Kids? No thanks.
I went to a consultation at an egg freezing clinic in Los Angeles two weeks ago because, well, I love a project.
I had just finished a play in New York and hate the nonnegotiable stretches in an actor’s life where we wait — sometimes unbearably — for the next gig. The fertility doctor said my insides were ripe and gorgeous (better feedback than my last audition) and, well, flattery will get you everywhere, folks. They say artists should create their own work, so I embarked on a project with my ovaries. Apparently I’ll do literally anything not to write my screenplay.
But this nagging fear keeps clouding my apparent nonchalance: If someone had told me when I was a child that I would be single and freezing my eggs in my 30s, while writing love letters that I’ll never never send to an ex-boyfriend from six years ago, it would have decimated me. No other accomplishment in my life today could soothe the failure and pain I’d imagine a single woman at my age could feel. Beneath my defiant joie de vivre, I’m paralysed with a recurring terror: Am I doing my life wrong? Will I one day regret who I have chosen to be?
All this persistent fear has revealed a dirty little secret I’ve never admitted, even to myself… until, maybe now. As early as, I don’t know — I had a discernible heartbeat? — I made a plan for my life that seems to defy everything I purport to stand for today. I, a feminist, raised in New York City by university worshipping parents who told me I could be anything when I grow up, aspired to be a housewife. Sure, I planned to be a wildly successful something or another until I was 29. But, naturally then, I would be rescued by a rich husband and never experience fear or pain ever again (as long as I had the perfect body, of course). What a whole lot of money my lovely parents were spending on an education that, truth be told, I did not plan to use for a breath longer than my twenties. But what a great way to meet a successful husband to support me in my future perfect body.
Even though my actions since university have consistently bucked that plan, as I sit here freezing my eggs and missing my ex, I realise I’ve never stopped subscribing to it. Despite years of fighting for happiness on my own terms, I haven’t let go of what I thought I needed to be a happy adult woman. I must secure my life with a husband, his money and our children, without which I’d be kidding myself if I actually believed I was happy.
Of course, this isn’t true. As the late great Jill Clayburgh would have calmly reassured my younger self: self-supporting single women are wildly happy. Today I’m full of the deepest contentment I’ve ever known (and have the financial means to freeze my eggs). I’d sooner die than give up my acting career, and I’d be very surprised if I enjoyed raising a child, let alone the second one you’re supposed to have in order to make sure that the first one turns out normal.
So, what the hell am I doing? Is this all worth the exorbitant $15,000 (£11,610), weeks of hormone injections, a month of my life, no travel, and the ongoing egg storage fees for children I don’t think I want? If children become important to me someday, surely I could just adopt? But here I am, because the path I dreamed for my life as a child hasn’t materialised — and suddenly, that fear: Am I doing my life wrong?
Life is unpredictable. I’m a completely different person now than I was six years ago. All I know is that I don’t know anything about the person I could be six years from now. And damn it, I just want the same leisure of time that men have when deciding what they want to be when they grow up.
The original life plan, where I’m happily married, supported by someone else, raising our family, and going to calorie-free barbecues all day, still sounds good to me. It feels wrong to admit that, anti-feminist even, but I confess, it sounds good. But of course it does: it’s a fantasy. It’s not a real option.
I almost achieved this exact fantasy six years ago, and to be honest, it more closely resembled the apocalypse than Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks. When I was in that “the one” relationship with my then boyfriend and rescuer, I almost died from exhaustion: the exhaustion of my own impossible standards that I had to be ferociously successful, physically nonexistent, and absolutely everything to the man I loved in order to be a not-failure. Performing eight Broadway shows per week, taking two spin classes per day, and making hourly devoted promises I never kept, did not lead to nirvana. It lead me to inpatient treatment and the worst break up I’ve ever lived through. In grasping for perfection, I left out every real thread of the tapestry of what it looks like when a woman is a human being. It was spiritual suicide, and I hurt him so much too.
I’ve needed about six years to recover from that bottom and to grow out of my disordered, childish beliefs. Six years later, I have a bigger, more varied farmer’s market haul of love and resources: a healthy body that I adore, an artistic career that I’m incredibly proud of, jobs that delight and challenge me, a multitude of friendships that are rich and hilarious, a dog who tortures me, a recovery community that I serve daily, and occasionally, every blood moon or so, really great sex. My childhood self got everything she thought could only come from a husband, his money, and kids. Well, kind of.
But there is a defect in my spiritual rehabilitation: Like a lot of people, I’m still trying to control the outcome. It’s just swung in the opposite direction. I went from dreaming about being a deliriously happy wife and mother, to forcing myself into satisfaction with solitude. Dating is — to put it unbelievably lightly — hard, and relationships where I’m seen intimately as my complete imperfect self are downright frightening. If after all that, no man is ever going to enter on a white horse and be the perfect painkiller, the solution must be skipping this whole fantasy altogether and accepting that ultimately all we have in life are ourselves and our work. Kill Meg Ryan, fuck Colin Hanks, and marry myself. How evolved of me: I’ll be a bachelor.
Either I’m right, or I’m so totally wrong that I’m depriving myself of life’s greatest joys. It’s a pretty high stakes crossroads for me.
Millions of generations of humans are probably not all wrong when they say that having children is one of life’s most meaningful endeavours, to say nothing of having a life partner. But my way? Where I just work and love my friends? It’s safer. It’s choosing to want what I know I can have. I can’t manifest someone I’m in love with out of thin air, and if I did, I would still have to face and be seen in my mortal imperfection. It’s painful to keep longing for old love that isn’t meant to be. It’s nauseating to stare at a biological clock and play the mental tape of, “Well, if I met someone now, and we dated for a year, and decided to get married, by then I would have X much time to have one child.” Yikes. So, I decided to not want those kids! Time and love are things I can’t control, so I’d rather convince myself to want freedom, self-reliance, and the pursuit of great art. Why couldn’t I love working forever, having boyfriends as I wish, and never getting bored by the 18 year imprisonment and financial ruin of raising children?
It’s totally possible that I could. I’m just not sure yet. Suddenly, I’m facing both. I want the security of happiness I can depend on and I want the beautiful wild things I can’t control.
Honestly, I’m not freezing my eggs because I secretly want kids. I’m freezing my eggs to give myself the opportunity to want them. If six years ago I was sick, and today my life is a varied and beautiful market-basket of gladiolas and freelance writing and laughter, in six more years I could be anyone. I’m not withering, as I feared I must after age 29, I’m blooming. So, with an open mind and willingness, even a desire to be absolutely wrong about everything I think I know, I’m freezing my eggs. Not for my future children, but for the child I once was, whose parents told her she could be anything. And now HAVE anything. When I know what that is, I will have the miraculous privilege of going after that with all the wild flowers in my heart.
DESIGN AND ART DIRECTION ANDREINA CARRILLO. ANIMATION BY MISHA TOWNSEND.