I do not have children and yet, I don’t recall deciding not to. In my twenties, living in Greece, I became pregnant. I had stopped taking birth control pills while living apart from my Greek lover – a way of showing him I would not be sexually promiscuous while separated. When we got back together, I started again taking The Pill but, apparently, not soon enough. The would-be father, my lover, a physician who had practiced medicine in Germany, was unemployed. He talked about our having children when he could support a family financially. After the abortion, I felt grief-stricken. My feelings baffled me because I knew I had made the right decision.
A few years later, back in United States, I married a man 21 years older than I. At the outset, before we married, he made it clear that at his age – in his fifties -- he did not want children. He was haunted by memories of his first wife who, after suffering a miscarriage, succumbed to tuberculosis and died two years after their wedding. He blamed himself for her pregnancy, which he thought had weakened her, making her susceptible to TB. I did not object to his not wanting children. Nearly 35 years old, I was not aflame with desire to be a mother. “We can concentrate on your career,” he said, mindful that his would soon be waning. And we did.
Now in my seventies, I do not regret not having children of my own. Pondering the road not traveled is a futile exercise although I sometimes wonder what kind of mother I might have been. And if I’d had children, how would I have evolved? Giving my energies to my work and my husbands – I have been widowed twice – allowed me to evolve into the person I am. And now, married to a man who brought a fully formed family – three grown children and six grandchildren – into my life, I am enjoying this new chapter to the hilt. Family gatherings around holidays and in-between are special occasions because family members are scattered geographically from New York City and Chicago to Salt Lake City, Albuquerque and Santa Fe. This month we’ll be spending holidays together in Mexico, exploring Mayan ruins and doing a bit of snorkeling.
I'm Shirley Melis. You may know me as Shirley M. Nagelschmidt, Shirley M. Bessey and now, Shirley M. Hirsch. Each reflects a particular phase of my life. Banged-Up Heart is a slice of my life's journey and in telling my story, I'm giving voice to my long silent "M" by reclaiming my maiden name, Shirley Melis.