Be Better

My teenaged students often ask me (innocently) why I don’t have kids. I talk about my life and my nieces all the time, so it makes sense that they are curious. They are also at a point in their own lives where they are thinking about their futures and whether marriage and a family is something they eventually want.

When I was a teenager and just becoming sexually active, I was terrified of getting pregnant. At age 16, I had an older friend drive me to Planned Parenthood to get prescribed birth control pills. I always assumed that at some point when I was older, I would just know that I wanted children. Spoiler alert: that time never came. The idea of pregnancy and childbirth terrified me and when I got married at age 27, I kept waiting for my biological clock to start ticking. Then my marriage went to complete shit. My ex husband gave me an ultimatum about having a baby and I knew better than to bring a child into a bad relationship. I chose divorce.

In my 30s, more and more of my friends announced their pregnancies and I was delighted to buy strollers and onesies and pack-n-plays, but still never felt envious. If anything, experiencing pregnancy through the eyes of my friends made it even more unappealing to me. I excitedly met and cuddled their babies and still never felt the pull to be a mother. The only feeling I remember having is waves of guilt that my mother was not becoming a grandmother like her contemporaries were. To her credit, she never pressured me in any way about whether or not I wanted a baby.

When I was with my exboyfriend, there was a period of time when we discussed marriage and whether or not we really wanted to both close the door for good on parenthood. I was in my late 30s and he was five years younger, so the decision mostly fell in my lap. He, like most men, had more time. My time was running out. I went to my gynecologist for my annual exam and for the first time ever, she mentioned that I should really start seriously considering whether or not I wanted to have a baby. I told her my concerns and she offered to do a blood test that would determine my fertility.

I went into the test pretty nonchalantly, having the confidence of always having good health. My results were unexpected. She essentially said that I would not be able to get pregnant on my own and if I wanted to have a baby, I would need to see a specialist and most likely begin IVF immediately. Although it was surprisingly disappointing to have the choice of motherhood taken from me, I wasn’t devastated and felt as if that was the last real sign I needed that it just wasn’t in the cards for me.

As a teacher, I felt as if I had an opportunity to have a positive influence on children, just in a different capacity and it was fulfilling in a lot of ways. However, when my sister had her first daughter, I understood for the first time what parents always said about their children. My first niece made my heart explode with pure, unconditional, overwhelming love. My second niece made my heart expand in ways I didn’t think were even possible. I don’t know if I could love my own children as much as I love my two nieces. I would literally give my life for either of them and I desperately want them to have the happy childhood my sister and I did not have. I am so lucky to be a very active auntie. My sister lives in the same town as me and I see them almost every day. They are truly the loves of my life.

My mother jokes that my sister’s children are miniature versions of us. My older niece, who is five, is very much like me- in looks and temperament. She is fair skinned with blue eyes, and is so smart and sensitive. People often mistakenly assume she is my daughter when we are all out in public. My little niece, the two year old, is a clone of my sister. She has darker hair and brown eyes and is impish, funny, and stubborn like my sister.

My older niece (I will refer to her as Five) is very sensitive. She gets easily upset and her feelings are quick to be hurt. She is so sweet and cares about other people. Five also seems to be a little predisposed to anxiety- she is scared of thunder and afraid to fall of her bike. Her younger sister is fearless, like my sister was. I was terrified of rollercoasters growing up and my sister would be pulling my mom’s arm to get in line. Even when I was a teenager, I was still scared of storms and would climb in my sister’s bed at the first sight of lightening. I was the older sister, but was always more cautious, a natural worrier, and overly sensitive.

At first, the comparisons between Five and me would make me so happy. I loved her so much and I felt like there was such a connection between us that went beyond the normal auntie/niece bond. I glowed with pride when strangers would comment how much she looked like me (my sister would jokingly call me Aunt Mommy) But, as Five got older, I started worrying about the ways I DIDN’T want her to be like me. I don’t want either of my nieces to have their lives dictated by fears or anxiety or mental illness.

When Five would overreact and exhibit signs of any kind of anxiety, my sister would make comments like “she’s just like you.” This hurt me so much. I know my sister never said it to hurt me, but it did. Because of all the fears I have (and there are a lot), the biggest one I have is that Five will end up like me. It makes me sad to write that because I know I have a lot of amazing traits that I would be proud to pass on to her and her sister, but I do not want her to experience mental illness the way I have. I think deep down that was a big part of why I did not want my own children- that wanted to avoid having a child be genetically predisposed to the mental health issues I have.

My nieces are a huge reason why I fight to stay healthy and try to manage my anxiety and panic disorders and agoraphobia. I know I am not doing a great job at it right now, but I am working through it all. I just worry as they get older, they will start to notice things more and more. I just want every aspect of their lives to be better than mine and I want them to be better than me.

