Mixed Motherhood Messages

Through the last few months of my pregnancy, Morgan of High Diving Board (and various APW posts) and I have spent a lot of time talking about motherhood, impending motherhood, and the damaging aspects of the Motherhood Myth currently entrenched in our cultural narrative. We’ve talked about how choosing to have kids doesn’t turn you into some saintly woman who wants to sacrifice her life, and how living outside the Hyperbole Of Motherhood can be difficult. So when we were putting together Kids/No Kids week, I asked Morgan if she’d write about choosing to have kids, with all the ambivalence and complexity that comes with it. Here it is: early motherhood, in all its richness and depth.

At twenty-six weeks pregnant, I announced that I could happily stay at twenty-six weeks pregnant forever. I was plump and lush, my libido was dialed up to eleven, I was at that nice stage where people always offered me a seat on the train but I was still comfortable enough to continue my fitness classes and generally felt pretty great. Sure, I had terrible heartburn and some sciatica issues, but Zantac and physio helped. I physically relished my pregnancy.

Mentally, however? It was a whole different game.

The world has so much to say about motherhood, and it is all so hyperbolic. It is either the BEST THING EVER or the WORST THING EVER. I made the mistake of reading all the books and all the blogs and all the words and internalized far too many voices. “You’ve never felt love like you have until you’ve held your first child.” “Being a mother is the hardest thing in the whole world.” “Having a child is like having your heart in another person’s body.” “You’ll never sleep in again.” “It’s all worth it the first time your look in to your baby’s eyes.” “Once you have a kid your life is over.” “Once I had a kid I understood what life is all about.” “Enjoy your pregnancy because once the kid’s born, you’ll never eat out/have sex/have money/go to a movie/travel/read a book/etc. ever again.”

And with everything I read, I got more and more anxious. I was so anxious that when my water broke three weeks before I was expecting a baby, I went into full on hysterics. I wasn’t ready for my life to be ruined yet.

Thankfully, it wasn’t. It’s funny—the fears that stalked me the worst during pregnancy were the easiest to allay. My kid’s seven months old now, and we have managed to go to a couple of movies, a play, a trio of concerts, a couple of hockey games, a few nice dinners out without her, and many casual restaurant dinners with her. I’ve read forty-eight books—slower than my usual pace, but respectable. We still have money—people were very generous with their hand-me-downs and most of the rest of the baby gear was bought cheap. We’ve taken Jess on three in-province weekend trips, an international weeklong road trip, and we’re going to Mexico next month. We’ve made a conscious effort to make sure that what makes life awesome for us did not, in fact, end. Sure, some of it’s harder to do, but hard doesn’t equal impossible. We are lucky to have family and friends in town that can babysit, but if we didn’t, I’d be talking to the teenage girls down the street, or looking into one of the professional babysitting services in town. It’s important to me, and it helps me feel like I am still me and that our family is still us—just with an extra (really cute) person.

It’s harder to talk about the other messages.

My husband and I wanted kids. We discussed them rationally, and made a fairly cerebral decision to have them, and agreed on when we wanted to start trying. For me, it was based on a vague feeling of wanting to have had children when I am old and looking back at my life, instead of a feeling of biological-ticking-clock-of-baby-fever. Frankly, David had way more of a biological clock than I did, and he was the one who prompted the ‘when to have kids” discussions. I had some ambivalence, but it was a team choice for sure, even with him as the instigator. Once I was committed—once the ultrasound showed that the alien parasite was actually a growing human being—the ambivalence ramped up, and I really started to question what the hell we’d got ourselves into. The more pregnancy went on, and the more mixed cultural messages I got, the worse I felt.

Then Jess was born. I tried very hard for a “natural birth,” because I wanted that “fall in love with your infant” moment I kept reading about. Instead, I had a fifty-five hour labour, sixteen of which were on full blast pitocin, and eventually had the c-section I was utterly unprepared for. And the postpartum depression hit mere hours after she was cut from my body. Instead of feeling blissful about my new baby, I just felt so sad about everything, and sure, a lot of that was hormones, but some of it was definitely because of the conflicting messages I had about her birth, and motherhood, and my new role.

There is this image of motherhood out there—this sweet, saintly, giving, loving angel of a mother. It’s clearly not real—no one could ever live up to such perfection. And there’s the other image, the one of the exhausted screaming harpy of a mother, which I choose to believe is equally made up at the other end of the spectrum. I didn’t want to be either of them, but felt the cultural pressure of them both. Every time someone would ask me, “Have you ever felt love like this before, isn’t it wonderful?” I would make polite noises and not really say anything. It took me a few months to love Jess, which I know from talking to close friends isn’t outside the norm.

When people ask, “Isn’t this the hardest thing you’ve ever done?” I equivocate, because truth is, this isn’t the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Sure, it’s exhausting, but I’ll take it over watching my dad die, or having to be fourteen again, any day of the week. It’s just, you know, life. The new normal, in which some things are clearly different (maternity leave, physical changes, having produced and being responsible for an entire human) and also, so much the same (I still like books and trips and cooking and live music). I actually needed a friend to point it out for me that that the biggest reason that it wasn’t a message I heard much while pregnant was because there’s no drama in that message. No hyperbolic story, nothing dramatic or sensational. No book deals or pageviews from it.

So I’ll end this on an equally undramatic note. I had a rough birth experience and a tough time with PPD. I was ambivalent about having kids, and was ambivalent for a while after she was born, but I now love her tiny little face so much I can’t stop chewing on her cheeks. She changed my day-to-day life a lot, but didn’t change the fundamentals of who I am almost at all. When I stopped reading about How It Was Supposed To Be and focused instead on how life actually is for me, I felt better. When I stopped blaming myself for things that really were out of my control (like the c–section), I felt better. When the hormones ebbed, I felt better. As I became more confident in my role of parent, I felt better. For me, pregnancy was a gradual process, and so was finding the new normal, and that’s just fine. Better than fine. The new normal is pretty damn awesome.

Photo from Morgan’s personal collection

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  • Rose in SA

    I really like the calm, sensible tone of this whole post, Morgan. It feels like a refreshing contrast to the ‘hyperbolic’ myths out there. What’s interesting for me is that my ambivalent to anti-kids stance stems mainly from my feeling that I absolutely adore my life right now and I can’t see how kids would make it any better. The message that motherhood is “the best thing ever!!” does make me question myself, but if motherhood is ‘life but different’ then I feel more strongly that it’s not for me.

    Interesting food for thought.

    • meg

      Really? See, ‘life but different’ is FAR more interesting to me. My life is good. I like myself, I like my partner. I’m not looking for the stress that comes with hyperbole, I’m looking for realism. I know kids well, they are great, and hard, and expand and change your world. Life but different? THAT is something I’m interested in.

      So yes. Interesting different perspectives.

      • Rose in SA

        Maybe it’s my risk-averse personality, because I partly see it as why would I give up/risk the known good stuff in exchange for the unknown/untested possible other good stuff. The maths doesn’t make sense to me.

        I’ve been thinking about this all day, and another analogy that makes sense to me is someone (broader society etc.) telling me that I would love this great job doing x. It would fulfill me, make me happy, make me lots of money etc. But I already have a job I love doing y, being happy, fulfilled, making money etc. Why would I trade the known good for the unknown good? Unless I felt some kind of lack in my life doing y, I would be unlikely to be driven to change it.

        • meg

          See that’s the thing. I have a very risk averse personality, which is why I don’t love embracing the idea that “motherhood is the best thing ever.” To me, that is seriously high risk proposition. What if it’s not? That’s a high bar. (And in reality, kids are hard. Wonderful, but hard. And I don’t want to ask them to make my life better/ complete/ magical, that’s a lot to put on one little person.)

          To me it’s way less risky to expect life but different. Then if it’s the best thing ever (on some days) it’s a happy reward, not the impossible bar we set for ourselves.

  • BB

    Awesome post! Thank you so much for sharing your experiences. To me, pregnancy and having children in general always seemed so foreign. I know I want a family some day, but do I want complete and total upheval of my life/marriage? I like the idea of it being the “new normal.” Just another in a series of life adventures. Here’s to the rest of the journey!

