I’m not going to make up statistics, but it seems like most people become parents on accident and then improvise as needed, accepting their new role, as humans do, fairly easily.
I think I may have a skewed view of that, and the ‘accidents’ just stick with my memory better, but it does seem that more times than not, it’s either a true accident or something along the lines of “well, we weren’t NOT trying.” I love that one. Nothing like a double negative to soften a vulnerable position.
When I decided at 39 to get pregnant, I had my IUD removed and because I come from a band of extremely fecund women, my husband and I were lucky enough to get pregnant right out of the gate. But we put a lot of thought and conversation into it before pulling the proverbial trigger. I am of the mind that it is not something to go into lightly. I’m not saying I’m right; I am saying that I, personally, could never have gone into parenthood lightly. I have always viewed it as the greatest responsibility there is, which is one of the biggest reasons I was never before interested in having a child, until I suddenly was.
My husband and I both felt that we could go either way. By not having a child, we would lose nothing that we already had. Neither of us felt that we would one day regret the decision not to have a child. Quite the opposite in fact; I actively feared losing much of what I already had, were we to have a child. I love having my own time and deciding whether to stick to my own schedule or not. I loved having the body I had and the energy and all the wonderful hours of sleep. I loved going to catch a movie on a whim, or doing anything I wanted on a whim, really. I enjoyed having the responsibility for myself only and not being accountable for another human being’s eventual health and happiness in this world. I love not having a car seat in my backseat or shitty plastic toys laying around the house, or a big god-awful stroller and diaper bag packed for wherever I go. Don’t get me going on the paraphernalia that our society attaches to parenthood. I’m sure I will be very grateful for those things at some point soon, but I’m not quite yet the parent of a baby so I’m still rebelling on that front.
What we both realized was that despite what we might lose in the way of childless comforts, we would gain in a measure of love for another human being of our own creation, and that was becoming increasingly more appealing. Perhaps it was our biological drive tricking us into the decision, but the idea of increasing the love in our lives in such a vast way was very hard to ignore. And honestly, once we started to really want that, I don’t think we could have still gone either way and not regretted later in life, not having one. The want of it became too big for that.
I am 32 weeks pregnant as I write this.
I have found that many people want to focus on the birth. They ask me if I have a birth plan and what it is and where I’m delivering, and without my prompting in any way, assure me that my body will do what its supposed to do and I shouldn’t be afraid and it is a short amount of pain but then its all over and I’ll have a baby! They ask will I use an epidural or not, and will I be induced. Will I get a doula or midwife or just the doctor? And they offer much advice and invite me to join Facebook groups for hypno-birthing and they really want me to do a birthing class. My goodness, that one seems really important to the older ladies in my life. I know they all mean well, and even more to their credit, I’ve never felt judgement from anyone about any of it, but I’ll say the same thing about giving birth as I say about marriage. For me, the wedding isn’t the important part; it is the marriage that ensues after the wedding that matters and needs the most energy and attention. The majority of women are very successful at giving birth and have been since the beginning of time. If it weren’t so, how do you account for 7.8 billion people? Wild animals do it in the wild without help and without a thought in their heads about how to breath or what to focus on.
Simply put: I can’t put that much energy into inevitabilities, especially when what follows could go upside down or sideways depending on how I manage it.
Raising a child takes a lot more planning and thought than pregnancy and childbirth ever will. And if you’ll allow me a moment on the soapbox: why aren’t we encouraging new parents to read more parenting books instead of “what to expect when you’re expecting” or any of the myriad of pregnancy and birthing books? I’d like to see some changes there, but I can only be responsible for my own journey, and have been devouring parenting books. I’m both excited and anxious to be mindful about parenthood and not just wing it. I know that no parent is perfect, but there are certainly parents who do a better job of raising well-adjusted, confident human beings than others. I want to be on the better job side.
As Keanu Reeves says in the movie Parenthood: “You have to have a license to buy a dog. You need a license to drive a car. Hell – you even need a license to catch a fish. But they’ll let any butt-reaming asshole be a father.”
At 40 years old, I hope that I have traded the energy of youth for the wisdom of age. I believe a large part of wisdom is the ability to seek wisdom from others, and that’s why I’m reading so many parenting books. There is so much to learn that I didn’t learn from my own parents or from my contemporaries who I’ve closely watched raise their own children, but there’s also a lot to learn from my parents and contemporaries. I’m at an age where I can objectively look at what they did well and what they didn’t. I’m also at an age where I truly believe I will never begrudge my child for having made me put any dreams aside. I’ve lived an amazing life. She is my big new dream now and it makes me feel less jaded and shows me how much newness there is in life, every day. I daydream about showing her all the things I love in this life, and I’m drawing from a much deeper well of experiences than a younger parent ever could. That’s the hope, anyhow.
I was watching Disney’s Sleeping Beauty with my cousin’s children the other day, and the three little fairies come to bestow the baby Princess Aurora with gifts. The first two gifts they give are Beauty and Song, but before the third fairy can bestow her gift, Maleficent comes and fucks up the proceedings so the third fairy has to undo the curse with her one gift (but I suspect it would have been Kindness or some other paramount quality desirable in women those days). And without question, I want all of those things for my daughter, but if I had only 3 things to grant her, they would be:
Self-Confidence, Gratitude, and Emotional Intelligence.
Since I’m not a magical Disney fairy, I can’t bestow those gifts with a wave of my wand. I have to teach them to my daughter. I have to somehow model them when they do not come to me naturally at all. It’s terrifying and also exciting and fills me with hope: hope that I’m sure will very likely be dashed as my child grows into her own person and is potentially nothing like me and I won’t understand her and she’ll have her struggles and nasty bits like we all do. And who will be learning an ego-crushing lesson of acceptance through all this?
Yours truly, of course.
For me, parenthood boils down to two things: love and ego-crushing lessons about acceptance and uncontrollability. Heartbreak and inspiration, all in one.