Should I Have Kids?
My in-laws are worried.
At least that’s what my husband Chris told me just now, half-joking. He was talking about a call with his parents, Stu and Ellen, who earlier this morning saw an article I shared on Facebook by the actress Joy Bryant on motherhood, and her decision to forgo making and raising human beings.
Looking at the supportive comments and “Likes” on the Facebook post (the majority of them female friends and acquaintances), I felt light and free for a moment thinking: wow, imagine if Chris and I really decide to focus on ourselves, our work, and each other instead of raising mini-me’s.
Among Chris’s friends, we’d be pretty average. Many of the people he works with are enterprising and practical, and way before we ever considered it an option, decided that children (marriage, even) wasn’t for them. And in my circle of friends, getting married last year meant I surrendered my autonomy and ovaries earlier than most. If I decided to stop taking birth control this week, I’d be among the first of my best friends to risk parenthood — at thirty-two! How refreshing. What a relief.
Considering and planning for parenthood is nothing new — not to me, not to anyone, it seems. After all, as women, our bodies are ready and able to make more of ourselves for perpetuity. But though we’ve been raised to assume we should have kids, it’s never too late to challenge those assumptions. And the first step to doing this is to ask where those assumptions come from in the first place.
I’ll use myself as an example.
Twelve-year-old me would’ve told you that she’d be married and have kids by age thirty. I believed it so deeply that I felt compelled to tell Chris mere weeks into our relationship. I was twenty-seven then; three years seemed to be enough time to date Chris, marry him, and get him pregnant by the big 3–0. That way, I could (almost) ensure I’d produce healthy babies and have my second child before I turned thirty-five. Forget traveling and writing “that book,” or in Chris’s case, building that company. Parenthood was the end game.
But what my 12-year-old self or even my 27-year-old self didn’t consider was that embracing motherhood at thirty would likely consume the years when I’m just starting to sink my teeth into work I believe in.
Now let’s consider the not-so-unusual circumstances by which I arrived at my conclusion that thirty was the year to make babies. In the late eighties, my parents feared that sending me to public school would mean that I’d spend more time avoiding bullies than getting good grades. So despite my dad’s meager salary as a hotel room service waiter, they mustered up tuition money and sent me to the nearest private school in Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn, a Catholic school for kids in Kindergarten to eighth grade.
For a decade, I took part in all the teachings offered by a Catholic curriculum until the age of fourteen when I eventually went to public high school (where, it’s worth noting, I did not get beat up).
Most of my elementary school friends’ parents had them in their early twenties. (My mom, who had me at thirty, was on the older end of this spectrum.) Also, when you attend Catholic school, they really talk up priesthood and sisterhood; altar boys got special treatment — mainly, they got to skip class to prepare for mass. It’s no surprise then that I came to this conclusion: If I was not married by thirty, I would become a nun. Kids have funny ways of making sense of the world.
Even as I attained adulthood and realized that I didn’t have to become a spinster-nun, I could never shake the feeling that turning thirty was a bit like waiting for the Rapture: it’s all fun and games until the world ends. Still, I can’t blame the Catholic church for my naiveté entirely. There are plenty of people who look at thirty as the finish line, and beyond it, the doomsday trifecta: “real life,” responsibility, and miniature human beings who absorb all of your life force to keep themselves sustained.
Despite their unsavory reputation, I’d like to have kids eventually. It’s beyond fearing the nunnery — it’s in my nature to nurture, although you could argue I should just get another dog or cat(s) or apply for an impossible but meaningful job, like getting involved in the refugee crisis and lending a hand to people who desperately need it.
The question then isn’t whether I want kids, but when.
Two months ago, I lost my job unexpectedly. In the span of a single Google Hangout, I went from gainfully employed to scrapping my months-long work To-Do list. If you’ve ever lost a job, you can probably relate: it’s really weird not having to care about what you’d been paid to care about, like that To-Do list.
Without a job, I was suddenly inconvenienced by the need to figure out two things: What I care about and how to spend my time.
“Maybe this is a good time to have a baby!” some of my (hilarious) friends joked. I considered it and, for a week, it seemed inevitable. I’m going to have kids anyway, I thought. Why not get off birth control and taper off my antidepressants, and let nature run its course?
The answer, turns out, is because I have a choice. It’s an incredibly profound feeling when you realize you’re exercising that choice. I don’t have to have kids. Imagine that. Besides, lately, a part of me wants to hold off on parenthood just to make people — the ones who inevitably wonder what’s wrong with you — squirm.
While it didn’t take long for me and Chris to conclude that parenthood can wait, it took me a little longer to figure out what, in the absence of tiny outfits and a landfill full of diapers, would give life meaning.
What would you care about even if you weren’t paid to care about it? After weeks of mulling over my options, I think I’ve figured it out. Life is probably best spent working on something you believe in, whether that’s becoming a parent or building tools for poverty relief. (My friend Michelle is actually doing this.) Also, they’re not mutually exclusive.
As two wise people once said (Oprah and my husband): You can have it all. Just not all at once.
I want to create a world in which I want to live, which means no babies for me. Not yet.