    • Granola

      I love how your comment and the one above it capture two different reactions to the same news. For Rose, the idea that kids are “a new normal” helps shore up her desire not to have kids.

      For me, and BB it seems, it’s a helpful encouragement to having children. I know I want them, but the whole life upheaval is just not something I’m ready for. Hearing “Actually it’s much the same in a lot of ways” helps me calm down and not feel like I have to Prepare completely before having a child. It’ll be ok.

      Awesome post. Thank you!

      • MDBethann

        I think it’s how you look at it. Morgan chose to make it “life, but normal” and not be one of those parents whose life revolves around their child. If she had, I think it is possible her life would have been very different from what she was used to.

        But I think the biggest takeaway I had from her post was that yes, life changed, but we adjusted and we’re still us. Which is totally awesome.

        As with everything, the experience is what you make of it. You can roll with it and make it “life, but different,” a burden, or something you hardly think about because you have staff to do everything for you. Or something in between.

    • meg

      Exactly, BB. That’s how I feel. SO INTERESTING, the different perspectives.

  • A-L

    Thank you for this post. I had been (and still a little bit am) in the kind of ambivalent category about motherhood and all that I’ve been led to believe it entails. And my biggest fear has not been that I would change (I’m sure I’ll still love books, and traveling, and other such things), but that there would be no time to indulge my interests. (The fact that I even have to use the word indulge is scary, as now that’s just how I live my life.) I’ve wondered whether I’m too selfish to give up all of that in order to have the experience of motherhood.

    So this post is reassuring. It gives me hope that I can have a normal life, and way before the kids are school-aged, or adolescent-aged, or out-of-the-house-aged. Thanks!

    • Erin

      I’ve wondered whether I’m too selfish to give up all of that in order to have the experience of motherhood.

      Oh, gosh, this /exactly/. Just this weekend some friends were telling me ‘do everything you want to do before you have kids’ and it’s so /frustrating/ and even feels kind of condescending. I know that there are people who manage to have a life and hobbies and interests after children.

      • KB

        Erin, I totally agree and would add “See, e.g., my/your parents” – their lives didn’t end when you were born. And if they did, well, that’s sad but is probably their issue and not your issue.

      • meg

        Mmmm. The parents I admire the most in my real life are the ones who don’t think that holding on to who they are is selfish. How are you going to give of yourself to your children if you don’t still have a self?

        • Kara

          I like idea of the point, but I’d want to caveat it with “assuming the folks were pretty well-balanced individuals before having children.” [This, mainly because I seem to know some people who were, apparently, pretty selfish pre-kids – and have continued that with young children in their lives. Doesn’t seem to do be doing anyone much good. It’s pretty sad to watch, especially when one isn’t in a position to do much about it. :S]

        • Lturtle

          I just wanted to chime in from mommy side of things on this one. I was young and single when my daughter was born. I got really caught up in these messages about how my life WOULD NEVER BE THE SAME and in order to be a “good” mother I had to GIVE UP EVERYTHING of my life pre-kid. So I did. But it only sort of worked, and I was pretty unhappy. It took years of trial and error and listening to my gut to pull me back from that mindset.
          Now I have interests and activities that I pursue outside of motherhood, and outside of marriage, that help me feel like me. I also make sure to share with my daughter the things that I enjoy sometimes, and she often enjoys them too. That has actually become one of my favorite things about being a mom – introducing her to the things that make me ME, and having her be excited about them too.
          I am both happier, and a better role model for my kid, by being well-rounded and having full life aside from my identity as a mom. And I am so glad to have read this post, it is the sort of thing I wish I had read while pregnant.

          • meg


            What better way to teach our kids (particularly girls, right?) to be fully themselves, and not sacrifice themselves for other’s perceived happiness than to model that for them?

            If your model is martyrdom, that will live inside you and shape your life for a long, long, time.

      • “Just this weekend some friends were telling me ‘do everything you want to do before you have kids’ and it’s so /frustrating/ and even feels kind of condescending.”

        And I would add, something that only women seem to be told. Which I get kinda, since society dumps the burden of children on women and it can hamper our careers (even if we try very hard, being mommy-tracked happens to people outside of their control, it seems). But the day I heard a guy telling another guy to do everything he wants to do before he has a kid is a day I have never actually lived. On one hand, society makes things unequal and it’s honest to acknowledge that, but then when people escalate the “make sure you don’t get mommy tracked” type of advice to the “YOUR LIFE WILL END DO ALL THE THINGS NOW” is unhelpful and unrealistic (unless, you know, you WANT to never do anything for yourself again, but that seems like not what most people would want, Y? But then there’s the guilting, the implied “you won’t do anything else ever because you’d BETTER CARE ABOUT YOUR BABY’S EVERY SECOND MORE THAN ANYTHING IN YOURS EVER”). Boo, society. Booo.

        Summing up: society sucks at equal representations of parenthood/responsibilities/expectations of Life After, and of creating an equal ground on which parents can equally build families. Which, okay, maybe I’m being Commodore Obvious, but still bears repeating?

        • Kathleen

          That’s interesting, because it is so much more my husband than me who has internalized the idea that EVERYTHING CHANGES!!! I’d be happy to start having kids sooner rather than later (not a biological clock issue, since we’re still young, just a wanting to have kids issue), and work out some of the practical issues while we’re pregnant or with kids around. He wants all our ducks in a row and all our experiences experienced. He wants to change jobs; this will be impossible once we have kids. We don’t have an extra bedroom; moving will be too hard once we have kids. We should take that trip now, because once we have kids, it’ll be another decade or two before we can do any traveling. Etc., etc.

          I suspect it has more to do with the family environments we were raised in than with the broader cultural conversations, though I can’t put a finger on how. My parents traveled occasionally; his parents traveled occasionally. My parents both worked; his parents both worked. On the face, they look pretty equal, but something’s different.

          • Helen

            My husband and I have this exact dynamic.

            Interestingly, my mother completely bought into the “mommy culture” of total self sacrifice when I was a child (in her defense, she was a single mom, so a lot was required of her) and now in her conversations with me she frequently criticizes parents of young children for continuing to enjoy non-baby-related activities.

            Somehow, I’ve avoided internalizing that mindset while my husband (whose parents have a much more moderate attitude) is sure that EVERYTHING will change, pretty much at the moment of conception (no lie, the other day we were talking about future trips and I realized that he thought pregnant women weren’t allowed to fly)

          • A-L

            I am your husband. My husband is you. I want the ducks more or less in a row (international travel, finished basement, grad school finished, money set aside if we need to replace our aging cars, etc), and my husband is more willing to handle life as things come along.

          • MDBethann

            One of my close friends from work is due any week now with her first. Her husband is all-but-dissertation in his doctorate (in physics) and they live in a 1 bedroom condo in DC. They got a “mini crib” (which she jokes in Europe is a regular crib) and they’ve consciously decided not to register for or buy any stuff that they don’t actually NEED because they don’t have room for it. Oh, and neither of their families are nearby, so they travel around the U.S. quite a bit, especially at holidays and don’t plan to change (after this year, of course, when the baby isn’t so tiny).

        • meg

          “But the day I heard a guy telling another guy to do everything he wants to do before he has a kid is a day I have never actually lived.”

          MMMHUMMMM. Now, I hear what Kathleen is saying, that guys can internalize this too, but in general, it’s not the message. M: “No one expects you to give up showering.” D: “Yes. Well, they expect me to maintain my self esteem and hold down a job, and such.” M: “Point. Sigh.”

        • K

          “But the day I heard a guy telling another guy to do everything he wants to do before he has a kid is a day I have never actually lived.”

          I have heard this a TON, actually. I live in a subculture where nearly everyone I know spends every weekend day and a weeknight or three climbing and/or skiing, and in my experience most people do either give it up entirely or cut way, way back when they have kids. I am far more amazed when a guy I know succeeds in continuing to do what he loves post kids than when he doesn’t.

