My mother had me at 22, the average age that young women in Jamaica have their first child. When I was 22, I was applying to graduate school; dating women and going to parties and poetry cafes; jobless, carrying around a college degree in my box of things. I couldn’t fathom being responsible for another human being then.
My sister, like my mother, had her first child in her early 20s and her second child six years later. We still looked and sounded alike, but I was keenly aware of the difference — my baby sister becoming a woman before my eyes. My mother proudly assumed the role of grandmother. Soon, my Ivy League degrees and achievements paled in comparison with my sister’s miracle.
After she had her first child, my sister dropped out of college, and we got into a battle about ambition. I probably shouldn’t have said the things I said to her, the only person who supported me when I first came out as a lesbian to the family, but I was shocked that she would put her college degree on hold to have a baby. We came to America as immigrants with the understanding that there was no room for mistakes that would keep us from achieving the American dream. But who was I, a broke graduate student who had just switched careers to pursue my dream as a writer, to make such a claim?
My sister ended up marrying her high school sweetheart, the father of her child, who is now an accountant. They live on Long Island with their two beautiful children. Culturally speaking, she made it. Unlike me, she doesn’t have six-figure student loans and the battle between time and her aging ovaries to think about.
I was never sold on motherhood until I started babysitting my nephews. Before then, I had deeply resented how the world perceives black women as maternal figures, the media often portraying us as mammies, in complete disregard of those who might not have a maternal bone in their bodies — bodies we have struggled and fought to own since the dark history of slavery. In protest, I refused to really look at children. But my nephews transformed my resentment of mothering into hope, and I fell in love.
My wife and I met 11 years ago, when we were in our mid-20s. It has been seven years since we got married. I knew from early on in our relationship that she wanted to bear children. Ever since she was a young girl, she knew she wanted to carry a baby of her own.
“What does it feel like? To be sure you want to?” I asked her once, lying in bed, listening to her heartbeat, desperately wishing I could feel that yearning too.