Many women in their twenties and thirties have endured breakups with those they thought would be life partners; when this relationship ends, they watch in despair as their life plan falls apart, taking with it the promise of traditional marriage and motherhood. Women report that pushing their baby agenda—their wish to have a child—in the framework of long-term relationships sometimes prompts these relationships to dissolve. By broaching the talk of children, women risk discovering that their partners do not share the same vision of parenthood. While they may know deep down that their partner does not share their desire for a child at this time and thus that this topic could break their relationship, it is still incredibly painful to hear their partner’s rejection of something so fundamental to them. Some women know from the first date that the men with whom they get involved will never become dads, yet they hope their passion for this dream will become a shared passion. And they also hope their love will change their partner’s mind. Other women are surprised and shocked to realize that their partner’s vision of a relationship does not include having a child. They feel their partners are selfishly withholding, leaving the women doubting their judgments of the character of these men whom they loved. While the most common scenario involves men who do not want children to be a part of this relationship, in other cases men are willing to become dads but women doubt their long-term compatibility and their ability to parent together. Relationships collapse painfully when women decide to give precedence to the baby agenda. As we’ve seen, Gina thought that she could have lived a happy life with James, her first true love, but her bitterness grew because he would not agree to become a father again, and she knew she had to end the relationship; troubled boyfriend Luke’s willingness to have a child with her made her realize that he wasn’t the right partner for her.
Realizing that they cannot predict or depend on the relationships in their lives, women take advantage of the uncertain time following the breakup to rethink the ways in which they can become mothers. They decide that they will not risk the ability to have a birth child while waiting for a suitable co-parent, who may never be found. In a similar way, women choosing to adopt make this choice before reaching agency age cutoffs; while they forfeit biological motherhood, higher adoption age limits extend the final deadline for motherhood to upward of forty-five years.
Nadine, whom I earlier described as having found solace in the single motherhood of a scientist she admired, was not unique in learning only indirectly that the man with whom she was involved really did not want children. His drawings gave clues to his sentiments about children:
I looked at his drawings, these plans for this house that he was building. I looked at it and I said to myself, “This man does not want children.” And later on we said something to each other about it that night and he really didn’t want children and I said yes, I did want children. And we just parted quietly from that night. But it was funny, I could just tell from the way the drawing was done; there was no place for a child to get next to a parent. This was definitely not someone who wanted children or wrho had thought anything about it. . . . And after that I decided, hey, I was thirty-six, I was not getting any younger, and if I met somebody else and married him it would be a couple years before we tried having children. I worried about not being able to.
Despite her deep love and connection with him, Nadine made the painful yet necessary decision to move on and find a man with whom children would be a possibility. Thus Nadine abandoned a secure, richly drawn future plan for a life together and stepped out alone into unmapped territory. In leaving the relationship, she had to rethink how she would sequence her choices yet again, a rethinking undergone by many other women who suffer major breakups.