As I mentioned in a post earlier, it took me a few years to work through some issues I had surrounding motherhood. It started with what I thought was a pregnancy scare (but ultimately wasn’t), but it forced me to really think things through that I’d only thought about abstractly before: Did I actually want to be a parent? If so, did I want to have my own child or adopt? What was I willing to compromise for my partner, who has known he wanted to be a father since high school? Parenthood is not something I would enter into lightly, especially since I’d never wanted kids, and so my epic journey of self-reflection and -discovery began.
For what it’s worth, if a woman says she doesn’t want children or has always been ambivalent about having them, it is never comforting to have people from all around tell you, “Oh, you’ll be a great mom!” Followed by, of course, a laundry list of qualities that make you “great mom” material. Shit, I know I’d make a great mom–I’m the oldest of five children so I’ve had a lot of hands-on training; I have the imagination of a child that never grew up and learned that cartoons weren’t real; I’m compassionate and patient and thoughtful and well educated and and and… none of that fucking matters if you never wanted children.
When I was a child, I never played house with my sister at home. Sure, I played “kitchen” because I had one of those plastic play kitchens (ironically, I hate cooking but John loves it), and we played dress up with my ballet outfits and old Halloween costumes. I even played school–my sister Kelly was always the student, and I was always the teacher… and Lelly (my nickname for her) always failed math because it was the only quantitative thing that I could “grade,” and I’m three years older than she is so the math was a little too advanced for her. We played witches and ghost hunters and treasure hunters and wildlife refuge keepers and mythological animals and on and on, but, no, there was no “house.”
I never wanted to pretend to be a mommy (or Mama in my case) or daddy (Papa). I didn’t want to do imaginative play in such a domestic and, in my mind, boring/mundane space. There were so many other “worlds” to play in that “house” seemed like the last thing I wanted to play. I do remember playing occasionally at my primary school, which was a private school so it had a lot of fascinating things donated to it for dress up (fake canned goods, old phones, vintage clothing, costume jewelry etc). But even then, I don’t remember being in much of a parenting role… if my inner child had had the vocabulary, I would’ve gone with “chique aunt.” LOL
So, on to the “pregnancy scare.” I’d just finished my first year in the PhD program, and we still lived in our fourth-floor, one-bedroom walk-up apartment in Park Slope (neighborhood in Brooklyn for you non-New Yorkers). I was on a birth control pill, so I was used to my hormone-induced 28-day cycle. Day 29 came and I thought, “Eh, it’s just a day. It’s okay.” And then Day 30 and 31 came and went. I mentioned to John that my period was late, but I hadn’t started freaking out yet–maybe it was just stress. By Day 33, when he walked in the front door and asked how my day was, I all but shouted, “I still haven’t started my period!”
He replied somberly, “Oh… But you still have time, right…?”
I shrieked in borderline hysteria, “I’M FIVE DAYS LATE!!” And I immediately succumbed to the tempest that had been boiling under the surface for the last two days. “Sobbing” is an understatement.
John immediately ran to me, hugged me close, and murmured “Shhh” and “It’s okay” until the waterworks subsided a little. Then he said the thing that totally freaked me out:
“If it helps, I’m ready to be a father.”
To most women who’ve been wanting children since they knew what that meant, this would’ve been music to their ears, a symphony of perfect harmony floating down from a beam of divine light from who-knows-where. Especially coming from a committed partner to whom I’d been married for three years and been with for eight. Me, being me, I responded a little bit differently.
“I’M NOT READY!!!” Cue sobs.
After another few minutes of me snotting all over John’s shoulder, he tried another tactic in the calmest voice imaginable: “Well, I’ll support whatever you decide to do.”
How the hell did I find such a perfect specimen of a partner‽‽ Someone, please, tell me because I’m pretty sure I don’t deserve him.
But again, me, being me, I raged, “I would never get an abortion at this stage in my life! We’re financially stable! We can afford a child! It would be utterly selfish to abort!”
The smart man that he is, John remained silent until I calmed myself down and said, “If I still don’t have my period in the morning, we’ll go buy a pregnancy test.”
Luckily, my blood flowed happily early the next morning, and that was that.
Now, an explanation for the scare quotes around “pregnancy scare”: I’d accidentally forgotten to refill my birth control in time at the end of the semester (because of final paper anxiety), so I’d gone off it for a month. You know what happens when you do that? Your body falls back into its normal non-hormone-induced cycle (or at least mine does), which meant, for me, returning to a 33-day cycle. 🙄 I could’ve smacked myself for being so oblivious. Boba, as Mama would say. However, what this unnecessary freakout enabled was something I really needed to do–and something, I’m sure, John really wanted me to do–and that was to seriously think about parenthood. Not vaguely agree to have kids out there in the future, in the abstract, but to take it seriously because if there’s one thing in life we should overthink, it’s whether or not to have a child. It’s not an easy decision for a lot of us, so it couldn’t possibly be an easy process to think through.
