February 3, 2013
How (at least I am hoping…) having a baby is just like getting a tattoo.
Last summer, there was this two week period during which I was completely occupied by the question of whether or not have have another child. Mostly because we were coming down the wire of “now or never”. It was something we’d been meaning to get around to, but had had good reasons to put off for over a year by that point. We had been having a very good time with our one child, with a life arranged very much the way we liked it. It was easy, most of the time. We were comfortable. I suddenly understood those people who decided not to have children because of how their lifestyle would be affected. I had never thought about it first time around, because I wanted a baby, no question, but now I understood the stakes of having a baby, how much upheaval it would really mean. I also knew that my mothering self had limits I hadn’t known about when a baby was just something I dreamed about.
Anyway, because I am me, I spent that two week period of complete occupation talking about my quandary with everyone I came into contact with. Friends with newborns, pregnant friends, new friends, old friends, my book club, total strangers–I cringe now to think about it, but I kept putting the word out into the world hoping to get back some kind of answer, a confirmation.
“The problem,” I remember telling one friend, “is that another baby would push our limits. I mean, financially, and in terms of space, and how much I am willing or able to give of myself.” In practical terms, having one child only would make the most sense for us.
“So, why don’t you do that?” she said.
But I knew that I couldn’t. It wasn’t that simple for me. And not because of anything that society says, or pressure from outside camps, or even because of how much Harriet wanted to have a sibling. Just as I’d always known that I wanted to have a child, I also knew that I would want another. It’s not a logical thing; it’s more compulsive, actually. It doesn’t make any sense. A smart woman would know her limits, and heed them, but I know I would not be satisfied. It wasn’t a question of “choice” (and really, not much is, reproductive-wise). If I made the choice not to have another baby, I’d spent the rest of my fertile years longing for one. Happy in my “lifestyle”, well-rested, but it wouldn’t be enough. Perhaps if the decision had been made for me, it would have been different, but it could not be a decision I’d be content to make for myself. (And don’t think I don’t know how fortunate I am to be in this situation at all, how much more choice I have than so many other women.)
A problem that many women have, I think, is too much empathy. We meet one another and assume that here is a like-creature.We feel secure enough in that to make judgements. We assume that what we feel is usually the norm, in what is general. (Or maybe that’s just me…) I have always wanted children, and I really cannot imagine what it would be to feel otherwise. And so when I hear about a woman who feels this way, I assume that there has been some kind of misunderstanding, hers or mine. Or I’ll equate her feelings with my own fears or uneasiness before getting pregnant myself, feelings that were so easily brushed aside, completely dismissing the specificity of her experience. Also, that same woman will hear me talking my non-choice/compulsion to have another baby, and write me off as a complete idiot.
Or I’ll see a headline like “Opting Out of Parenthood, With Finances in Mind” and it will raise my hackles–kids don’t have to be expensive. But then when I read the article carefully, I encounter the line, “Some people have a profound emotional desire to have children. But I don’t. Young as we are, it would take a pretty big financial, practical and emotional shift for that to change.” And clearly, this writer and I are operating from beginning points that are so far apart. What makes sense of the matter for me isn’t applicable for her, and vice versa. As with most human communication, much of the time none of us really have any idea what others are talking about ever.
Here’s what I’m hoping for though: I am hoping for is that for me having another baby turns out to be a lot like getting a tattoo. I got my first tattoo when I was 20, and immediately started planning another. And it concerned me, that I might never want to stop and would eventually turn into Lydia the tattooed lady. But when I got my second tattoo, when I was 24, right away, I knew I was done. It was enough.
I just hope in terms of babies that I’ll continue to know my self so well, and most of all that my “self” will continue to make demands on my body and my life that are fairly unridiculous, relatively speaking.