Childless Woman’s Lament


I do not have children. Some lost by chance, some lost by choice. I am middle-aged. Sometimes I am deeply content and relieved to be childless, but I am a cliché in that I started to feel that telltale pang of need and/or desire when I hit 30. I never thought I would feel it.

I find myself getting overly and perhaps inexplicably emotional now from superficial triggers. Sometimes when I see a pregnant woman on the tram, sometimes when I see someone with a baby, sometimes when an email circulates at work about someone’s impending maternity leave. Most frequently, the strangest things set me off – often television plots and characters finding themselves unintentionally pregnant, their expressions of uncertainty, their handling of the private fear and joy that early pregnancy brings on and their handling of the unintentionally hurtful things people say to them while the pregnancy is a secret. And it makes me sad and contemplative.

Fictional Mindy Lahiri’s surprise pregnancy on The Mindy Project, a show I never intended to watch but did, brought tears to my eyes. Even when Uma Thurman’s character in television’s crappiest show, The Slap, faced a surprise pregnancy, and her journey (one of my least favorite words) from shock and doubt to acceptance and joy, I found myself feeling choked up. Oh, and of course every single week on Call the Midwife.

The most profound sadness came when I read and reread (and reread) an article from the late neurosurgeon and writer Paul Kalanithi, who recently died at age 37. It would have been a sad story anyway, but his eloquence and the peace with which he expresses himself as he wrote parting words for his baby daughter before he died is heartbreaking.

The ending in particular made me cry more than once. I don’t know why I am reading it repeatedly when the grief it generates is so close to the surface and raw, but its beauty keeps pulling me in to read it again:

Yet one person cannot be robbed of her futurity: my daughter, Cady. I hope I’ll live long enough that she has some memory of me. Words have a longevity I do not. I had thought I could leave her a series of letters – but what would they really say? I don’t know what this girl will be like when she is 15; I don’t even know if she’ll take to the nickname we’ve given her. There is perhaps only one thing to say to this infant, who is all future, overlapping briefly with me, whose life, barring the improbable, is all but past.

That message is simple. When you come to one of the many moments in life when you must give an account of yourself, provide a ledger of what you have been, and done, and meant to the world, do not, I pray, discount that you filled a dying man’s days with a sated joy, a joy unknown to me in all my prior years, a joy that does not hunger for more and more, but rests, satisfied. In this time, right now, that is an enormous thing.

-Paul Kalanithi (RIP)

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