Before I got pregnant I didn't give a single detail of life with a baby any thought. It never crossed my mind to wonder how often a baby naps, how long it takes to breastfeed, how often you have to breastfeed, how long one might want to keep breastfeeding or what it really means to wean. I never even thought to think about how terrible disposable diapers are for the environment and if I'd want to use them anyway. And I certainly wasn't contemplating the pros and cons of a bassinet vs. the "family bed" vs. "co-sleeping" vs. a crib. Gosh, I'd never even heard of "attachment parenting," or "sleep training" for that matter. I was too consumed with the larger questions of "Should we?" or "Shouldn't we?" and "If so, why?" and "If I come up with a valid reason, then when?"
I was 31-years-old when I got married. My husband John was 35. A baby didn't enter our consciousness. I had a book to finish and literary career to try to have. He had a career in TV he was trying to have. We lived in a super-chic, 1920s, views-of-Los Angeles, rent-controlled, one-bedroom apartment for which we each paid the remarkably non-stressful amount of $400 a month. Do barely discernable careers, no house and a minute amount of savings explain our lack of interest? Perhaps. But I knew that other people just knew that they wanted to have kids. Maybe not right away, but someday.
My friend Rachel knew she wanted two, close in age and definitely sooner than later. It didn't matter to her that she and her husband Joe lived in a one-bedroom apartment and didn't have any money. They were confident of their future success and she was ready to go. Unfortunately Joe wasn't remotely ready. Even though they were decidedly not on the same page about it, they went ahead and procreated anyway. I wonder what Joe thought about as he screwed away without birth control. Unfortunately for Brent and Rachel, their baby was colicky. The poor dear drove Brent absolutely mad to the point that he often envisioned hurling his newborn against the wall. While this isn't unusual for parents of extremely colicky babies, the combination of Brent's kicking-and-screaming approach to parenthood only to be greeted by a child that would test even the most saint-like mother, certainly exacerbated the insanity in their home. Now, I know that researchers don't blame anyone for colic, that it can happen to anyone, but STILL, it couldn't have helped their new-to-the-world daughter to have her parents at their worst. What came first, I couldn't help but wonder, the chicken or the egg? Soon their fighting escalated to a blowout, balls-to-the-wall, name-calling, divorce-threatening fight that ended with Rachel storming out the door clutching their hysterical baby, on her way to her sister's screaming about the papers she was going to file. Not the way I'd want my kid to come into the world. At least, I reassured myself, John and I are equally undecided. For now anyway...
As our first couple of married years careened by, the idea of having a baby continued not to cross my mind. Once in a blue moon I'd reassure myself that I had plenty of time and that I was sure we'd get around to talking about it at some point. But soon when I couldn't ignore the fact that some of our friends' kids were already starting kindergarten, and other slightly older friends hovering around 40 had miscarriages or seemed to have missed the boat entirely, I tried to force myself to seriously think about it.
"Do you want to have children?"
When a blank brain returned my question, I knew I had to break it down a bit.
"Okay, let's say one child. Do you want to have a baby?"
"How should I know?" I politely responded as if the question wasn't a total outrage, like how in the world should I possibly be expected to know, to definitively know, if I wanted to become a person who is entirely responsible for another person's welfare and well-being, 24 hours a day, seven days a week for a good long time, only to be followed by worrying about them forever. For fuck's sake! I added, unable to remain cool.
I envied our friends Linda and Chris who, at 37-years old and having had been married just shy of a decade, could confidently confirm that they were not going to be having children. How did they know? I wondered. They made a great living, had a home in Brooklyn and a bunch of acres Upstate that would be any kid's dream so it couldn't be the money or the space, I reasoned. Chris really couldn't tell me more other than to say that Linda loved her job and they were happy. Was he saying, "Why mess with a good thing?" or was he saying "Why have something we're not even thinking about just because other people are?" I was surprised to feel a twinge of sadness only because he's such a totally compelling person who I could sit and listen to carry on about anything and I kind of felt sad for the child who wouldn't get to be the center of his life. That would be a fun kid to be, I vaguely thought.
He did say that I'd be surprised by the number of people who had the nerve to comment how selfish it was that they weren't having kids. More than being outraged by their audacity, Chris was dumbfounded by their stupidity. How could it possibly be selfish not have a baby you don't want to have? What could be worse than an unwanted baby (stupid fucking asshole)?! I wondered what in fact these obviously tactless people were trying to say. Did they think that because Chris and Linda were in love, successful and stable that they were selfishly not dolling love that could be showered on someone other than their dog? As if the love they had in their bodies was being wasted? I was surprised, however to hear Chris add that should Linda all of the sudden one day hear a clock ticking that made her change her seemingly-made-up mind, he'd be right there on top of her screwing away. Did that mean he was open but she was the one who didn't want to and he didn't want to pressure her? That was more than a couple of years ago. She's over 40 now and I guess she never heard the clock. Would I hear a clock?
My neighbor Samantha, on the other hand, went about the awesome, life-altering decision of having a child without a spec of deliberation. Who could blame her really? She was 19, living in Smalltown, Kentucky and the year was 1950-something. She always says that she had kids because that's just what you did after you got married "in those days." She never even thought about not having them. Not too long after she had her two sons, she left her husband. And then another. But of course I wasn't 19. I didn't live in a small town. The year was 2004. I certainly knew better than to have a baby because that's just what married people do. Or did I? I mean what other reason could I drum up? What reason other than a "feeling" do people give? Do they come up with reasons? Is a feeling really enough? Is a feeling really responsible? Am I the only person torturing myself over the decision? Am I naïve to think I'll actually be able to come up with something?
Follow Jennifer Lehr on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@goodjobmom