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Enter the Baby

Here’s the first thing I generally say to people who have just had their first child:

So, has it completely changed your life?

Duh, of course it has.  What I’m really trying to tease out of them is this:

Now that you have a child, has life taken on a more urgent and deep meaning?  Do you feel alive and vital?  Are all of your priorities reordered as the universe intended?

And what I’m really, really trying to get at is:

Do you finally feel like you have a purpose?

Lately, I’ve felt somewhat adrift, holding my heavy anchor waiting for the best mooring to open up.  Unable to make clear and focused goals, I drag my feet in the mud and hope a sassy gay friend will appear and point me towards dry land.  

Enter the Baby

Over the years, I’ve come to view having a baby as some sort of mystical event where a glowing oracle shoots out from between your legs radiating your future and whispering life’s greatest secrets.  The wizardly mid-wife swaddles the orb, everyone cries with joy and the world is saved.  Who wouldn’t want to be apart of that?  So, how come I haven’t had a kid yet?  That’s a very good question.  Allow me to channel my inner Woody Allen…

I was the youngest in my family and didn’t come into contact with an actual live baby until my teens and even then it was fleeting.  I’m afraid of the soft spot on their head, their fragile bodies and their answer-less cries.  I’m terrified of all the products, lotions and foods involved to keep them alive.  I break into a cold sweat when I think about all that cheap s*** from China that Buy-Buy-Baby pushes on new mothers like a wily drug dealer.  And most of all, I fear motherhood as the greatest of all traps.  Because once it’s done, it’s done.  No going back.  The bank account will never be the same, the pressure will never subside and sleep will be a thing of the past.  Life, as I know it, will end.

What the heck am I clinging too?  My bank account sucks now, I feel career pressure everyday and I already have sleeping problems.  It’s like Peter and I are living like parents without the actual baby.  We don’t even have a cat (landlord won’t allow us.)  Maybe I should carry around an egg like we did in middle school and name it Rosie.  Or maybe we should pull a Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolf and creep out our neighbors.  Or better yet, maybe we should just have a baby?

I’m not proud of being this neurotic.  Let me be clear about that.  Either you want kids, you don’t want kids or you can’t have kids.  Intellectually, I know that, but somehow I still figure out a way of weaseling between the lines.  Of making myself an outlier observing the world from a safe distance.  For those of you who have children, I’m sure this reads as self-centered drivel.  And I don’t necessarily disagree with you.  Trust me, there are many mornings when I say to myself, “Man up and quit pussy-footing through life!”  Okay, I don’t actually say those words but the sentiment is the same.  What do you guys think?  Any other women out there who battle with the baby issue?  Moms, what’s on your mind?  Time for a little straight talk – cue Dolly Parton….



Your comments

  1. Jessica says:

    Dude, man up and make a baby. All the cool kids are doing it, and you and Peter would be such fun parents. I’m sick of all your jibber jabber on this. It’s not that hard. If it’s good enough for your local teenager, then I think you can hang. Plus, you have a license to talk about poop for years to come.

    • admin says:

      Peer pressure never dies!

    • kate ragan says:

      I like the man up part, at least you have a partner with whom to share the event. TIME, free time, that is, will never ever be the same, and you think you know what you’re getting into and it turns out you seriously don’t.
      I love your blog post btw. And if you think you’re neurotic now, just wait till you have le bebe’!!! I was a freak before, now I’m an ultra freak. I must say though, I am much less focused on myself, now I’ve focused all my neuroses onto my little munchkin. It is so amazing to watch her grow though.

  2. Marie says:

    You are absolutely justified in being terrified. I also was a youngest child, and had nothing to do with babies until I had my son. The difference between us is my insane maternal drive. Even though I had spent all of my formative years convincing myself that I wanted more than to be a housewife, it was really difficult to ignore my strong desire for a child, and now that he is here I am horrified at the idea of needing to work and relinquish his care to anyone else. Beware: children make your life more meaningful without giving you the meaning of life, more fulfilling without giving you direct fulfillment, and more joyful without giving you more happiness. You will never know fear for another, protectiveness for another, and deep abiding love for another in the same way you will for your child. In short, your life becomes infinitely complicated.

  3. Adrienne says:

    You would make an awesome parent, I have to agree. However, I work around children every weekday and I have come to a similar uncertain conclusion. I don’t think you either do want a baby or you don’t… I think that for some people it is more complicated then that. I do think that if you do choose to have a child, you need to be sure about it (if you have that choice) but in general I think it’s more complex.

