everything. Getting caught up in specific plans to the point of obsession is not only risky but it can be dangerous, too. It is one of the surest ways to experience misery and frustration when things don’t go our way, and chances are they will not always go our way. Life is unpredictable and full of surprises, good and bad ones, and the plans we make have to allow room for all of that. None of us have the power or the ability to be in control of everything all the time, even though some of us would like nothing more than to think we can, and one of the hardest lessons life can teach us is to accept these facts and be ok with them.
By society’s standard, as I eluded to earlier in the post, at this very moment, I am somewhat of a failure if you think about it. I don’t work, I am not married and I don’t have children. That makes me a failure because to the outside world I have nothing to show for all these years spent on this Earth. Our profession and marital status are among the main things that define us in the eyes of others. It is not by accident that when you meet new people, one of the first things they ask is “what do you do?”. Whatever answer you give will consciously or subconsciously shape that other person’s perception of you. We all do it to some degree. If you know me personally and/or if you have been following this blog, you know that my reality is not as simple as “unemployed single woman in her thirties” but these are the boxes I would have to check in forms and surveys that include this type of information. It is also true and it is fine with me. I will take being seen as a failure by society if I can keep the joy, happiness, and contentment I feel every single day when I wake up, knowing that I took another step toward the goals I have set for myself and that I am a better me than I was the day before. I might not be where I thought I would be if you had asked me that question 5 years ago but I am further along that I thought I would be if you asked me that question earlier this year, and more importantly, I am exactly where I should be.
The dress I wore to my birthday celebration this year holds a special place and is a perfect illustration of what I mean when I talk about being further than I thought I would be earlier this year. I bought it seven years ago and wore it to my birthday celebration that year. When my health took a bad turn and my weight gain became an issue, one of my goals was to wear that dress again one day. It was not a vanity thing, although I thought I looked pretty fly in it, it was more about the feeling of having made it. As I was making arrangements for this year’s celebration a couple of weeks ago, and as the big day approached, I had to decide what to wear. I could have easily bought something new but I knew I had lost a lot of weight since the year started and in that moment my mind went straight to that little black dress and what it would mean to fit in it again at this point. So, I tried it on. It fit. I did not even have to hold my breath or struggle to pull the zipper all the way up. It fit. I cried. Tears of joy for that full circle moment.
During my birthday celebration, at dinner, I caught myself staring at all the people around our big table. Although I missed those who were not able to make it, I also felt deeply grateful and thankful for those who blessed me with their presence. I got lost in their faces for a while, soaking in the noise of the conversations they were having all around me, the beauty of their smiles under the lights of the restaurant and the love in their eyes. We were there, together, on my birthday and nothing else mattered.
I am both an imperfectly perfect masterpiece and a work in progress. Continued growth is the mission I take on every single day when I look at myself in the mirror as I get ready and which progress I get to assess as often as I want and especially on my birthday, each year. Part of that growth is allowing myself to live outside of the bounds of my own plans. In practice, it means having a road map of where I am going and what I am doing and smelling the roses, real and proverbial ones alike, along the way. I will get to my destination, whatever it is and wherever it is, but I am dedicated to enjoying the journey to the fullest and embracing the various detours. Being able to let go of things, ideas, plans, ideals and people, make me feel wealthier than any money in the world ever could.
Cheers to all of us on our birthdays. Let’s make every day and every breath count!