Motherhood: Indecison 2012


When my grandma got married, the question of whether to have children wasn’t something that one pondered. If you could have kids, you did. My grandma had eight. Luckily she loves children. When my mom got pregnant at 17, she decided to keep me even though she had to drop out of high school. She never considered other alternatives. Today, of course, women have options — lots of them. And they’re encouraged to think about those options in ways they may not have in the past. In this week leading up to Mother’s Day, the women of LWON take a look at motherhood and the vast number of choices available to us. 

Rock, paper, scissors is a great game for making tough decisions — like who will get off the couch to order takeout. A couple of months ago, I asked my husband if he wanted to play. We were in a bar, and I was tipsy. “Let’s do paper, scissors, rock to decide whether to have a baby,” I said.

My husband wouldn’t play, but he wasn’t surprised at the request. I’ve had babies on the brain for months. You see, I haven’t decided whether I want a child. That wouldn’t be a problem except for the fact that I’m 33 years and 7 months old. While my brain leisurely mulls the pros and cons, my womb beeps like a smoke alarm low on batteries. This relentless distress signal has me on edge.

A woman’s fertility begins to decline in her late 20s. And then, in her mid-30s, it takes a nosedive. Or, as LWON’s own Virginia Hughes charmingly puts it, “By the time I’m 38, my bank account may be pregnant, but my eggs will be fossils.” Excellent. If I hadn’t already been in a panic, I would be now. I feel like I’m shopping at a going-out-of-business sale. I’m not really sure I want the clothes, but this is my last chance to get them. What if that jacket is the exact thing I want to wear in five years? My anxiety is, in many ways, unwarranted. I can probably have kids for years to come. And even if I can’t, my husband and I could adopt. Still, I can’t help but feel the insistent ticking of that biological clock.

A child sounds like a nice idea in theory. I like the idea of family. And I always assumed that, at a certain age, the urge to procreate would kick in. After all, it’s what we’re born to do. But as I near the breeding equivalent of last call, I find I’m still undecided. I love my friends’ kids, sure. But being around them doesn’t make me yearn to have my own. In fact, hanging out with the parents of young children only serves to highlight the drawbacks. Raising a kid is a shit-ton of work. They demand pretty much constant attention and infinite patience, things I have in short supply.

Plus, I like my life. I want to travel unencumbered and go out with my friends. I want to sleep in on the weekend. In his phenomenal Times’ essay, Tim Krieder puts it like this: “I have never even idly thought for a single passing second that it might make my life nicer to have a small, rude, incontinent person follow me around screaming and making me buy them stuff for the rest of my life.”

My situation is complicated by the fact that we live below two exceedingly noisy toddlers who wail and scream and race across the floor, their little feet jackhammering rather than pitter-pattering. Perhaps they’re normal toddlers making normal toddler noise, but that noise doesn’t gel with the silence I need to sleep or write or stay sane. The pounding and dropping and screeching sounds—my life’s horrifying new soundtrack—fill me with black rage. My womb has likely never been less hospitable to life than it is right now.

Mommy material?

But when the children upstairs are asleep and the apartment is quiet, I can think of reasons to have a child too. My husband and I are both basically only children. So the pressure to reproduce has been intense. Our parents started asking about grandchildren before we were even married. My father-in-law already has a playroom in the basement for his nonexistent granddaughter. Decide not to have a child and I’m denying them grandparenthood. Decide not to have a child and I’m denying my husband fatherhood. And he would be a truly amazing father.

I recently asked my mom what she would say if she were trying to convince me to have kids. “I don’t think that there’s anything I can say to convince you,” she said. She added, “If you have to be convinced, maybe it really isn’t for you.” But then she began to talk about the importance of family, and her fear that I will be lonely. “I have a million brothers and sisters that I call my family, but for you what’s that going to be?” she asked. “When the family starts to go, it’s like you’re all alone.” She paused. “I think about that a lot for you, and how that will be.”

I think about it too. If we don’t reproduce, who will take care of us? Who will visit us when we’re old? Will the peace and quiet that I wanted in my 30s become unbearable in my 60s? I imagine us gray and shriveled sitting in matching chairs. Sure we’ll have friends. But we’ll spend Christmases alone. I doubt I would regret having a child, but I may well regret not having one.

