Things to Consider If You're Ambivalent About Having Kids [Part I]
Here's a radical idea: the decision of whether and when to have children shouldn't be made on autopilot. Of course, there are exceptions, accidents happen, and wise snap decisions can be made. But no matter your spiritual, moral, or cultural beliefs on the topic (I happen to view having kids as part of my spiritual legacy and contribution to the betterment of the world), I would argue that some ambivalence reflects a healthy and necessary level of introspection. So how do you know if you're really ready to take the leap? What if you were never the type who visualized herself as a parent? What if you just assumed it would happen, but now the clock is ticking and you're right where you started? If any of this sounds familiar, I can relate.
This is the first of a two-part series in which I'll discuss ambivalence about having kids. This first part explores my personal experience with it, while the second part will delve into some things to consider if you're grappling with this issue.
I was in my early 30s and had been married for over a year when I got pregnant. We had moved to Dallas a couple months before, had bought a house, and had pretty much settled in. Ashkan had finally finished his surgical fellowship and had just started his dream job. I had started a great position that allowed me to work remotely on a flexible schedule, doing assignments that I found interesting. And we had recently spent a month traveling in Europe. If there were ever a good time to get pregnant, this was it. We were geographically stable, financially secure, and, most of all, happy.
But I was hesitant. I wasn't ready for the next step. I had just come off a decade of stress and strongly felt that I had earned the right to enjoy myself for at least a few more months. For the ten years prior to that point, I had been working hard with little relief. Between my work in legal environments before law school, law school itself, and practicing as a lawyer in New York, relaxation was elusive. I was carrying the financial weight of my law school debt and the emotional weight of doing long-distance with Ashkan for the better part of four years (including for over a year after our wedding). By the time we got to Dallas, I just wanted to spend time with my husband, go out to eat, exercise, make new friends, and travel.
But Ashkan really, really wanted to have a baby. We couldn't be sure that we would be able to get pregnant easily, and wanted to build in several months to keep everything fun and low-pressure. So the time had come. Although I had been bracing myself for that moment for a while, it still caught me off guard and smacked me in the face. For years, we had been discussing what kind of family we wanted to have. And I would always keep it as abstract and theoretical as possible. I knew I eventually wanted to have kids, but I wasn't sure that a good time to get pregnant would ever roll around. I can't even tell you how many times I ended the "when should we have kids?" conversation by lamenting how unfair this whole system is to women and how, once you have kids, your identity is obliterated. I was very dramatic. But the thing is, I had a point.
Here, in no particular order, are the major concerns I had about becoming a mom:
- Would I be a good mother? Did I have it in me? Even though I'm the eldest of three siblings and have several younger cousins, I never had interest in helping to raise children. I was too busy studying. I purposely avoided helping my grandmothers with homemaking and child-rearing tasks so as not to fall into what I considered a cultural sexist trap. How was I magically going to figure out how to be a good mom? Of course, I had seen some examples of good parenting, but I had never personally invested the same amount of time, reflection, and critical thinking toward my future parenting plan as I had invested in every other endeavor I undertook. Beyond that, I wasn't sure if I was too selfish to be a good mom. I had heard more than one woman say that as soon as her first child was born, she felt like a completely different person who would do anything for her baby. That all her doubts washed away instantly and she was transformed into some kind of sacrificial superhero. This all sounded like BS to me and I was pretty sure that people were just saying that stuff because not saying it makes you sound like a deviant.
- Would I be able to bear the weight of being someone's mother until the end of my life? As I've written before, I believe that as a mother, I'm my child's alpha and omega. [I won't rehash the entire essay here, so please feel free to read the linked post for an in-depth explanation.] Motherhood's a very serious responsibility that I couldn't take lightly. For the rest of my life after having a child, I would presumably care about another being more than I cared about myself. I would worry about that being every day of my life, and would dedicate myself to that being wholeheartedly. Was I ready for that level of devotion?
- Would I enjoy my child? In case it's not clear already, I've never been a baby person, or even a big kid person. I didn't even like babysitting in middle school when I had nothing better to do than practice piano. Was I expected to enjoy changing diapers all day? It seemed like an unlikely scenario. I was worried that I wouldn't even like my own child! I mean, I was used to engaging with really smart people all the time. What would happen when I was home alone for twelve hours a day with a gurgling blob? Didn't sound terribly appealing.
- What would happen to my career? I had spent my whole life until that point working toward professional success. I was in the thick of ascent. Why would I have kids and risk having to jump off a cliff? In the upper echelons of the legal profession (and in many others), no matter what they try to tell you, women who take maternity leave are at a disadvantage. Let me share just one example of how I know this. I worked with a partner who I respect very deeply and love as a person. He has a wonderful wife and beautiful kids. He's an involved parent. He's loyal and an all-around great guy. But one time he told me that, all things being equal, he would promote a man any day over a woman who had taken time off for maternity leave because the man would necessarily have "more and better experience". Having kids just didn't seem like a good choice for someone who's trying to build her career and be taken seriously in a highly competitive environment. I wasn't ready to put my career on life support, even though I had already left BigLaw.
- What would happen to my body? Vain or not, this was a real concern. I had put in significant effort and time into being healthy and fit. I was scared that getting pregnant would completely and irreversibly change my body. I was scared that my pregnancy would be horrible and that giving birth would be extremely painful, damaging, and traumatizing. I was afraid that I would never feel rested again. Some of these things came to pass and some didn't, but overall, I don't think that this fear was unreasonable.
- Would I suffer from postpartum depression or anxiety? We can't and shouldn't assume that everything will be rosy and perfect after giving birth. Very little is. For better or worse, I've always been in the habit of anticipating the worst-case scenario just to prepare myself. I had convinced myself that I was a prime candidate for a mental health issue after giving birth. And then what? Would I be too proud to admit it and ask for help? What would happen to me and my baby?
- What would happen to my independence? I valued my independence so much that I chose to stay in New York while Ashkan took a two-year fellowship opportunity in Michigan, even after we were married. I take great pride in my own work and projects. I'm not afraid of living alone or doing things like moving to Paris after college just to get a different perspective and life experience. I was quite sensibly afraid of what having a child would do to my ability to pursue my own goals and live flexibly.
- What would happen to my identity? This was and continues to be my greatest concern. Becoming a mother necessarily entails relinquishing certain things like your time, your ego, and your body (at least for a time). But these days, because women are choosing to have kids later in life, it can also mean sacrificing a high salary and professional status. Reevaluating your identity and renegotiating your priorities is something that all parents have to reckon with, and especially primary caregivers. And beyond the fear of being forced into tremendous sacrifice, I was afraid of being labeled "MOTHER". Like most people, I consider myself complex, and I don't enjoy being reduced to and confined by labels. I was afraid that becoming a mom would effectively render me a gender stereotype and open me up to more judgment. I would be a mother first, and everything else a distant second. I was afraid of the inevitable question of whether I would be enough and I wasn't interested in internalizing society's guilt trip.
So how did I work through these issues? Stay tuned for the second part of this series in which I discuss the most important things to consider when you're ambivalent about having kids!
Thanks for reading!
- Mar 20, 2019 Life Isn't Linear, and That's Just Fine Mar 20, 2019
- Mar 11, 2018 Things to Consider If You're Ambivalent About Having Kids [Part II] Mar 11, 2018
- Dec 14, 2017 Things to Consider If You're Ambivalent About Having Kids [Part I] Dec 14, 2017
- Dec 5, 2017 How This Attorney Became a Stay-At-Home Mom Dec 5, 2017
- Dec 2, 2017 On Becoming a Mother Dec 2, 2017
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