12/15/07 For those of us shopping for other people’s children


I was thinking about my Saturday shopping trip and regretting that my nieces and nephews all live in other states. I would again be mailing gifts, e-shopping and hoping for photographs or phone calls to share their joy. I was not expected to be blindsided by grief.

This year, I now know that I will never be Christmas shopping for my own child, as there will be no child of mine ever. Right now, I intend to blame BRCA and rail at a condition that made me choose to cut out my fertility. I have not cried enough for the anger, fear, hatred and loss I feel about that condition. Still I do not expect to have it sneak up on my like this at a chain restaurant during lunch.

My busy mind will not stay on the feeling, however. Always thinking, it is branding me a hypocrite, as I know that I have been choosing not to have a child for years. I am forty three, for goodness sake. It has, however been a hard choice for all that time. As a physician, I am quite familiar with the Down Syndrome graphs, and had set my deadline at 40. I let the deadline come and go.

So many reasons why it would not work, should not happen. My work, my personality, my partners, my maturity level, or lack of, my finances, my time demands and failure to organize. As a lesbian, having a child is a bit more complicated, more choices, more uncertainty. Who should have the child – in my case, it always fell to me, as all three of the women I have shared my life with were opposed to passing on their genes. How ironic. Who would be the father? Who would care for the child? How would I work? What would people think?

Time passed. Chances slipped by. I would not do it alone. And finally the life I have and my place in it, is not compatible with having a child. My partner refuses to consider it, and she is right. She worried that I would care well enough for a dog, and she is correct to some extent. She fed the dog last night, toddling around on her walker, because I sat and forgot about that minor daily chore.

Still it was hard to decide to have the ooph(bilateral preventative oophorectomy – removal of both ovaries), even while I was terrified of getting cancer. I wished I had other choices than having a child immediately, while my mind was a whirling dervish, in a life not ready for one, or be done with the idea once and forever. And so, I decided to be done forever with my fertility and dreams of children. My gyn-onc (gynecologic oncologist) did not even consider that I would think about it. The subject never came up. We talked about hormones, and residual risks and what to do with the uterus. But at my age, as a lesbian physician, he never even mentioned that I was permanently ending my fertility. I hope that the younger ladies are reminded of that.

And so I will mail the gifts and charge the cards, and wait for calls and snapshots. Thankfully I have cousin to hold, and friends kids to watch open their gifts. I will hug my demented grandmother and talk of her great grandchildren all over the country, and try not to think of how holidays might have been different, and how I will ever recapture the excitement of Christmas at Grandma’s as a lesbian maiden aunt.

Sitting here, I am thinking that I will need to travel for Christmas, will have to plan ahead, and figure how to be there with my sisters and brothers as they celebrate with their children. Plan how to guilt Mom and Dad into changing their winter plans to accommodate one or the other. I will not mail the gifts for Zachary and Jackson. Their Christmas card will carry just a promise that I will come in January and we will celebrate then with candles and hot chocolate and mint. And I will travel with gifts, to make it special for me. I will put up the tree, and invite the friends and the cousins and grandma, and play music and eat good food, if my DSO (dear significant other) can coach me from the couch.

I will thank God for my DSO’s family and their penchant for going overboard at Christmas with two twenty something nephews who still don elf hats to pass out presents.

I know that there are plenty of children in need of substitute Santa’s. Steve’s Big Brothers and Big Sisters. Annie’s kids. Foster children everywhere. Orphans in the third world and in the hospital wards. Not sure whether I can change all of those amorphous factors that got me here, to be a good substitute for one or two of them. Perhaps that should be a goal.

So off to the bookstore, with a clearer head, and a mission to find a book for each nephew and niece, and try not to overcompensate for distance by dollars. (Did not succeed at that) I will take solace that no child of mine will ever have to decide whether to test or when to test, or when to conceive and with whom. I will grieve for myself and for each of us who have to face the holidays buying gifts and celebrating with other people’s children.


I posted this essay on the FORCE boards, and was validated in my feelings by several posts from women in similar and different situations, and by Steve, who recounted his grief for his daughter having to make the tougher decision to have an ooph at a younger age, giving up her dream to have a child.

My therapist called it heart rending and beautiful, and praised me for writing it, particularly for sketching out a path for the future.

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