I started family life at a relatively young age. I first found out I was pregnant at 19 years old, was married by 22, and finished my family planning by 23 when I had my son. And at 26 I was divorced. I had cycled through a whole lifetime in a matter of years, and before any of my friends had even thought about settling down. But that was ok. While it was tough in those first years as a young parent learning on the job, I was glad that I wasn’t beating down that biological clock that was just starting to tick for my friends by their late 20’s. Been there, done that, and all I got was this lousy t-shirt, a bigger food bill, and some amazing kids to raise on my own.
Thing is, that biological clock doesn’t just magically go away – even if I had experienced it all already.
Now I am 32. My daughter is closing in on 13, my son almost to double digits. Their father is absent once again, and for the moment we are working on that reality being a part of our norm. I am dating a wonderful man with an amazing son. And this man is kinder to me and my kids than any man has ever been to us. We are all happy in this life that has settled down to something as comfortable as a favorite sweater on a winter’s day by the fire. And while nothing is perfect, this is pretty damn close to it.
But at 32, my friends are all at that age where new love is blooming. And that love is solidified by numerous announcements of wedding plans. Gorgeous ceremonies take place, my friends enveloped by white and taking those first steps with their new husband, love radiating from their eyes. And a year or two after those celebrations, a new announcement is made. Their family of two is about to become three.
Having just gone to another beautiful wedding this past weekend, it’s hard to describe the feelings that go along with taking part in this joy. Of course there is happiness. You watch your friend experience something that you once took part of, and you know exactly what they are feeling. You are excited for them, remembering those first years of being a part of a union that seemed unbreakable. You remember what it was like to be only two, and then suddenly be three, and then one day, four. But when your own version of this fairy tale took place and ended in the last 10 years, wistfulness is an underlying tone in this happiness. And in my case, the fairy tale version of how a marriage and family planning is supposed to be didn’t exactly match the reality.
My teenage pregnancy meant shame, especially since the father and I were on the rocks already. Friends came to me and strongly suggested adoption, even abortion. I fought against it. The father and I reconciled, but I was living without him in my parents’ house when I had the baby at 20. We didn’t move in together until she was 4 months old. And we didn’t marry until she was 18 months. I wore a purple dress, a choice made mostly because, let’s face it, the jig was up. The wedding was perfect, exactly how I wanted it to be. But I admit that it was an unextravagant wedding on purpose, as I already had a child and we were already living as a family. Our funds were dedicated to the family that was already created. Paying for a huge wedding was not in any of our means, and would have been too ridiculously frivolous.
In essence, by becoming pregnant young and marrying out of necessity, I had robbed myself of so much. I robbed myself of my youth, as I was nursing a baby while my friends lived it up in their glory days. I robbed myself of that innocent excitement of wondering what it would be like to live with this new person following our wedding, just the two of us. I missed out on the joy of discovering that we would be welcoming a baby into the world, a baby that was planned – or even a joyfully unexpected surprise that was happening when it was supposed to. I missed out on family planning at the same time as all my friends, being able to compare and contrast notes as our babies grew together. And at 32, while my kids are at that halfway point between baby and being out on their own, my friends are all just starting out on their own adventures. And while I am happy for them, it gives me that feeling reminiscent of a biological clock ticking.
Don’t get me wrong, I would never change the way things are. I am so in love with my kids that sometimes it feels like my heart is going to jump out of my chest for them. My daughter is a carbon copy of me, almost as tall and with a better sense of humor than I ever had. My son is growing into a young man that I am incredibly proud of. And in both of them, I can see the adults they are going to be – so much clearer than I could see when they were just babies. I can relax into parenthood now, at the young age of 32. While my friends are gearing up for labor, suffering sleepless nights, and chasing around toddlers, I get to hang out with my kids and share the household duties with them. And when their kids get to that stage, I will be in my early 40’s and experiencing the quiet of an empty nest.
But when I speak to my daughter about the life cycle, marriage, and family planning, I stress the importance of waiting. And it’s the best advice I could give to any teen that is starting to feel like a baby will be the answer to all their problems. Yes, a baby will give you joy. But with that joy, a lot of life will be sacrificed. And you won’t realize the full extent of all you missed out on until years later when your biological clock rewinds and haunts you with that damn incessant ticking.