iOS app Android app More

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors
Wendy Litner

GET UPDATES FROM Wendy Litner
 

Baby, Baby, Baby, No? Getting To The Bottom Of Motherhood Anxiety

Posted: 04/17/11 12:59 PM ET

I don't think I'm ready to have a baby, because I only want to be pregnant on the weekend. On Saturdays, I long for that expectant glow, that little bump in the belly. But come Monday morning, when I'm faced with the miserable prospect of the work week ahead, I am relieved to be childless. As I stand on the subway in high heels, the only real benefit I see to being pregnant is possibly getting a seat on crowded public transit. And now that women have rightfully achieved pay and social equity, they are hardly ever offered seats anymore, unless they're actually giving birth on the train.

I know I want to raise children and have a family, but my disparate feelings toward pregnancy, the biological mechanism by which these lofty goals are achieved, have started to worry me. How will I know when I am ready to be a mother? When will I want to have a baby on weekdays?

Now 30, I am continually being egged on by self-satisfied mothers to begin procreating, reminding me about the waning shelf life of my ovaries. Life, it seems, must hurriedly progress in a singular, stepwise fashion. First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in the baby carriage. But what comes after the baby carriage? And how do you even know which one to buy?

This is the first time in history, however, that motherhood itself isn't a given. Past strains of "baby fever" are less potent in my generation as more and more women are waiting to have babies. This increased time affords ample opportunity to consider the whys, ifs, hows and buts of procreation. Every month, as my husband and I convene to consider and ultimately pass a Reproductive Resolution, there is always a compelling reason to vote against the motion: "We can't afford a home and an infant, and neither of us can bear to clean out the second bedroom. What if the baby inherits my depression and starts a competing blog? And isn't overpopulation a serious environmental concern?" I remind my husband, who nods in socially conscious agreement.

Growing up, I dreamed mostly of things outside the home. I dreamed about seeing the far corners of the world and winning a Pulitzer for the written account of my adventurous travels. There are so many things besides procreation that I still aspire to in my adult life, and I have yet to accomplish any of them. To date, I haven't lived abroad. I haven't hiked the Appalachian trail or gone scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef. I haven't published a novel, about my travels or otherwise. I have yet to lead a UN Peacekeeping mission, and I am not even in contention for TIME's Person of the Year. How ever will I inspire my offspring to follow their dreams when I have accomplished none of my own? What will I tell them when they look up at me and ask what I wanted to be when I grew up?

As someone who views anxiety as a pastime, I do worry about the functionality of my uterus. I am inundated with fertility statistics and stress incessantly about my ability to conceive. But amid all the peer pressure, genetic testing, folic acid, basal body thermometers and ovulation predictor kits, I have to admit that I am most fearful of motherhood. I am fearful that despite my years of intensive academic schooling, I have never learned how to mother. I am fearful that mothering is not innate and that I may discover that I don't have the mommy genes, only mom jeans.

My own childhood has provided very little guidance on the subject. My mother, who practiced an exacting standard of parenting, was quick to raise her voice. Now, at the precipice of fecundity, I want to be sure that I don't make a single wrong move, that I don't replicate, in the inverse, the difficult and thorny relationship I had with my own mother before losing her to cancer. Despite our difficulties, I am also nervous about being a mother without having one to turn to. How will I know what to do? Who will I call at 3 in the morning when the baby won't stop crying? There are certainly well-intentioned friends and family who will be happy to assist, but I find their confidence daunting. I don't know how to make sense of so many people who are aggressively certain of their own parenting style.

My mother herself told me that she was the perfect parent. She followed Dr. Spock and other authoritative prescriptions to a T. The only problem was that I, as an infant, never read the baby books, too. I didn't know that I was supposed to eat every two hours, sleep every four and coo at week three. And, perhaps, therein lies the answer: whatever the baby book du jour may be, and however advanced my husband was as a baby (very advanced, according to my mother-in-law), my infant will not have read the parenting handbook, either. Despite my preparatory research, they, too, may pay little heed to the sleeping and eating schedules of proscribed academia. Perhaps then I shouldn't view my hesitancy as a lack of maternalism, but instead embrace it as a mark of open-mindedness and humbling flexibility, because despite my best intentions and measured preparations, my baby will have its own unique character and distinguishing habits. No matter which baby carriage I buy, my baby will follow its own distinctive path and coo when it chooses.

So when it is finally time to go forth and multiply, I am going to do so with a degree of reverence for the process. And with any luck, our baby will have 10 fingers, 10 toes, a short memory, and its father's aptitude for science, so it can solve the ever-so-pressing problem of overpopulation.