Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
Birth Stories

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I've been informed that my grandchildren will come via adoption. "Oh, really," I say. "Why?"

"No kissing," my daughter replies. "Kissing is just too gross." And she puckers up her lips to kiss the air and then shakes her head as if to say, no, that's just not for me.

Maybe we've made too much of the "babies come out of love" angle. After all, there are many non-kissing approaches to motherhood, methods I'm now finding myself explaining to her at bedtime.

"How come she doesn't know her dad?" my daughter asks about one of her friends.

"Her mom really wanted to have a baby, but there wasn't a dad." I start to tell the story.

"So she was adopted?"

"No, she grew inside of her mother," I explain, and introduce the concept of the anonymous sperm donor. Sperm she knows about, having already grasped the basic understanding that babies come from eggs and sperm. But donor and sperm bank, that's brand new material.

I talk about our friends who are single mothers, the families who have two moms, and the adopted children we know. The birth stories of her friends is as varied as their ethnic diversity. I describe how some babies are born through surrogacy. "I know another way!" my daughter exclaims as if we're in a brainstorming session to come up with all the many different ways to have children. "You can marry someone who already has some!" Her aunt is the model for this option, providing two lovely wonderful adult cousins.

Yet more ways to avoid the kissing, she must be thinking, as she drifts off to sleep, as the words "donor" and "sperm bank" swirl around and enter into the new vocabulary section of her 6-year-old brain.

I know she'll move beyond her anti-kissing stance, but I don't know what she'll desire for her own motherhood. Will she delay childbearing the way I did, or marry early and have the large family that she does not have now? And maybe, by the time she's ready to contemplate motherhood, her decisions and choices will be those we can't even imagine, even in our most creative brainstorming sessions.

* * *

My daughter is an only, but not because we had planned it that way. I've called her conception a natural phenomenon, a surprise that came after we had almost given up on the sperm-meets-egg plan and were beginning to contemplate procedures that didn't involve any kissing. She was a long time in coming, and my desire for motherhood was a hunger growing more ravenous every month. Some months it felt like starvation gnawing at me, my insides empty. I dreamed of swallowing a tiny seed that would sprout inside.

And, in the rainiest of winters, it did.

In my perfect mothering plan, I'd have two, or even three, and while I'm in that fantasy world, I'd have flocks of extended family nearby and a husband who is home for dinner every night. But, just as I am unable to change my height, or lack of it, there are things beyond my control. So instead, I embrace acceptance and appreciation. I have a child. And nine memorable months when she grew inside of me, an experience I thought I might never be able to have.

There are times when I wish my motherhood story was one with a longer character list and more chapters, but I'm grateful for what's there. This is what was written. This is what it is.

* * *

Boing -- I pull gently on one of her curls. They're shiny and corkscrew-like, silky clean from the bath.

"Don't!" she commands.

"I can if I want to," I say in a snide, mocking 6-year-old tone. Since she has no siblings, when the opportunity arises for me to act like one, I do. "I made you," I add.

"You did not make me --" she smiles her Jack O'lantern grin at the same time as she narrows her eyes in feigned disgust. "You just made me be born."


Joanne Catz Hartman, lives with her husband and daughter in northern California. She wrote the Literary Mama column Mother Angst and was also a columnist for San Francisco’s J . Her work appears in the anthologies Literary Mama: Reading for the Maternally Inclined, Using Our Words, and The Knitter’s Gift. Prior to motherhood, she worked for a New England public television station on an award-winning feature magazine show, was a reporter and photographer for a sailing magazine, an editor at a wire service, and spent a decade teaching middle school.


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