    I love kids, I really do. And I am super comfortable around them. But as my life progresses I have realized that just because you like kids doesn’t mean that you have to have them. I prefer to borrow them… and preschool mothers at the art school I work at are desperate to get their eyebrows waxed or take a nap and are more then happy to oblige. And that way you get to pick a good one that won’t piss you off and then give them back at your leisure. All of the fun times without any of the responsibility (just the way I like it).

    But to be clear, your quandry isn’t self-centered drivel. In fact, it is quite the opposite. It is incredibly responsible and selfless to make sure that bringing a child into this world is what you want… because that want effects the child too. I am not saying that “suprise” kids are not loved and wanted but if you have the choice, why not make it the most informed choice you can?

    Shit, I went on about this one. Talk about drivel.

    • admin says:

      Haha! Give me your drivel any day of the week fine lady! Borrowing babies is always an option – with the mother’s consent of course. But my lady loins may not accept that choice…

  4. Susie says:

    You do not seem self-centered. It seems to me that all your reasons not to have kids are all based on fears. Parenting is deeply rewarding and it truly goes super duper fast. Sure it is sometimes tiring and frustrating, but mostly it is wonderful, and all the things Marie said… My kids are teetering on their teenage years and I feel like they were just babies. People who don’t want children shouldn’t have them, but you sound a bit conflicted to me.

    Babies aren’t that fragile, and there is tons of support out there when the going gets rough. Also, babies aren’t expensive, it’s when they get older, in the school years that kids get costly..

    Motherhood isn’t a trap. It opens up a whole new set of things to be and you can still be all the things you were before. It’s just that for a little while, you have babies around you.

    • admin says:

      I love the line, “It’s just for a little while, you have babies around you.” That’s fantastic. You know, it’s weird thing. You put off having kids so long that you almost create unrealistic expectations. But you’re right, it’s as simple as having babies around you.

  5. Kristina Omohundro says:

    Cathy C –

    I know I don’t want children. But taking care of a fragile tiny baby doesn’t scare me in the least. Women figure it out every day. What does scare me is my freedom being taken away. When I see my female friends who jumped in without really contemplating it, unlike yourself, and are slowly and quietly going mad from cabin fever, I reconfirm my decision. When they tell me “Its wonderful, and you won’t understand until you’ve done it yourself” I think to myself: “A) You’re so lying, B) misery loves company, and C) you have to say that because you’re totally trapped in your decision!!”

    My biggest fear is that maybe those same friends are actually like me and didn’t want to admit it because society says its not ok for a woman to not want kids. But I only think this because I’m so sure of my decision that I have trouble relating to theirs. In reality I’m sure they truly would not want it any other way. Its me that’s different.

    Truth is: I want to go out when I want, spend money as I wish, travel the world which includes dangerous places without having to worry for the safety of another (like the Middle East last summer), relentlessly pursue my career, drink too much sometimes without ramifications, endlessly pursue higher education, return to a quiet house and spend lots of time alone in yoga. My values differ. And that’s fine. In a nutshell I know I’m too selfish to have a baby. And I’m totally cool with it.

    But you my friend – if your biggest fears are not like mine, and they genuinely come from a place of insecurity regarding your ability to care for a little tiny baby…. I honestly think you have nothing to fear but fear itself. You are a naturally nurturing individual. You would be a great mother. If I heard you were pregnant I would smile to myself and be happy knowing that for all the couples out there that should not be having a baby, and did anyway, at least there’s one that should and did… and its you and that awesome husband of yours. Please invite me to your family events and reunions. They will be full of laughter and love. No doubt.

    If you change your mind though – we can grow old going to yoga together, trying find Zen or something ;)

    Now go grow a zygote!

    xoxo,
    Kristina

    • admin says:

      It’s like the Kate Hepburn effect – we needed her and women like her. And Ms. Kate wouldn’t have been her fine self if she became a mom. I’m so impressed with how focused you are and how clear your decision is. You are my Kate Hepburn!

  6. Diedra says:

    Ask to baby sit a friend’s kid/kids for a week to give your friends a break. Will help you decide.

  7. Lisa says:

    Babysitting or borrowing kids is actually a bad way to assess whether you want to be a mom! I hated babysitting growing up, don’t particularly like my friend’s children (certainly don’t babysit now!), and never had those crazy “maternal” instincts. It actually wasn’t until I got pregnant by accident and then miscarried that I realized that I actually did want to have children and made an active choice to make the plunge.

    Are there moments when motherhood drives me insane- you bet. Do I miss my freedom- yes. Do I regret having a child. An emphatic- NO! There is something about your own child that brings out a deep and unconditional love. The funny thing is, I didn’t really even feel it when he was first born. I felt wonder- but that depth of emotion wasn’t there at first. It grows over time. It grows insanely. My son becomes more precious to me as time goes by. He is such a source of joy and pure happiness that sometimes I can hardly stand it.

