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.