But those seem like the wrong reasons to bring a new human being into the world. I’m supposed to want to be a mother because it’s an incredible, life-altering experience. “You can never understand the heart’s capacity to love another human being until you have a child,” my friends with kids gush. And in the next breath, those same friends tell me not to take the leap unless I’m certain. So I’m supposed to be certain about wanting something that I can’t fully understand until I’ve experienced it? Um, ok.

I am anything but certain. As much as I don’t want to do the work associated with raising a child, especially right now, when I think about never having a kid, it makes me sad. Somewhere, beneath 14 layers of selfishness, some niggling part of me can’t give up on the idea of motherhood. Here’s what I can say: I want to want a child.

Not long ago, I read an article in women’s magazine that discussed a new fad. Apparently indecisive women just like me are going off birth control and leaving the decision up to fate. In truth, they’re leaving the decision up to biology, and that’s probably not the best family planning strategy. But I can see the appeal. Sometimes I wish the decision weren’t mine to make. It’s a tough choice with high stakes.

I should be grateful to have a choice. My grandma didn’t. And my mom got pregnant before she had time to even think about whether she wanted to be a mother. But having options seems to be both a blessing and a curse. So what’s a girl nearing her mid-30s to do?


Image credits: All the photos in this post are of me, my parents, and a friend’s baby. Unfortunately I don’t know who took most of these pictures, but I’m sure they won’t mind me sharing them with you.


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19 thoughts on “Motherhood: Indecison 2012

  1. The part that Tim Krieder misses is that the “small rude incontinent” stage is actually pretty short. Whenever people imagine having kids, they seem to imagine having babies — I was as guilty of that as anyone — but that’s quick and fleeting in the grand scheme of things. My sixteen year old is the best traveling companion I’ve ever had, the person most likely to introduce me to new television shows or movie that I like, a supremely good omelet maker (and yes, I get breakfast in bed more than once a year), and a generally all around fun human being whose company I enjoy. And in two years, when he goes off to college, I will travel unencumbered, sleep in on weekends, go out with friends, and miss him enormously.

  2. Well said. You know how I feel about reproducing: bring on the babies. It is definitely an irreversible and lifelong commitment, not to be taken lightly. But, the crying/screaming/toddler/crazy part you seem most averse to really does only last 3-4 years.

  3. Cassandra: It’s brave of you to openly discuss your indecisiveness about having a child. As an (older) mother of 16-month-old-twins, I once shared many of your fears about motherhood. I can only tell you that my kids are the most fantastic, curious, affectionate, brave and sweet children I have ever known. Yes, I’m perpetually tired. But did I mention that my kids are fantastic?

    I hope that you have the courage to make the decision that is best for you (and know that there are no right or wrong decisions.) And by the way, the pooping is the least of it – my only feeling about it is that I’m glad my kids’ bowels work well. Good luck.

  4. The aforementioned sixteen year old would like me to mention that 90% of the music on my iPod has been his discovery and that our favorite Thai, Vietnamese and Korean restaurants were all tried at his instigation, although he’s still making me try new Indian places. (I think he doesn’t wish to be commended solely for his taste in television.) We also discussed video games and books, but agree we’re about 50/50 there as far as mutual introductions. And yes, this was what we discussed in the car while picking up Starbucks this morning, so add that to your image of what having a kid is like!

  5. I’ll do my best to resist getting all gushy here, and just note that if you are a person who is interested in science, biology, cognition, etc., having a child is freaking fascinating. As even Charles Darwin knew!

    I admire your willingness to wrestle honestly with your ambivalence, Cassandra.

  6. Well, I was once where you are now. Then, I met your dad and several years later became a step-parent–hands down one of the best things that has happened to me.

    While all of the reasons that everyone states are reasons to have babies, there are absolutely no guarantees in life–no guarantee that your child will be healthy, smart, affectionate, or that you will always want to be around them. No guarantees that they will like you when they are old and when you are in your dotage. There are lots of stories out there about kids that never have contact with their parents. So, I think in the end a person simply has to want to be a parent.

    Regardless of the end-game, be mindful that children may or may not be all that you imagined, as babies, teenagers or as adults but also be mindful of and grateful for the incredible way in which they expand your world and your world view, whether they are yours or somebody else’s.

  7. I would like to meet the person responsible for the wildly inaccurate cliches “sleep like a baby” and “pitter-patter of little feet.” Both fail completely to capture the reality of small children.

