Her skin was starting to blotch.
The red patches were moving up my friend’s throat like a rising thermometer.
We were Facetiming, me in Edinburgh, Scotland, her in New York, from our bathrooms. She had locked herself away from her two small children. Promoted just before quarantine, she was having a hard time managing her new responsibilities alongside the attention her kids’ homeschooling and other activities demanded. She was parenting solo while her husband was at work at his nearby office. She needed to take a beat from her kids’ screams and persistent needs, she explained.
I was in the middle of my lockdown bubble bath.
She couldn’t hide her exasperation at catching me during my daily quarantine act of self-care.
“It’s hard,” she warned of being a mother. “You think you know, but you don’t know how hard it actually is until you’re in it.”
I had a clue, I reminded her.
Growing up, I regularly heard my father say he wished he would have waited to have me, and, from an early age, I knew not to make the same mistake. “Ready” for me has come later in life than most but not because I didn’t want to have children. And while I’ll agree to the adage “you’re never really ready,” there were things I wanted in place before I turned my attention away from myself and toward a family. The older I got, the less having a partner became a requirement—in life and for having kids. I am actually grateful to not have married the men I wanted to marry in my 20s, especially to not have had their children, forever bound to a bad choice.
For various reasons, I did not have the opportunity to have children in my 30s. Instead, I unapologetically used that time to become the person I had envisioned before procreating became a looming deadline. Despite passive aggressive warnings from the debutant cult, I didn’t shrivel up and die because I was single and childless when I hit 35. Instead, I took a sabbatical from “adulting,” moved countries, and spent the death rattle of my youth taking advantage of being single and child-free with minimal responsibilities. I partied—complete with red Solo Cups—didn't concern myself with finances, even joined Tinder. I thought, for sure, I would meet someone promising during this time. Yet none of the men I met classify as “the one who got away.”
So, in my 40s, I started to consider intentionally becoming a single mother, and soon thereafter, I met a wonderful man who didn’t want children. At the time, I wrote about how I wrestled with this relationship and the certainty of my desire to have a child, proclaiming definitively I’d raise them alone if I had to. No doubt deluded by love, I hoped he would consider dating me as a single mother (via adoption) particularly because we had a strong friendship. But when Scotland went into lockdown, it was logical for us to “separate,” he said.
“There’s no way I could do this by myself,” my friend continued during our call. “I feel like if you really did know, you wouldn’t be willfully going into this alone.”
I was the one taking a beat now.
How could I say she was wrong? For someone who has, for decades, endured relentless sardonic comments about being single and childless, only having myself to worry about during a global pandemic began to feel like being dealt a winning hand. After the schadenfreude of watching panicked parents actually having to parent 24/7 subsided, I witnessed them struggle, in real-time, from impossible expectations. People who were happy with children prior to the pandemic were very vocal with me as they grappled—some for the first time—with having to balance remote working and managing their children’s routines with no social outlet.
It’s certainly made me value my alone time during this lockdown even more. Better to be lonely at times than feeling trapped all the time, I figure.
Even without kids, quarantine began chipping away at my mental health. I've considered adoption partially because I fear becoming emotionally debilitated by the hormonal changes that pregnancy can bring about, especially without the support system of a partner. And partially because I do not want to give birth by myself. Of course, nobody expected that exact thing to be required of so many women who had babies during the COVID-19 crisis. Reading their stories has given me a glimpse of just how hard that would be for me and my child; a particularly lonely option given my lack of family.
Not to mention the obvious: What would I do if I were to fall ill as a single mother? Or injured? I am not long recovered from a severe knee dislocation that left me unable to walk for weeks. Even then, I was thankful to not have yet been a mom when it happened, though that would have been forgotten, if not for the coronavirus.
Then there is the stress of being a parent in unexpected situations, highlighted by today’s wildly uncertain times.
Eight weeks into lockdown, I found my cat vomiting string. I was beyond panicked and called my ex sobbing. Despite not having spoken in weeks, he dropped everything to accompany me to the emergency vet.
As we sat outside, six feet a part, under an unusually-hot-for-Scotland-sun, I watched a thin but steady stream of sweat run down his face. I wondered if he would have rushed to my aide if this were my child and not my cat.
“Can you imagine if this were a kid?” I asked.
“Oh, aye,” he said, “that’s why I don’t want one.”
Now I find myself seriously considering the question that lockdown has been pushing to the forefront of my mind: Do I really want to do this alone?
I sink deeper in the bath.
The bubbles rise with the steam, and my skin begins to blotch.
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