For pretty much my whole adult life, I’ve been broken. No, I’m not talking about that nagging self-doubt and loathing I have whenever I’m writing (after nine and a half years, those feelings are something I will always contend with). What I am referencing is the fact that I can’t have kids, and for the last 20 years, I’ve often struggled with feeling like I’m not a “real” woman in society’s eyes. I’ve watched many of my friends fulfill their dreams of having a family over the years, and for as much as I love my life, and am so grateful for everything I’ve been able to do and accomplish, there has always been this part of me that feels very isolated and wholly inadequate, living with a sense of shame because I can’t do the one biological thing that was supposed to differentiate myself from the opposite sex.
And then one fateful day in early 2007, Children of Men was released in Chicago, and suddenly, I didn’t feel so alone anymore. I was still “broken,” sure, but at least I had found some form of entertainment that perfectly tapped into the heartbreak that consistently nagged at me almost every single day.
But I’m getting a little ahead of myself.
Growing up, I often dreamed of having a big family (my mom was the second youngest of 13 kids, so for a long time I wanted six kids of my own), and, like a lot of little girls, I played with my dolls as a way of preparing myself for the eventuality of motherhood. It never even occurred to me that I might never get to be a mom, because honestly, those weren’t discussions that happened back then. If women were unable to have kids, that sad fate was often met with a resounding sense of silence because, quite frankly, the medical profession hadn’t quite caught up with diagnosing and treating the myriad of issues that many women face while trying to conceive.
Right around the time I graduated high school, I began to suspect something was “off” (I won’t go into specifics because this isn’t a health class term paper), as I gained almost 80 pounds over the course of six months (even though I was barely eating), and a lot of other weird crap started happening, too. Because Google wasn’t a thing yet, and there wasn’t a lot of information available on female reproductive issues at the time, I was absolutely befuddled. Doctor after doctor would just tell me, “Lose weight, and things will be fine,” but that was the other problem—no matter what I did, I couldn’t lose weight. So not only was I dealing with mysterious issues, but I was also fat on top of it all, and honestly, that’s probably when my self-worth was at an absolute all-time low. I was a mess.
That being said, I soldiered on, still determined to figure out just what the hell was wrong with me as I inched closer and closer to adulthood. I ended up marrying my high school sweetheart in August of 2001, and most folks who have gone through the whole gamut of getting married can attest to the fact that as soon as you finish walking down that aisle and say “I do,” your families have a tendency to start in with the whole, “So when are you having kids?” thing. It was awful because while most people had no idea of what I was dealing with, it was a question that burned my insides every time someone would bring it up.
Right around this time was also when I was finally getting some answers from my doctors, and in some ways, I was also beginning to find hope that maybe all wasn’t lost for me. I was told that while I wouldn’t be able to have kids naturally, there were several different fertility treatment options available to me, and if I wanted to become a mom, they were my only real chance. That was the beginning of a long, and often painful, journey that ultimately I was alone on, regardless of how supportive my now ex-husband was at the time.
For years, I spent most days being poked and prodded while undergoing test after test, as all kinds of hormones and treatments were pumped into my body, and as the days wore on, I was still deeply focused on my ultimate goal of becoming a mom, but I was also feeling very isolated and alone because there wasn’t anything that I felt really captured the emotions I was trying to deal with internally. My friends were all starting to have families around that time, which was amazing and beautiful to watch (even if I spent most of that time endlessly seething with an almost palpable sense of jealousy—not a thing I like to admit, but there it is). For me, though, those years were just pure hell filled with endless disappointment, sadness, and depression. I was absolutely alone, and no one knew how I was really feeling because I never wanted to burden my loved ones with my plight. This was (in my eyes) my burden and my burden alone.
Then came along Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men.
I hadn’t read P.D. James’ novel that Cuarón’s adaptation was based on prior to seeing the film in January 2007—all I knew was that the film was being touted as the next great sci-fi thriller, and it featured an amazing cast, so that’s all I needed to get me into the theater that opening weekend. As I sat there, and the main crux of Children of Men’s story was revealed in its opening moments—a world in tatters due to an epidemic of female infertility that had left society with very little hope—I distinctly remember that feeling of catching my breath and doing my best to suck in the oncoming flood of emotions that were about to wash right over me. Finally—FINALLY—there was a story out there that represented the pain I had spent years trying to deny, and suddenly, I didn’t feel so alone.
Here was a world that was built upon the very struggle I had already been dealing with for years, and I found some kind of solace in that. I remember sobbing on the way home from the theater that night (in all fairness, I saw Children of Men on the very same night I saw Pan’s Labyrinth, so to borrow a phrase from Ron Burgundy, I was pretty much in a “glass case of emotion” that evening), not because I was sad, but because there was a cinematic story about pregnancy that actually somewhat related to all this crap I had been contending with for so long. I had watched countless pregnancy-themed movies over the years, but here was the first story that actually had something to say that I could actually relate to.
I don’t know if I can adequately explain it, but Children of Men would become a hugely important film to me over the years. Because I spent so much time trying to deny and repress how I was feeling, watching Cuarón’s stunning masterpiece of emotionally-driven science fiction became a release for me. It was cathartic because in my eyes, if one young girl could defy the odds in Children of Men, maybe there was still hope for me yet. I’m not one to put all my emotions on other people, so this story became my way of venting all those frustrations I was feeling day in and day out for nearly seven years.
“You would have made a great mom.”
This was something a friend of mine said to me during a conversation earlier this year; an off-the-cuff remark that somehow hit me in ways I could not have possibly seen coming, if I’m being honest. That cruel dose of reality sliced through my heart and my guts so deeply that I can remember spending about an hour crying afterwards on my drive home that night. Because, for as much as I still haven’t fully admitted it to myself, the harsh truth is that I most likely won’t ever get to see my dream of being a mom come true, barring any kind of minor miracle. Over the last few years, I’ve suffered several miscarriages (the last one being so extreme, I was nearly out of commission for six weeks), and all those hormones and various other drugs I pumped into my body for years have taken their toll in some rather negative ways, which means that chapter of my life is pretty much closed at this point.
“You would have made a great mom.”
About three days after being on the receiving end of that phrase, Children of Men just happened to be playing on one of the cable channels, and I turned it on—partly out of habit, and partly because I needed something to help me shake this feeling off. And what was interesting is that while Cuarón’s film had always represented my need for hope—especially in those moments where there is no hope to be found—watching it after finding myself tortured by one little phrase, everything felt different this time. Sure, there was still a part of me that had a tinge of sadness to it, where I knew there are just some inevitabilities I have to face at this point in my life, but I also realized that maybe some dreams don’t come true because you’re meant to fulfill other aspirations instead.
So with Children of Men’s tenth anniversary quickly approaching, it felt like the perfect time for me to reflect on Cuarón’s brilliant and powerful exploration of how we can maintain our humanity during our darkest times, because it’s a movie that truly got me through a very difficult phase in my life. I’m not sure if any of this rambling really means a damn thing in the end, but if anything, maybe there will be at least one woman out there who can relate to everything I’ve shared here, and won’t feel so alone.