"I'm never having children."
Sitting on my front porch in the sharp afternoon light of a late summer's day, the look on my mother's face was one of pure sorrow.
Overbright rays of sun spiked through the pine thicket around my house and left blinding patches on the needle-blanketed yard. I squinted at the contrast of dazzle and dark and squeezed my temples. I could feel a migraine coming on.
"Because it would be irresponsible to bring a child into a world like this."
In the shadows that cut across her face, starkly highlighting all the creases and crevices that 50 years on this earth had given her, I saw the sorrow change to hurt.
She was thinking of the two decades she had spent raising me. The time and love and heartache that had been wrapped into the art of parenting me. The dreams she had surrendered in her own quest to be a "good" mother to me.
In all those years of midnight vomit and scrimping to pay for braces, of disrespectful and distracted teenagerhood, of watching her children grow up and out of her home, with hardly a second glance back at the old bird who tended their comfortable nest, through all that, she had harbored the hopeful dream of the next generation, of the simpler time to come, when she could end the discipline and the dreariness of being a mom and just be a doting grandmother.
Now she was watching her favorite daydream burn like a bug beneath a magnifying glass. And I was the cruel child kneeling over the ant hill.
I looked at her, unwavering, firm in this decision.
I was thinking about famine, and war. About global warming and religious intolerance and racism, human trafficking, heroin abuse and the way women are portrayed in the media, about nuclear weapons and overpopulation and antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria, about AIDS and cancer and the growing hole in the ozone layer and supercell tornados and the fucking, shrinking polar ice caps.
How insane could you be, to want to bring an innocent life into this crazy world? How could you ensure that life would be a good one? Good Christ, what kind of person would choose to birth a child into these unstable times?
A few years later I was talking to a much older woman, one who, due to circumstances beyond her control, never had any children. Watching me leave the adults at a party to play with the kids on the lawn, she asked when I planned to have a few of my own and was shocked when I said I didn't want any.
"Well," I clarified, "It isn't that I don't want kids, but there are so many terrible forces at work on this planet. I think it would be nuts to bring a child into this crazy world."
She eyed me, perceptively. "Sounds like you're afraid."
I raised an eyebrow at her. This lady didn't know me - but she saw right through my words.
"The world has always been a crazy place," she said, "but it's also a magical one. That's your job as a mother. Protect your children from the madness and show them the beauty. You can do that. If you want children, have them. Don't let fear keep you from doing what you want. Especially not something as important as this."
Looking at the little ones around us, barefoot in the grass, chasing fireflies in the purpling twilight, I knew she was right. Tears filled my eyes as their giggles and squeals of delight rose in the night. I did want to be a mother.
That didn't mean the fear wasn't still with me. Doesn't still shake my soul 13 years after my first child was born. Motherhood is saturated with the greatest joys and sorrow I have ever known.
On the day of my first ultrasound for my daughter, I lay alone in a dim room on a hard bed. The tech slid the wand across my abdomen in a slick of cold jelly and I wondered "What now?"
The galloping tattoo of a tiny heartbeat, a second heart beating within me, filled the room and I had to draw in my breath. I saw the baby in fuzzy black and white on the screen, at eight weeks, barely more than a peanut with arms and legs just beginning to bud. This was real, this life I was growing inside me.
I left the doctor's office in my car but had to pull to the side of the road a few miles away, I was shaking so badly. The responsibility I had to the new life inside me was overwhelming.
Sobbing, I wrapped my fingers around my belly, still flat, but not for long. This world was so fucked up, and this baby was so tiny. "I will take care of you, Peanut," I whispered fiercely. "I will protect you."
And then she was born, a whole month early and just four pounds nine ounces when I brought her home, and I realizedI was a liar.
I sat in a sunny window the day we brought her back from the hospital, nursing the most precious gift God could give me and again, I cried. Looking at her, so small in my arms, I knew even if I did my best I couldn't protect her from everything.
Forget the horrors of the world, I couldn't even keep her safe from the little things! My tears dropped to her head like a baptism of remorse for the times I wouldn't be able to shield her from the sting of mean girls or the ache of boys who would break her heart. From the little hurts that etch away at a child's soul, the scars growing harder as they grow up until one day the child is gone and you are left with an adult who faces the world, for better or worse, an amalgam of all their experiences, good and bad.
I vowed then that the good would outweigh the bad by a ton. THIS I could take ownership of.
I lost my second baby. Said I would never try again, but six months later, watching my daughter chortling as she was pulled in a wagon by her cousins at Thanksgiving, I realized again I couldn't let fear keep me from what I wanted, keep my daughter from having the joy she might find with a sibling.
A year later, my son was born. Watching them play together over the years, and fight together, and fight for each other, I am so glad I didn't stop at one. They fill my life with laughter and music and yes, frustration and fear and socks left everywhere but there is no greater happiness for me than spending time with my perfectly imperfect family.
The world may be a mess, that is something I've learned I have absolutely no control over. But inside my house, where mama is in charge, you'll find acceptance in droves, safety from the storm outside and magic, wherever I can make it.
My mother, she loves her grandchildren with the ferocity of a lioness. She watches my antics with bemusement and I know she thinks I go overboard sometimes, but she knows the place it comes from too.
Not once has she brought up that conversation on the porch 17 years ago and made me eat crow for scaring her and for foolishly believing I'd never have children.
"Never say never," she'll intone to me, waggling her finger in admonition. I echo her words with my own kids.
Never say never, indeed.