Thanksgiving. Another holiday, another trip to my hometown, another reunion with old friends, another breaking news bulletin that somebody is pregnant. Cue: excited squeal.
In my twenties, engagement announcements started rolling in. This was ok. It was even exciting. I easily adjusted to the idea that even my oldest friends would soon be settling down. (Preferably with as little emphasis on “settling” as possible.) But now that I’ve entered my thirties, it’s the pitter-patter of little tax dependents that is slowly growing louder. This is slightly more unsettling. Not because I see baby-making ventures as somehow building new interfering walls between me and my chums; I mean, once they’re a newlywed, you’ve already lost your friend to a future of responsible bedtimes and reasonable drinking habits anyway. But watching as my pals become parents just underscores the very different (and if I happen to be tonsil-deep in wine, depressing) timelines under which we are operating.
They’re pregnant. I’m just —late.
Not, “Can you give me a ride to the clinic after school?” late. But a bit behind in what I thought would be a steady, reliable tempo of incremental life milestones. Don’t get me wrong, by no means am I under powerful peer pressure to have kids; as is common in my generation, the vast majority of my friends— including those significantly older than me - are still childless. Many are still uncoupled. (And anyway, I’ve noticed that I seem to be making new single friends, unconsciously or not, at a rate that still keeps the married folks in the minority. Take that!)
But in the last few years, there’s been a dramatic acceleration of change in the relationship- and child rearing-status of my oldest friends, those I’ve known since we were kids and to whom I’m most likely to look to gauge my age-appropriateness and general normalcy. With their every home purchased, wedding vow exchanged, and child born, my own life increasingly feels like a scientific experiment with results radically departing from the control group. I’ve been in the lab for a number of years now, mixing and matching parts and potions to find the right formula for success—as I define it, anyway. Right now, the test tubes are getting a little smoky; but what happens if, you know, it doesn’t get better? What if in a few more years, the whole thing goes KABLOOEY? I’ll be left standing in the rubble with my combusted beakers, blackened, blown-out goggles around my neck and my hair fried into a white halo like a cartoon Einstein. (Minus the smarts.)
Really, I don’t need to be a scientist to do the increasingly unsympathetic backwards math: first, I take the age at which I want to have children. Then I subtract a few years to allow for enjoyment of some childfree married life. Then I subtract a few more years to account for building that relationship. And so on and so forth, until I realize that in order to make all this happen, I should have been barefoot and watching-somebody-else-be-pregnant by the time I was in junior high. In retrospect, I guess I’m glad things haven’t worked out exactly according to plan.
But you catch my drift. I’m getting a little behind here, and that’s extra irksome since I intend to raise my child with a husband. Same-sex couples have to account for family-building timelines to account for conversations and processes that most opposite-sex couples won’t have to tackle. How is it going to happen? Adoption? (That opens up a whole other timeline.) Surrogate? If so, who? How? Who fathers? I have my preferences – will they match with his? If they don’t, how long will it take to find a compromise? In the meanwhile, what do I need to do to prepare? How much longer before my career feels like it’s on solid enough footing that I can devote time to family planning? How long until my salary feels comfortable enough to support another human being?
If, at a certain point, these variables fail to satisfy and certain planets don’t align, what happens? Do I revise plans, rewrite them, or throw them out altogether? Do I raise a child alone? Do I not raise a child at all? I’ve been an uncle since age 11, and have never doubted I wanted to some day be a father. From where I stand now, is that still a realistic goal? Why is it so important to me? And why must I hyper-analyze such a sincere, deeply felt desire in order to protect myself from the inevitable suggestions that I’ve merely been brainwashed into echoing heteronormative values? (Nice try. Beat you to it. Congrats on taking a 101-level Queer Studies course, you radical, you.)
I’m not suggesting it’s a cake walk for straight couples to start families, but in their case, at least a few of these questions will be taken off the table. I have a veritable essay test in front of me, and eventually the bell is going to ring. On the plus side, being gay frees me from being expected to slavishly follow a baby-making script. I get to write my own. My parents won’t be as expectant, my peers won’t apply as much pressure, and my biological clock won’t run out – even if my patience with myself might.
I can’t lie: I sometimes think it might be nice to have a socially agreed-upon agenda laid out in front of me. It might force my hand to act, if only in laying a firm foundation for the future. But since I still have many more questions than I have answers, the next time I get the “I’m having a baby!” news from a friend, I’ll put the self-reflection and self-criticism on the back burner. I’ll just be happy for her, and revel for a moment in the beautiful glow of my pregnant pause.