      • Laura

        I’m not a parent, but speaking from a teacher’s perspective, I really think that the cultural narrative of “YOU’LL NEVER HAVE FUN AGAIN AFTER THE BABY” is derived from North American society overestimating the impact they have on their children. Gone is the sentiment, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Instead, parents are made to feel as though they have to be absolutely EVERYTHING to their children. If they don’t provide for their child’s every possible need, that child will be screwed up forever. So in this scenario, even a nice dinner out creates the possibility for disaster. A babysitter could make a mistake. An aunt could make a mistake. Better to avoid that possibility by just not going out at all. This leads to burned out, cranky parents.

        As for the perfect, angelic, all-sacrificing mother figure, she’s just an extension of the Victorian “Angel in the House”, an ideology that has been largely struck down in the workplace but continues to exist in force in the household sphere.

        • A-L

          We must teach different kids. Where I’ve worked, it’s more like. “Yes, you do need to make sure you have insulin available for your diabetic child. No, you should not have an 11-year old watch over their 4 younger siblings over an entire weekend by him/herself. Your child has broken a bone, please go see them in the hospital. Please don’t yell at your child because they admitted to the counselor that they were depressed and thinking about killing themselves.” Granted, that’s not all of our parents, but it’s far more than I ever dreamed possible before entering the teaching profession. I think out of 8 years of teaching I’ve only had 1 or 2 parents who are the way you described, and even those weren’t as extreme as the one’s who think a night with a babysitter will ruin their kid’s life.

          • Heather

            Whoa, you teach in much rougher environment than I do. Lucky kids, they need you!

          • Laura

            I taught in a private school, so the issues I encountered there were more of the hoverparent variety. What a rough environment! It’s a good thing your kids have you.

  • iz

    A couple of movies, a play, a trio of concerts, a couple of hockey games….and forty eight books… in seven months?! That’s way more than I have managed and I don’t have kids!

  • This post is getting bookmarked for when I’m closer to motherhood in my own life. This feels like the most common sense view of early parenthood I’ve ever been presented with.

    • I’m stealing your idea of bookmarking this for later. I’m pretty sure that once we decide to start trying for kids, panic will set in. And I’ll look back at this post as needed to reassure myself that kids will be an addition to our life, not the end of it.

    • KW

      I have bookmarked a great many posts since I found APW back in May. :-)

  • Beautiful post… you have confirmed what I have always thought. I never really believed I would turn into someone else just by having kids. How could I stop being me? As for travel, reading, enjoying good food, play, music… well I plan on introducing our hopefully future kids to all of that, I mean, that´s what parents are there for right? For showing the path of fun and happiness?
    On a sidenote… am I the only one that gets a sick queasy feeling by hearing conceptus/zygotes/embryos/foetuses being referred to as alien parasites? (Or tumors, or other such terms?) I know it is meant in a methaphorical, funny, kind of way and I know the realities of pregnancy are hard, uncomfortable, unexpected, uncontrollable and can take you by surprise… but still I feel uncomfortable by such nicknames….

    • Jessica

      Honestly, it is just the way pregnancy feels for some of us.

      • KB

        I second both the weird-feeling-when-hearing-that-phrase and the it-feels-like-that-for-some-people. I find it less weird when someone who has actually had children uses the phrase to describe the experience, as opposed to someone who hasn’t – maybe it’s less hostile that way? Or it’s just me.

        • meg

          It’s not hostile. It’s just… reality for lots of us. Taboo reality.

        • Not hostile at all, but as someone who doesn’t have kids and isn’t sure she wants them: the idea of growing a person inside my body feels exactly like an alien takeover. Part of what I’ve always been afraid of.

    • meg

      Yeah, well. Biologically, that’s about what a fetus is. It’s draining your life force and putting your life at risk. So, for some people pregnancy is magical. For others of us, it feels much like aliens (THERE IS A WHOLE OTHER PERSON WHO IS NOT AT ALL YOU IN YOUR INSIDES) plus a parasite.

      But super cute in the end.

      • Jessica

        THIS is the part that freaks me out the most. Not the body changes or the life changes but the… the parasite factor. Ehk.

        I know how to work on the other stuff but no idea how to tackle the parasite factor. Therapy? Yoga?

        • For me, I just had to suck it up. I mean, there are SO many things about your body that are weird and disgusting if you think about them too much. Calling a baby a parasite in passing is one thing, focusing on it is another and just ends up being crazy-making, especially considering the amount of grody things that live in your body when you AREN’T pregnant… Physiology is bad-ass and gross.

          Then again, therapy and yoga might be better than my “LALALALA, NOT THINKING ABOUT IT!!!” approach.

          • meg

            HA! Alyssa beat me to the punch. I was going to say. I don’t know that yoga is going to do anything (hee!). Some things, you just suck up.

            Also, who is to know how it will be? I expected to LOVE pregnancy, and largely did not at all (Some moments aside. Like when they kick their little hands and feet out. Aw.) You might expect to hate pregnancy and love it. Who knows? You deal with it when you get there (not to minimize the fact that dealing with it can be painful, just saying you do deal with it).

            We’ve made pregnancy and motherhood this weird otherworldly experience that you can’t compair with other things, but that’s not exactly true. We don’t live our lives with the idea that we can avoid everything that sucks, we just deal with it when the sucky parts come. Pregnancy is the same way. Alyssa can tell you about motherhood :)

        • For some reason, it helped me to think about the fact that every other mammal does the same thing. This is just how we roll. Some animals lay eggs, some have pouches, some extra-tiny ones just straight-up split in two (now THAT would freak me out). Our group decided the womb thing was the way to go. :)

          Though I have to admit, sometimes the idea of laying an egg like a chicken sounds attractive. Set up an incubator at home, head off to work, and don’t worry about it for a few months? Not bad.

          • meg

            I know, right. THE EGG.

            Don’t think I haven’t thought about that option. Humph.

          • I’ve always felt that marsupials kind of have it made. Childbirth when the baby is a little tiny thing, plus a built-in pouch! That thing could be handy living in a place like NYC

          • Class of 1980

            I’ve thought about the egg too. But then everyone would sit around staring at it waiting for it to hatch!

      • Marcela

        I didn’t have the parasite feeling during pregnancy but man, did I feel invaded and out of control of my body during breastfeeding! I breastfed my twins for almost two years (I had read too many books and felt guilty of trying a mother-led weaning…I know) but I never felt that blissful connection one is supposed to feel…

        • Colleen

          Oh my goodness, yes! I mean, I have felt that feeling on occasion, but I had supply problems so the vast majority of breastfeeding *for me* was feeling hormonal, weepy, incompetent, angry with my body for not working right, and guilt for using formula. Sorry to hear your experience was also not filled with glitter and jazz hands.

          • Marcela

            I also had supply problems, and I had to supply for twins, so that may have been part of it. It was just so stressful! One day a doctor friend told me”: food is food, formula or breast your babies are EATING and GROWING and that’s what matters. I should have listened to her before!

        • Breastfeeding, for me, is a great time to play solitaire on my phone. I’m also missing that blissful connection thing, but I’m okay with it.

        • Jaime

          OMG THANK YOU! You are probably one of the few women out there that will admit that breastfeeding isn’t always this huge blissful experience it’s “supposed” to be.

          • Sometimes nursing is awesome – sweet & cuddly. Sometimes it is sucky (no pun intended) and I’m all like, “Baby, get off me!”

    • Marcela

      The thing is, for some people the change is real, and for some it never happens. I did feel very different while breastfeeding (too emotional), but I guess it was because of the hormones, and, after I stopped, I felt the same as before being pregnant, only with two cute children. I thing the key is what Meg mentioned in her post last week: FLEXIBILITY, with everything: with what you want/don’t want, feel/don’t feel. Sometimes we feel and want the things we expect, sometimes the whole “I AM MAKING A PERSON!”thing takes you all by surprise and, yes, changes you in many ways. And it’s ok, either way. Flexibility and kindness towards oneself and others go a long way.

      • meg

        “Flexibility and kindness towards oneself and others go a long way.”

        Kindness in particular. Society might not exactly rub that message in, so you have to do it for yourself (and try to surround yourself with people will support you feeling however you feel, and being kind to yourself about it.) In the end, modeling self kindness has got to be one of the best things you can do for tiny people anyway. They’ll do what you do, not what you say.

  • Erin

    As someone who is starting into that serious ‘when do we want kids’ stage, this post was a lovely breath of fresh air. Thank you so much for your candor and honesty, especially about how you are and aren’t adapting your life around this bitty person and about the time it can take to come to love them.

