Several years ago, I began researching my family history. I began the process for the same reason many of us do: Curiosity. I was curious about genealogy because I wanted to prepare a proper history to pass down to my own children. The more I began researching and the bigger my family tree grew, the more excited I became about what I was learning, and how proud I would be to one day pass down my findings to my children.
Except I’m not going to have any child to receive this information.
A few months ago my husband and I came to the realization that parenthood isn’t going to happen for us. Financial woes and health issues have choked out a chance to continue the family tree, to bear new fruit.
Over the years, as I did my genealogical research, I always tried to expand the tree’s limbs and branches as far back as possible. No matter how distant the relative, I always believed that every branch mattered, and therefore every fruit from them also mattered. How disappointed I was when no children were had by an ancestor, and that his or her branch did not continue.
I’m going to be one of those dead-end branches. In decades to come, will the branch of my husband and me be overlooked? Will we be non-important because we didn’t produce any fruit?
Yes, I grieve for not being able to buy baby clothes, for not being able to comfort a crying child, and the other gazillion reasons. But what I seem to mourn the most is not being able to be a growing part of my family tree. I grieve for being a branch that doesn’t extend. I grieve that the stories I’ve collected and the heritage of which I’m fiercely proud will not be shared with my own children. I’m still struggling with this realization.
A few weeks ago as I pondered this realization, I thought of my great-aunt Annie who died single and childless. Almost 50 years after her death, she’s still remembered fondly by all in my family, remembered for her courage, altruism, and strength. And among all of her 13 siblings, she is probably the most memorable. Was it being single and childless that helped mold her into this individual and leave such an indelible legacy on our family? I don’t know.
Some of history’s most influential women never had children. Florence Nightingale, Susan B. Anthony, Emily Dickinson, Jane Austen, and Julia Child are just a few. Their branches of the family tree did not bear fruit. Yet they still managed to influence countless others—including those who are of no relation. They are important limbs in a larger tree, and their fruits are in forms other than offspring. Their fruits are their writings, their culinary artistry, their caring for the sick, and their advocacy of women’s rights.
Does this realization erase all the sadness I have? No. But perhaps it’s worth reminding myself that not all-important branches must bear fruit.
Amelia Ricardo lives with her husband in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. As she tries to accept a life without baby, she keeps herself busy with freelance writing, blogging, and many other projects. She blogs about her unabashed Olympic obsession at OlympicFanatic.com.
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