“I promise I will fix my marriage and we will have babies.” I repeated some version of this over and over to my mother as she lay in a hospice bed in the living room of our house. I was on the 3 a.m. shift while the rest of my family slept. Time was running out now, and I needed to whisper these things to her while I had her to myself.

I can still feel the begging in my voice, as if I was a little kid asking, “Please Mommy can we build a fort? I promise promise promise we will clean it up!” I needed her to hear me and believe that I would be okay, to not worry about me, even though in these last few months I had confided in her the worries I had about my marriage. Tonight I vowed I would clean it all up.

Two years later I was divorced. If you think divorce can produce feelings of shame, guilt, and catastrophic failure…try doing it after literally swearing to your mom during the final hours of her life that you would definitely not be doing it! I do not recommend it!

The mess I made was even worse now. People in my life assured me that Mom would understand. She knew my heart. She was in heaven now, looking down on me, seeing all of the intricacies of a relationship that could no longer hold together. She got it. I knew on some level they were right, but the feeling that I had let her down lingered for years. I bargained with myself: Maybe I could remedy this by keeping the second part of the promise, by having children. Maybe I could love another person, and have children with them one day. I could pass on Mom’s legacy to a child, and maybe even name them after her: Billie.

Billie loved children so much. In her room she had created a bulletin board covered in pictures of babies of friends and family. She loved her grandchildren more than anything in the world. She named herself Lovie instead of Grandma. Lovie was a perfect nickname, because she was all love.

<div class=Sara Schaefer and her mother, Billie.

Courtesy Sara Schaefer” src=”” data-src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/t7wgol7W3Za6GNaxPEP4iw–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTcyMA–/https://media.zenfs.com/en/glamour_497/61c1d376788c3d9decf3c05c6a5abd5c”/>

Courtesy Sara Schaefer” src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/t7wgol7W3Za6GNaxPEP4iw–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTcyMA–/https://media.zenfs.com/en/glamour_497/61c1d376788c3d9decf3c05c6a5abd5c” class=”caas-img”/>

Sara Schaefer and her mother, Billie.

Courtesy Sara Schaefer

When I met the man who would later become my second husband, Scott, we were in our early 30s. Like many people in their early 30s, I was “done playing games.” There’s nothing like losing a parent and a divorce to make you feel like a big-time grown-up with not a second to spare. So I didn’t waste time asking Scott about his thoughts on having kids. He said, “You know, I could go either way—I’m not sure yet.” That is exactly how I felt at the time! I did not feel planted in either camp yet. And I still had that lingering promise I’d made to Mom. I just wasn’t ready to figure it out—and according to science, we had time.

Cut to seven years later, and we both looked up from Twitter and realized, “Oh, my God, we forgot to decide if we are going to have kids!”

It was at this point that I came to understand a fundamental difference between men and women. Yes, I am speaking along cis-hetero-normative lines. (If you’re a comedian, as I am, you have to sign a document that you will at some point make jokes about the “differences between men and women.” If you are a woman, you also have to initial Appendix A, which details that you must also joke about periods and vaginas.)

So here’s what I noticed: When a woman says, “I’m not sure if I want kids or not,” she has likely spent every moment of her waking life weighing her options. Should she have them? Should she not have them? She’s already workshopped names and eye colors. She’s imagined what her babies would look like with a slew of celebrities. (Clooney and I would have produced some really top-notch kids.) Should she lean in? Lean out? What’s it gonna do to her body? Her career? Her life? What if they pass laws in her state forcing her to give birth? What if her birth control fails? Better have a plan.

By the time women hit their mid-30s, they’ve either consciously or subconsciously been tossing the idea of pregnancy around in their heads for decades. And they still might not be sure!

But when a man says, “I’m not sure if I want kids or not,” what he means is…“I’ve never thought about it once. Not even one time.” And he doesn’t plan on thinking about it until he’s 70! Of course, I am generalizing, and I’m sure there are plenty of men who know exactly what they want from an early age. Good for them.

But if your partner is like mine, when finally called upon to make the choice, he hasn’t a clue. He has to go into the woods for a year and figure out “what it means to be a man.” Meanwhile, I’m back at home waving goodbye to another egg every month that goes by.

I’m joking; he didn’t actually go into the physical woods. But he did go into the forest of his mind. I don’t know exactly what it’s like in there, but if I had to guess, it’s filled with all kinds of action figures and pro wrestlers, gathered around a campfire in a singalong led by Eddie Vedder.

After what felt like an eternity, Scott returned from his mental sojourn and declared he had his answer: No. No, he did not want kids.

Ladies and gentlemen, I went apeshit. I felt as if this was valuable information he had recklessly kept hidden from us both for far too long. I felt duped. But after some hikes through the forest of my own mind, I faced some hard truths.

First, just because I had been thinking about it for longer than he had, that did not make his final decision any less true. I had to admit: I too had said “I’m not sure” all those years ago, and here I was, unsure of what I actually wanted now that he had a firm stance. I realized that for me, the decision whether or not to have children was one I did not want to make alone. But how do two people actually make a decision like this together? I circled the forest for weeks.

I had a choice: If I felt I had to have children, did I break up with Scott and go find a way to make it happen? Or did I stay with him, and close off this possibility, and break the second promise I made to Mom? It was painful. We fought a lot. At one point he packed a bag. After going through a divorce, I was not afraid of starting over. I knew that if I really wanted to have a child, I could find a way, without him.

But ultimately I couldn’t bear the thought of a life without Scott. I felt it in my bones: I would rather have him than have children. And if you think about it, in a way I already did have a child. Him. I will be raising this teen boy for the rest of my life. (He likes this joke, by the way.)

Of course, none of this was funny to me for a long time. I was unable to speak of this decision to anyone without my voice cracking. I was grieving something, but I wasn’t even sure what. Most of the conversation online about not having kids didn’t quite fit with my story. I was not someone who could defiantly proclaim, “I’ve never wanted kids and you can kiss my ass if you don’t like it!” But I also was not someone who could fathom the painful experience of “I really wanted kids, and I am unable to have them.”

Now that the decision was made, I had a new question: What would the rest of my life actually look like? What is family to me? My family is my family, I thought. My siblings, and their kids. But whenever I visited them, I couldn’t help but feel like an interloper. Would I ever be able to define who is mine? Can you have a family with just one other person?

<div class=Schaefer and her mom

Courtesy Sara Schaefer” src=”” data-src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/7xruTnIKn0fEaspyzJ03Ng–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTcxOS4yNQ–/https://media.zenfs.com/en/glamour_497/ad2b7cf15c12eeaf8da5fc3bb6651443″/>

Courtesy Sara Schaefer” src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/7xruTnIKn0fEaspyzJ03Ng–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTcxOS4yNQ–/https://media.zenfs.com/en/glamour_497/ad2b7cf15c12eeaf8da5fc3bb6651443″ class=”caas-img”/>