I used to obsess over procreation. I created many drawings and collages inspired by the topic. One of my favorite scultpures out there in the art world is the ironic/iconic beaded "bloody" tampon someone submitted for the annual juried show at the Women's Art Registry of MN. And I read widely on related subjects-- nothing self-help, not the Kama Sutra or those "home massage" how-to's -- but great volumes like the mid-19th century "Strange Sexual Practises" and other odd titles gleaned from the Books In Print catalogue. (I worked at a university medical book store for a while, which helped.) I knew homosexuality back when it was still listed in the DSM-III-R. I knew geishas seldom had relations with their clients. I knew swingers, married bisexuals and life-partnered lesbians. I knew about adolescent fertility rituals in Borneo, and I knew that someday, I'd marry and have a baby (or two), and my firstborn would be a boy. This urge to reproduce and the semi-conscious awareness of it dominated my motives far more than I knew then, though for a time I debated having a child without a long-term relational attachment to the father. None of this has crossed my mind in a long while.
I had heard late in my teens that I might have trouble conceiving due to some hormonal irregularities. And several years after that I was told that my spine was in such bad shape I'd probably spend a third of any pregnancy on bed rest. After years on the pill, my gynecologist assured me it could take months to purge the drugs from my system, and I shouldn't hope for a quick conception. And yet, after just a few weeks I was "sprogged up." Just like that. After many many long nights imagining it would never happen. 9 months (upright) plus one C-section later, I was a parent.
And my son is almost 8, now, an only child; yet somehow I remain attached to my fertility. Somehow, those primitive rituals and laws of attraction really do define us, even in this post-gender-role society. My viability is somehow part of my appeal to the opposite sex. It's well-known that a woman with a small waist, flat tummy and pronounced booty is attractive to most straight men precisely because her figure indicates she is ready to conceive. It's the ideal we're encouraged to strive for, as women, though the hourglass figure is in and out of style at least once per decade.
I read a short article in Newsweek last week, about the rising rate of divorce and remarriage in couples over 50. Longer life expectancies mean there's time for a second mid-life crisis before retirement, though hardly anyone can afford to retire early in this economy. If we work, we continue to receive medical care (that's the theory); we continue to look for meaningful engagement, to redefine ourselves, to seek diversions. We fall in love, or out of love, or make the decision to go it alone with occasional companionship. Notwithstanding the spectre of cancer, and other conditions more likely to develop with age; constantly reminded to take better care of ourselves, it's easy to believe we have choices. More exercise, better health, less fat; and a long middle age lets you forget a little that biological time only moves one way. Viagra, anti-depressants, yoga; triathalons for rank after rank of middle-aged born-again adolescents, it's the new American dream. We no longer have faith in the value of land, the hometown, find little use in putting down roots. We have our bodies, we tend them and fix them up as carefully and lovingly as we would our homes. Some of us.
The spectre of menopause is just another reminder, another opportunity to come to grips with loss. I dye my hair, ride my bike and walk as much as I can, work to keep my weight down. Make sure my husband knows he's not the only man who looks at me appreciatively. Try to define myself, for myself, again.