    I love children, but I’ve never been much for babies. I don’t like to hold them, I’m not enamored of their baby smell, and mostly I just want them to let me sleep. So it’s good to know that it’s okay to go through that stage and get to the part that comes after.

  • amc2

    Such a great post! I am 4 months into this motherhood journey…well 4 months into the raising a human part. The motherhood journey started many months before that, even before I got pregnant. This post is a solid reflection of my feelings so far. Motherhood is hard and joyous, often at the exact same time (picture the snorty laugh cry, and that’s me as a new mom!). Just because I was confident in my decision to become a mother, doesn’t mean that I am the most confident mother. As a first time mom, I turned to the books, realized that the books were an unattainable goal, and I am slowly learning to trust my instincts. The hardest lesson for me is that sometimes I have to put myself first and leave my baby in the care of a someone else. Similar to the concept of the wedding martyr, I have become the new mom martyr. Having realized that, I am adding in some more me-time, sans baby.

    Morgan, I think you nailed it when you say that you have to let go of what the books say. I am still working on that part. Everything I read should have a disclaimer that reads, “If this situation (cosleeping, breastfeeding, daycare, etc) works for you, embrace it and be proud of your choice. If not, forget it and keep being true to you and your baby. You both will be happier that way.”

    • MDBethann

      We’re trying to get pregnant right now, and between you, Morgan, and some of the other commenters, I am so NOT buying or reading baby books. I think I will boycott them. They sound like they are more trouble than they are worth. Besides, I have a good mom and a retired nurse for a mother-in-law plus a sis-in-law who is a good, laid back mom that I can go to if instinct doesn’t point me in the right direction. That and some good girlfriends who have kids. Much more realistic and old school that way.

      • I think it was important to read something. Pregnancy is weird and birth is kind of scary and to me, having NO information would have been worse. But I read way too much. I highly recommend the British Pregnancy: The Mumsnet Guide: The Answers to Everything. It was funny, not scary, and balance talk about why you should “eat healthy, blah blah blah, who are we kidding, you’ve earned that extra cookie” and science. Very practical, calm, and kind.

        Don’t read What to Expect When You’re Expecting. Yikes.

        • MDBethann

          Thanks for the suggestion. I guess what I meant was, instead of reading books about how to be a “good mom” (whatever the heck that is), I’ll talk to and get advice from the people I view as good parents – my mom, MIL, and SIL.

          But I’ll definitely keep the British book in mind, that and the book about how the French raise their kids….

  • Kay

    This is such a great post! I’m still trying to decide if I ever want to have kids or not, and this captures so well all the crazy messages out there that make me hesitate. The only thing I have to disagree with is the statement that this isn’t a dramatic or sensational message – compared to what’s out there, the idea that having kids doesn’t completely change who you are (either for the better or the worse) is a revolutionary statement, and I thank you for sharing it!

  • Sophia

    I hate a lot of the “natural childbirth” dialog that makes women feel like failures if they have a perfectly healthy baby delivered by C section or need an epidural etc. I had an emergency C section and it was the best. thing. ever. I have a happy and healthy baby to prove it. Isn’t that the point?

    Being a mom is great and complicated. My day to day life has totally changed but I still have the same goals and interests as before.

    • amc2

      I totally agree with you about the C-section talk. Whenever I hear that, I like to say, “She grew a baby inside her body. Nothing more natural than that.”

    • One More Sara

      I totally agree with all the hype around natural childbirth. Yeah sure, women have given birth like that for centuries and survived (for the most part). BUT if you have a migraine, you are probably going to take medicine to relieve the pain (or, maybe not. if you like to stay natural). If avoiding medicine/using more natural pain relief isn’t something you do in day to day life, I don’t understand why having a baby should be any different. If there is something to relieve your pain, why not take advantage?

      I’ve backspaced and sat on this comment for a while, bc it almost sounds like I’m shaming or making fun of women who choose natural childbirth, and that isn’t my intention. Where I live now, most women try to give birth at home, so planned epidurals are not the norm. A lot of my friends and family ask if it was weird getting the shot (it wasn’t) or if I felt any less connected to my baby (I don’t think so, but I’ve only done this once… so there’s no way to tell), could you still walk after? (yes. I could walk small distances during it actually). I usually ask them this question back, if there is a medical intervention that could reduce an extremely painful experience, would you use it? Usually when they think about it without considering the baby, they at least understand my choice a little better.

      • Caroline

        This is a really interesting way of putting it. I’d like to try to have our future kids at home with a midwife (and I think it goes without saying that there’s no epidural in your bedroom). But then, I shy away from medicine except in dire circumstances anyways. To me, going to the doctor for something that is normal but painful, seems silly (for me). If I was at home and it got unsafe, (there was a problem) we’d go to the hospital, but for myself, starting with the assumption that birth is fairly safe and is normal, and being somewhat doctor averse, I wouldn’t want to go to the hospital to start. But if one were less doctor averse and more pain averse, I can see how that might make sense.

      • A-L

        I guess I haven’t yet started to read pregnancy/parenting blogs, because the idea of NOT getting an epidural sounds supremely scary. Perhaps I’ll learn more as the possible event gets closer, but wow. Is it that a majority of people are now going the unmedicated way, or is it the majority of people on pregnancy blogs are going without the wonders of modern (pharmaceutical) medicine?

        • KH_Tas

          I’m guessing ‘the majority of people on pregnancy blogs’. I fully agree on the ‘no painkillers sounds scary’, and I’ll make at most a brief attempt at it.

    • meg

      Ah, “natural childbirth” is in quotes here since we think ALL childbirth is natural. Some is vaginal, some is un-medicated, all of it is natural.

      • One More Sara

        Such a good point. The way that we normally assume that “natural childbirth” means vaginal un-medicated childbirth is not good for anyone.

      • Marcela

        I had an emergency cesarean for delivering my twins, and some women still questioned “why I didn’t demand the doctor to try a little bit more”and kept telling me that “I had lost the most wonderful experience in the World”. Honestly, I couldn’t care less about HOW my children came into the world, I am just happy that they were born healthy and that they get to be my children. I come from a long line of women who lost their first borns for medical complications, so when the doctor said “cesarean in 20 minutes!”I was ready to go with it and I won’t let anyone shame me about it.

        • Marisa-Andrea

          Ha, I hear you, sister. My birth plan was the following: have a baby and for both of us to survive. Since that’s exactly what happened, I’d say my birth experience was pretty darn successful, thank you very much.

        • meg

          Oh for f*cks sake.

          As one of my friends says, we must have way too much time on our hands or something, given the way we’ve totally fetishized childbirth. I mean, yes, aiming for as good a birth experience as you can is great. But it is what it is… which is a means to an end anyway. Also? SURVIVAL IS KEY.

      • It took me months to come to term with the c-section, and I only started putting quotes around natural birth when my best friend called me out (again) for self-shaming about the c-section. She believes that she took drugs for a bad case of strep throat, and that there’s nothing shameful in that. I needed help getting my baby born alive, and there should be equally no shame in that either. (Which is SO MUCH easier to type than it was in real life.)

        • Laura

          Totally! I think we’ve forgotten that childbirth used to kill a lot of women and that it still does in the developing world. I think a lot of people have villainized C-sections because it is true that they are often administered more for the doctor’s convenience than for the well-being of the mother and baby. We need an open conversation about this because it is a serious issue. But in the midst of this conversation we shouldn’t forget that in a lot of situations C-sections SAVE LIVES, nor should we shame women who end up going that route.

    • Thank you for this. So true and the looks and people spitting venom at me when I mention that I have no problem with a C- section if needed drives me up the wall.

      • I will admit I question if people tell me that they WANT one, but that’s because the recovery from MAJOR ABDOMINAL SURGERY is tough, and not being able to roll over or drive and barely even being able to lift your baby for a couple of weeks sucks. But to be okay with one if one is required? That just sounds emotionally healthy to me.