    I can’t begin to answer this question except to say that my wife and I were never certain about when was the right time to have kids. We knew we wanted them and I always assumed we would – someday. While it turned out to be the most awesome thing we’ve ever done, it’s also the hardest. So, yeah, there’s no slam dunk answer. In my experience, parenthood is one big validation of humankind’s ability to adapt and, given even just a short amount of time, how a major disruption to the old routine quickly becomes the “new normal.”

    It’s just…different. And some of the different sucks royally and some of it is indescribably awesome. And none of this helps your own personal decision!

  8. Thanks for the comments, all.

    Sarah W. and Molly make a good point. When I think about having kids, I mostly dread the baby/toddler phase. But I know that doesn’t last forever. In fact, I’m often surprised by my friends’ kids – how much they’re capable of at such a young age.

    Kathy, I’m grateful to have you in my life, and I promise to love you even in your dotage. PS. I’m glad I turned out to not be one of the sucky ones.

    Adam – it comforts me to hear that you weren’t 100% certain. And that you don’t regret it!

  9. As the older, if not wiser, cousin of the aforementioned Virginia Hughes, I want to reassure you that the uncertainty you’re wrestling with regarding conceiving a child doesn’t end when that child is eventually born. In fact, it’s been my experience as a mom of 3 that those feelings of doubt and second-guessing only increase! The responsibility is huge and, at times, totally overwhelming. Reassuring, right? But the rewards are equally intense and infinitely more satisfying. Being a parent really does invite you into a beautiful place of loving and being loved. Good article, and good luck to you!

  10. I fully understand your indecision. I am not what I’d class as a ‘natural mother’, but now I have an 18 month old son and I take so much pleasure in things that I would have found boring – seeing him discover new things, days out which would have been mundane now come alive watching him grow and learn – it’s amazing and not to be missed out on – like other people are saying, the needy phase doesn’t last forever (and actually I think most people with kids do cherish this). Yes it’s hard, but so worth it. And other peoples kids are nothing to go by – there’s nothing in this world like your own! And there is never a good time!!! You just have to go for it 🙂

  11. I was ambivalent (at 35, beginning grad-school). After 5 years of no success, none of the ambivalence was relevant anymore. The ambivalence was never about whether or not having them, but about when. I am very happy I now have 3. All of the stages changes. There are things you give up, and things you don’t, and things you regain. And, I don’t think it really needs to take as much work as some put into it (I think of that more as competitive parenting – kids are fairly robust).

  12. I feel exactly the way you do about this, and am told time and time again by friends, family, counselors, and even my OBGYN that if I know I want to have children some day, not to think about it too much because “you are never ready.” They also advise me to have them “as soon as I can.”

  13. This is such a great piece — thanks for sharing it! I totally identify with the “I want to want them” mindset. I think for lots of people, hormones take over and the rest is history. But if you don’t have those hormones then it becomes a lesson in rationality. And boy are kids NOT a rational concept!

    I’ve got a baby girl nearing 18 mo. and it’s way, way more fun and interesting than I thought possible. Even pregnancy was pretty cool and I was terrified of pregnancy. And squicked by it. Now I think of it as SCIENCE and pretty damn cool.

    Lots of people talk about “selfishness” around having or not having children. To have my own little baby to dote on feels like the height of selfishness to me. To say, “I want a baby of my own” is not at all like saying, “my child will be a benefit to the world.” I mean, no one says that last part, though we do wish it in some way. You have to set aside your more selfish inclinations to focus on your child but that’s just the beginning.

    Anyway, I applaud your sentiments and I think the majority of women these days wrestle with these issues. Keep in mind, the grass is always greener, not matter what side you’re on.

  14. It’s easy for two career-oriented people to come up with reasons not to have a child—for us, it was things like “not tenured yet”, “we don’t know where we’re going to settle yet”, “still want to travel together”, and simply “no time”. But for all that, when we found out she was pregnant (a decision we didn’t make, truth be told 🙂 ), we knew it was what we wanted. And now all those reasons are melting away. I’ve already forgotten some, and the rest will likely be gone by the time our daughter is born.

  15. Great article! I’m a mom of 3 teenage boys, loads of pros and cons. I recommend reading Mother Nature by Sarah Blaffer Hrdy (yes, that’s spelled correctly :).

  16. On the other side: never wanted a child, never had one, never regretted the choice – which ceased to exist long ago. Kids can’t be returned. I would have been an awful parent – as are many. So be sure.

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