Since I gave birth to a babything a little over a year ago, my childless 20- and 30-something friends (so, like, almost all of them) have started using me as an oracle to attempt a glimpse of their own possible parenting futures. Like Columbus not knowing where the f*ck India was and accidentally landing in North America, I'm the one who didn't know how to use birth control properly (who am I kidding -- there was no birth control) and landed on Baby Beach when I was just trying to get to Orgasm Island. I didn't end up exactly where I planned to go, but I decided to roll with it and see what kind of life I could carve out on that foreign shore.
Since then, my friends have wanted to know everything from "is it scary to have a person seriously inside of you?" to "How bad does giving birth actually hurt?" to "How do you live without the option to take two full days off of life to lay in bed, binge watch Netflix and eat the entire contents of your fridge?" The core reduction of all my friends' questioning comes down to one existential point: Will having kids make everything better and fuller, or will it swallow my life and sh*t on my autonomy and fill me with a deep, lasting regret which I'll be forced to deny so people don't think I'm a terrible person?
Basically, they want to know if this whole procreating thing is a good decision or not. (Also, everyone wants to know if it irrevocably f*cks up your vagina, to which I will say I've read horror stories, but mine seems to be no worse for the experience, but hey, them's the perks to having a baby when you're 25 and still chock full of elastin.)
But the corporal punishments of child-bearing aside, the majority of my babyless friends are primarily curious about how we -- the Young, Ambitious, Busy, Oft-Broke And Regularly Irresponsible -- go about integrating a human child person into our self-obsessed lives, and moreover, if it's worth the work.
The only real answer I can come up with is that it's fine either way. My kid makes me feel uncontrollable joy every single day. I find myself recalling one of the few things Charlotte from Sex and the City ever said that didn't bug me; when Samantha, miserable and beaten down by being suppressed and unfulfilled in her relationship, asks Charlotte how often she feels happy, she responds, "Everyday. Not all day everyday, but everyday." There's something universally true in that statement -- even the best relationships, be they between romantic partners, parents and children, employers and employees, fail to inspire happy feelings all the time, but they definitely should do so regularly and reliably. I still experience the complete range of positive and negative moods that I always did before having a kid, but I can depend on knowing that at some point every single day, I will be made to feel supremely elated and warmed, and that's not a guarantee I had pre-baby. That's only one difference, but honestly, I can't undersell how much having that brief reprieve of happiness somewhere in your day makes dealing with everything else utterly more manageable.
But here's an important note on that, which I emphatically make clear to my friends when they ask about mom life: The daily infusion of big, loving energy that I describe about being a mom is totally not exclusive to parenthood. Ultimately, all of us should aim to choose at least a few things and people in our lives that make us feel joy at some point in every day, because in the end, isn't that the mark of a healthy relationship or a choice well-made? This is not a degree of emotional fulfillment that is solely available to breeders. And even when looking at the smiling, dirty, toothy little face of my progeny, I'm perpetually aware of the fact that I would've had just as much potential for a full and exciting life if he had never existed. That shouldn't indicate any lack of love or devotion I feel for him, nor an absence of awed appreciation of having him around -- it's not hyperbolic to say that I would readily take a bullet for that glorious fatty -- it's a comfortable acknowledgment that there are infinite ways to be happy. One of mine just happens to sh*t his pants a lot. It's not a perfect situation, you guys.
I've never hated kids, nor parents, but I always felt indifferent to participating in the whole domestic circus myself. I think a lot of that stemmed from having always held a special loathing for babied-up people who are all, "Life is meaaaannningless until you have kids. You don't know anything about anything and are selfish and basically dead inside until you have a baby." F*ck you and the diaper genie you rode in on, Holier-Than-Thou McStretchmark. Before I was pregnant, and during the whole nine months I was staring down the barrel of impending parenthood, I hoped with everything in me that I wouldn't unwittingly become one of those condescending monster moms, even if I was simultaneously hoping just as hard that parenthood would, in fact, give me a newly enlightened perspective on sh*t. That feeling isn't unique to baby-having; I want everything I do to open me up a bit more, alter my understanding of life, and give more depth and range to my perception of things. I also always pray that I can be the kind of person who would never hold that new understanding over the heads of people who maybe don't have it. Because they've likely been doing other things that have gained them access to truths that I'm not privy to because I was busy getting all sciencey in my uterus. Quantifying life choices is a bullsh*t game, and the biggest losers are the people who think their choices are inherently better than anyone else's.
The truest thing I can figure out is that attaining and maintaining happiness has a lot less to do with making the correct choices, and more to do with cultivating an ability to weather change with all the courage, humility, curiosity and amusement we can muster. None of us is going to make the right call 100% of the time, or even feel entirely in control of the direction we go, but we absolutely can mold ourselves to become the type of people who embrace change rather than fear it. Whether it's a kid or some other force, something will undoubtedly come along and move your life forward. It will happen a lot. And as soon as you get comfortable and settled into one version of reality, it will change, because reality is a dick like that. The trick isn't to find a single way of being that works for you; you have to learn to exist in the midst of perpetual motion. If you can pull that off, and be ruthlessly discerning about culling negative people/jobs/habits from your life, there's not a hell of a lot that can keep you from being happy.
This article originally appeared on Thought Catalog. If you have questions about being pregnant/giving birth/having a baby/raising a human as a 20-something while continuing to be a non-awful person who doesn't settle for a life of lameness, email Jessica who will enthusiastically (possibly drunkenly) answer them in an upcoming column!