My ambivalence to have babies makes me meshugenah
“No one’s ever prepared for parenthood.”
“You just figure it out as you go along.”
“Go for it.”
“Now or never.”
“Time is running out.”
So. I’m 37. The other night, my sister asked me, “Are you going to have a baby?” Great question. So personal. It’s so personal that I feel compelled to make it public via this. It’s no one’s business but it’s everyone’s business. I don’t feel indignant. I don’t feel insulted. I just need to let some air into my thoughts about potential parenthood.
I’m aware that if my beloved husband impregnates me, it will be recorded on my chart as a geriatric pregnancy. Yikes. Yowsers. Egads. Holy shit. Dear reader, can I just share? Geriatric pregnancy. At 37. What a world we live in nowadays.
My problem is not physiological. (I hope.) My problem is existential.
I get that the experience is unique to each woman and her relationship (or lack thereof).
For me? I feel a blinding obligation to ensure that I can take care of myself, my husband, our kitties, and our home. Yes, we have kitty babies and I know this is not the same as having people babies. As I write this, I’m hedging. I’m avoiding. I can take care of all of us and keep a house and write and work. So if that’s not the problem, what is?
I hear the chorus of a thousand mother women singing, “You make it work.” I believe them and I do not believe them. What if I don’t want to make it work? What if I can’t? I want to ask them, “How?” But they look at their children and can’t hear me. They forget how they felt before they went through the experience firsthand. This bothers me.
No one can report from the trenches of motherhood and say something that I can understand without a translator? Nope. I must go through it myself if I want to understand. I don’t talk to anyone about it because there’s no one to talk to about it. It’s too loaded and emotional. A field of landmines. When I broached my reservations about motherhood with my sister, she said, “So you don’t want kids.” Like I’m an asshole. Like if I decide not to have kids, it somehow throws her motherhood into question.
I told my sis that I have yet to prove that I can adequately and consistently provide for myself financially and make a living as a writer instead of jerking off in administrative positions and writing at work and every night but not sharing anything I write or learning dick about generating readership.
Listen. I’m not some shallow motherf***ing weirdo who needs you to understand that I’m a writer who is prone to fits of depression or spells of addiction (but it never hurts to fully disclose). I need you to understand that I am absolutely ambivalent about getting pregnant, birthing a baby, and raising said child without losing my g**damn mind.
When I write ambivalent, I mean it. Let’s take a look at the dicto def:
- having mixed feelings or contradictory ideas about something or someone. (courtesy of dictionary.com)
Synonyms include (but are not limited to): contradictory, equivocal, uncertain, hesitant, undecided.
My mixed feelings are predicated on fear. Fear of the lovely and exquisite. Fear of the real. Fear of complex intimacy and responsibility. And ultimately, fear of my own fears: writerly obscurity, financial penury, and fear of failing to set an example for my child — an example that bears out: yes, you can live fiercely and love the crooked world; yes, you can create and make; yes, you will feel extraordinary pain and yes, you will feel joy you can’t contain or express; yes, you will feel disappointed and yes, you will fall in love and become heartbroken and yes, you will find a love that tugs at but doesn’t break your heart; yes, you will gaze in wonder and innocence, then fear and indecision. And by the way, just because I raise you doesn’t mean I have answers. I love you. Go forth.
But I would never forget that I am responsible for another human being.
I would not forget that I have to go through these and more with my child(ren).
I do not have a list about the pros and cons of parenthood. I do not need one.
I don’t feel a political urgency in writing about this. I don’t feel a reproductive urgency. Maybe I should, but I don’t.
Most of the women I know, women with children and husbands and careers, and minds of their own, have had abortions. I know it wrecked them at the time. I know that they must experience what I call “ghost children.”
“Ghost children” is a term I came up with to signify what we create when we foolishly mess around and don’t know better than to commit and get right in our lives. Ghost children represent poor decisions. Ghost children represent how one night of indulgence or indiscretion comes to haunt us and demand a better way of conducting ourselves. Ghost children remind us to put our cigarette out (forever) and to stop being amateurs at life. Ghost children insist: I could have been, but I wasn’t. I think that each time we’ve had intercourse with anyone, ghost babies have been born. Ghost kids are an argument for prudence and selectivity in regard to sexual partners; not as a moral imperative, but to prevent the accumulation of all these ghost children that we neglect, who run rampant through our lives and minds.
This is taking directions I didn’t intend.
I don’t know if I can get pregnant. I still menstruate. Light flow. Two to four days each month, like clockwork. No early onset menopause here. (Knock on wood.) TMI? Sorry. I have a body. I bleed.
We all contend with different challenges and shortcomings. We face the exact opposite of what it feels like to be in our wheelhouse. For some, it’s not finding the right partner, or languishing in an unsatisfying career. For others, it’s fragile health, or struggling with family members. Money is my albatross. It became so when I started writing in earnest at the age of 23. I neglected developing a professional, corporate, well-paying job with glass-ceiling potential in favor of writing in my diary every day. Fuh rull. It’s obviously taken me very far, which is why I’m writing to you today in shambles about whether or not to have a baby because I feel like a parody of the broke artist and I refuse to drop that on my potential future child.
