Addressing the Biological Time ClockDecember 18th, 2009 at 11:54
My partner Sally and I made the decision to get married in May of 1983 after living together for half a year and talking through how we wanted to define what we both knew (pretty early on in our cohabitation) was going to be a life-long partnership between us. Initially, the primary discussion was whether to subject our relationship to the conventions of marriage, and all the patriarchal assumptions that might go with those conventions. Having resolved that, whether to have children was also part of those initial discussions, but at the point of our decision to marry we had only agreed that we were not precluding raising a family and would continue to discuss that option in our path forward. Finding “a mother for my future children” was not one of my motivations!
At the time of our decision to marry I was 27 and she was 34. We were both feminist activists who had committed most of our waking hours the previous couple years to the goals and efforts of the National Organization for Women, which at the time was focused on ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment and protecting women’s reproductive rights. It was that shared commitment to feminist values that was one of the key bonds between us, along with a profound sense of ease around each other.
I could see she and I as a couple continuing to focus our time and energy on the evolving women’s rights campaign, transitioning (after ERA ratification fell three states short) to more of a political action focus of trying to get more women elected to public office to transform the “boys’ club” orientation of Congress and state legislatures. Being parents wasn’t part of that vision for our partnership going forward at that point.
But from the beginning of our negotiations, Sally had been up front about the fact that, though prior to hooking up with me she had pretty much not thought about having a family, our union had kindled that idea. She said that she felt there were a couple souls out there waiting for us to be ready to be their parents. Timing was an issue, since she was already in her mid thirties.
I had responded that I had no reasons or feelings for not having kids, but that maybe I had a ways to go before I was far enough along in my own development to play a key role in someone else’s. Having and raising children together and in particular my feelings and readiness for this very challenging task (particularly the raising part) felt like a profound transition from individual searcher to one who will be majorly involved in giving back. She accepted that, and we agreed that we would wait and see how things (including ourselves) developed.
Our jobs with NOW paid very little and were always tenuous, given the ups and downs of the organization’s fortunes and finances, so Sally seized an opportunity just prior to our marriage date to get a “real job” working in operations for the UCLA fundraising campaign. Though I continued to work for NOW, I at least broadened my future options by going back to school (initially community college) towards a degree in computer science, an area I continued to nurture an interest in, and a field where one could earn a pretty good living. If having kids was going to be a viable option somewhere (nearer or farther) down the road, our partnership needed to have more of a financial stake.
A year passed with me taking the prerequisites at West LA Community College so I could transfer to a four-year school (to get my degree in computer science), and Sally settling into her work at UCLA with a long-term trajectory. We were still very involved in the feminist movement, no longer for pay but as volunteers. Sally even made an attempt to run for the NOW National Board, but fell a few votes short at a regional conference. Maybe that was a milestone for both of us that the universe was urging us in another direction.
Neither of us thought of ourselves as parent types. We were not drawn to the few kids of other people we knew, or had had opportunities to babysit nieces, nephews or friends’ kids. I don’t think either of us had ever even changed one diaper in our entire lives at that point. Ours was mainly a world of highly functional politically conscious adults, many single or in life partnerships (heterosexual or same-sex), but without kids. Mostly sharing our feminist sensibility, our circle of friends and comrades certainly weren’t discouraging us, generally feeling that if there was a couple that could raise the next generation of feminists to continue to carry the torch, it might well be us.
So given that mixed context, Sally and I decided in early 1995 to go for it. Maybe for me, who might in other circumstances have charted a course for my entire life (or at least a number of years without children), the uniqueness of our strong partnership built on feminist principles added to my motivation. I increasingly felt so good about the two of us, and what we were capable of as a couple, that it was like, “bring it on… we can do this!”, and we were soon blessed with Sally getting pregnant.
At about five months, we announced this to the world to great reviews from family and friends. It helped to have a large supportive community positively anticipating the event. Our dear friend and fellow NOW activist Susan helped us find a little fixer-upper “HUD House” that we could just barely afford in the San Fernando Valley (the iconic suburbia made famous or infamous by Frank Zappa and his daughter Moon Unit in his song “Valley Girl”) in the north part of Los Angeles, more of a conservative, family-oriented, bedroom community than the more politically progressive and more perhaps adult-oriented Fairfax and West Hollywood environs that we had been living our lives in.
With help with the down payment from Sally’s folks, and a lot of sweat equity from our selves and circles of family and friends, we had suddenly transitioned from being two independent minded feminist activists enmeshed in a milieu of such peers to a married couple with a “bun in the oven” and a house in the suburban “Valley”. A bit mind-boggling!
But again as seekers, if not so much natural parent types, Sally and I were throwing ourselves into this most profound of projects, starting a family. We were determined to bring to this effort all our love and energy, feminist principles, outside the box thinking, and determination not to succumb to conventional wisdom (though not always successful in retrospect.) We waited excitedly to see what sort of souls, with what sort of life agendas, would choose us as their parents.
So now nearly 25 years later as I recall and write this piece, though maybe not so much at the time, I see the parallels and generational continuity with the story of my own mom and dad and their decision to have and raise kids, not because of the conventional wisdom that that was the thing to do, but perhaps as a powerful statement of perpetuating progressive humanist values, and giving life, love and liberty to souls ready to chart the adventure of incarnation.