Disclaimer: during the 3-year soul-searching, I had a very strong desire to cause bodily harm to almost every baby and toddler I encountered, like tossing them, gleefully, off the Empire State Building. I didn’t even hold our nephew when he was an infant because it freaked me out–I patted him on the head instead. Literally.
The first question I needed to answer was this: did I want to be a mother? I definitely didn’t have the need that so many of my friends seemed to have, and there was absolutely no ticking of any kind of biological clock. And to this day, I doubt there ever will be. It’s like every month that an egg flowed through a Fallopian tube, into my uterus, and out my vagina, followed by the expected 4-6 days of slight discomfort and bleeding (I’m blessed with a super regular and relatively painless period), was another month of silent and unacknowledged triumph. Yes, not pregnant! BUT did that mean that I had no desire to be a mother at all?
Apparently, it did. I envisioned my life 10, 20, 50 years from now, surrounded by my siblings and their children and grandchildren and maybe a pack of dogs, and I was calm and content. All I needed and seemingly wanted in this life was fulfillment in my marital relationship, success in my career, and closeness with all my family, whoever that may be (though preferably not from my womb). John knows this because sometimes I can be too honest–I like to think that that’s better than not communicating at all or lying by omission, but sometimes I wonder about that. Honesty can often be just as painful as, if not more so than, a well-placed benign lie.
Okay, I had that sorted. I didn’t want or need children for myself. A friend asked me, “Why can’t you just agree to have kids to make your husband happy?”
Well, say hello to Stella. I don’t believe you two have met. She’s my internalized, personified rage who started out her young life in the back of my mind as I was reading feminist theory for the first time in undergrad in 2003. She’s come a long way. She’s an intersectional feminist now, and she’s enraged at all of the social injustices of the world, not just those directed at women and those identifying as women. Ask that question again. I fucking dare you.
No, I cannot and will not ever just do something to make my partner or anyone else in my life “happy.” I have autonomy. I have thoughts and feelings and fears and desires, too. And guess what‽‽ BRINGING ANOTHER HUMAN LIFE INTO THE WORLD SHOULD NOT BE A DECISION MADE LIGHTLY (if you’re in the privileged position to make such a choice). What that did prompt me to do was question John subtly here and there to gauge just how badly he wanted to be a father. I watched him like a hawk with our nephew, and then with our niece, and then with a friend’s son, and something began to dawn on me. He’s never just wanted to be a father. He needed to be a father in the same way that my female friends needed to be mothers. And not just that–he was fucking made for fatherhood. He’s the ultimate nurturer, he’s endlessly patient with kids in a way he sometimes isn’t with other people, he’s goofy, he’s compassionate, he’s eager, and he’s the epitome of selflessness. Me? I’m a selfish asshat who can hold onto resentment like nobody’s business, possibly because I never got to be any of those things growing up, but more on that below. In the end, it boiled down to this: did his need to be a father outweigh my lack of desire to be a mother?
There was no competition. Of course, it did. Okay, so maybe you could say that I agreed to have a baby “to make him happy,” like my friend suggested early in my 3-year quest. But I think it’s more than that. I didn’t just agree to make him stop “nagging” (yay, gender stereotypes!–and, of course, this is flippant because John never nagged; his patience with me is seemingly endless). I thought deeply about my wants and needs, observed his wants and needs, watched his interactions with children, reflected on my gathered data, and reassessed my original stance. Because that’s how my overly logical brain works. It may be a bit cold and calculating, but it’s how I function and survive–it’s also how I have such deep self-awareness. I know myself intimately, all the dark and twisted corners and corridors of my Self. How many people can say that without sprouting a foot-long nose?
The next question: did I want to bear a child or adopt? Even though I currently have a parasitic fetus incubating in my uterus, which has finally popped out of my pelvis to produce a noticeable “baby bump” (I really loathe the terms and culture that surround pregnancy), I still find pregnancy highly unnatural and weird. Stop. Shut up. I don’t care if you try to explain with science that it’s the most natural thing in the world. Or you try to go the spiritual or religious route–Just SHUT THE FUCK UP. There is an alien entity literally taking nutrients from my body in order to sustain its life. I’ve lost weight in my arms because if I don’t consume enough, the fetus literally starts to consume me, like a fucking cannibal. For example, women can develop osteoporosis later in life specifically because they didn’t consume enough calcium while pregnant and the baby took what they needed anyway. THAT SHIT IS UNNATURAL.
Yes, I’ll be sporting Alien shirts later in my pregnancy.
