A friend of mine who is “considering” having a baby has caused me to think back a bit lately on what it was like when I decided to have my second child.
Decided. Man, that still sounds strange to me.
You see, for a lot of you women out there you always knew you would be a mom someday. You’d grow up, you’d get married, you’d have babies – maybe you’d work, maybe you wouldn’t, whatever – but motherhood was always part of the plan.
For women like that, I don’t know if you can ever understand how hard it can be to be completely surprised by an emotion that seems to resemble a maternal instinct.
This friend, she’s like me. That bizarre species of woman that not only never thought about having kids, but at some point may have even said “kids? me? no freaking way.” For a lot of us it’s in part because we grew up poor, or we helped raise younger siblings, or whatever, and we spent our childhoods dreaming about growing up and “making something” of ourselves. We dreamed of concrete jungles and corporate power suits – not rattles and spit rags and white picket fences.
For me, I had my first child “on accident”. I mean, yes, we know how it happens and blah blah blah – and I obviously at some point had to weigh my “options” (which for me meant raise it or adoption), and I “decided” to raise him.
But that wasn’t the same as the day a little gremlin started pecking at my brain saying “maybe it’s time to have another one.” As in… get pregnant… have baby… willfully bring another person into this world to take care of… on purpose.
My first thought was “who the fuck are you and what are you doing in my head?” I began reading the labels on my tylenol a little more carefully, sure I would find something that would explain sudden hallucinations and voices that made no sense. Something, anything, because surely this wasn’t ME… not the me I had finally begun to accept.
That’s the other thing. Growing up a female who doesn’t want kids you get to wear all kinds of fun labels – all of which hint at the fact that there is something “wrong” with you. You walk around feeling like you’re missing a crucial gene or something, as if perhaps by some kind of genetic mutation you were more man than woman. It takes a certain amount of personal growth to get to a place where you say “you know what, fuck it, that’s just how I am” and really, truly start to be OK with that.
I’ll be honest, in order to get to that point sometimes you find yourself tearing down those “other” women – the ones who “want nothing more than to be a mother”, the ones who “define themselves by their children”. Yeah, I know, we certainly play our fair share in the Mommy Wars, often in a desperate attempt to justify our own feelings of wrongness.
And then… again… after all of that, some of us all of a sudden find ourselves with these feelings. We find ourselves in jeopardy of becoming one of “those” women that we’ve fought so hard to distance ourselves from, to justify ourselves against. We find ourselves with husbands who either go “what the fuck?!?!” or “well, good, it’s about time, let’s get to it” – when we’re still not quite sure what the hell we’re supposed to do with these feelings ourselves.
Feelings… yeah, that’s how they start anyway. As odd feelings, passing thoughts that seem to appear out of nowhere like that cousin you haven’t seen since the third grade who suddenly needs a place to crash. And you look at them and try to brush them off as they grow into a constant train of thought in your own mind. A big, steel, speeding train that threatens to derail right smack in the middle of your life.
What will having kids do to me? What will happen to my career? My marriage? My free time? My LIFE? I’ve never wanted kids… what if I’m not very good at it? How do I know if this is some idle fantasy or a real sign that it’s time? What if I have kids and find out that I was wrong and I’m stuck with them? What if I don’t… and I never know…
Does it seem strange that I had these thoughts after I’d already had one? I suppose. But I think I had always figured motherhood was something I had taken on, survived, an obligation I had stepped up to the best I could because that was the situation I found myself in. I seriously doubted I was as good a mother as the stay at home mom who had played house since she could walk. Deciding, choosing… that was just different. We were no longer talking about me, the husband, and our son. We were talking about a real full fledged Family with a capital F.
Of course, now I know how the story ends. I know that those fleeting thoughts were proof that I really did have some kind of biological clock, or something. Proof that at least some part of me was made for mothering. I know I did the right thing on deciding to have my daughter. Now.
But even still, my heart goes out to those women who find themselves at the beginning of the path. Or rather, at the crossroad, the intersection of “Life is Good and Will Only Get Better” and “Who the fuck KNOWS what’s down this road… but come on, give it a shot”. I remember the uncertainty and the fear and the self doubt. And I wish I could show them the end and promise them that it will all be OK.
I wish I could tell their husband’s that this is not “normal woman stuff” for them. That this is unexpected and left field – like if these previously straight men woke up one day going “maybe I’ll try dick” – or, you know, something. I wish their husband’s knew that the financial worries and planning are just not that big of a freaking deal when we’re still trying to sort out what we want, who this makes us, what we will or won’t allow ourselves to hope for…
I will say this. If or when those women do decide to become mothers, many of them will still find themselves in The Land Of The Wrong And The Guilty. Having a baby does not make all of us want to chuck the day job and stay home. That need for fulfillment through work and success and whatever else makes you feel accomplished doesn’t go away with the belly fat (and I’m just not ready to break it to them that the belly fat stays too). And believe me when I tell you that you will often find yourself caught between two worlds.
But, you figure it out. You find YOUR balance. You get to a point, eventually, where once again you say “fuck it, this is how I am, and I’m OK with it”. And if WHO you are someday means you’re a mom, just know that Motherhood allows for the same grey area and broad spectrum of experience as the rest of Womanhood. And eventually, you’ll find your niche.