I always knew I wanted to have a child. Always.
Yet at age 38 1/2 I found myself scouring each guy I met with an emotional SOS pad, calculating whether or not he was ‘Dad material.’ It was gross. It was exhausting. For three years I never made it past the fourth date.
Every birthday I was greeted by this internal monologue: “So … if I meet someone now, at 38, we would have to wait about a year before having a kid and then if we start trying immediately, I’d be at least 40 — and that’s if I meet someone now.”
PLAY. REPEAT. PLAY. REPEAT.
Then one Sunday morning as I was walking in High Park searching for some kind of answer, there was a spark. Enlightenment. I didn’t need to marry anyone to have a child. I didn’t even need a guy. It wasn’t 1812 — it was 2012. For all of its rights and its wrongs, I was a product of my time.
Living in modern times is the reason I didn’t marry my first boyfriend. It is the reason I had access to birth control for the previous twenty years, preventing several babies from hatching. These times also offer the possibility of having a child on my own. I should at least consider reaping the benefits.
I didn’t want to make the decision lightly. I didn’t want to have a baby because I was hypnotized by the luscious baby bumps of MILFs parading through the very same park, or the sight of expectant friends pushing chunks of red velvet cupcakes into their craving pregnant mouths. In short, I didn’t want to have a child because I might be left out of a rite of passage.
I wanted a child because I wanted to be someone’s mother.
And as much as I tried to understand why I wanted to be a mother, there was no logical reason forthcoming; this made it feel all the more confusing and selfish. I needed to clear my head and be open to my illogical little heart.
A friend had walked the Camino de Santiago across Northern Spain the year before. “It’s part gastronomical experience, part hiking trip, part spiritual journey, part pickup scene,” she explained. I won’t lie: the thought of hooking up with a handsome Spaniard sweetened the deal. But walking also promised a sense of calm that seemed to me the right prescription.
The Camino is traditionally a medieval Catholic pilgrimage route. I started on the French Pyrénées side and walked for five weeks, doing an average of 26 km a day for a total of 885km. Crossing wheat fields, vineyards and slate topped mountains, I thought about the baby thing. A lot. I surrendered to the Camino and let it take care of me.
That first day I met other pilgrims, many with their own spiritual questions, certainly all of them on a quest. Often, It seemed that whenever I was at a breaking point, with blisters and aching muscles and sure that I could walk no further, an unsuspecting someone ducked from around a corner to walk with me. I met pilgrims, lost them and met them again. I let go of preconceived expectations and eventually formed an unlikely Camino family of three retired Italian cops. We spent mid-morning breaks over café con leches and indulged in Rioja after the day’s hike.
But every morning under a shiny Spanish sun I began alone, putting forth my question.
“Should I have a child on my own?”
As on any spiritual journey, the answer is not what one expects. In typical Camino style, I was never told what to do. But the mantra back was unambiguous: Everything will be okay no matter what my choice was.
And then 500 kilometres into the journey, inside the Romanesque church of Leòn, I saw her.
A statue of the pregnant Virgin Mary. She stood contemplative, cool hand resting on swollen belly. Though I was raised Catholic, I had never seen an image of a pregnant Mary.
‘Solitary,’ her message echoed to me. It was clear as the bells ringing above. There was nothing traditional or typical about Mary – my namesake – and her journey. Mary had been alone initially and so had many women throughout the centuries, on the fringes of tradition, and raising children.
Not only was it okay if I decided to be a mother, it was more than okay — regardless of the method I chose.
Late in the afternoon on July 28, I reached the rocky ocean edge of Finisterre, Spain. The blue Atlantic sparkled, smooth and calm. I popped open Champagne with my Italian family without quite realizing something: My real Camino was only beginning.
Mary B. Valencia has written for the Globe and Mail, NOW, PRISM International and Descant. She’s expecting.