But back to the question. No, I didn’t really want to bear my own child because it’s fucking terrifying. No, I don’t think it’s beautiful or magical so, please, stop trying to convince me. Yes, I can feel a twinge here and there now when the baby moves. Know what I say? “Stop moving. You’re hurting Mama.” and “Be good and don’t give Mama a stomachache tonight.” and “Damn it, Rage Monkey! A stomachache?? Really‽‽ I thought we talked about this.” LOL
To be serious for a second, though, I have very strong ethical feelings about adoption. I have an adopted brother whom I love and wish I were closer to, but he entered our lives after I’d already moved away from Florida. But I love him, and I no longer have just one brother but two. It’s not a matter of if John and I adopt in the future; it’s a matter of when because I feel that strongly about it. And we won’t adopt an infant. I’ve told John that I don’t think we should adopt a child younger than about 3, preferably older, because those are the kids who get left behind, labeled as being problem children or having too much “baggage.” Guess what? They’re the ones that need the most love and compassion. Not the infants for whom there’s a waiting list to adopt. I understand all the reasons for adopting an infant on an intellectual level, but in my heart and soul, I can’t help but find it selfish. I apologize if that’s offensive, but there it is. Then again, I also find self-replication in the form of childbearing narcissistic and selfish, and here I am bearing a small developing human myself. I didn’t claim to make sense. I’m just here to write my thoughts and experiences.
Anyway, having figured that out, and after talking with John, we came to an agreement: I’d bear one child, if I could (there are no guarantees in life except death), and then we’d take it from there. If I hated bearing a child, then we’d adopt later in life because we both believe that siblings are important (he has two sisters). If I found pregnancy and childbirth more or less agreeable, we could try for one more. But this body sure as shit ain’t popping out more than two watermelon-sized infants. Nope, nope, nope.
We have had the fortune of getting pregnant accidentally both times. We have been blessed with fertility and good health in ways that many people are not, and that not only makes me grateful but also appreciative of this reproductive power in a way that I never was before. Yes, I already love my baby, and yes, I still mourn the embryo we lost over a year ago. I’m not entirely heartless. But if this had never happened, I wouldn’t have left this life feeling incomplete or unfulfilled upon my deathbed. But I feared that John would have, and ultimately, he was the reason I ever needed a pregnancy blog–and to get even more sentimental, he was the only man who ever made me think He’s going to make such a great dad. He’s the only one I could’ve trusted enough to be made this vulnerable, to share in such an intimate and life-changing experience, and to bow where, otherwise, I would have stood firmly.
And now for the reason why all of this soul-searching was necessary: I’m a child of divorce. The end.
Hahaha. Just kidding, but not about the divorce part. I never wanted to put a child or children through a divorce, to have to grow up early to play a surrogate Mama or Papa, to resolve their feelings of abandonment as they got older, to be the only constant in their sibling’s life so that a stepparent might get frustrated about that child’s inability to turn to them for help, to be in a position to have to re-make their relationship with their sibling because the parent-child model no longer worked. Lelly, whom I lovingly and jokingly call my “whole” sister (we’ve never treated any of our siblings any different, whole, half, or adopted–we’re just siblings), and I are ridiculously close, but it started out as necessity. Later, we fought a lot because we had to figure out how to be just sisters and friends rather than surrogate mother and daughter. It was confusing, but that experience helped me avoid the same issue with my half siblings, Bethany (Bebe) and Joaquín (Tito), who are 10 and 12 years younger than I am, respectively. Larry, my adopted brother, is also 12 years younger than I am, but, like I said, he joined our family later in life as a teenager. Bebe is more his older sister than I’ll ever be, really, and that’s okay. We’re family and love and support each other. That’s all that matters.
With Bebe and Tito, though, I learned a lot about parenting very early. I was woken up by Bebe being sick in the middle of the night because my room was right next to hers, and I learned what Pedialyte was before most can distinguish between that and PediaSure. I was changing diapers, testing warmed milk in bottles, bottle feeding, distinguishing between different baby cries, worrying about what Bebe had just put into her mouth, avoiding male infant pee shots, and so much more while my friends were worrying about their favorite sitcom or whether or not so-and-so had a crush on them.
So maybe I was selfish in my 20s, but God damn it, I had earned the right to think only about myself for the first time in my whole fucking life. Then, at the age of 26, I think it’s all about to be taken away from me without it being my choice?? This freedom from children and responsibility (other than to my partner and my pets)?? I didn’t think so. That was why I needed to take the time to really mull everything over. It wasn’t just my body that I was sacrificing. To me, it was also my freedom from a maternal responsibility that I had already had to bear without reaping most of the rewards (okay, sneaking into Bebe’s room as she slept to gently kiss her forehead, with her soft baby skin against my lips and that sweet baby smell, was a great perk–but her jokingly calling me “Mama” in the middle of a full mall when I was 16 was not). But it also wasn’t just about me. It was about John, and we had to make this decision together, even though, because he’s John and the only reason I ever got married in the first place, he would ultimately leave the decision up to me because it was my body.
