Guys, we need to talk. We need to talk honestly about the decision to have another baby.
No, I am not pregnant. Shut up and listen.
This month, there have been two wonderful essays, wait, three, that discuss the decision to child or not to child, very openly and honestly. And I love them. But they also make me sad. Sad, for two reasons: 1. That not having a child is a position that people need to feel like they have to justify. Like choosing not to bring a child into the world is somehow an indefensible position? Please. That decision is just as brave, noble and responsible as choosing to have a child. For all the same reasons. The other reason it makes me sad is this: 2. That choosing or not choosing a child is a privileged few have.
In a recent essay on The Guardian, Linda Tirado, talks openly and honestly about being poor and living below the poverty line. She talks about how there is no such thing as free. That even acquiring birth control or condoms are fights that few poor people have the time or energy to pursue. Free clinics aren’t free (co-pays and time and gas). And she writes: “The closest Planned Parenthood [family planning clinic] to me is three hours. That’s a lot of money in gas. Lots of women can’t afford that, and even if you live near one you probably don’t want to be seen coming in and out in a lot of areas. We’re aware that we are not “having kids”, we’re ‘breeding’. We have kids for much the same reasons that I imagine rich people do. Urge to propagate and all. Nobody likes poor people procreating, but they judge abortion even harder.”
I think about this position of privilege now, especially now, as I weight the merits of a third child. It’s not a decision we are going to make anytime soon. This second baby, lord love him, has been challenging to me in so many wonderful and exhausting ways. He’s finally giving me a good night sleep now at 14 months. But this was about the age E was when we decided to have a second child. It took us a while to get pregnant. Then we had a miscarriage. And then we were pregnant. And honestly, I still feel the whiplash from all of that. Once we decided to have kids, we always knew we would have at least two kids. We both have siblings and we believe in the value of spending your childhood getting the crap kicked out of you. (Slow down, only children are good too. Perfect even. This isn’t a referendum on your choices, just an honest discussion about mine.) But the transition from one to two was hard on me. What do I mean by that? Well, I found myself screaming at my two year old over nap time then locking myself in my room and demanding my husband come home from work. I found myself frustrated and disengaged. Tired and yelling with everyone. Because I was exhausted. Because the baby wouldn’t take a bottle. Because I was overwhelmed. Because I felt like I was crushing under the weight of everyone’s needs and I couldn’t get out. I couldn’t get an escape. That I would never escape. Those feelings are mostly gone now. We have sleep. We have a schedule. We have school. We have sanity. I’m not trying to be glib and say, “Worth it!” But I am trying to say, here we are in a place of love and we can breathe.
So, a third?
I’ve been on a fact-finding mission. I’ve been grilling strangers and dance moms, friends and family, what is it like to have a third child? Some tell me it was so easy. After two, everything is a cinch. (Liars.) Sure, it might not be as hard as another transition, but parenting and “cinch” don’t belong in the same sentence unless the sentence is “Cinch up your belt and get ready for parenting.” But that is a dumb sentence, so never use it.
Some people tell me three is also a hard adjustment. But universally, no one ever regrets that child’s life. Because of course, you love them. I understand. No one ever wants to look at someone and say, “I wish I didn’t have my child.” Even if that’s a little bit true, you love your children. And part of having them means loving and part of loving means wanting, even if there was an ambivalence and hardness through their birth and life. So, I understand. But I don’t think everyone is being honest with me. And fair enough, in most cases, I’m not a best friend. I’m just a lady asking another lady about her uterus. They don’t owe me any insight into what is a complicated decision or sometimes even not a decision.
But it’s so hard to be honest isn’t it?
I recently read an article on Buzzfeed about how teenage moms feel that the Whisper app is the only place they can do to honestly talk about their feelings about their children and their lives. For so many of them a child wasn’t a choice. The child was just there. (I’m not trying to be political. Take your talk of choosing to have sex and virginity elsewhere, thank you.) But they feel they can’t have an honest discussion about their children with their friends and family, so they take that talk to strangers.
I recently had someone criticize me for being negative about my kids all the time on this blog. Negative? Since when is honesty negativity? As long as we are honest about the good and the bad, isn’t that just transparency? It’s not comfortable to look around at the mess and the screaming and admit, “I am not happy. I don’t like this.” But part of parenting (and life) is that it’s not about momentary happiness or immediate likes or dislikes. That it’s about a bigger picture. So sure, there is the transcendent love. But there is also the moldy milk cup in the car and a baby biting your shin. It’s about being so happy this person is part of your life, but also acknowledging your career has taken a hit and you are scared. You want to be with them. You want to work. You want them to go to bed. You miss them when you fall asleep.
And through that muddle we have to make decisions or learn to handle the lots we’ve been given. It’s great to have reasons. But reasons are a privilege. I linked to the essays about having children v. not having children because I love that the writers so honestly shared their stories and reasons. They are especially salient to me as we waver between what we want our family to look like. But I never want people to feel like they have to justify. I never want to justify. But I also don’t know. Are my reasons for wanting to stop at two good enough? Are Dave’s reasons for wanting three compelling? Somehow we have to weight these decisions, privileging choices. Making choices of privilege.
This is it. The tension of what I’m trying to say: It’s a muddle. I’m trying to find a best way.
Have a good weekend. I have no answers.
- I wrote a post on Mom.me about how despite my children being very stereotypical with their gender expressions, I refuse to chalk it up to biology.
- Also, I wrote on my Facebook page about reading a “classic” novel together. I’ve have a goal of reading classic novels I have never really read, but hate that I haven’t read. In past years I’ve read The Count of Monte Cristo, Les Mis, Great Expectations, Middlemarch (this was a reread) and The Picture of Dorian Gray. I was thinking of reading Moby Dick, but while lots of you want to read with me no one wants to read about thinly veiled phallic symbols and white men and white whales. Instead it seemed lots were cast for Don Quixote or Jane Eyre. JE would be a reread, but probably worth it. I’m leaning toward DQ. Cast your final votes! We’ll decide on Monday.
- Also, in case you missed it, my post this week was sponsored (the first one since February) and has a discount code. Also, tips on disarming a weaponized baby.