As 43-year-old single mother Jennifer Chenoweth recently discovered, sometimes how you react to life’s little surprises is the biggest surprise of all.
I do not want this to sound cavalier. I want it to sound like a miracle of choice, when a window opens in the universe to a view of something new. I worry that it will sound cavalier to someone who has struggled with fertility, who has lost a pregnancy or a child.
I had a moment in my life a few months ago that was a complete surprise to me. I woke up one morning and realized I was pregnant. I was curious, interested, but not particularly emotional about the news that my body was telling me. I thought through the logistics of what I would need to change immediately for my health. Then I thought about what I would need to change in my life if I wanted to have the baby: I’m a single mom of two boys. I’m 43.
I spent a few days pondering these changes, and then my body shifted again, and I started my cycle a week early, an early miscarriage. And I was curious, interested, but not particularly emotional about this, too. Really, either way I was OK. And that was a complete surprise to me: that I felt fine about my life and the possibilities, no matter what happened.
I had dated a man who I adore off and on for several years. Let’s call him Jack. But the relationship never seemed quite right for either one of us at the same time. We had officially broken up for good in May. Done, over, friends, shook on it. Then he hired me to work for his business, a job I needed that was a good fit for both of us. Basically, within a week, the romance was buried, and I was now his work wife. No love there, but I could pay the bills, which seemed much more urgent than love. We could do this because we trusted and needed each other. We agreed neither to talk about whom else we dated nor to re-process the past.
Fast forward to December: A dating relationship with someone else exploded, leaving me without a traveling buddy for my annual Christmas trip to Mexico. I could go by myself, but it would not be nearly as fun. None of my friends could go on short notice. During our weekly taco lunch to hang out and talk about work, Jack said, “I’m ready.” Me, confused: “For tacos?” No. Apparently he was ready to commit to being in our relationship, which was a surprise to me.
He bought a ticket, and we went to Mexico. He took more time off work than he had in a decade, more than a week, and a few weeks after we returned, he moved into my house. I’m a risk taker, and I took the chance I got. I want to know love, and I feel more loved by him than anyone I’ve ever known.
The relationship isn’t always easy, the horizons aren’t clear, the weather isn’t perfect, and life as we get older gets more complicated. Why? Because there are more relationships to manage, and we have more at stake as our time gets shorter. As we make mistakes or lose relationships that matter to us, we get less interested in losing time with those we love.
Also, not everyone gets perfect opportunities. Most of the doors open to me have been quite imperfect. I had my children in a relationship that was definitely less than the love I needed, but I knew that he would make a good father. I bought an old house that was a disaster, but poured so much love and work into it that people marvel at how unique and personal it is. I had built a beautiful nest; the time had come for me; and I took my chance to have my babies in it.
I imagine some kind of nature show, where in the Spring, the birds are testing the weather and the environment to see if they are going to lay eggs that season or not. I have a lot of women friends who just didn’t get what they needed in a relationship when the time was right, and they chose to focus on the opportunities they had in their work, rather than have children as a single person. I marvel at the opportunities for reproduction we have right now: a generation of women immediately older than me did not have these choices.
When I say I experienced a miracle of choice, I really mean some combination of science, financial security, independence, access to information, and spiritual trust that would allow a woman to feel curious and interested, but a bit detached from the immediate demand of having to expand her family. I imagine so many women like me, standing on the doorsteps of our nests, searching the skies for signs of the weather—considering the ways that they can create purpose in the present season of their lives, and feeling secure that the outcome will be acceptable, no matter what.
Jennifer Chenoweth is an artist, entrepreneur, friend, and parent. At home in Austin, Texas, she loves creativity, process, connection and growth—whether in making art, parenting her two sons, or launching her latest project, GenerousArt.org. You can find her online at Fisterra Studio.