See? I don’t deserve him.
The last little bit of contemplating came in the fall of 2012. I had already worked through most of my issues when an opportunity presented itself for “free” room and board during my semester in London to do research for my dissertation. Martin and Jen were going to be in London for the semester since Martin was in charge of his university’s study abroad program then. They needed a part-time, live-in nanny, and I needed a place to live. Since I had two fellowships funding me, which included a round-trip flight to Europe, room and board was an excellent deal. Plus, I could test myself in one last way: how would I handle being in charge of a 4-year-old?
Both of my parents have fierce tempers, both of which have cooled off over the years, but my worst fear was unleashing my own ugly temper on Hazel, who was the cutest, most imaginative little girl ever (all of her Play Mobile people always had some fatal incident that not even magic could fix!). If I could get through a semester as her live-in nanny and doing my own research and writing, then surely I would have some confidence in my ability to transfer that style of nannying to parenting while also working (yeah, yeah, it’s different with your own child. SHUT UP!). I’m super proud to say that I never once yelled at her, even when she threw her few tantrums with me. Sure, I raised my voice to get her attention, and I most certainly sent her to her room until she had calmed down and could apologize for [fill in the blank here]. My proudest moments with her, though, were talking her down from tantrums using logic, like the time she didn’t want to carry her own trash and I convinced her to put it in her pocket until we found a trash can because it was her trash, not mine; or the time I convinced her to start helping me after dinner by dumping her trash in the trash can (food in compost) and placing her dishes on the counter (she was too short to reach the sink) because, again, these were her dishes, not mine. Another proud moment was when she accidentally knocked over her cup of milk at dinner, and her lower lip started trembling, presaging a barrage of tears. I laughed to her great shock and said, “That was silly! Now you have to clean it up!” She grinned and giggled, “Yeah.” And clean it up, she did. She got the paper towels and mopped up the milk, which I later wiped down with a rag because milk, and I poured her another cup. We finished dinner happily. Crisis averted. Tears prevented. And no nanny losing patience.
It was after my time as a nanny that John and I finally had the conversation. You know, the one about when we would try to conceive. Shit got real. I was adamant about not having a baby until after I was done with the PhD, and I still remember saying that 32 seemed like a good year to get pregnant and 33 was a good year to give birth (we were aiming for a May baby and I’m a January baby). My first pregnancy was conceived at 31, and I miscarried a week before I turned 32. The Rage Monkey was conceived at 33 and will be delivered, gods willing, at 33. Funny how our plans still manage to fall into place serendipitously.
We’d also had a conversation about whether we’d use fertility treatments if we needed them, and we were on the same page: fuck no. Neither us wanted to put my body, our emotions, and our bank account through a process that may or may not even work for an end result that, at the time, I was still very ambivalent about.
About six months after my miscarriage, we were also sitting in one of our favorite places to have brunch–a diner named Ikaros–when I saw a little kid clumsily run around the room, giggling, as he lurched towards his family at a booth diagonally from ours. Immediately, my eyes started burning with the promise of tears, I reached out for John’s hand, and tried more than once to speak. Finally, I confessed something that I’d been worried to voice, and that was the extent of the trauma (emotional and physical) I felt from my miscarriage and in-office D&C. We’d already agreed to put off trying to conceive again until this summer (hahaha, funny, universe), but I needed him to know that if this pregnancy ended in the same way, with a miscarriage, that I could not do it a third time. By the time I had the words formed and out my mouth, he was squeezing my hand just as tightly as I was squeezing his, and he was freely shedding tears, adding to the ones streaming down my cheeks. He just nodded and said, “I agree.” I said we’d adopt a young kid like the one that had prompted this sensitive and personal conversation in such a public place. Again, he nodded his head and replied, “Absolutely. Whatever you want.”
And there it is. All the shit I thought about and went through–granted, I left out many details, but this was the gist of it. Now, we’re having a little Rage Monkey, and we’re both ridiculously happy about it. But do you know what makes it all worth it? The look in John’s eyes when I catch him looking at my belly: a look that spells out love and a soul-deep contentment that he never would have found otherwise. And in watching him watching us, I feel the same look come over my own features.
But if I hear one more person coo, “You’ll be such a great mom,” I will sucker punch them in the throat. Got it? Good.
Postscript: When I told John about this blog post after writing up the first draft, he gave me a surprise. He said that right around the time that I had come around to trying to have one child was the time that he’d started to come around to not having any children if that was what I truly wanted. See? HE’S PERFECT.