      • Granola

        I just want to jump in here as a non-mom whose mother aimed for a “natural childbirth” and who ended up in an emergency c-section two months early. (For which I, the baby in question, am quite grateful)

        Is there a way we could talk about how a vaginal delivery, all things being equal is generally better for both mother and child? And that c-section rates, especially in the United States, have been pushed way too high because of legal and other incentives that have nothing to do with patients? And maybe also in this conversation we can affirm that the health of a child and mother is paramount and if a c-section is what it takes, that’s what should be done.

        I just don’t want us to be reductionist in our attempt to subvert a damaging narrative.

        • Right on! You are not being reductionist. That was very well written.

        • meg

          Of course vaginal birth is ideal for the mother. But, the reality is, it’s not always possible, and saving lives is of paramount importance. Many of us live in cultures where there is a huge amount of shame around C-sections, and a lot of shaming around women that have them. Something that, frankly, makes no sense.

          As for what’s best for the baby, I’d rank ‘making it out alive’ as the most important.

    • I’m all for a woman having a “natural” birth, however she feels most comfortable, if that’s what makes her happy. For myself, I have a strong inclination that I’m going to one day (if possible) try for an unmedicated birth with a midwife, because I feel more comfortable and more in control with the idea of that. I too often feel like doctors override patient wishes on small things (let alone birthing a child) and am just not comfortable at the moment handing off my pregnancy to a doctor.

      What the decision comes down to is what makes me comfortable. If another woman feels more comfortable with an epidural, and otherwise medicated birth, or a c-section then all the power to her. But this idea that one type of birth is “right” and one is “wrong” is seriously messed up, and we need to support each other through all of our reproductive decisions.

  • Love this post! For the record, you have travelled more than I have in the same time period, and I have zero babies and a work-from-home job.

  • KB

    Every time I read about postpartum depression, I get SO anxious. Honestly, in addition to the fear of actual childbirth and the pain that comes with it, I’m terrified of having my brain awash in hormones and being emotionally and physically disabled to the point of not being able to bond with or care for a new baby. I wonder if there’s a way to predict it, to see if there’s a likelihood of developing it if certain factors are present, or if it’s just an insane crapshoot and you never know until 30 second after the baby’s out. Gah.

    • meg

      There are predictive factors, there is good treatment, and it also is a crap-shoot. (Do your research!!!) But lots and lots of parts of pregnancy and post-partum are tough, and not discussed much. Hard comes with much of the territory. I’m not minimizing that AT ALL, as someone who’s had a really hard pregnancy. But I will say almost everything worth doing is hard, right? That’s how it works. Pregnancy might be harder because what you’re doing is SO big. A brand new person. I mean, think about that….

      • KC

        That is very good to hear.

        So… um… might there be any suggested non-terrifying research locations or jumping-off points? I have observed that WebMD and similar sites, where any random symptom means cancer, is not a good plan for calmness, and I’d love to know of any places where PPD, predictive factors, symptoms, and treatment are discussed calmly and rationally. Google works beautifully for things like “how long do I cook a baked potato”, but “non-terrifying but scientifically-accurate discussion of PPD” is a bit harder to find without sifting through a bunch of other stuff first.

        • I found this to be the most helpful. The entire site is good, but that article helped pull me out of the weeds of what was just baby blues, which is a whole other animal than PPD.

        • Lturtle

          I find Dr. William Sears to be an informative yet reassuring source for information regarding pregnancy and parenting/babies. I don’t have a link for you, but you can find his site by googling his name.

        • Amalah at Alphamom covers it really well, and she is a delight to read, as well as being super informative. She’s pretty much my go to for everything pregnancy or baby related. http://alphamom.com/tag/postpartum-depression/

        • meg

          Alyssa is right, Post Partum Progress is a great resource (in general!). In general as I understand it, risk factors for partum AND post partum (equally common) depression AND anxiety (equally common) include: past history of depression, worse than normal PMS, bad reactions to birth control pills, depression linked to teenage hormone onset (early teens or late teens). All of those show that your brain is particularly responsive to hormone adjustments.

          That said, you can get it totally out of the blue. The real issue is that awareness is lacking, both inside and outside of medicine, though it’s better specifically for post partum depression than for any of the other three.

          Not medical advice, I’m sure there is way more depth to it, further risk factors, etc, but that’s what I know. Hopefully someone in medicine or science will link to some studies!

        • meg

          Oh! Right! And! There is very little awareness of the fact that there is also a form of depression and anxiety that can be linked to breastfeeding OR weaning. Apparently doctors “don’t like to discuss it with women” because it might “discourage us from breastfeeding.”

          Because we are CHILDREN y’all, who can’t be trusted with the facts.

          • Whoa! Don’t you love it when medicine is patronizing? Grr…

            I actually recall reading that nursing can sometimes help with PPD (not cure, just help). How about care providers share ALL the facts with people so they can actually make informed decisions?!

    • One More Sara

      I would love to hear more about someone who has experienced PPD. Did they get help? What was it like to ask for help/admit you couldn’t handle it on your own? Finding a decent treatment? I think if more women talked about it and discussed different options, it wouldn’t be such a mystical (scary!) thing.

      • KB

        Me too – my question is for those with experience, is it something that comes out of NOWHERE? Or did you have emotional ups and downs or depressive periods before?

        • Class of 1980

          My aunt had four children, and she only had PPD with the last one, which went on for two years.

          I am not sure they knew what it was back then, but yes, it came out of nowhere. She thought of herself as being very depressed during that time. She never told anyone until years later.

          My mother and grandmother never had it.

        • meg

          Both can happen. It can come out of nowhere, or you can have a history. It can hit for one pregnancy but no other pregnancies, or hit for all of them. The female body is a mystery, a bit, and pregnancy is complex and crazy as all get out.

      • Jessica

        I agree – would also love to hear of women who sought treatment prior to conception or in early stages of pregnancy to help deal with the hormones/emotions/fears… AND as a way to be extra prepared for post-partum emotional difficulties and depression.

      • KTH

        Re: PPD, Heather Armstrong wrote some pretty intense blog posts over at Dooce.com about her experience. She struggles with anxiety and depression in general, so her PPD experience was extreme, so be warned that it’s not a pretty story, but it does end well: http://dooce.com/archives/daily/08_26_2004.html

        That’s the first entry. Her blog isn’t for everyone, but these entries are raw and honest and open up that world a lot.

      • AMS

        There is a great book called “The Smiling Mask” written by three incredibly strong women detailing their experiences with PPD. Having had the opportunity to hear two of the three speak, I highly recommend reading it if you’re interested in learning more.

      • I wrote about it a fair bit on my blog, but I can answer questions here if you’d like…

    • I think yes, do your research. And also, if you’re worried about it, you can set up a contingency plan based on the research and how well you know yourself.

      If you’re worried, learn about it from the sites that people have posted, set up a, “if I feel x, y, and z, then…” plan with your partner or a trusted friend (or both!). Or, if you want to go even further, set up a counseling session for soon after to talk through any adjustments.

      The bottom line is that like most things, it can be very hard to go through. And like a lot of hard things, fearing them in advance doesn’t mean they won’t happen. But having a plan (and maybe even a hard look about why it’s so scary) can really help.

      • I knew I had good odds of having problems, so I made SURE David was well versed in what to look for before I even had the kid. I also have a great doctor who made me come in for weekly checkups until I could get through the mood questionnaire without crying. I also freely talked to anyone who asked how I was feeling, and was surprised at just how many women said, “this happened to me too.”

  • This is awesome. I feel similarly ambivalent about kids, but never encounter this middle-of-the-road message – usually it’s either, “the need for babies rose up from deep within my soul!” or “I am definitely sure that I don’t want kids of my own.” I’m more like, “…eh.” Glad to see that that can turn out okay :)

    • Agree! Close friends of mine and my husband recently had a baby. When chatting with them, I said I wasn’t sure. “Oh, she used to be that way too! Was always ‘I never want a baby’ then all of a sudden, she wanted one!” Oh, so that’s how it’s “supposed” to happen? I’ll just keep waiting for that moment.

      • CarbonGirl

        I am also “eh. . . ” And I think that is normal too. I have been told that the “OMG! I want one now! feeling would come, but I am 30 and it has not. I am however, a very rational person, so I am hardly ever overwhelmed with a need for anything. I think eventually I will just have to make a rational choice like I did about most of my big life decisions.

