By Cassandra Willyard | May 7, 2012 | 19 Comments
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.
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.