03/21/2014 10:10 am ET Updated May 21, 2014

The Baby Decision

Christopher Lane

I finally found a woman who specialized in procreative confusion. For the past three decades, Merle Bombardieri has focused on helping people make their baby decision. She even wrote a handy how-to book: The Baby Decision. The title leaves little room for creative interpretation, which makes sense, because she's a get-to-the-point kind of lady, as I found out once I finally got her on the phone.

"I can't figure out if I actually want one or if I want to want one," I said. "Does that make sense?"

Merle didn't make me feel ridiculous for questioning the idea of breeding. In fact, she made me wonder if it might be an even bigger question than I had originally considered. "It's not a question of child or no child," she said. "It's existential. It's who am I? Who are we as a couple? What do I want to happen in my life before I die?"

Instead of fearing death at that moment -- and tallying all the things I wanted to squeeze in before it -- I decided to table it until later that evening, when I'd have more time for nihilistic rumination.

"Yes, exactly," I said. "Like that."

Merle asked if I'd tried the Rocking Chair Fantasy. She explained that I should envision 80-year-old me -- as wrinkled as the bedsheets I never make -- sitting in a rocking chair. In one scenario, she told me to imagine that I'd had children. In another, to imagine that I never did. Of the latter scenario, she asked, "Do you feel like your life is empty?"

Way to ease into it, Merle.

After a long silence, in which I envisioned being stuck on the toilet at 90 and not having anyone to bring me a roll of TP, I asked, "What if I regret not having had a baby?" That question has plagued me for years.

I knew people who'd gotten knocked up for that reason. Just a few months ago, I'd asked a 36-year-old friend who was six months pregnant how she'd decided. "It's not that I wanted to have a baby," she'd said, "but I didn't want to regret not having had one. Everyone feels that way, right?"

"I can tell you that you are going to have regret no matter what you decide," Merle said. She explained that if your child is screaming at 3 a.m. and you didn't get to go to your favorite concert because the baby sitter was sick, you are going to regret your decision, and if you're childfree and you are watching a movie about a compelling child-parent relationship, you will think you're missing something.

She related this no-matter-what-you'll-regret-it idea to what one might feel in an ice cream shop. "You order an ice cream flavor and then you notice that a person next to you is having orgasms over another flavor," she said. "You are going to wonder if you made the wrong choice."

But that's why I'm always sure to grab a little taster spoon in case I have to try everyone else's dessert.

"Don't worry about regret," she said. "You will definitely regret your decision. The real question is, 'Which choice will you regret least?'"

I sat there with my mouth open wide -- cartoon-like, the way my jaw was dropped. It was a serious holy sh*t moment.

"So you're saying that either way, part of me will be unhappy?" I said. "That's such a relief."

And it was a relief, but at the same time, I couldn't shake the feeling that I was still supposed to have one anyway.

Excerpted from Baby Steps by Mara Altman, a Kindle Single now available on