(WOMENSENEWS)--When my father's birthday approaches I'm often susceptible to the TV-commercial version of the parent-child relationship. The sweetness of a child sleeping on her father's chest. Sunlit mornings in the kitchen, mother and daughter sharing a bowl of sugar-free cereal.
Studio lighting and child actors have this way of filtering out reality, of dropping softened edges on parenthood to make it look suspiciously appealing.
But they don't blot out my own, unmediated visions of parenthood, which come with panicky sensations akin to miniature minefields exploding under my ribs. Pregnancy. Crying. Potty-training. PTA meetings.
In my early 20s, with a low-paying job and a beer in the refrigerator, a child was the last thing I wanted. Every month, I ran through the same questions as I anxiously awaited my period. Were we careful? (Yes.) But were we careful enough? (People get pregnant while being careful.) Still. We were. We were careful.
My 20s remained child-free.
And I maintained my anxious vigil into my early 30s. My period draws near and I cross my fingers.
It's not that my husband and I don't take precautions; we do. But we're using traditional birth control; there's always the chance it'll happen. Always the slight chance we'll become parents. Something we would not welcome.
Even when I was much younger--a teenager--I was sure I didn't want children.
"You'll change your mind," they--friends, and even mere acquaintances--would say. (Funny they--the "they" who always seem to have something to say--never say, "You'll change your mind," to girls who say they desperately want children.) "Why don't you think you want kids?" they'd ask, as if I weren't sure. Someone once even suggested there must have been psychological trauma in my childhood, or a strained relationship with my mother, to explain my apparently unusual disinclination toward motherhood.
I viewed my lack of interest in motherhood the way many who want children view their very pressing interest: It was what it was and with little reason. The way some women desire children, I simply didn't. Babies brought into work by new mothers didn't make me long for the day I could go shopping for fuzzy blankets and tiny boots. Children bouncing around on green lawns didn't encourage a second, hopeful look that one day those children would be on my lawn.
My first husband was also skeptical. I told him before he proposed that I didn't think parenthood was for me, but he'd asked me to marry him anyway. "We don't need to have kids," he'd say.
Not much later, when he figured out I wasn't going to change my mind, we divorced. Like most others, he believed I would come around. What woman doesn't want to have kids, after all?
Baby Appeared in Dreams
Then, about a year ago--when my current husband and I were on our second year--a baby appeared in one of my dreams.
It was a girl, and she wore a white, patterned onesie. Her head rested on my shoulder and even now I remember the weight of her on my arm. There is no way for me to know the love a mother feels for her child, but that dream might have come close; it was one of the more intense and unique experiences I've had.
It was sweet. It was nice.
And yet, it was just a dream. Ten seconds of warm baby feelings simply weren't enough to sway me.
It was the inability of such a beautiful sensation to change my mind that clinched it. I did not, nor would I ever, want children. Final answer.
I later told my husband about the dream, shared the strange sensation of being what I imagined was a mother and ended with emphasizing I would very much hate to accidentally get pregnant.
Phone Calls to Doctor
Some weeks later I drove to his office to drop something off and he told me he'd started making phone calls.
"What kind of phone calls?"
"Insurance company. Doctor's offices."
He was planning a vasectomy.
We'd discussed the possibility in our not-so-distant past, but a vasectomy hadn't felt right to him before. He had few objections to not having children; that wasn't the issue. Quite simply, his body was his body. It did what it did. It was unnatural to have surgeons in there messing around, changing things, making holes and slicing tubes. Because I was equally unexcited about the thought of getting a tubal ligation--greater risks and side-effects--I'd understood and hadn't pressed him.
So I was stunned to find out he'd made calls and wasn't sure if I should thank him, ask him if he was OK or tell him--out of politeness--"Oh, you don't have to do that."
What I said was, "Oh. OK."
I thought about it on the drive home.
Standard birth control is tentative, shaky. Whether the pill, an implant or a condom, there's always that small margin for error.
A vasectomy is (practically) foolproof. And permanent. Solid.
If he had a vasectomy, I would definitely--for real--not be a mother. Not be a parent. Ever.
When I looked 10 years down Vasectomy Road, there were no kids playing in it. Not even the hovering 'oops' child, which in the past had always presented itself as a sort of roadblock in my life map.
Not a single second thought presented itself. I was so happy I could have screamed.
Kristen Tsetsi writes for a Connecticut newspaper and is the author of "Homefront." Her Web site can be found at http://www.kristentsetsi.com/.
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"I Become a Mother of a Chinese-American Girl":
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