    In terms of meaning- I’m sure there are parents out there who expect to get their life’s fulfillment and ultimate purpose from having children- but how unfair is that? To expect another person to give you ultimate meaning is futile. To expect it out of a child is just cruel. I certainly don’t want to be my parent’s only purpose in life and I certainly don’t expect it from my child. At the end of the day, no matter what joy my child brings me, I am still me, with the same questions, and the same yearning to find a depth and meaning to my life. Nothing has changed about that.

    One last thought is I think one of the biggest mistakes potential parent’s make is thinking that they’re going to have a baby forever (I made that same mistake). The truth is, your child is a baby (and each stage of their life for that matter) for such a short time that all of those fears you have about how to deal with a tiny, vulnerable baby goes away in the blink of an eye. Even sleepless nights are gone in a flash- my little two year old sleeps 12 hours straight through and takes 3 hour naps- hardly sleep deprivation. Oh- and babies don’t need all that “crap” from China. They need a few clothes, a safe place to sleep, and a warm body offering some milk.

    On one hand, if you know who you are, and know you don’t want to have children, then so be it. You’re not going to miss out on your ultimate meaning in life, because I don’t believe your child should ever be that. I was on one side of the childless couple, came out the other, and now I can see it for what it is. It’s a relationship- but more than one with a friend, a lover, a husband- it’s your blood. You get to influence how a person’s life develops (that’s actually the fun part- not scary. You only find it scary when it’s an abstract idea.). Your relationship with your child is unlike anything in the world- it’s special and sweet, and just plain joyful. I can honestly say that my son is my favorite person in the whole world- and I get to see him everyday. How fun is that?

    • admin says:

      Thanks for such a thoughtful response Lisa. For me, it’s not so much an issue of having children. I know I want them, have always felt that I would. But for some reason, despite my impulse to be a mother I have put it off. I have a litany of reasons: money, trying to establish myself professionally, etc. I have many friends in the same boat. One thing I know about myself, I flounder when there are choices! Ha! I love your description of your son:
      “Your relationship with your child is unlike anything in the world- it’s special and sweet, and just plain joyful. I can honestly say that my son is my favorite person in the whole world- and I get to see him everyday. How fun is that?”
      That’s lovely…

      • Lisa says:

        I’m 35, so while I’m not old- I’m definitely not young to be having children! I think the older we get when we decide to have children, the more of an impact it is on our established lives and the less impulsive the decision seems, so I understand the desire to put it off. We’re in the process of deciding to have baby number 2. I always knew that if I decided to have children, I wanted more than one. I had two siblings and lots of cousins, and it was fun to have a big family. But now that I know the amount of time it takes, and the sacrifices you have to make in the beginning I just don’t want to start over again (not a very good sales job, I know, but I guess I’m not really trying to do that- just using your blog as a reflection of my own life and thoughts on this subject since it’s so immediately relevant in my life right now). The older my son gets, the easier it gets, so starting over again is not so appealing- but, since I’ve decided (logically- not emotionally since those maternal instincts are just not that strong in me!) I feel like I just want to get it over with! I say- if you know you want to have kids- just get it over with! It’s much more fun, and waaay easier after the first 6 months.

        • admin says:

          Lisa, I read an essay recently about the decision for parents to have number two and the social pressures they felt. It was actually a little sad because the woman wanted number two and the husband didn’t. In the end, she compromised. I agree with your advice to get it over with. As I think back on life, I think about moms who had kids in their early twenties and then were able to do as they pleased by their forties.
          At the end of the day, it all comes down to, ‘shit or get off the pot.’

  8. Joy says:

    You really nailed it when you said you haven’t been around babies much. I hadn’t either, and never thought much about having them through my long single life. But as soon as my sister told me she was pregnant, I gave up a Washington, D.C. life to come back to California and try to win the title of world’s greatest aunt.

    Being an aunt is so much fun that you don’t really envy the mother. I saw my nephews nearly every day and was considered “co-parent.”

    Getting married at 41 wasn’t exactly the best time to start thinking of parenthood, and when it didn’t happen I was OK with it. It’s hard to rock the boat when your life seems perfect as is.

    • admin says:

      I’m seeing my tiny little gentleman nephew this weekend! Ha – I bet after a weekend of holding and feeding, I’ll turn to Peter and say, “Let’s go dude. Put that there baby in me!”

      • Joy says:

        I just remembered what really affected me. It was reading the start of a Richard Dawkins book. Not his “Selfish Gene” or his more recent book, but one that started out calculating the enormous odds against any of us being born. How one’s two parents had to somehow meet and get together against enormous odds against them, and for this egg and this sperm to find each other. It makes one think.