It’s foolish and misguided to pretend that the only thing preventing me from getting knocked up is money. The irony is not lost on me that babies-children-people are priceless wealth far beyond material currency. (Is this irony? I always forget the definition of irony. More accurately, I just don’t really get the concept of irony though I have a sneaking suspicion that it runs roughshod through my life on a daily.) But can we talk for a minute?
Money. I don’t understand it. I think it will solve my problems. I think its lack will make my life so small and colorless, it nauseates me. I feel rich with time (and I get to write when I want to). I want to believe I can acquire adequate resources for a human child and my mind children (books, etc.).
I realize that we are each works in progress, but I have serious misgivings about being worthy of my future child. The complex in my brain goes something like this: “Child, you deserve a mother who cares for and honors herself. You deserve a mother who isn’t prone to depression. You deserve a mother who believes so deeply in herself and in life itself that she simply manifests what she needs, wants, and desires.”
I am terribly hard on myself. I hold myself to standards that I often fall short of. I’m not going to pat myself on the back or try to feel morally or ethically superior by suggesting that I am more responsible than parents because I don’t have kids. I’m just saying that I recognize the all-consuming intensity of parenting, even though I’ve never been a mom.
Maybe this is part of the problem. I’ve lived long enough to have had some real experience. I’ve had a decade + (way longer if you include high school and I kinda have to because I was super paranoid about unwanted pregnancy during that era) to ruminate about pregnancy, birth, and being a mom. I’ve had years to weigh the yeas and nays. I over-analyze as a matter of course. And in this particular file cabinet of my brain, it is as though I have tripped the wire of my basic biology by intellectualizing and philosophizing this subject to the degree where maternal instinct and desire have been rendered extinct. But even this isn’t true. This is not the bedrock. Layers upon layers, I tell you.
I’ve never had an abortion. I’ve never miscarried (that I know of). I never took any form of birth control until I was 32. Not taking it had nothing to do with my Catholic upbringing; I just didn’t think practitioners should play fast and loose with my hormones and I didn’t trust pill manufacturers. I’ve never tried to get pregnant and I have never taken pains not to (barring ages 32 to 33 when I was on the firm side of no for having kids due to a toxic relationship). My sister, with her two gorgeous and delightful daughters, tells me that getting pregnant is harder than it seems but easy enough that it will shock me when I discover that I’m growing a baby.
Part of me wishes that I had become pregnant years ago in an “oopsy-daisy” way, because it would have forced a resolution. It would have answered my questions about pregnancy and motherhood in the only fool-proof way possible: experience.
I’m not a “career” woman, so enamored with my fast-paced, modern life, fearing that a child will besmirch my freedom or cramp my style. My husband and I aren’t of a mind to say, “Oh, we just love travel and cocktails too much to trade them in for diaper changes and grocery store meltdowns.” It isn’t that at all. It’s more like this: Let me bring a child into this world when I can guarantee that I can make my life work so I can provide more than adequately for my kid and so I can be a model to them, a model who proves you can work hard and well and earn and have resources and make time for family, creation, and solitude; to prove that we can craft our lives to order. I have yet to prove this to myself. I don’t know if this is a phase or if this is my beast in the jungle.
I overlook an essential aspect of the human experience in my hemming and hawing, in the will-I-won’t-I echo chamber. It’s this: regardless of my current struggle to become a writer that readers know about or read, regardless of my current financial status, I love being alive. Having a human experience and participating in this condition is so worth it.
I gloss over the realization that any child we birth and raise will inherently have their own life: experiences, loves, losses, and moments untold. But it’s just so big, it overwhelms me. It matters so much.
In my late 20s, I understood that either way (to have a child or not to), it’s permanent. Maybe this is a lame argument on the pro side of becoming a mom, but parenting is such a profound part of being human that I might feel a deep loss to not experience it.
What I don’t know: If we don’t have children, will it gnaw at me slowly and give me a long-term existential panic attack? Or, will I have fleeting moments of regret, underscored by a sense that it was right for us not to be parents?
My husband is an artist. I’m a writer. We spend our days at jobs to earn money so we can go home at night and work on our respective crafts. But beyond this, could there be a life for us as parents? A life that seems so remote to us now but one that could crack us open to a new world?
If I don’t get pregnant, is it God’s way of saying I shouldn’t be a mom? Or is that just me shirking responsibility for my own decisions?
The thought of trying to get pregnant tires me. It sounds so desperate. It sounds like it squeezes out every last ounce of sexual joy. (A child deserves to be conceived in ecstasy.) It feels cold and clinical. And women have warned me that stressing about aiming to get pregnant may inhibit conception.
But my sister is right: If we want to become parents, we must try.