Photo credit: David Klagsburn
How long have I been after you? Four years? Five?
It depends if we start counting when I could take you or leave you — when I was interested in but not obsessed with you — or if we start the clock after you became the roiling desire at the core of my life. I’ve wanted things before, but I’ve never known a craving like you.
When I started pursuing you I was in my 30s — still part-girl: greedy, optimistic, striving. Now I’m all woman: 42; world-weary, relaxed, resigned.
But remember the beginning? I was so innocent when we first met! I expected
you to be mine. I’d seen you break other girls’ hearts, but me? With these hips? I didn’t think you’d be able to resist.
And of course, you didn’t at first. I got pregnant so easily — the second time I tried! It was like taking candy from a baby.
Under your spell, Motherhood, there was more of me, but had I grown in soul or just body?
The baby, the baby… who would he be? What would he eat? Where would he sleep? Motherhood, you brought question after question, so many problems that needed solving. But you brought something else: a new me, who could solve them — would
solve them, there was never any doubt.
As often happens at the beginning of a romance, I was transformed by you, inside and out. I dressed differently for you — you demanded that everything I wear be stretchy or just enormous. (It wasn’t the first time I’d bought lingerie for a blossoming relationship, but it was the first time I’d bought things so big and so sturdy.) I ate and drank differently: organic peaches, no more tequila, never a bummed cigarette. But most of all I thought
differently. To be with you was to be an alternate me: more responsible, better behaved, less self-involved.
Or maybe just as self-involved? But now there was a new, smaller, secondary pseudo-self inside me — a mini me living inside
me! And I was obsessed with him. Is that more virtuous? Are you inherently less shitty if you think about your unborn son all the time instead of your usual self whom you’ve been thinking about for 37 years? Under your spell, Motherhood, there was more of me, but had I grown in soul or just body?
When I lost you it was so sudden, so violent, so shocking. Everyone was horrified. They had expected me to be with you for the rest of my life, Motherhood — they had believed we were inseparable, as had I. You took with you the baby you had brought, of course, and the pain of that loss was so deep, so primal, I am unable to contain it in language. But there was nothing to be done: once he was gone, he could never return, though sometimes I still see him in my dreams.
But you, Motherhood, were something else: I thought I’d get you back. And I think we can agree, I tried.
What would I have given for you? Anything. Everything.
Money — lots of it. I spent tens of thousands of dollars trying to win you back. I spent the money faster than I made it, on doctor after doctor, on Lupron and Follistim and syringes and progesterone. At Weill Cornell Medical Center and NYU Langone and once, at the office of a doctor who looked like a Jewish Benjamin Franklin, who had his shirt buttoned wrong and his stomach hanging out of a gaping cave in the fabric. “If you’d been working with me, you’d already have a baby by now,” he said. They know, Motherhood, they know how we get. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, but hucksters have no better prey.
What else did I give — did you take? Time. Morning after morning, schlepping uptown in the crammed early-morning subways, going to wait in the lobby with all the other 40-year-old women desperate to get you in the nick of time, just before we lost the last of our youth, our last chance to turn your head.
Sanity. I did not lose control the way some of my friends did when they were after you, but I believe my grief was an advantage. When you lose your offspring, you lose your illusion of control. It may have seemed less implausible to me than it did to some of my friends that I could not have you — despite the bloody monthly promise I’ve had since I was 12 frigging years old that someday you would be mine — that I was entitled
to you — if I decided I wanted you.
Letting you go has been the second hardest loss of my life.
Because eventually, you wore me out. Wanting, wanting, in the deepest part of yourself — to want that badly is exhausting, depleting, unsustainable. Brutal.
I am not someone who has ever before chased people or dreams that didn’t want me back. But Motherhood, the time we spent together did something to me — flipped some kind of switch in my soul that I have never been able to flip back. In the darkness of my secret heart, we are still one. When people ask me about you — a simple, reasonable question like, “Are you a mom?” or “Do you have kids?” — I am forced to say no, because of course I would sound insane if I said anything else.
But do you want to know what I’m thinking — what I want to say so badly sometimes I almost choke on it? Yes.
I am a mother. Yes. I had a son, who died.
Motherhood, you have taken so much: my innocence, my money, my time. What have you given me? Heartbreak, obviously. A right breast that still lactates a little bit if you squeeze the nipple (which my mother has told me over and over again not to do, but I can’t stop — it is evidence that you were with me. It is the love letter from an ex who abandoned you that you hide in your drawer and read from time to time to see if it still gives you a little surge of feeling). But what else?
Freedom, I suppose — from guilt and exhaustion and resentment and immobility. My friends who have children — and they all
do, eventually you put out for every one of them except me, Motherhood — are pooped, haggard, furious with their husbands, and some of them feel trapped. I can go anywhere, any time: Cape Town, Paris, Harare, Italy. I move freely and frequently. I sleep as much as I want. I think my boyfriend is dreamy.
But Motherhood, we both know I would trade that all for you — I would get up early and fight about whose turn it was to change the diapers and stop boarding planes.
Is there anything you’ve given me that I wouldn’t relinquish? Humility, maybe. The knowledge that I control next to nothing. The understanding — for the first time, if I’m honest — that I am mortal. The experience of the deepest, most painful, most primal love there is.
The encounter we had ripped me open and taught me that, until then, I’d never know what suffering was. But there is nothing I would trade it for. Except your return.
÷ ÷ ÷
joined The New Yorker
as a staff writer in 2008, and received the National Magazine Award for Essays and Criticism in 2014 for her piece “Thanksgiving in Mongolia.” She is the author of the book Female Chauvinist Pigs
and was a contributing editor at New York
for 12 years. Her new memoir, The Rules Do Not Apply
, is available now from Random House.