Holiday Spirits <—-pun intended

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I have so many different things to write about, I do not know where to begin.  One of the topics, I am not ready to delve into, so for now I will stick to the one I know best: dealing with alcoholics.  So, here is a special holiday edition of Thanksgiving updates on the three drunks in my life, who coincidentally ALL drink vodka…

  1. The ex-boyfriend. Thanksgiving was not as bad as I thought it would be.  I had one 45 minute breakdown.  I know it is not healthy, but I would occasionally “unblock” my ex-boyfriend’s Instagram page to see if he was okay.  It felt like the only last tiny connection I had to him.  When I went to check it on Thanksgiving, I realize that he made his page private.  I was already upset because this was always ‘our” holiday and it was the first one without him, but I felt like him doing that was unexpected.  Maybe he knew I was checking on him.  Maybe he met someone.  Maybe he wants privacy.  I feel so far away from him now.  In nine years, this is the longest I have gone without seeing or speaking to him.  But, I suppose that is what happens in a break up.  And I have to remind myself that I was the one who said I could not be in contact with him anymore.  I don’t know how to ever stop worrying if he is alright, but I know there is nothing I can do if he is not.
  2. The father. My dad was good on Thanksgiving, very well-behaved.  I actually took a selfie with him and at one point leaned up against him on the couch.  We took family pictures.  It was nice.  Friday, he was terrible…leaving mean voicemails and sending shitty text messages.  Saturday, my sister and I had already agreed to go to my parent’s house to help them with some things and he was totally fine again.  It is was like a sober-drunk-sober sandwich over the course of three days.  He is truly a Jekyll and Hyde. 
  3. The friend’s boyfriend. My good friend, practically my sister, is in a terrible and abusive relationship with an alcoholic.  She is 18 weeks pregnant and he just got his third DWI over the previous weekend.  I felt so badly for her- they were supposed to do the gender reveal for the baby on Thanksgiving.  But, I also do not understand why she stays with him.  I try not to think about it too much, because after 30+ years, I still do not understand why my mother has never left my dad.  Today, my friend’s boyfriend put his hands around her neck and pushed her against a wall.  He threatened her and then pushed her outside into the snow, refusing to let her back in.  My sister (her best friend) called her brother and he ran over to the apartment.  My friend’s boyfriend then assaulted him, was arrested and the brother is pressing charges, although my friend still will not.  I realized while all of this was going on, I was feeling such anxiety.  It is hard for me to be a good friend to her and support her while separating my own experiences and it brings back a lot of my own traumatic memories.  She is safe now and that is all that matters in the moment.

I am so thankful that I do not live with an alcoholic anymore.  My house is so calm and peaceful.  I feel such a sense of independence and freedom.  However, I also know that had my ex not gotten so sick and also cheated, I may not have ever left him.  That is a hard pill to swallow.  So, it makes me less judgmental of other women going through this.  I got an “out” and I took it and for that, I am so grateful.  I may not have shown strength throughout the bad parts of our relationship and I know I should have ended things with him years ago, but at least I put myself first when I got the chance.

Holidays can be so stressful and sad and sentimental.  I am trying to be positive, but I also know I need to allow myself to experience my emotions.  I have been through so much and I do not feel healed, but I know that I am in a much better place than I was a year ago, so if there is any silver lining, it is that.  But I am really tired of alcoholics…

Oh Baby!

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My sister is pregnant and is due in about a month.  It is really exciting, but also sort of hard to believe that in a few weeks, there will be a little baby girl in our family.  I am so happy to become an aunt and I can’t wait to meet my niece, but it has been a difficult pregnancy for her.  She has been very sick throughout almost all of it and it has been hard to see her suffer so much.  She has had a few complications that could result in the baby arriving earlier than expected and I think it is really hitting her- and me- how much things are going to change.

Even though this isn’t happening to me, I am very close with my sister, so it is having a big effect on my life.  We live a couple of miles apart and talk several times a day.  My anxiety has been peaked for a few different reasons lately, but I think her having the baby is part of it, because it is such a big change…and I am not a fan of change!  For most of our lives, it has always been the two of us.  Yes, we have had our individual friends and our boyfriends and we are both super close to our mother, but we have a uniquely special relationship.  I think because we really had to stick together when we grew up and lived with our dad, that we survived by having each other.  I cannot imagine going through the experiences of my dysfunctional family as an only child.  She is three and a half years younger than me and I was always very protective of her.  I guess it still a little hard to wrap my head around the fact that my little sister is about to become a mother!!