        I also think a huge part of it for me is that I do not like babies. Ugh . . . they bore me and I just do not see the cuteness. Now once a kid can talk and hold even minimal conversations, then I like to spend time with them. If only I could pop out a two year old.

        • KC

          Except for the size problems of ejecting a two year old, I entirely agree. :-)

          • Amy

            I have an adorable 7-month old, and I still kind of wish you could just pop out a 2-year old. If anything they’ve got to sleep better than infants.

        • Jashshea

          I’m 34 and the moment hasn’t happened for me. Doesn’t mean I don’t think I’ll have kids or that I won’t change my mind, I just don’t think I’ll ever be a clear-cut “rahrah babies!” person.

        • meg

          This is normal and not really discussed. Even for those of us who love kids and were born talented at working with them (me, just born that way), we all like different ages better. I think the general idea is that they are people, so once you get to know them as people, you take the stuff you like less with the stuff you like more. AKA, it’s not magical.

          I don’t love 8-12, or infancy. Love babies, love toddlers, love littles, love teenagers. Middle age, I love less. S’ok. Just how it is. That doesn’t mean I don’t love PEOPLE who are 8-12 years old, just that it’s not my favorite developmental period.

          • Evee

            YES! I’m not having a baby to have a baby; I’m having a baby to have a child. The baby thing is just a phase I have to get through to have that adorable and most likely hilarious three-year-old that I just want to gobble up and post the funny things he says on Facebook, or the ten-year-old who’s swim meets I can help coach, or the teenager who’s choir concerts I can proudly attend, or the young man I can watch get married. Or, you know, whatever he’s into and we can share as two people. I’m not really a fan of babies under the age of 18 months, but I’ll love mine to pieces.

        • I am enjoying the bigger baby stage, but realize I have like no interest in toddlers. If I could skip from like, a year to age 4, I would totally do that, from what I have observed at my friends houses.

          It’s funny how we all have favourite (and not favourite) stages.

      • Caroline

        That was my aunt. Married for 9 years, meh about kids, then one day, decided that she wanted a kid now. I know for some folks it does happen that way, but others decide just with their logic centers that they would like to be parents.

        • K

          I just wonder which feeling you should listen to… If you don’t want kids for 9 years, and then suddenly you DO want one, is that a feeling you should run with? What about the last 9 years?? Like we were discussing earlier (or perhaps in yesterday’s post) so much of it is hormones, I guess I just wonder how much can you trust your own sudden feelings? I don’t know.

          Personally, I’m really leaning toward a CF life, but there’s something holding me back from making this decision permanent with Essure or tubal ligation… Partly, I’m still waiting for my biological clock to start ticking, for that feeling of wanting a child to suddenly strike. Also, I’m 30, and I’ve let my family talk me into “giving myself a little more time before doing something drastic”. Maybe that clock will start ticking at 31? Or 35? But I’ve spent my entire life not wanting kids, so if I suddenly do want one, how logical is that??

          I don’t know. Things change, and feelings change, and I’m giving myself a little bit of time to change, even though I doubt I will. I guess it just seems crappy that so much of what we do is based on the whims of our hormones…

          • meg

            I think the real truth is: there is no one right answer.

            Again, as I talked about yesterday, we have this new cultural idea that motherhood has to be perfect. People used to be parents because… um… no birth control.

            So often there is no one right answer, you just make a choice at some point.

        • Evee

          One of my coworkers hit 39 and 1/2 and all of a sudden….BABY! She’s got an adorable 4-month-old now and couldn’t be happier. But she also has accomplished most of her goals in her career, and had found a great guy to be her partner and co-parent, so that all-of-a-sudden feeling was also accompanied by decent timing in her life.

    • Yes! This post! These comments!

      It’s so good to hear that others are ambivalent about becoming a parent as well. I’ve always set up hurdles for myself to avoid fretting: no babies before 30, no babies til marriage. Well, here I am, 33 and married, and feeling like, if I’m gonna do this thing, I better get cracking. But I’m still not feeling struck by the overwhelming need to have a child right now. And I’ve been wondering if that means I just shouldn’t have them. It’s so comforting to find similarly minded people who have both started a family and delayed starting a family with this feeling.

  • I love your level-headed approach. That’s how I want to do motherhood, too. There’s such a calm wisdom in this:

    “When I stopped reading about How It Was Supposed To Be and focused instead on how life actually is for me, I felt better.”

    • Christina

      That was the quote for me as well from this piece…lovely. I’m just at the planning the wedding stage, but it’s equally applicable for where I’m at! Good words of wisdom.

  • Lynn

    This was really good for me to read as we start down this road of trying to have babies and preparing for the possible changes. I’m pretty up in the air about whether I want to do this at all–very take-it-or-leave-it. My husband, though. He’s ready and has been ready. He’s done everything he needs to do in order for me to feel like our family is secure enough to start this process. So. We begin.

  • Jashshea

    This is so helpful to read, Morgan. The thing that has always terrified me about motherhood is the idea that it would take over everything about my life – forcibly, immediately, and irrevocably. I agree that it always felt like there were two options – being the saint mother who did all the things with all the kids or be the woman who resented her children for the life she could no longer have (which incidentally is a sketchy outline of my mother (former) and my grandmother (latter)). It’s taken every bit of my time as an adult to realize that there are other options, that you can have a little of everything.

    (thanks also for talking about PPD – I have no history of depression or PPD in my family, but it’s an important conversation to have).

    • CarbonGirl

      In my life I felt like there was only one option thanks to my mother, she was both “the saint mother who did all the things with all the kids AND the woman who resented her children for the life she could no longer have.” We took over her life completely and it made her so depressed. That scares the hell out of me.

      • Christina

        I think those saintly mothers are kind of sad. I don’t think it’s healthy for a mother or her children if she has no life. My mom had a life, and while I missed her at times (she worked nights but then also went out after at times with her friends), she also raised me to be strong and independent, so I am grateful to her.

    • Marisa-Andrea

      This actually continues to be a fear of mine. More accurately I fear that this will come to pass and I will be so wrapped up in just living life that i won’t even know what happened and what does that all mean? In response to that I sort of started this campaign in my head where I picked something that important to me and each day I do something to make myself feel pretty or honor myself. It is my own way of holding onto myself by forcing myself to indulge in ME everyday. It helps.

  • Morgan, you’ve hit the nail on the head for me. Exactly. Exactly. Exactly.

  • Marisa-Andrea

    Ooh. Great stuff. I was extremely ambivalent about parenthood and spent the vast majority of pregnancy asking what the hell I got myself into. Even now seven months into it, I sometimes look at my daughter and question my sanity and decision to take on something as huge and big as raising another human being. And so when people ask how I decided it was time to have a child, i start off by telling people I was literally a bit out of my mind. There wasn’t some bone deep yearning or hormonal tugs even. I spent most of my twenties going back and forth on if and when kids would happen. I spent countless hours imagining my life with kids versus life without kids. At the same time while I was on the pot debating, so to speak, I was getting older and the reality of biology started to set in. My biological ticked not in the sense that suddenly I wanted to have kids; rather it constantly let me know that I wanted to have a kid via pregnancy, the window was closing in on that opportunity. So I just plunged in. We tossed out the birth control and said ok. I just did it. I say all of this to say that the decision to has a child can be really complicated, not magical and not pretty. It was that for me.

    • MDBethann

      That’s where we are too. We went “crap, we’re 33 and friends have been having some challenges getting pregnant so we better start trying now.” Would I have been willing to wait longer if there wasn’t that “it gets more difficult at 35 or later” thing hanging over me? Heck yes.

  • Amanda L.

    Oh… THIS!

    For me, it was based on a vague feeling of wanting to have had children when I am old and looking back at my life, instead of a feeling of biological-ticking-clock-of-baby-fever.

    My DH and I are in the midst of trying for our first and your sentence above is exactly what I said to him when we started having discussions. The funny thing is that I think he’s come around into wanting this to happen NOW while I’m pretty sure that I’ll be completely freaked out when we get our first positive pregnancy test.

    Thank you, APW, for exploring these topics.

  • I really related to this post. I think that the most important thing any of us can do is to listen to our own voice inside about what we want instead of listening to the world around us.

