I Could Have Been a Grandma… by Maureen Eich Vanwalleghan

Lately on Facebook, I have “friended” or been “friended” by folks I knew in high school. I usually go and check out pictures and get a moment to see the happy smiling faces of these “friends” with their families. In most cases the pictures have lots of young kids and babies too. The funny thing is the babies and very young children are their grandkids. These “friends” I haven’t seen in ten years and in many cases longer than that, have had whole lives of being mothers.

It makes me think about my choices. I could have had grandkids myself if I had made some different choices. Before I started college I got pregnant with my then boyfriend. He was and is a great guy. He thought we could get married. I thought we would ruin three peoples lives and said as much. He was incredibly supportive. We went to the doctor together and confirmed the pregnancy and made an appointment for the abortion. In the intervening week I ended up having a miscarriage. A path not taken.

When I was in college and I got pregnant again. At the time there was another pregnant woman at my incredibly small college of 100 students. I felt an overwhelming sense of shame about my situation and observed what I felt was the “tut, tut, isn’t that too bad” attitude about her very visible condition. At the time, I couldn’t solve the puzzle of how I could actually have a baby and finish college. Looking back I see how I didn’t really talk with anyone about my choice except for a mentor who had a baby on her own when she was my age. Ironically, she was the person who went with me to the abortion clinic. I had one more miscarriage when I was in my early 30’s.

When I had my daughter, I had been teaching in a rural high school. When she was born, three of my high school students were also pregnant and most of the women I knew, who were my age, were grandmothers. In such a small town, I was very much a fish out of water in having a baby “so late in life.” The phenomenon of later motherhood is very much an urban one. Here in Prescott, there is one other mother I know who is my age and whose twin daughters are my daughter’s age. Most everyone else is ten years younger. I don’t know that my mommy peers realize how old I am. I don’t know if they notice. But, in the store I am often struck by how much I look like the grandma next to me in the Walmart line with her grandkid. In this mostly retirement community there are a fair number of grandparents who are raising their grandkids.

I don’t have regrets, more musing about what my life might have looked like if I had been a single mother when I was younger. In my youth, I was clear that I needed more time to create a great career or find the perfect man. Now I am not so sure since I am still working on that great career (this time as a filmmaker and writer) and my husband is not the perfect man. He’s a really good man and I am glad to be married to him. We just celebrated our six year anniversary. But, he is not the fantasy man I imagined I might marry nor is my marriage the blissful romantic stuff of light romantic comedies I gorged myself on through my thirties. In fact, the whole family scene turned out to be a lot more intense, messy and overwhelming than I imagined.

Since I was not in a long-term relationship with my fertility at issue, my perspective about my choices is one that is quite malleable depending on the day. With my own daughter I hope I can send a different message than my mom did. Her message: do “it” before you get married and have kids, propelled me forward through so much of my life. Considering her age it was pretty progressive thinking, but it did have unintended consequences.

Women come with uteruses. My message for my daughter is: life is messy, if you get pregnant, go for it anyway…it’ll be hard, but you’ll figure it out. As my daughter sometimes reminds me when I am struggling with her: it’s hard being a mom. The truth is, it’s hard being a mom no matter when you do it.