When I joined a book club earlier this summer, as the pandemic picked up steam, I expected to read new-to-me authors, learn about other cultures, and spend my time on something that would enhance my writing skills and my world view.
What I didn’t expect was for the books to leave a lasting impact on my perceptions of the world.
October’s book club read for Caitriona Balfe’s book club was Mieko Kawakami’s Breasts and Eggs. Most books, whether for the book club or my choosing, I read, appreciate, learn from, and move on.
Yet, Breasts and Eggs was different.
Kawakami had me pause, think about my life and desires, and nearly have an existential crisis. After each chapter, I spent time trying to reconcile my thoughts about life, death, aging, reproduction, and motherhood with those presented in the book.
I spent hours considering where my life was going, what I want from my career, what I want from a relationship, and what I want my legacy to be.
I’m 34-years old, single, and childless. I’ve never been in a long-term relationship, always choosing to focus on my career, my business, and my passions over the dating scene.
And to that extent, my dating life is non-existent as well. I’ve been on one date in my entire adult life, though not for lack of trying to connect with someone on dating apps.
I’m sure by this point, you’ve probably deduced that yes, I’ve never been intimate with a man, which is why I connected deeply with Kawakami’s character, Natsu. Her life and story hit me right in the gut because it felt like she was talking about me.
‘Breasts and Eggs’ Impact
The first book in Breasts and Eggs prompted thoughts about aging, from puberty to the changes in women’s bodies as we go through motherhood and age. I thought about my journey through growing up, the stigma attached to puberty and monthly cycles, and the lack of conversations about these changes.
Book two focuses more on narrator Natsu’s journey and her dilemma of achieving motherhood. This section struck a chord and prompted thoughts about my life, other women and couples’ lives, right on down to societal expectations and norms.
I soon started thinking:
- Why are we even here?
- Is it selfish to want a relationship and family, or are we just following traditional norms set out for us over centuries?
- Why are some children brought into the world by loving parents, but others experience violence from the get-go?
I spent hours deep in thought about relationships, motherhood, and societal expectations, contemplating my past, present, and future. Wondering how I got to where I’m at, why I’m sitting here at 34, barely scraping by while other women my age are living lives vastly different from mine.
Maybe you can relate to these thoughts too:
Thoughts about relationships
I’m generally an introverted homebody who would prefer to meet someone organically than be set up or scour online apps. Of course, COVID put the kibosh on any opportunity to meet someone organically, so dating apps is it for now.
I tried online dating before. I’m a Bumble and Hinge member and tested the waters with other apps, including eHarmony and MeetMindful. Even when I do match with someone, I find it hard to connect. I message them and typically never hear back, or the guy responds with something off-putting from the get-go.
But what it all boils down to is this — I’m afraid. I get into my head and wonder why anyone would want to date me, a 34-year-old whose only experience with dating was two short-term relationships in high school and who has never been intimate with anyone. Ever. I spend time wondering if there’s even a man in the Greater Los Angeles area patient enough or willing to be with someone with zero relationship experience.
These thoughts are hard to overcome. I’m working on shifting my mindset, changing my expectations, and fighting imposter syndrome to become more open-minded about future relationships and possibilities.
Thoughts about motherhood
At 34, I’m closing in on an age where I can have a child of my own. I don’t have a long-term partner, nor the financial resources to 1. pay for a donor and IVF or 2. support a child once it’s here.
I’m also afraid of birth. Pain and I don’t mix well. I never broke a bone, though yes, I’m aware my sport, show jumping, is rather dangerous.
Then I think about my future — I want to share my life with someone I love and care about. I desire that experience of getting married, finding out I’m expecting, and raising a child with the man I love.
But, as Yuriko mentions in Breasts and Eggs, I wonder, is that selfish of me? Is it selfish to bring a child into the world with a pandemic that won’t go away, hate surrounding us, and broken systems? Even though a Biden administration gives me hope for the future, the last four years showed me what nearly half of America truly values. I wonder, would I want to raise a child in this country?
Do I even want a child? I love my cat dearly, but it’s frustrating when she wakes me up for breakfast. Could I handle a child needing something at all hours of the day?
Maybe one day I’ll be in a loving relationship or have the resources to raise a child. And perhaps that relationship will change my perception and desires for that kind of future.
Thoughts about societal expectations
It’s generally expected in America that you go to school, get good grades, go to college, get a good job, get married, and have kids. Sure, millennials and Gen Z are shifting expectations, but it’s still shocking to many that couples don’t want kids or women don’t want to get married.
Those expectations exacerbate when I attend family reunions. I go prepared, armed with my reasons for not being in a relationship or close to marriage and kids like my cousins. While most family members ask the questions innocently, I have one aunt in particular who will straight up ask me why I’m not seeing anyone and then dare to tell me I shouldn’t be like her — childless, unmarried, and alone except for a dog.
Why can’t women be asked about their careers, businesses, or passions first? We have bridal and baby showers, but we don’t have new business showers. Society often shames ambitious career-driven women for wanting to grow their career first and not be held back by the responsibility of caring for a child.
Breasts and Eggs got me thinking about expectations in other cultures, too. As evidenced in the book, Japanese single women can’t get IVF or donor sperm and often rely on private, sketchy donations. Even infertile, married couples couldn’t get it, and when they did find a donor or a way to conceive, they kept it a secret from the child and the rest of the family.
When you think about it, though, Eastern and Western expectations and norms aren’t all that dissimilar. While it’s easy and less frowned upon for single women and couples to get IVF and raise children from sperm donations in Western cultures, it’s all too often a taboo subject that many avoid in conversation. Will we ever speak openly about it?
I’m sure I’m not the only mid-thirties woman with these thoughts or experiences. Perhaps my introspections and personal stories will help you feel a little less alone in your journey.
Breasts and Eggs was the first book that had me question my life to the extent of wondering what I truly want from life, and I recommend it to anyone looking for deep thought and reflection. It has me spending time working through and processing those thoughts and understanding what I desire.
It put everything into perspective for me and realize that my path is very different from societal expectations, like Natsu’s. But in the end, Natsu figured out what she wanted and went for it; societal norms be damned.
So, why can’t we? Why can’t I?