    That is the only way be can become authentic people. We can’t do what everyone else wants us to do and we can be who everyone else wants us to be.

    Whether you want to be a mother or not or a bride or not, you have to choose your choice and not let others make you feel bad about it.

    • So the idea of listening to your own voice inside makes lots of sense, yet it’s hard. Because my voice has been formed by all of the things around me as I’ve grown and aged. While I feel more sure of my voice the older I get, I’m the kind of person who sometimes looks at both sides and can see that they both make sense, so I spend a lot of time on the fence. But of course ultimately it doesn’t matter if both sides make sense, just which side of the fence appeals to you. But, they both look appealing!

  • KTH

    I am so glad, and so thankful, for this conversation. The more information we have, and the more perspectives we read, the better. Especially the non-dramatic, non-screaming-headline, calm and thoughtful information.

  • Class of 1980

    I think the reason you hear such conflicting messages about having children, is that each statement feels true … for someone, somewhere, at some MOMENT.

    It doesn’t mean it’s all true all the time.

    If you had asked my sister if having a child felt like giving up your own life, there would have been times that it would have seemed true … like a handful of years where she was a divorced single mother working full-time, arriving home with a child who had HOURS of homework ahead and dinner needing to be cooked, eaten, and cleaned up.

    Was it always like that? No. Her child didn’t always go to a school that handed out ridiculous amounts of homework. Plus, when she got older, she could handle her homework on her own.

    Her daughter is in her twenties now and my sister would say she was worth it. All of it.

    Honestly, the first month was the hardest. My sister cried every day after she got home because her baby had colic and screamed/cried for hours after every meal. My sister didn’t have PPD, she just desperately needed sleep.

    So, I traveled to stay with her for two weeks and she handed the baby over to me after feeding her and went to sleep. It was just me and a crying baby. It was hell on earth, but at least my sister stopped crying.

    Two months later, I traveled down again and the difference was nothing short of amazing. The colic was over, my sister had found the rhythm, and her new confidence was impressive. She never once complained that her life was over.

    You really need to build in some help. Have either your husband or someone staying with you for the first weeks. Later on, have relatives or friends as babysitters and you will feel more balanced.

    • Amanda

      What a kind sister you were to be there in your sister’s time of need! Can I ask – do you feel a closer bond to your niece after having spent that hard (but ultimately special) time with her those two weeks?

      • Class of 1980

        Actually, we tease my niece mercilessly by showing her a photo of herself in her crib screaming her head off. ;)

        No, I can’t say it bonded us. It was frantic, frustrating, and exhausting. I was too busy trying to soothe her to no avail and swearing I would never have children.

        What bonded us was her own unique personality as she grew. She was a very funny child who loved to tell jokes, and then lecture you for laughing by pointing out that a character in the joke suffered some terrible misfortune and “DIDN’T WE FEEL SORRY FOR THEM?.”

        The child she became didn’t resemble the new infant that terrorized us. Unfortunately, I wasn’t around for much of her later babyhood because I lived in another city. I missed the good baby stuff. :(

        The whole experience just convinced me that no new mother should go it alone in the first weeks.

  • As much as this may just confuse me even more about what I want as far as children or not, thank you so very much for this. I need to hear your voice and others who tell it like it is. I’ve long suspected that the narratives aren’t reality and have just wanted to scream, ‘TELL ME WHAT YOU REALLY FEEL ABOUT IT!”

  • “I was ambivalent about having kids, and was ambivalent for a while after she was born, but I now love her tiny little face so much I can’t stop chewing on her cheeks.”

    I expect this as a possibility. Even if I’m ambivalent about choosing children, I’m sure that if I did, then I would love them absolutely. But, for now I don’t have children, and the question that I have such a hard time broaching with other people, or getting any answers to or discussions about is, “why have children?” People who want children are pretty well embraced in our society. And within the groups I know, if you don’t want kids, that’s ok too. But I wonder how that rational discussion about whether or not to have kids goes. I feel silly for wanting to justify it, and not being smart enough to have the words and ideas. Or that I can’t understand that it’s simply enough to want a “family”. Isn’t it already a family with two? I like children and find them moderately appealing and cute. But, I just can’t figure out why I should have the right to create life and thrust it into this crazy (and sometimes wonderful) world. It seems like an interesting, albeit difficult and stressful, thing to choose to do. I guess it would increase the love in the house. But doing it for either of those reasons seems to me like I’d be being selfish. Is the other perspective that it would actually be a gift to the being we’d create?

    So of course I usually try not to over think this, just follow through on the choices that we’re making, and know that if we do conceive we’ll love the person we form.

    • Class of 1980

      I think the best reason to become a parent is because you feel you have something to give a child.

      • Although that can be channeled into OTHER people’s kids too. :-)

        • Class of 1980


      • meg

        I like this reason. When we had a life we felt was really worth sharing, that seemed a good time to us (and hence, giving up that life in entirely FOR that child, would miss the point).

        There are lots of other reasons too, but I like this one lots.

        • Class of 1980

          It’s what you can offer a child, whether your own, adopted, a grandchild, or a foster child, that is the most beautiful thing to me.

          And you do have a lot to offer, Meg. And David. ;)

      • MDBethann

        That’s exactly why I want to have kids, biological and/or adopted. I have lots of love, nurturing, and resources, and I want to share it.

    • I did have the hormonal urge for babies, but still tried to also work through it rationally and ran into a lot of the same weird mental blocks you’ve mentioned here. Though I must say:

      “But, I just can’t figure out why I should have the right to create life and thrust it into this crazy (and sometimes wonderful) world.”

      This world is fantastic, really. :D We’ve got clouds and trees and elephants and hugs and cheesecake and the internet! And science and stories and philosophy and humor and comfy chairs! It’s the best place in the universe I’ve seen so far. ;)

      And y’know, maybe there is a bit of irrationality in choosing to procreate. If you’re awesome, and this person you love is also awesome, then whoa, you could have a future that includes someone who is both of your awesomenesses melded together! Is that a little optimistic? Sure. But if it’s good enough for every other organism that has lived on this planet, then it’s good enough for me, heh.

      (Quick Edit: hopefully this doesn’t come off as some kind of crazed “have babies naow” raving! I just know that I struggled a lot with this weird guilt of wanting kids for a couple years, and now I kinda wish I hadn’t beaten myself up so much about it. So that’s where I’m coming from.)

      • I read a book a few months ago called “Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids: Why Being a Great Parent is Less Work and More Fun Than You Think” and one of the author’s points was that (basically) no one regrets being born, as mixed up as this world is.

  • thislittleredcat

    Thank you for this post! I haven’t had children yet and even though my official position is yes, I want them, 100 percent, deep inside I am not sure. I know I will deeply regret not having them and I want the relationship I could build with my future children as they grow older, but I have never been a “baby person” and that deep inner need to make a baby.. just doesn’t exist for me. So much of what I hear is that I should want children irrationally and totally not cereberally and with some uncertainty. It is SO GOOD to hear from someone who came from where I am and is happy with her choice. SO GOOD to hear that I don’t need to be baby-crazy to be a good future mom!

    • meg

      Oh, for goodness sake! I think this message is so damaging. Fact: they actually don’t stay babies very long at all. So if you’re in it for the babies, it’s going to be a rough road. Being in it for raising good adults gives you loads more time for the stuff you’re really going to enjoy, right?

      • KEA1

        Not to mention that a lot of the “helicopter parenting” phenomena that we’ve heard about (and, incidentally, happens in some cases into a child’s college years–YIKES; thank heaven for FERPA) might subside pretty spectacularly if more people viewed the goal of parenthood as raising adults…

        • meg

          Ah, yes. This was my parent’s number one rule: raise adults.

          Apparently I toddled out into the living room at two, wide eyed, during my first small earthquake, and my dad looked at me and said, “I know! It’s shaking, huh?” And I nodded vigorously. Raising adults :)

          • Amber

            The other day in the car I had a realization. I’ve never been the “need to have a baby” type, I’m in the “meh” catagory but non the less we are at the stage were we are discussing when or not to start trying. Then this realization… “why in the f*cking world do they call it raising children” (cuz that idea scares me silly) instead when a child is born one begins to raise a person, not a child but a person. We are raising adults. Somehow this realization took me from the “meh” catagory to something a little bit more sure about this whole parenthood thing. Thank you Meg, this is the first time I have felt connected in that thought. You are going to have one lucky kid.

