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"When are we going to hear the pitter patter of little feet?"

In 1968, at age 21, I married a young military man. Immediately my parents and friends began asking when I was going to start a family, how many children I planned to have. And they wanted assurances I’d be a stay-at-home mom.

My own community and society at large, whether overtly or subtly, maintained that Virginity, Marriage, and Motherhood (the holy trinity) represented the surest route to Heaven on Earth any woman could take. I was a junior in college when the university’s health center began offering birth control for married or engaged students. Flashing my diamond engagement ring as proof I qualified, I braced myself for that first terrifying pelvic exam. Having survived it, I got a prescription for birth control pills. In those days The Pill was so strong, it made me sick. During a fitting for my wedding dress, I almost threw up all over it.

On my honeymoon night, a shy and embarrassed virgin, I tried to figure out where my husband’s arms and legs, as well as my own, were supposed to go. Sylvia Plath’s descriptive line from The Bell Jar, comparing a penis to “turkey necks and turkey gizzards” popped to mind. I silently asked myself, “For this I waited?” More than anything, I wanted to call my mother to come over and sort it all out for me.

As the wife of a naval officer who was either depressed or out to sea, marriage left me feeling strangely alone. I stood by watching as the other military wives had children, noticing that they, too, were alone, stranded far from their families. One of these military wives confided in me her belief that men were only good for bringing home money, adding that when it came to raising children, they were “as useless as tits on a boar hog.”

I came to know the wife of my husband’s commanding officer. She and I played canasta and bridge and often shared Saturday night dinners when our husbands were out to sea. One day, I asked her point-blank to tell me the truth: what is it like to have children? She said, “I love my children, would lie on the tracks in front of an oncoming train to protect them. But if I were you, I wouldn’t do it. Go have fun, see the world; be creative, independent, and free. You can have an ex-husband, an ex-job and an ex-hometown, but children are forever.”