I have a lot of friends and family members who are childless, and occasionally someone will ask me some variation of the question: How did you know you wanted to have kids?
For some, it’s simply curiosity. How did you know? For others, there’s an underlying worry: How will I know if I want to have kids? When should I have kids? Tell me the truth about having kids. Is it as great as everyone says? Is it as awful as everyone says?
The answer is “yes, and it’s complicated.”
Everything I can think to say in response feels clumsy and distorted. Well yes, it’s this beautiful thing and it’s really hard, but not nearly as hard as some people make it out to be, but much harder than a lot of people think it is, and the things you assume will be awful about it really aren’t so bad, but then there are these other things no one ever tells you about that are really amazing and yet still really much, much more exhausting than you might expect. And there’s no way to prepare for any of it.
The response I hear from some other mothers is more succinct: “You think your life is stressful right now? Just WAIT until you have kids!” …But that’s only half true.
Stop me if you've heard this one: Kris works late. Gina doesn't feel like cooking and decides to take kids out to dinner. Just as the food arrives, Miles pukes. Massive, smelly, chunky puke. B screams "ewwwwww, Miles!" drawing the attention of fellow restaurant patrons. Gina (embarrassed and concerned) cleans up the mess and rushes the kids back home, dunks them in the bathtub and puts them to bed early.
Stressful, right? Yes and no. Because, before I took the kids to dinner, I felt overwhelmed by a work-related problem that I couldn’t solve and a messy kitchen and piles of laundry to fold. I thought loading the kids into the car and taking them into a restaurant by myself would be easy compared to what I was facing at home. But after? After I took the kids out? The rest seems not so stressful.
I had babies. I knowingly, willingly, happily signed up for public puking.
So, there’s that…having kids, for me, puts things in perspective. Blew a presentation at work? Delayed at the airport? Well, at least no one puked on me today.
But that could be the wrong answer. By saying that, maybe I’m invalidating your childfree lifestyle and trivializing your very real stress. And maybe the woman who has 6 children, some of whom have special needs and allergies and medical bills and so much more puke than I’ve ever seen…Maybe that woman is flashing me a knowing smile, one that says “Oh, honey. You have no idea.”
And that’s true. I have no idea. And neither do you.
We can draw a line down the center of the page and list the pros and cons of having babies. Every exotic vacation we might never take. Every late-night dinner and concert you’ll miss. We can weigh the piles of stress and see which is heavier, and still have not the foggiest idea of whether you should bring a child into the world.
I can tell you about the joy of pregnancy—feeling tiny fingers and toes tap you from the inside, like a little secret that only you can perceive. I can tell you about the ecstasy of giving birth and holding your child for the first time and noticing she has your eyes or your beloved’s nose. The mix of feelings that flood you when your baby needs you at 3AM. Love and resentment intermingled. The way you’ll weep the first time your child says, “I love you.”
…Next to me is the woman who can tell you how it feels never to be pregnant (and desperately long to be, or not), to love a babe who came from another mother’s womb, to outlive her child, or to never love a child at all.
I could say to you that I know what it is to be childless because I was childless once, that I know the pain of losing a baby because I had a miscarriage, that I understand the struggles of having a special needs child because my brother is developmentally disabled. …But those are only glimpses I’ve had of other people’s lives—so far removed from having actually walked in their shoes.
What’s the point? I guess it’s this: I’ll never say whether you should or should not have a baby. Will it enhance your life beyond measure? Perhaps. Will it ruin you? Maybe. Will you ruin him/her? That's a possibility too.
Embrace the decision, even if it's a painful one, a decision that chooses you.
The Daily B(party of 4)
P.S. The truth is, I'm not really wondering if you should have a baby. I'm wondering if I should have 3. I've been begging friends to tell me. No one has the right answer. Not even Kris. His response, by the way, is that we can only have even numbers of children….so 2, 4, or 6.
I'm not sure, but I think another pregnancy might ruin me. Two more is out of the question.