This week, as we’ve discussed the range of decisions around having a kid—choosing to be child free and the emotional complexities of choosing motherhood—it also seemed right to talk about the middle ground. What happens when you’re not sure? What happens when one of you is sure and the other isn’t? What happens when one of you considers changing your mind? And while this post is talking about moving from not wanting a kid to possibly wanting a kid, it’s just as important to discuss and acknowledge the flip side of the coin. What happens if you go into your partnership with the idea that you will have kids, and then one of you changes your mind. How do you balance this? How do you talk about it?
I have always said that I never wanted to have kids. I was an only child, never felt very comfortable around children, and thought that, at most, I would make a good auntie to friends’ children and that would be just enough kiddie-dom for my life. And then I met a man who I fell head-over-heels in love with, who already had a two-year-old little boy. Ooh boy, step-mommy-hood. It freaked me out at first, and then I thought, what a perfect compromise! I get to enjoy the good parts of parenthood that everyone raves about, without the painful labor or the sleepless nights or the poopy diapers. I could watch this little dude grow up and be a part of his life and get a taste of being a mom, without having to give up my selfish desire for time to myself and the freedom to take off somewhere for the weekend whenever I damn well felt like it. So, I’d be a stepmom, and I’d like it. And since the love of my life was adamant about not having any more kids—so adamant, he’d already gotten a vasectomy—we were both on the “no more kids” boat, and we were fine with it.
Then, one day, I realized I wasn’t so fine. I loved my little stepson like he was my own, and it killed me to not spend more time with him. So I convinced myself that the feeling I had, way deep down, was just my sadness at not getting to spend more time with the little guy. I told myself, If we can just spend more time with him, I’ll be happy. I don’t need a baby of my own; I just need to get enough of this guy to satisfy that little niggling ache. And I decided that I would put all my effort into fighting the ugly legal battle that, if we could just win, would mean we got to see him more. Because that would be enough.
Then the seesaw feelings of I think I want a baby—wait—Oh my god, what am I thinking? started. Some moments, all I could think of was how wonderful having a child would be. And then I’d remember the other stuff—the sleepless nights, the loss of freedom, the financial strains—and I’d wonder what the hell I was thinking. I’d blame it on all the babies popping up around me—at one point, I had four friends all due within two months of each other. Who doesn’t want a baby when you’re wandering the aisles at the baby store staring at all of the adorable clothes and nursery décor? That’s got to be it.
Then the seesaw stopped moving so much. And it was definitely settling on the “want a baby” side of the scale. And this really, really scared me. I mean, didn’t I always say I never wanted to be a mom? Wasn’t I engaged to be married to a man who didn’t want to have any more kids? I tried to do the “adult” thing and talk to him about it, but it didn’t make me feel much better. He did the verbal pat-on-the-head and told me we could talk about it in the future, if we were ever in a place in our lives where another kid would be feasible. He mentioned he might be willing to consider adoption, “or something.” But every time I overheard someone asking him about having another kid, he’d still say, “Definitely not! One is enough. We’re done,” and that hurt. And when it hurt, it made me realize just how much I might want this. Now, when we’re in some social situation and someone asks me about having another kid, I shrug it off with a non-committal answer like, “We’ve got our hands full—we can’t even think about that right now!” I can’t bring myself to lie and parrot what he says, even though that was my go-to answer two years ago. I can’t very well say, “Well, I always said I didn’t want to have kids, but now I’m seriously thinking that I want to have a baby, but my future husband has had a vasectomy and doesn’t want any more kids, so now I’m sad.” Uhm… awkward much?
As much as I question my decision not to have kids, I have never questioned the man or the life I’ve chosen. I’m not even considering leaving him, because as much as this feeling aches at times, leaving the wonderful life that we have and the amazing person I have found would hurt SO. MUCH. WORSE. So. That’s out. But I also don’t want to carry around this secret resentment that I wanted a baby and never got to have one. So what to do? I’ve tried talking to close friends about it (in private moments, not those awkward social situations mentioned above), and everyone keeps brushing it off with a, “One thing at a time, hun.” And I know what they’re trying to say. We’ve got so much going on—money concerns, legal troubles, an impending wedding—it seems like the last thing that we need to be thinking about right now is having a baby. But, I’m not saying I want to have the baby right now, or even decide to have a baby someday right now, I just want to feel like the topic is truly open for discussion.
Right now, I feel all sorts of things. Guilt—for being the one in the relationship to change my mind. Sadness—at the prospect of having to give up something I love (or the idea of it) in order to keep something else I love very much. Confusion—because for all of this, I’m still not sure another child is what I want; I’m just sure it’s something I might want someday. And fear—of not knowing if I get to control my own future.
And with all those mixed-up feelings, I’m very slowly learning that my future isn’t about just me anymore. It’s about this partnership that I’m committing to and the life that we will choose to live together. So, for the time being, I’m going to focus on the parts we’ve already decided, like our wedding next fall. If the time comes when we are in a place we could have a baby, and if I still think I might want one, then I will just have to trust in my partner to be open-minded and honest with me about how he feels. The future isn’t always clear, but I have faith that whatever we decide, we will make a good life together.
Photo Kara Schultz