Among some photos from a trip to New York I took a few years ago is a shot of me in the middle of a department store, holding a beautiful 3-month-old baby girl. I look like a proud mom on a much-deserved shopping trip. But Lila isn't my little girl. She's my sister's. And, at the time, I was actually distraught because I knew, sooner or later, that I had to choose between keeping the man I loved and having a baby of my own.
I met Jamie* in 2001. He was 36 and I was 33, living in a loft apartment just down the hall from his graphic design studio. The first time I saw him in the corridor I thought my knees were going to buckle under me -- he was absolutely gorgeous. One night I arrived home just as he was locking up and we started talking. A few days later, he came over for dinner. Two months on, we both said "I love you." For the first time in my life, I'd met someone I wanted to be with forever.
Not long after that we found ourselves having the "baby conversation." At 33, I knew my biological clock was ticking, and Jamie said he wanted children too -- one day. So we decided we'd spend the next two years enjoying ourselves as a couple, finding out if we were compatible. I'd get an IUD fitted, and when I was 35, I'd have it removed.
There were times when my resolve not to mention the "baby" word snapped: The day we moved into a new apartment together, I couldn't resist pointing out the room that I thought would make the perfect nursery.
"I want it as an office," Jamie said.
A few months later, we visited friends and their boys who had been given a set of drums for Christmas. I couldn't believe it when Jamie jumped up to give them an impromptu lesson. My heart swelled at the sight of them banging away, goofing around like father and sons. I caught myself wondering if he'd changed his mind about not having children yet.
All my friends seemed to be getting pregnant. I was thrilled, of course, but at the same time I was raging-jealous. All my sisters had children. There came a point when the thought of having to buy yet another baby gift made me feel physically sick. When would it be my turn?
In August 2003, two months short of our two-year agreement, I had a problem with my IUD and needed an operation to get it removed. Though Jamie wanted me to get another one, I refused. In retrospect, it may not have been the best time, but that evening, directly after the operation, I insisted we broach the subject of having children. My head still fuzzy from the anesthetic, I bit my lip while Jamie confessed to me that he still wasn't ready, either emotionally or financially, to take on the responsibility of parenthood. Despite reminding him that it could take months for me to get pregnant, and that the baby wouldn't arrive for at least another year -- when I'd be 37 -- he wouldn't budge. Suddenly, I felt desperately alone, asking myself, "Am I willing to give up my dream of becoming a mother for the man I love?"
As the months wore on, Jamie became increasingly frustrated with his business, depressed and withdrawn. We ate dinners in silence. Soon we were sleeping together less and less – maybe twice a month -- as he feared I might get pregnant. And when we did have sex, I would have to practically beg him, which left me feeling hurt and degraded. There were evenings when he'd lie in bed, his eyes closed, listening to his iPod, while I was left wondering why my needs were so blatantly being neglected. Was it really just time he needed?
In January 2004, I left for New York for a six-week writing assignment for a woman's magazine, thinking the break would be good for us. Our continuous discussions about parenthood were starting to take their toll on me; the mere sight of a young mom pushing a stroller was enough to drive me into a state of depression.
At the airport, Jamie welcomed me back with flowers, and on the way home I spoke enthusiastically about my trip. That night, we enjoyed a romantic dinner before the topic of kids came up. The sudden pained expression on his face told me everything: The time still wasn't right. I reassured him that between the two of us we earned enough money to properly care for a child, and if not, our parents would surely help out. I told him I would be the one looking after the child so that he could continue to work and even travel. Again, I reminded him that the chances of my getting pregnant were dwindling with time. While I waited for a response, I caught myself wondering, Why am I having to work so hard to convince my boyfriend to do something so natural, which everyone else seemed to being doing without a second thought?
When he didn't say anything, I screamed, "How can you be so selfish?" But it was like talking to a brick wall. I loved him dearly, but I couldn't imagine my future without a family.
All this time, I'd been confiding in my closest friends. I don't know what I would have done without their encouragement and patience. Though they never told me what to do, they helped see me through my darkest moments. After another fruitless baby talk had left me in tears, I spent half the night in a rage smashing empty wine bottles in the kitchen. My eyes were so bloodshot and swollen the next day from crying I looked like I'd been in a fight. What should have been a positive step forward in our relationship was slowly pushing me over the edge.
One sunny day in July, in order to get out of our rut, Jamie and I went to the beach for a picnic. After a few hours, we started talking -- and it was the most honest conversation we'd ever had. He apologized for the way things had been going. But he felt pressured. He thought I was only interested in him for one thing: his sperm. I was shocked and admitted I'd been oblivious to the fact that my desire to have a baby was affecting him in such a way. Later, he told me he loved me and that he did want children. I said I needed a commitment. It wasn't so much that I wanted be pregnant this very minute, but rather I wanted to know when we would start trying to conceive. Jamie assured me that we would make a plan -- but just not now.
On my 37th birthday in November, Jamie showered me with red-ribboned packages. As I opened each one, I kept hoping for a sign he was finally ready to start a family. Perhaps a ring or -- as a joke -- a home pregnancy test? But when I opened the last gift, and it wasn't what I'd hoped for, I couldn't hold back the tears. In bed, Jamie held me in his arms and apologized for having disappointed me. But I admitted it was my own fault for having gotten my hopes up so high.
As long as I didn't bring up the subject we continued to live our lives, working, throwing dinner parties. I sometimes felt as if we were just keeping up appearances. Jamie was still reluctant to sleep with me and it was killing our relationship. There were times when I felt we were more like brother and sister than boyfriend and girlfriend.
Finally, in May 2005, I gave Jamie an ultimatum -- something I now realize I should've done much earlier. I told him we must either try for a baby this year or the relationship was over. At first, he was angry. Then, a few weeks later, despite the fact his business was now doing well, he told me he was torn. It broke my heart and I cried for hours. My dreams about our future together, holding our newborn baby, watching it take its first steps, utter its first words, would never come true. Jamie would never be ready to become a father and he would never be able to make a decision. It was down to me to decide where to go from here.
I was scared. I knew I had to face the painful truth that, if I wanted to have children, I would have to leave him. My hopes had been dashed too many times. I'd been feeling miserable for far too long. Acknowledging this finally gave me the strength to see that Jamie and I would never have children together.
Finally, in September, I faced Jamie and told him: "I can't take this any more. I'm leaving you." Jamie listened, looking so hurt it made me want to cry. But it was a relief to finally be making a decision.
"I wish I could tell you I know I'll want children soon," he said. "But I can't." It was over.
Looking back, I know deep down that I made the right decision. I couldn't have been happy in a relationship that wasn't giving me what I needed. I refuse to apologize for what I want in life. And one of those things I want is to be a mother.
*name has been changed
Katreen Hardt is an American freelance writer and actress. She lives in Germany and performs with the German theater company Combinale and writes for British women's magazines including Grazia, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Look, Mother & Baby, etc. You can contact Katreen through her website, katreenhardt.com.