First Person: A Baby Story
I'm racing through my childbearing years, yet I'm still ambivalent about having kids. Do I go with my instincts or listen to reason?
But it would be too easy, too typical, too superficial to blame those fleeting irritations and stages of life as the reasons I don't think I want to have kids. No, my hesitancies run deeper.
I fear having to give up my job. I'm afraid of the intellectual black hole I could fall into, trapped in a house with only a two-year-old to converse with for hours at a time. I'm scared that the responsibility of raising the kids will fall mostly to me because, as a doctor, Matt has the higher-paying, more demanding job. I fear that kids will draw attention away from—and suck the romance out of—our relationship. I fear that I will no longer feel young and sexy after experiencing pregnancy, delivery, and breast-feeding. I fear that our dreams of someday living abroad will fizzle when we can't bring ourselves to strip our kids of a life in the States. Even though we rarely fight, I fear that Matt and I will argue over how to manage an angry teenager or how to best help our kid who struggles in school. I fear that, like my parents, Matt and I might not always agree on how best to parent our kids and that those arguments could create a fissure, a crack in our relationship that we don't know how to seal. Most of all, though, I fear that I won't like being a mom, that I'm too lazy to be a mom, that I'm too type A to be a mom, that I'm not sensitive and empathetic enough to be a mom—and that my poor children will suffer from my inadequacies.
I realize that all of these reasons can be construed as selfish. And even Matt has said this to me—that having kids might make me think about something greater than myself, and that that might be a good thing. Maybe it would be. Maybe it'd be a great thing. Maybe that's what makes a parent a parent: true selflessness.
Maybe that's why my dad threw a ball up the stairs and let it bounce down and bonk him in the head a thousand times—because it made his baby daughter laugh. Maybe that's why my mom baked homemade play dough and pushed me on the swings and drove me to painting classes and piano lessons and swim team practices. Maybe that's why my dad coached my basketball team and my brother's baseball teams. Maybe that's why my mom took me to hundreds of eye doctor appointments. Maybe that's why my dad carried me to the kitchen after I got sick in the middle of the night and sat with me while I drank warm ginger ale. Maybe that's why my mom hugged me and held me when a boy broke my heart. Maybe that's why my mom and dad helped my brother and me with homework. Maybe that's why my parents stuck it out—stuck with each other—when things were tough, which they sometimes were.
The thing is that I'm not sure that it's totally selfish—at least "selfish" in the way people think of that word—to want to live a life unencumbered by children. If I'm not OK with sacrificing my work, or my time with Matt, or my ability to one day live overseas, then the thinking goes that I shouldn't have kids. It's existentialism at its most basic. And, honestly, it all sounds right when I put it down on paper and even when I say it out loud. My gut nods approvingly. Yet, I have to admit, that sometimes something feels very wrong.
I'm not sure what feels amiss, but I think it comes down to love. I have been fortunate in matters of love my entire life. My parents, my grandparents, my brother, my old boyfriends, my friends, my husband, my husband's family—they have all shown me more love than anyone has the right to expect in one lifetime. And so, sometimes I wonder if not having a child is an outright rejection of love.
A good friend once tried to explain to me what loving a child is like. Knowing how much I care about my brother, Jordan, she said that the love for your child is like the love you have for a sibling—only multiplied by 100. I have no doubt she's right. Which makes me contemplate the notion that I'd be surrendering the opportunity not only to shower that kind of love upon someone else, but also to experience the singular kind of love a child has for his mother. The sensation that I'm making the incorrect decision at least in part swells from someplace inside me that realizes shunning love in any form feels spiritually, cosmically wrong.
But the idea that I'm spurning love lasts only until I remember that my 10-month-old niece might not get the same kind of love—ample, attentive, over-the-top love—from me as she gets from her mother, a person who knew she wanted kids without a doubt.
And so, we will, for the time being, remain childless. I will go with my gut. I will try to embrace the silence, the lack of ticking. Of course, it's possible that I'm just not there yet. Maybe selflessness and a deep yearning will come later. And I will simply hope that I am not one of those people who wakes up one morning eight or 10 years from now and wants a baby that I can no longer have.
Lindsey B. Koehler is managing editor of 5280. E-mail her at email@example.com.