        • My husband works at a college, and frequently comes home thanking the almighty FERPA for keeping him from going absolutely insane.

    • I felt so similar to you…I’ve never been a baby person, babies usually cry when I hold them, I felt totally incompetent. Turns out, you don’t have to be a baby person to be a good parent. I feel confident that I’m a good mama, even if the parenting a baby will probably not be my favorite phase-I’m really looking forward to those elementary school years, personally. However, those cuddly little buggers grow on you an awful lot- I’m much more of a baby person now than I ever was before. My kiddo turns a year old this week, and after wishing away the newborn phase, I sometimes yearn for the good ol’ days of a sweet, tiny infant sleeping contentedly on my chest.

      • Carly

        “Turns out, you don’t have to be a baby person to be a good parent.”

        Wow, I don’t know why, but this really struck me. (One of those ‘duh’ moments that you’re embarrassed for not thinking of sooner). My husband and I have started the baby discussion, and I’m not totally on board because I don’t really love babies, which therefore makes me question my ability to parent. But I do love people- which is what babies become. I want to raise children into good adults with my partner.

        Thanks for helping me think about this in a different way and bring some clarity to our situation.

  • E

    I love that this site has a base of readers who embrace discussions on so many topics. I was an avid APW reader during my wedding planning in 2010. Pregnancy followed sooner after our wedding than originally planned. Despite having checked many of what are considered the appropriate pre-child boxes (condo, husband, graduate degree and professional job) I felt unprepared for motherhood and was initially scared and depressed. It’s difficult admitting to having less than positive feelings about something that everyone around you sees as an unequivocal good.
    It all turned out okay. I had a great pregnancy, and my 15 month old daughter is a joy.
    PS, now that I’m on the other side, I have completely different feelings about childbirth choices. I went for an unmedicated vaginal birth with midwives. I think I attached a lot of significance to those choices because I wanted to try to control something about the whole unpredictable process of bringing a child into the world. If there is a next time I would have no problem getting an epidural and seeing an OB.

    • meg

      “I think I attached a lot of significance to those choices because I wanted to try to control something about the whole unpredictable process of bringing a child into the world.”

      Thanks for that. That’s really helpful to me. Not because I think one choice is better than the other (I’m remarkably agnostic on the subject), but because I think you nailed something for me.

      • mags

        A close girlfriend told me that she was so anxious during her (difficult) pregnancy that she felt that she had to control and focus on something. For her, it was a new camera and getting a (family) car. She is now *the* expert in our social circle on cameras/photography and cars, because that’s what she chose to focus on while pregnant, because they were things she could control.

        I’m due tomorrow (eep!) and I am completely non-plussed about delivery/giving birth. Seriously (especially at this point – just want to get this show on the road!). But I have spent the last 6 months especially reading, reading, reading about swaddling and crying and shushing and other such things that have obviously been way premature without an actual babe in arms – my focus has been post-partum period and WTH I am going to do with a newborn. Not that knowing any of this is going to help.

        But I really do believe (for me) that it’s all about (pretending you have an element of) control in an ultimately uncontrollable situation. I’ve felt so physically out of control of my own body that focusing on something I can pretend I can control, has helped me manage that process.

        • A-L

          Good luck with the birth (and the raising of the kid)!

        • Whenever I start talking about birth options or delivery or anything post-partum and child, my husband reminds me that we need to get pregnant first (it’s been 31 months now that we’ve basically been trying to get that far). My comeback is that I have to think positive. I have to think about the next step because otherwise doing everything just for this step, focusing on just this step, would drive me insane. Maybe it’s a little “grass is greener” thinking going on. Or maybe, like you said, it’s trying to control something in a completely uncontrollable situation.

    • “I think I attached a lot of significance to those choices because I wanted to try to control something about the whole unpredictable process of bringing a child into the world.” YES. That was me too, and my total failure to have the birth I expected shock me to the foundations. I don’t blame the PPD on it, exactly, but I do now that it hurt me a lot, and it’s taken me a long time to come to terms with the fact that it was what is was, and that there’s no shame in the fact my kid refused to be born the “normal” way.

  • Lturtle

    I just want to say thank you to Morgan, Meg and APW for running this post. And also for making a safe space to have a respectful and honest conversation about this hard stuff. It is so rare to see this topic discussed without people making getting judgmental.
    Meg, I know you don’t want to do a practical baby site, but it is the lack of this kind of discussion in other places that makes people ask you for it. You have successfully created a place for real, complicated, fraught topics to be aired in a positive way. It’s pretty bad-a**.

    • meg

      Aw. Thank you. Maybe a book one day, maybe essays from time to time, but right now, no site. I find this FASCINATING, but also not something I think I’d want every day of every week, you know?

  • It seems to me like a lot of the hyperbole told to women about motherhood, the your-life-is-over-do-all-the-fun-things-now is similar to the hyperbole told to men (and even women now) about marriage, that whole bit from “The Lion King”

    “The sweet caress of twilight,
    There’s magic everywhere.
    And with all this romantic atmosphere,
    Disaster’s in the air.
    And if he falls in love tonight
    It can be assumed
    His carefree days with us are history.
    In short, our pal is doomed”

    Except in reverse, your two is up to a trio.

    Why does everything have to be a hyperbole? Why can’t it just be? We’ve had posts about people feeling guilty that their marriage didn’t magically transform them and fill them with a new sense of self. It’s great to see posts that motherhood has the same issues.

    Our wedding wasn’t a hyperbolic moment for us. Infertility certainly has its hyperbolic moments, but we’re still us, just with experiences we never would’ve chosen under our belt. And parenthood won’t be a hyperbolic moment either. We all grow and change all the time. Looking from one year to the next, or one decade to the next, is often dramatic. But one day to the next? One minute to the next? That’s like saying its dramatically lighter at 15 minutes before the sunrise than it was at 20 minutes before the sunrise (I’ve watched the sunrise, it’s not).

    • meg

      “Looking from one year to the next, or one decade to the next, is often dramatic. But one day to the next? One minute to the next? That’s like saying its dramatically lighter at 15 minutes before the sunrise than it was at 20 minutes before the sunrise (I’ve watched the sunrise, it’s not).”


  • I find that I’m pretty ambivalent about having kids (especially being pregnant) *until* my husband starts talking about not having them. Then I’m always arguing for having them…eventually. But I want to mother children.

    We’ve talked about it and most of his ambivalence (and mine) stems from living in NYC where we’re on top of each other in our tiny apartment already and can’t fathom negotiating the subways (and a 1 hour train ride into Manhattan) with a stroller and a crying child, let alone the bigger concerns of crazy expensive child care and schooling here. Where would the kid sleep? How would we afford it? But spend a few minutes fantasizing about a move back to upstate NY and finding a small house with a yard and boom– he wants kids again. Someday.

  • Angry Feminist Bitch

    This is such a refreshing take. I continue to be grateful for this space. Great, great post!

  • Ok, this post goes in the ‘makes me want to have a baby’ column. Thanks for the honesty and sanity!

  • CB

    This part: “For me, it was based on a vague feeling of wanting to have had children when I am old and looking back at my life, instead of a feeling of biological-ticking-clock-of-baby-fever.”


    So awesome to hear someone so articulately express the way that I feel and the worries that I have and say that they’ve been to the other side and, guess what, you can ignore the hype. Relieving. Thanks.

  • Thankyouthankyouthankyou. I’m getting married in May, I’m 28 years old, and the pressure from my family to have kids is borderline overwhelming. I’ve always been somewhat ambivalent about it – swinging wildly from ‘I’ll go off the birth control on our honeymoon!’ to ’35 is not too late, is it…?’ to ‘Can’t we just get a couple dogs??’ and I think the biggest thing that holds me back is the fear of drastic, horrible, relationship-altering changes. It’s so nice to hear that life really just does go on and it doesn’t have to be a total nightmare with baby. Maybe I will give that honeymoon with no birth control a second thought…

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