Department

First Person: A Baby Story

I'm racing through my childbearing years, yet I'm still ambivalent about having kids. Do I go with my instincts or listen to reason?

June 2010

My 10-month-old niece is wearing a lily-white sundress that shows off the glorious rolls of baby fat on her chubby legs and arms. One of those adorable baby headbands with a bow encircles her nearly hairless head. She's smiling at—and drooling on—me from her perch on my hip. I examine her perfect little fingers, her button nose (which looks just like my husband's—her blood uncle), and her irresistible chipmunk cheeks. I love her. Yet not one maternal pang stings through my body; not even for a moment do I think to myself that I want a child of my own.

It's hard to remember the first time I said out loud that I might not want to have kids. It was probably in high school, when no one believes anything you say because, well, you're too young to say it with any authority. The truth is, though, I've never been that person, the girl who always knew she would one day be a mother. I simply figured it must not be in my genetic makeup to be a parent. And that's always been OK with me. I allowed that I might change my mind down the road, but in my 20s—even my late 20s—I never worried that I didn't hear a biological clock ticking somewhere in the background.

But the years are melting away quickly now. College is a fading memory. I've been married for almost eight years. My husband, Matt, and I have good jobs. We own a nice house. And on my next birthday I'll be 32. Yet there is still no audible ticking clock. I'm not stalked by an unyielding countdown like so many other women my age, women who want children yet who may not be able to conceive or may not have some other part of the equation (the partner, the money, the security) they think they need before bringing a child into the world.

Instead, I'm haunted by the fact that I hear nothing—and the silence is deafening.

I should probably try to leave well enough alone. My gut tells me—has been telling me for years—that I don't want to be a mom. My gut says the anxiety I experience at the thought of having children is reason enough to bypass parenthood. The fact that the mere suggestion of having kids conjures feelings of claustrophobia makes me think my gut is dead-on. It seems logical to trust those instincts, but my brain apparently does not agree.

My intellectual side has only started piping up over the past year. My brain must know that my body is aging, and that it only has a few years to convince me that I should overcome my doubts about parenthood. I'll admit that it makes some decent points. Things like Matt would make a great dad and he just so happens to be the last male in his family line; or that we have the means and education to raise a human who could one day benefit the world; or that having family when we're old would be a good thing; or that my parents deserve grandchildren; or that everyone we know is having kids so we might as well do it too because we'll have no friends left to play with anyway. My mind is doing its best to override my gut. And that's the mental purgatory in which I now suffer.

Of course, I do not suffer alone. Matt lives in this foggy in-between space with me. We've been together since we were kids ourselves—at 16 and 18 years old, we talked about going to college and finding careers and one day getting married. But from the day we met at a high school football game until today, I have never said anything other than I might not want to have kids. In high school, Matt probably thought that sounded progressive and cool. Or maybe he thought I would change my mind one day. Or maybe he was a teenager and didn't really give a damn. Now, though, he says if he had fallen in love with and married someone else, someone who wanted kids, he would probably have them. He's not devastated—or at all surprised—that he may never procreate, but at 32 his brain is talking to him too. I know he does not think he married the wrong woman; however, I do think he wonders why the one person he loves the most doesn't want to embark on a life-creating, life-affirming journey with him. And I think he, like so many other people in their 30s, is beginning to examine what life is supposed to be about. If it's not about kids and family, then what exactly should we be doing with our time here on this planet?

Here's the rub: I'm not sure the decision—mine, Matt's, ours together—to have kids should be so cerebral. It seems like something that should come from the core, from some primordial place inside that yearns to create and care for another soul. In other words, it seems to me that the desire should come from the gut. And, right now, that's the one place that's telling me a definitive no.

Trying to put into words why I'm angst-ridden about having children has been so difficult that I jokingly told a friend that going ahead and getting pregnant might actually be easier. But that's not the truth at all, because having a child is the biggest, most challenging commitment a person ever makes. It changes your lifestyle. It changes your habits. It changes your relationships. It changes you—and your life—forever.

I tease my friends who are parents that there are endless reasons not to walk down the parenthood path. Reasons No. 1, 2, and 3 not to have a kid? Morning sickness, stretch marks, 10 pounds you'll never lose. Reason No. 22 not to have a kid? Incessant screaming often begins at 3 a.m. Reason No. 78? Potty training. Reason No. 115? Parent-teacher conferences—on a Friday night. Reason No. 184? They never clean up their own vomit. Reason No. 202? Temper tantrums. Reason No. 265? They turn into teenagers.

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