(Two years later, I wrote a follow-up to this post: I’m 37 and I Can’t Have a Baby)
Sometimes I want a baby and sometimes I don’t.
Most of the time I say to myself, “I’m so glad I’m not pregnant. I’m so glad there’s nobody I have to worry about except me and my husband.” Then I get my period and I’m disappointed about it for a few days until I go back to feeling relieved.
It’s very strange. I have no idea what to do about it.
For some people, choosing to have a baby is easy. They take it for granted they’ll have a kid once they get married, reach a particular age, have a certain amount of money saved, or a specific job title achieved. I envy their sense of certainty.
The decision to have a baby has never been one I’ve considered an absolute. For years I’ve read articles about childfree women with interest, because I understand and admire their choice. I always have, and I always will, even if I do decide to become a mother one day.
The only thing I ever knew for sure is that I wouldn’t be a young mother. When I reached the point in my life where having kids of my own was a possibility (late teens / early 20s), I knew I didn’t want to be a mother until I was at least in my mid-30s. I’ve said this to people for as long as I can remember.
I’ve also said for many years that if I pass childbearing age and haven’t had children, I will not feel like my life has been worth less. I still feel this way.
Over the years, I watched many girls I grew up with have two to four children. Some of those kids are teenagers already. I’ve congratulated friends who became pregnant in their 20s, and consoled those who had to wait years longer than expected, or required medical intervention to make it happen. I watched all this unfold but I knew it wasn’t my time.
I’ve written about this topic a few times over the years. Eight years ago as a new contributor to BlogHer, I featured women who are childfree by choice. Six years ago, I was incensed when someone accused childfree women of lacking an essential humanity.
While I’ve given motherhood little thought for most of my life, the topic is at the forefront due to my upcoming 35th birthday in June. While I hypothetically have a few years remaining to make this decision (familial examples: my mom had her fifth kid at age 38, my older sister is currently pregnant and will turn 37 before her baby is born), I feel like if I would be ready to be a mother in two years I should probably be ready now.
I can’t see my life changing in any drastic way over the next few years. I have a good job; I’m not searching for another one or planning to make a career change. My husband and I purchased our first home not long ago, and we like where we live. There is no outstanding debt to rid ourselves of (the only debt we have is our mortgage). In other words, we’re stable. The only way things would change is if I become more baby-crazy.
I do like other people’s kids. Until I turned 30 or so, this wasn’t the case — I had little interest in holding babies or interacting with young children. These days I’m no longer immune to their chubby cheeks and bashful smiles. I find myself imagining scenarios in which a baby is part of my life – like making my husband wear the kid strapped to his chest whenever we leave the house, because I think fathers who do that are so darn adorable. I can see myself reading endless story books and making homemade baby food.
But do I get sad when I leave other people’s kids? Am I jealous of other parents? Do I cry over my empty womb? No, no, and…no. I don’t mind that I have no diapers to change, toys to put away, baths to give, or battles to wage over food choices or appropriate bedtimes.
What does my husband think about all this? Unfortunately, he’s an undecided as I am. It’s great that we can discuss our mutual hesitation without fear of upsetting the other person, but it would be easier for me if he felt strongly one way or the other. If Paul was very pro- or anti-kid, the choice would be easier for me to make. We’ve had multiple discussions over the past few months but we haven’t come away with a clear answer. There are too many unknown variables.
Some people refer to childfree couples as selfish. Although some of the so-called selfish reasons for not having a child would apply to us (we enjoy our long stretches of uninterrupted sleep; I relish the hours of free time I have after work to make dinner, read a book, or go for a walk; our weekends are mainly ours to fill as we please), those aren’t my biggest hesitations. I could deal with the loss of those luxuries if need be. I could adapt.
Here are things that come to mind when I think about reasons for and against having a baby:
Reasons to Have a Baby:
- Joy, laughter, and love. I could use more of these in my life.
- Paul and I would be kickass parents.
- Commiserating with people we know who have kids; making new friends by participating in child-related functions; fun stuff like holidays, sports activities, and school plays.
- Providing a positive influence and guidance to a human being who wouldn’t be on the earth if it wasn’t for us.
- I have strong opinions when it comes to names and would relish the opportunity to choose one our child would carry throughout their life. (This one is meant to be humorous, but seriously…I do have strong opinions on names.)
Reasons to Stay Childfree:
- An American Sociological Association study revealed that childfree couples are happier than any other group, including empty nesters. Daniel Gilbert has echoed this research. It has often been found that having kids affects couples’ overall marital satisfaction.
- I am strongly opposed to working in a cubicle for the rest of my life (or until I reach a designated retirement age in my mid-60s, whichever comes first). If we stay childfree, we will reach our retirement goals much faster.
- I’m not a fan of stress; I avoid it whenever possible and most of the time I’m successful. (This is why I work as an Executive Assistant rather than a more fast-paced or demanding job. I set up meetings for other people instead of attending them myself, and my deadlines are mostly recurring, expected, and manageable. Some days are busier than others but rarely do I have to put out fires — or even check work email once I leave the office.) A child, in addition to the joy of its existence, would inevitably bring stress.
- I’m an introvert, and I relish my quiet and peaceful home life. I like being able to flop on the couch after work and read a book for hours before my husband gets home.
