for the want of a child

From Jodi:

People have been hesitant to ask, but they are curious: Do you think you’ll have another child? This may be the one area of my life where there is zero ambiguity. Yes. I can’t even imagine a meaningful life for myself absent children. Actually, I’m currently living that life, and it’s increasingly untenable. A well-meaning gentleman once advised me to use this time in my life to do something I’ve always wanted to do. It was a very masculine “seize the moment” sort of grief management. “I’ve always wanted to be a Mama.” I responded. It was my truth, spoken wistfully, honestly.

I have written many times that having a son made me outrageously happy, fulfilled, and hopeful, but he did not come to us quickly or easily; it took a lot of intention on our part to bring him here.  The void left by Caemon’s death is enormous, and I yearn for him constantly. I know and accept that he cannot be replaced, but my desire for a new baby is overwhelming. I want to be a mother again, to change diapers and tickle toes, sing songs and read Dr. Seuss books. I don’t need to run a marathon or hike scary mountains to prove that I am strong or that I fiercely love my fallen son. In fact, I don’t need to prove anything.

What I need is a healthy baby. I need a baby who will grow up, who will go to school, get crushes, learn to drive, graduate from high school, fall in love, have children, and not die until long after I am gone.

People have said, “But you have your teaching, and your students really value you,” or have questioned, “You don’t really think another baby will make everything better, do you?” I get it. I’m supposed to find meaning in other areas of my life and not place all my hopes and dreams on having a child. I’m supposed to “nurture myself” and reflect/meditate/grieve, etc. Here’s where I stand on that line of thought: Bullshit, okay. My students aren’t my children, not even close. Professional satisfaction does not translate to a wonderful personal life. And no, I don’t think having another child will make everything better, no more than I thought having a baby five years ago would make everything better, but I knew then, as I know now, that it does make many things better. Primarily, it makes me better.

Not everyone is destined to be a parent, and I hate that we still live in a culture where a woman’s worthiness is often linked directly to her status as a mother or not-a-mother. I know many people who have chosen not to have children of their own but remain devoted to the little ones in their lives. To be clear, I am not one of those people who are content being an auntie, honorary or otherwise. I have always wanted to be a Mama, a desire that solidified when Timaree and I moved in together and began discussing our dreams of family. I was anxious to get started right away, even though we were young, broke, and completely unprepared. Timaree wisely set a timeline of three years. That would give us time to graduate, establish our careers, and start a family. Three years turned to six, then nine, and despite years of dutifully treading water in the adjunct faculty pool, we were nowhere near financial stability let alone “established careers.”

 I remember that frustration of endless waiting, the growing intolerable ache, staring at little ones in stores and flirting with them in parks like some lonely weirdo. Then, in 2009 when I was 37 years old, eleven years after Timaree and I started planning a family, Caemon was born. That’s a long time to yearn so strongly, but so worth it once he was in our arms. I look at pictures of myself from that time and see, maybe for the first time, a whole woman, a happy woman. Caemon was the missing piece for me. Motherhood had changed me.  My teaching took on new meaning; I made new friends with other moms; Timaree and I worked on balancing parenting and our marriage in therapy because we wanted to be our best selves for our family.

The week before Caemon was diagnosed with leukemia, I turned 40. I never felt better. I was healthier, happier, and more professionally settled than ever. I was going to start taking Tai Chi classes and had fun plans to join a drum circle. Caemon had just started preschool, and Timaree was well on her way to becoming a certified doula. The Marston-Simmons family was thriving (If there is any regret or bitter pill, this may be it). We were doing great as a family and as individuals. We had arrived at a special time when we were ready to take on new challenges, begin new careers, and be creative and spontaneous. We could never have arrived there without Caemon, but six short months later that path we envisioned for our family would be completely obliterated, and with it, our hearts and souls, or so it seemed.

I know there’s a cliché that a wounded heart still beats, but I’ve found it can do a hell of a lot more. A shattered heart still yearns; it remembers; it feels joy and sorrow, perhaps not in equal amounts, and the joy, well, it’s muted, barely audible sometimes, but it’s there. It turns out, a broken heart still hopes. It hopes not to be broken anymore, and it hopes for what will heal it. When I hold my niece or any of the babies in my life, I feel a glimmer of it. When I allow myself to envision a future at all worth living, those visions always include a child. The want of a child cannot be replaced by personal or professional achievements, creative endeavors, or spiritual pursuits. The want of a child can only be fulfilled with a child. Everything else is just a distraction.

Mama and Caemon

14 thoughts on “for the want of a child

  1. Thank you for sharing!! I have followed your journey from before Caemon was diagnosed!! Your family is beautiful and I know your desires to grow your family will never change what Caemon brought to it!!! I wish you and your wife all the best and may your heart experience joy one day soon!!

  2. It works just like that Jodi. When the 10 year old daughter of our friend and babysitter died of an asthma attack, their world crashed for them and their two younger boys. A couple of years later he had his vasectomy reversed and she got pregnant, miscarried, and got pregnant again. They all treasure their fourth child. He doesn’t make up for the one who is gone, but he balances their family again. It isn’t anyone else’s call but yours and Timaree’s. I wish you another baby in your arms. Praying he or she shows up soon.

  3. Oh I so hope you get to carry and birth and watch another baby grow all the way to adulthood and beyond. I haven’t had a child yet that lasted till birth, so I haven’t experienced the same kind of loss that you have. But your descriptions of the ache for a baby that you had before he was born and all other things now being a distraction till you have a babe in your arms – I know that well. Kia kaha – have strength.

  4. You are a wonderful Mama with so much love to share. I too pray that you and Timaree will soon be blessed with another child to love and nurture.

  5. I was pretty ambivalent about having another baby until *surprise* I got pregnant again and *surprise* I had a miscarriage. Now I am itching to get pregnant again and give my son a little sibling. And maybe again after that. I never want to feel empty like this again.

  6. Wow, thanks. Thanks a lot for sharing your feelings on that topic. Despite the fact that I had not to go through the horrible hell of losing a child I can totally relate to that yearning and the fulfilment a child brings.
    Can I take some of your sentences out of that article and quote you on my blog? Of course linking you…

  7. I completely understand the necessity of being a mother. I haven’t been one yet, but I know that it is what every cell in my body wants/needs/prepares to do. I always struggle to understand people who could take it or leave it (though I view their position to be equally valid), because I would feel completely unfulfilled if I never got the opportunity to parent. I am sure you’ll be a Mama to another happy baby soon!

  8. I don’t know you, but I check the blog every day. One of the things that struck me when following your story is what wonderful mothers you were. Caemon was so lucky to get such good mamas, just as you were blessed to have such a sweet little boy. It makes me smile to think another soul might also get to have you.

    • Thank you for that link. I particularly loved this part: “I can live with the joy of new motherhood without losing the memory of loving my son for his three short years or the daily painful reminder that I will never see or hold him again.” I can see how this is so true. It’s part of the duality of losing a child and trying to live on. I’ve seen this woman in interviews. She’s a great writer.

  9. Yes, Jodi, everyone’s platitudes and rationales for how you should carry on matters little–you must follow what you know. That you felt so alive for that period of your life and want to experience it more or again is only right. You go, MaMa!

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