After a long silence here, I have something to announce:
Yes! It is a big announcement, bigger than the other recent news that I spent a month this summer traveling in England, Scotland, and Newfoundland (Canada). Do you need a moment to process? So did we. I’d had my suspicions for weeks, but I took the home test two days after my sister gave birth to my nephew, and almost instantly saw a very strong blue line. I showed it to Erik. I sent the photo to my sisters. And then I sat on the bed next to Erik and said, “I feel weird. How do you feel?” Long pause, then he said, “I feel weird too.” We were prepared for it — indeed, we’d facilitated it, after years of strenuously ensuring the opposite — but it was still a strange feeling to see a totally changed future predicted in one little line on a plastic stick. Strange to feel so completely stunned by a decision we’d made ourselves.
We had thought long and hard about that decision, and I am deeply grateful that I live in a time and place when such a decision is within my power and purview. Those of you who’ve been reading this blog for awhile know that I’ve felt deep conflict about whether to have children. There are so many reasons not to. The practical: cost, time, the logistics of school and childcare and material upbringing, even the environmental impact. I was more concerned with the emotional and mental: the social/cultural/familial pressure to be some kind of mom raising some kind of child, the seeming impossibility of reconciling my trajectory as an individual with the necessities of parenting, different expectations for female versus male parents (and female versus male children), the potential burdens on Erik’s and my partnership, and perhaps most of all, my own terrible fear that I would lose myself and become some kind of mindlessly contented suburban soccer mom.
I’m not joking about that last one. I have long known that (too?) many of my personal and creative ambitions are neutralized by my other goals of living happily and harmoniously. It’s not that I would ever stop creating, but it’s such hard work to complete anything significant; set me down in a beautiful home in a beautiful place, surrounded by loving friends and family, and would I not be just as content making small sketches for my own enjoyment? I am afraid that I might be — or at least, that I would be content enough for long enough that my bigger projects would never get off the ground. What, then, of parenthood, which — so everyone says — makes one both busy and happy? What of the potent neurochemical rewiring that happens to women upon pregnancy and childbirth, so that they are compelled to tend to their children above all else? I couldn’t be convinced that having a baby wasn’t going to destroy everything I held dear about myself and my life. I did not want to invite that kind of change into my life willingly.
Except, of course, that I did.
What changed? As with so many other big shifts in perspective, it was a gradual accumulation of many small shifts, coming together in the right ways at the right time. I realized, to my surprise, that in spite of my terrific fear of losing myself in the process, a big part of me actually wanted to have a baby — for no useful reason that I could articulate. It wasn’t a desire that had anything to do with my conscious mind. I probably wouldn’t even have had this realization had it not been for a very particular massage last year on my birthday; there are truths that arise from a good massage (or other bodywork, I suspect) that can’t always be accessed otherwise. And in acknowledging the part of me that wanted a baby, I opened up a lot of lines of thinking that I hadn’t entertained before. That was a vital first step.
Then, too, my sister got pregnant, and a dear friend got pregnant, and a childhood friend had a baby. I began tutoring an eleven-year-old, which meant afternoons spent at an elementary school. In short, within a matter of months there were suddenly more baby things and pregnancy talk in my life than ever before, and a lot more kids and relating to kids and trying to remember what it was like to be a kid. All of that had basically been missing from my entire post-college life, and although it was initially unnerving, after awhile it started to feel normal. It started to feel like a thing that people did, and not some dreadful upheaval. And my fifth-grade tutee — a truly special person — reminded me how amazing it can be to have a relationship with a child (or a preteen, really, in her case), to build trust and rapport, together. So all these interactions opened up yet new ways of contemplating the possibility of children. There wasn’t a single moment of awakening, but a slow erosion of the resistance I’d felt, until my curiosity and interest became strong enough to outpace it.
It’s worth mentioning, too, that just before I became pregnant — which itself was not long after I decided I could welcome it — I began a women’s self-defense course. I’ll say more on that in a later post, but this much is immediately relevant: before I took the course, I had thought self-defense was about fighting, and specifically about fighting bad things that other people do to you. But our instructors taught us that more than anything else, self-defense is about communication and empowerment, about knowing what I want for myself even in the face of things that might happen to me. It’s not a stretch to say this mindset has impacted everything I’ve done since the course began, and that it’s been particularly meaningful as I ponder what kind of parent I want to be. Although I didn’t realize it, I had always thought of having a child as something that was going to happen to me, rather than something I chose. In a literal sense yes, of course, I knew I would have some say in whether it happened, but I saw it as this unstoppable wave of change and unfamiliarity that could sweep away everything I valued — no matter my own feelings on the matter. I doubted my own capacity to make decisions, to stand up to others’ expectations, and to create, if necessary, an entirely unique approach.* But in self-defense class, our instructors told us, week after week, that we always have options, that we always have resources available to us, that we always have the power to act and use our voice, and that we always deserve to. Every time I heard it I felt more capable and more trusting of myself. And it was in that mental state, as it turns out, that I conceived and began to carry a new being.
After so many years of freaking out at the possibility of having a baby, to my surprise I now find myself feeling quite calm about it. But after all, I have done many things in my life already, no? This will be just another adventure. The biggest one yet, granted, but if I came out of all the other things okay, I think I can handle this one too. Probably some of it will be horrible. Probably a lot of it will be fun. But it will be something I have never ever done before, and for that alone, I’m kind of looking forward to it! This is what life is for, isn’t it — facing challenges and seeing how we do?
*This is, in fact, a pattern that has recurred at every major turning point in my life, and the fact that I’ve faced challenges before somehow never seems to register when the new challenges are, well, new!