- While we’re not jetsetters, Paul and I have both traveled abroad and would like to do so again (next time we’ll do it together, since all previous foreign travel happened before we became a couple). We would also love to go on an epic U.S. road trip where we visit friends who are scattered across the country. This isn’t impossible to do with a child, but it would definitely require more luggage, adherence to schedules, and a plethora of activities to keep a kid’s boredom at bay on the road.
- Ever since I spent a semester abroad in college, it’s been my dream to actually live in a foreign country again, not just spend a few days or weeks. While some people accomplish this with kids, it would be easier and more achievable if it were just the two of us.
- I would avoid: diapers, temper tantrums, sickness, whining, barf, sleepless nights, and the aforementioned accumulated expenses of raising a child for 18+ years.
I’m sure there are mothers out there who will tell me I’m looking at this all wrong. There’s no way for me to know the joy a child would bring until I have one myself. The reason I don’t feel close to other people’s children is because they’re not my own. Even though there are frustrating times, they don’t compare to the highs of watching a child take their first steps, teaching them to hit a baseball, or witnessing their excitement on Christmas Day. But making the choice to have a baby doesn’t mean the hard decisions are over.
For the sake of argument, let’s say Paul and I decide we’re going to get pregnant. We’ve weighed the pros and cons and decided we’re done with our childfree life. Now the question becomes, would I be able to stay home with my baby for a to-be-determined length of time, or would I take him/her to daycare after my 12-week maternity leave is over? (Maternity leave at my company is typical of other largeish U.S. organizations: several weeks fully paid, several weeks partially paid, several weeks unpaid.)
I admit, the ability to stay at home with my kid instead of going back to work is another large factor in my decision to have a child. Personally, if I had a child, it would be extremely difficult to leave them in someone else’s care while I work full-time – at least while they’re very young. While I enjoy my job, and my workplace is great, I don’t love it enough to want to be there for a majority of the day if it means I only get to interact with my baby before and after work.
I understand not everyone gets to make this choice, and some mothers would work whether they need the money or not. Some of you really love your jobs, and I envy you. I do not think staying at home is best for everyone; I’m only stating what my personal preference would be.
Having said that, here are reasons I’d like to stay at home while there are also compelling reasons to return to work.
Reasons to Stay at Home:
- As previously stated, I avoid stress. Running from home to daycare to work and back again – while trying to keep a child healthy, clean, fed, and calm – on a prescribed daily schedule sounds pretty stressful to me.
- I would have more time to do child-related, home-related, and life-related tasks, rather than cramming them into evening and weekend hours.
- Trying to fit everything into the evening hours would be even more difficult to navigate when Paul is out of town on business trips and I would become a single parent. His business trips range from 3-5 days every four to six weeks or so.
- I’m afraid if I tried to fit all my tasks into the too-short evening hours after work, I would end up resenting or fighting with my husband because I would still be responsible for the majority of the caregiving. I know Paul wants to be hands-on with childcare, but his wants and the reality of his job are two different things. I get home every day at least two hours before he does (sometimes even three or four hours, depending on his work load), which means it would fall on me to pick up the kid from day care, make dinner, feed the kid, bathe the kid, put kid to bed.
- No daycare expenses.
- Breastfeeding would be much easier.
Reasons to Return to Work:
- My husband makes more money than I do and we could live off his salary, but I work for a larger company and my job feels a bit more stable because of it.
- My husband could lose his job and we would both be unemployed. While Paul is a valued member of his company’s management team, people lose their jobs for random reasons all the time.
- We both have health insurance through my employer because it costs substantially less than his (in addition to offering lower monthly fees, my employer contributes $1,000 per year to our Health Savings Account). If I left my job, not only would we not have my salary, we’d pay a heck of a lot more out of pocket for health insurance coverage.
- If leave my job, it could be very difficult to find a comparable position – doing similar work for similar pay – once I’m ready to return to the workforce. I live in Buffalo; the job opportunities aren’t as plentiful here as they were when we lived in Washington, DC. I was fortunate to find a good position this time around, but if I take a break there’s a good chance I wouldn’t be so lucky a second time.
- We could continue to make do with one car (which has been paid off for many years) because I take public transportation to work. If I stayed at home we’d likely need to buy a second car so I could get around during the day while Paul is at work (his hours and job location aren’t conducive to him taking public transportation).
Having said everything I’ve said, if I were to get pregnant tomorrow, I can’t imagine feeling anything other than happy. All of the questions and hesitations I have right now, I would figure them out. I would make it work.
Whatever I decide to do, I’m glad I took the time to write all this out. I wanted to show the decision isn’t automatic for everybody, and how many factors there are to take under consideration. I have a lot to think about and I may never have absolute clarity on which choice is the right one.
I do know that I have never, and will never, feel swayed by anyone’s opinion (other than my husband’s) on whether I should have a child or not. Those people who give you a hard time, or make you feel guilty? They’re not the ones who have to do the work.
Maybe I’ll decide to put off the decision for a while, even though I can’t help thinking it’s a bit of a cop-out. However, as time goes by I could feel more certain that our family should have three members instead of two, or I could be thanking my lucky stars I didn’t rush into making a decision I might regret.
[This is cross-posted at BlogHer.]