Letters of Intent: Page 3

 I weigh the pros and cons, but still I reach no conclusions. While I think it’s probably better for kids to have more emotionally mature parents, I see a younger generation who put off having children, struggling with fertility problems. We worried about unwanted pregnancies, you worry about not getting pregnant when and if you decide to have kids.

I was programmed to marry early, have babies, and become, maybe, the president of the PTA. Dutiful daughter that I was, I married the summer between my junior and senior years of college, the first of my friends to walk down the aisle, But just five weeks before the wedding my beloved father died suddenly and from that moment on my life would never be the same.

I had no one to talk to about my loss. My mother was in denial. My new husband wasn’t one for showing emotion or dealing with feelings. I felt isolated. So I did what I knew how to do best, what I thought my father would want me to do. I pretended to be happy. I finished school. I became pregnant. I played house. I had a second child. I was twenty-five years old. I chased away my inner voice and suffered a series of exotic illnesses. Fevers, rashes, infections. Depression? The word wasn’t a part of my vocabulary or my family’s or any of the doctors treating me. I felt old, much older than I feel now as I approach my sixtieth birthday. Then I began to write and writing changed my life.

The women’s movement came late to suburban New Jersey. I had no consciousness-raising group. No friends who were supportive of my attempts at writing. I felt resentment from the other young women on the street where I lived. Maybe even fear. It was a question of’ “Why can’t you be like us? Why don’t you stop trying to be different and just concentrate on fitting in?” They didn’t want anyone rocking their boats. And neither did their husbands.

I never felt imprisoned by my children. I felt imprisoned by my marriage, a marriage born in another era that never moved forward. Marriage itself isn’t imprisoning. It can be liberating with the right partner (and I’ve been with the right partner for the past eighteen years). You ask if my then husband helped with the kids, and I laugh, reading your question. He wanted a traditional wife. He felt deceived, I think, that the girl he married turned into some rebellious woman he didn’t know, didn’t want to know. He didn’t give a damn about my needs.

Ultimately it was my growing awareness of the women’s movement that helped give me the courage I needed to make changes in my life. How I longed to be a part of it, to carry a banner. I understand your mother, Jennifer, and how after reading The Women’s Room, she came home mad as hell! For me it was Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying. I wanted to fly too, to take off and try my wings and taste life. All the rules had suddenly changed, and I wanted to play by the new ones. Your mother was brave enough to try to change the rules within her marriage. She wasn’t afraid to speak out. Maybe that’s why your parents are still together.

Writing saved my life, physically and emotionally, but it couldn’t save my marriage. When I decided to leave after sixteen years, in 1975, my children (who were then twelve and fourteen) came with me. They were the most important part of my life, and we were never apart.

That age-old problem you wrote about – motherhood versus losing oneself – well, yes, having a baby may stop you for a while. So what? Give yourself permission to enjoy your baby. Having a family takes time. Hell, having a relationship takes time! Don’t beat up on yourself. If you decide to have a child, be realistic. You can’t always have it all. Not at the same time, anyway. All that bullshit we were once fed about being superwomen drove some women mad. It made them feel guilty about doing less, wanting less. Some women will be able to have kids and never miss more than a couple of weeks at work, if that. Others will find it impossible. Listen to your inner voice. Don’t chase it away because it frightens you or because it’s not PC. Don’t let anyone else make the decisions about what’s right for you.

Look, some women will have no choice, ever. They’ll have to work to support their children whether they want to or not. That’s reality. All I’m saying is there’s no way to know ahead of time what’s going to happen. You can analyze ad nauseum but you still can’t plan life because life is a series of surprises.

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