Right after I had a baby, Managing Editor Maddie decided she wanted to interview me about motherhood. She offered up an open thread for everyone to ask their questions and share their fears and concerns about having a kid, and the floodgates opened. Almost five hundred comments later, person after person expressed profound relief. It wasn’t that they had answers to their questions, it’s that they finally realized tons of other people were terrified at the idea of having kids too.
Society perpetuates this myth that you “just know” if you want to be a mother. All of us know someone who, at least on the surface, seems calm and sure in their decision to pursue parenting. They always wanted to have a kid, everything came together, and they’re so glad to get a chance to explore this blissful new stage of life. And let’s be for real. If we’re struggling with the decision about having kids, we secretly hate this person, or at least envy their clear certainty.
While I spent my early years wanting kids, once having kids seemed like a viable reality (instead of something that should be avoided at all costs), all my certainty vanished. Like, totally gone. I’d worked hard to build a life that really made me happy, and I was worried that by having kids I would be giving it all up. Every part of the decision to pursue pregnancy was filled with terror. And when I finally decided to leap, on the blind faith that David was really sure it would be a good thing for us, I ended up with serious peripartum depression, sobbing through my pregnancy, worried that I’d ruined everything. (More on maternal mental illness here.)
Here is what I really wanted to know: that certainty didn’t make you a better mother. That there isn’t always such a thing as “just knowing.” And that once this tiny human arrived, I was going to love the shit out of him.
So today, we wanted to open the floor to your fears and concerns. If you’re debating having kids, or not, today is your day. But first, we wanted to start with a story from a reader. There are a million stories out there about women who have perfect certainty, and less about the messy reality of facing the unknown.
I’m happily married, thirty-years-old, and just finished my intense MFA program. And while I have little issue with commitment (I’ve been with my husband for ten years), I do tend to freak out at major life or relationship changes. Moving in together? Yep, cried uncontrollably on the porch while talking to my then-boyfriend on the phone. Getting married? Some items I freaked out about: the word “marriage,” being part of another person’s family, and whether being with a man for most of my adult romantic life was a mistake (I’m bisexual; and it wasn’t).
So I’m not surprised to find myself, once again, flipping out. Everything in my life is ready to have a baby, except me.
We are financially stable and own our home. We both have healthy careers and vibrant lives we enjoy, and we’ve discussed how bringing a baby into this will affect these things. We’ve talked about how we want to be as parents. I went off birth control, starting charting my cycle, talked to my doctor, started taking prenatal vitamins, discussed having children with friends, etc. I planned my career post-grad school so that I could take off the entire spring semester in case I had a baby in March-May. The plan was (is?) to start trying this summer.
And I’m still not ready.
Here’s the thing: I can talk myself into it, logically. Everything is aligned, and it’s the ideal situation. (My parents are even moving to the same neighborhood as us—so come fall, we have free childcare.) But I’m not feeling it in my gut—in my heart. There is no excitement for me. Sometimes I can muster something up: the idea of cuddling with a baby, or playing with a preschooler, or even just the joy I know my being pregnant would bring to family and friends. But most of the time, I’m moody, cry-face, and scared shitless.
We are on the precipice of actually “trying,” i.e. not preventing during sex, having sex during ovulation, etc. And I have to tell my patient husband—the one who was ready to move in, the one who was ready to get hitched—to, once again, wait. Wait.
Perhaps the worst part of this? I have no women to talk to; all of my friends who have had children, or are currently pregnant, or are trying to get pregnant? They were the ones who were ready before their husbands. They seemingly had no qualms nor fears—or at least, not enough to stop them in their tracks.
I know I would regret not having a child. It’s something that I’ve wanted, to be a mother. Hell, my entire MFA thesis was a letter to my future, currently nonexistent daughter (who may never exist): How one can be haunted by the future.
And I’m also afraid that if I wait too long to be “ready,” then one day I will suddenly wake up and realize the option is no longer there, that I’ve waited too long.
One thing I learned as a writer: wherever you want to pull away, that’s where you need to push in. Push in, and observe; sit with how uncomfortable or awful or painful it is, and write from this. And so I do.
But writing is not being. One day, I will have to put down the pen and decide: yes. It is time. And my window to do that is narrowing.
When do you jump in with both feet, hair flying? When do you stop waiting to be ready and just—leap?
When does the heart breathe in “fear,” and breathe out “mother”?
So if you’re debating having kids or not, now is the time to share your questions and your fears, and talk amongst yourselves. And no. Certainty doesn’t make you a better mother. And terror is normal. (How could it not be?)
P.S. Read Capitulation, Babies, about not being sure you want kids and finding out you don’t need to be sure to love them. Also, it’s a good conversation about fostering. Not all parenthood looks the same. Plus tons more about the Kids/No Kids debate.