  9. Marianne says:

    I have two kids; they are both in college now. I love them, and I love being a mom. However, parenting took over my life for the last 20 years in ways I am just now understanding since I became an “empty-nester” a few months ago.

    My advice: if you go into it thinking you can balance your current life with your parent life – don’t do it. If you go into thinking I want a new life, and being a mom is the life I want, then maybe. Mom’s life means that you no longer have your time, because your weekends are consumed by taking your kids to their various hobbies (dance, sports, etc.) and evenings are spent cooking dinner, picking them up from after school activities, and helping with homework.

    Having a baby is the easy part. Little kids – little problems. Having kids and teenagers, well big kids – bigger problems.

    Marianne

    • admin says:

      Yeah, Marianne – the whole teenager thing! I was a terrible teenager. Just awful. That’s a great point. I would love to know about the teen years and how mothers have handled that prickly time in individual human development. Yikes!

  10. Kerrin says:

    You will never be ready to have a baby. No one is ever ready to have a baby. I let it simmer for years, avoiding the pressure from friends and family like Richard Simmons avoids the cookie aisle. Then one day my husband and I just knew. We just stopped trying not to get pregnant and let nature take it’s course. Even when the nurse handed me my brand new daughter I had no idea what I was doing and no amount of education can change that. I was not prepared for parenting to be so all consuming. My husband and I had no idea how much our bundle of joy would reak havoc on our marriage. No one tells you that it will be really really hard. Or that in that hardness you will discover new ways to love your husband. No one tells you that there will be days when you will want to put your baby down somewhere safe and walk out the door and keep on walking. Or that getting sleep will be more important then anything else. There will be days when you start a deep conversation with the pizza boy because you havent spoken to another adult in days. And there will be many days when your partner will come home to a messy home and no dinner because all you did for the entire day was sit and look at your baby.But for ever challenge a baby brings there are ten more wonderful things to balance it all out.
    If the time comes for you to have a baby, my best advice would be to just relax and enjoy the ride. All that worry over food, the best products, and what crap is coming from China will work itself out.

    • admin says:

      This is my most favorite sentence ever: “And there will be many days when your partner will come home to a messy home and no dinner because all you did for the entire day was sit and look at your baby.”

      I appreciate how you expressed the idea of ending “trying to not get pregnant.” Abandoning the pill/condom/IUD/diaphragm (does anyone still use those???) and seeing what happens. There’s something very human about letting go of control and allowing life to muddy the waters. Thanks for the great comment!

  11. tosin says:

    I love the complete dichotomy of your thoughts of a baby being either the glowing orb of all the world’s secrets or a crying fragile pile of products.
    My experience has been neither. I had them young with no planning, thus no time to really think it out like you have, but I get where you’re coming from.

    My kids have been an absolute blessing, and I’ve somehow managed to retain my identity and my marriage. I have seen many not go that road. Not for me though, it’s too important to me to find the balance, and the kids still manage to not hate me while being completely cool kids.

    Sadly, this most important job in the world cannot be studied for in advance. The inevitability of it is that you must learn by on the job training. Fortunately, kids are extremely resilient. And they still bring you flowers and tell you you’re pretty. Who doesn’t want that? :)

    • admin says:

      Listen, I can use flowers every day of the week…
      Ahhh, I love your perspective! I micromanage my life into oblivion so it is a huge joy to have someone such as yourself shed a little light on the situation.

  12. Paula says:

    It’s so hard for me to intellectualize this subject, so I’m tardy posting my thoughts.

    Having a baby is the most purely emotional and physical experience you will ever have. There’s no way to prepare yourself mentally for this. The new muscles parenthood will develop in you will be emotional ones. You will actually notice that your brain works less acutely once you are pregnant, and it continues that way.

    I concur with tosin’s comment about the dichotomy in your thinking. Remember, you were your mother’s baby. Were you the embodiment for her of what you fear?

    The most stunning thing I learned about parenthood – my children were uniquely developed personalities from conception, and I did not have as much influence over them as I expected to have. I shaped them in important ways, surely, but they were born fully realized human beings. I think many childless women fear having children because they sense a responsibility to create the child after it is born, which just is not the case.

    Parenthood will require you to gird your loins and deal with things you could never before have imagined. You have no option to choose not to. And you will be able to do it, and you will be stronger in ways you never expected to be, and more vulnerable at the same time.

    My favorite description of parenthood was by Lois in an episode of “Malcolm In The Middle”, when she talks about how no matter how horrible her sons are, she’s trapped loving them.

    • cathleen says:

      Thank you Paula- I love your point that children have their own distinct personalities. That is so important to know and remember for me. They are who they are… Ha! Trapped love! Love it!