I’m Not Pregnant, I’m Just Not Drinking Alcohol Today.
“Have something, na?” I had already declined the offer of a drink twice, but my husband’s relative rattled off a full bar menu in hopes of enticing me. It was a hot afternoon – maybe a gin and tonic? Some white wine? They even had Pimm’s hoarded somewhere – they could make me a cocktail!
“No, really, I just want water.”
A look of comprehension dawned on her face, followed by a coy smile.
“Oh, okay,” she said, patting her husband’s arm to stop his good-natured pressure. Her eyes dropped to the vicinity of my belly. “Okay.”
“Actually, I’ll have that gin,” I said in desperation.
I spent the rest of the visit sipping my drink gingerly between waves of nausea. The truth was I wasn’t pregnant; I wasn’t even trying. I was terribly hungover from the night before, the latest in an unusually high number of celebrations and social gatherings during the preceding weeks. I was looking forward to a detox; the second-to-last thing I wanted was more alcohol.
The very last thing I wanted was for the rumor of a pregnancy to unspool before my husband and I had even decided whether we want kids.
There are many worse things than people thinking I am pregnant. But if I’m honest, one of the biggest obstacles to coming around to the idea of having children is the lack of control it would entail – over my body, my personality, over life. Speculation about what’s going on in my belly feels like the first incursion on my autonomy. I know I don’t have to drink when I don’t want to, but it’s the easiest way to fend off reductive interest: A married, childless woman in her 30s with a drink could be anything. (Especially if it’s the drink that’s one-too-many — look out, world!)
A married, childless woman in her 30s without a drink is a womb.
It wouldn’t be so bad, perhaps, if it wasn’t part of a broader, growing sense that I should be pregnant. Or at the very least, shouldn’t be disgruntled by an assumption that I’m trying, that I want to be. That I should be saying “not yet” instead of “no” when asked if I have kids. While I’ve been lucky not to face much direct familial pressure to have children, there is the sense, from this interaction and others, that everyone is waiting with bated breath. I hear similar, more overt stories from friends in India and abroad – bright, accomplished women who have built up astonishing careers are now being told their success is great and all, but it’s time they focus on starting a family. Before it’s too late.
It used to be that studies and work success came first. It used to be that declining a drink meant you’d had a crazy last night.
As one friend succinctly put it: “When did the goalposts move?” When did pregnancy and motherhood become the expectation, the conclusion leapt to – the conclusion we should leap to for ourselves?
Again, perhaps all of this would be bearable, navigable, if your own body wasn’t jumping into the fray, too. With each passing year, my period gets lighter, shorter – something I celebrated with astonished joy until a friend described the same experience as “watching her fertility vanish before her very eyes.”
I remember vividly a night during early adolescence when, wracked with cramps and leaking blood, I stayed up calculating how many periods I was likely to have left in my lifetime. Recently, I calculated how many eggs I have left – roughly less than a quarter of what I was born with. And with each passing year, the odds they’ll contain a genetic hitch or several go up. I simultaneously worry and don’t care.
Over the past few years, I’ve watched my hips gradually widen from the 12-year-old boy figure I’ve had since adolescence, to something more akin to “childbearing,” despite running two half marathons, eating well, and maintaining a reasonable fluctuation in weight. It’s a change I would’ve been thrilled about in high school, when all I wanted was curves and the dates I thought they’d attract. Now, it’s just disconcerting. “It’s been fun,” your body says, “but now it’s really time to become an adult — before it’s too late.”
I thought I was an adult already. I’ve worked since I was 16, haven’t lived at home since I was 18. I went to college, got good internships, then good jobs. I pay rent, loans and bills, own major appliances, and have weathered serious illness and grieved death. I recognize that having kids is a whole other level of responsibility. But isn’t it adult to consider, to prepare, to look before you leap? To not let anyone, or even your own body, pressure you into something you’re not sure you want to do?
I sympathize with the pregnancy-watchers, I really do. I still hold over my typically much-more-observant husband the two pregnancies I’ve sussed out, among our group of friends, in their early stages. There’s something very satisfying in the detection of a secret, especially if it’s a good, happy secret, as pregnancies ideally are.
But when that starts to feel like the only secret anyone, including your own body, wants from you, the naked truth feels more valuable.
“Not drinking?” an acquaintance asked at a recent, impromptu gathering. My husband and I had just finished a whirlwind tidying-up ahead of the first knock on our door. I was sweaty and dehydrated.
“I’m going to have some water first,” I said, with no real intention of anything more after. “It’s so hot.”
“Oh,” she said. Then, “oh!” The same coy smile and furtive glance. Then a longer, excited glance at the others in the room, a look that seemed to acknowledge an open secret.
“No – no really, I just want water,” I said, flustered by her assumption.
Her smile wavered, but remained. She wasn’t convinced.
I had a beer.