The Baby Boom

I’ve been thinking and reading a lot about babies lately.  This is definitely not because of some sort of desire to have a little mini-me (or, even scarier, a little mini-Tim! *kidding!*) running around.  I think it’s more of one of those things that once someone says something about it, you start noticing it everywhere.  And, trust me, people have been talking about babies.

It all started with the engagement ring.  Well, that’s probably not true.  But the comments directed at me definitely started with the engagement ring.  First, it was: “Oh, marriage and families are wonderful!  We are so happy for you!”  Second, it was a man in my grad class talking about his kids, then saying to me: “See what you have to look forward to?”  (And ended with me asking him why he would assume I will have children, and him telling me: “Because you’re a person and that’s what people do.”)  Then, it was “So when (not if!) do you think you’ll start having kids?”  Not long after that, it was a woman holding a baby, saying: “Soon this will be you!”

And don’t even get me started on what happens after people find out I’m not changing my name.  (“What will you do about the children?!”)

Assumptions bother me, and there are several assumptions going on here.  First is the assumption that I am even able to have children.  Honestly, I don’t know if I am able as I have never tried.  Second is the assumption that, assuming I am able to have children, I want them.  Third is the assumption that, assuming I am able to have children and I want them, that Tim wants to have children.

So let’s set the record straight: I don’t know. I don’t know if I want children, and I do know that Tim has always thought he would be a father, but looking at the time and risks and responsibilities involved in child-rearing, he isn’t so sure anymore, either.  (And, like the progressive man he is, he’s willing to wait until I’m more sure to have a discussion about it.)

Please don’t get me wrong.  Quite a few of my friends are having babies, and I couldn’t be happier for them because that is what they wanted.  And I am happy when people get what they want!  And I think babies are cute and wonderful and absolute miracles.  But I would never assume or push an agenda on anyone, especially when it comes to a permanently life-altering decision.

I am an academic.  I’m obsessive about my job.  For as much as I complain about this grad program, I am also totally invested in my thesis, and have high hopes for making something out of this writing gig.  I’d love to publish a book, teach part time at a community-college along with teaching high school, travel.  I am career oriented, and maybe even a little bit selfish with my time, and I’m not sure there’s room in this for a baby.

Sophia brought a really great article (you all really should go read it) to my attention about academics and motherhood, which absolutely underscores my greatest fear: I will have to give up more of myself than I am willing to at this point to become a mother.  Maybe that will change over time, but maybe it won’t.

And all of this was just brought upon by personal communication with others.  That’s not even mentioning the manipulation of the media.  We are constantly being bombarded with headlines – Women Over 30 Have a Higher Risk of Having a Child with Autism.  Women Over 30 Have a Higher Risk of Having a Child with Down’s SyndromeWomen Who Wait Till After 30 to Have a Child are at a Higher Risk for Breast Cancer (scroll down to “Lifestyle related factors and breast cancer risk”).  After 30, Your Chances of Conceiving Drop DramaticallyEven the Prime Minister of Australia is blaming childless women for ruining the state of the economy in England (thanks, Megan, for pointing out this gem):

At that point one of my friends introduced me, dropping in that I am completing a PhD. At this, Rudd rolled his eyes and in a terse voice lacking any sense of irony remarked that is the “excuse” that “all” young women are using nowadays to avoid starting families. Since then I’ve come up with numerous one-line retorts, but in the moment I just froze in shock.

The guilt and fear are everywhere, apparently, but it seems that there are just as many reasons to have a baby as there are to wait or not have one at all.  The problem here seems that the psychology and the biology don’t seem to match up.  If it is true that all of these risks are present for women who wait, then sure, maybe our biological clocks are ticking.  But our minds may not be ready when our bodies are.  At the root of the issue is the fact that women’s decisions regarding children are deeply personal, but the guilt and fear are highly public.

I don’t have a solution to this.  Because of the personal nature of the issue, there is not clear answer.  I do know, however, that the decision to have a child is probably bigger and more life-altering than any decision one can ever make, and that decision should be personal and not the result of any kind of pressure.

16 thoughts on “The Baby Boom

  1. Yes, yes and yes! Don’t be surprised if I write a blog post about this from perspective. I have felt and experienced many of these things and more. They need to be talked about.

    • Ashley on

      Thanks, Danine! And please do write about it! We need to talk about it and get it out there!

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  3. You are absolutely correct – the decision to have or not have children is enormous, life altering, and the single biggest thing you will do (or not do) in life. And it is a private decision for the couple.

    I have never understood and am quite uncomfortable with our society’s lack of manners when it comes to openly talking about and questioning a women about the private and future plans for her uterus. Unless it was someone I am very close with, I don’t see the relevance or appropriateness of either assuming the desire for children or needing to know the calendar date for the assumed procreating.

    Hopefully it is misguided parental joy the others are trying to share and their way of saying how happy they are with the choice they made. I would assume the motivation of the media to sell a young couple on the idea of parenthood is the enormous amount of baby gear and supplies that is needed and then bought by the couple after the child arrives.

    I am a mom of two and love it. Motherhood is what is right for *me* and I became a mother after graduating college and working for several years in my field. I chose to leave my original career of criminal investigation behind, and some days I really miss it. Other days are spent looking at these two kids I made from scratch and being drunk with love for them.

    If, when you are ready, the decision to have children can be at all facilitated by the borrowing my children, they are at your disposal and I am told provide excellent birth control for 6-9months at a time. :)

    • Ashley on

      Hahahaha, I love it! Thanks for the offer. :)

      I do believe that it is parental joy – the same joy some of my engaged and married friends felt the need to share with me before I was engaged myself. They mean well, really. But, like Tim said to me the other day, the baby thing is worse. That changes your life FOREVER. Marriage does, too, but not like a baby.

  4. YES to everything you said.

    Motherhood is HARD, even for women who want children more than anything. It’s not “what people do;” comments like that are ignorant and insulting.

    I’m going to stop my ranting here, because you and others have said it better than I can anyway; THANK YOU for writing this. Maybe you should print out a copy and keep it in your pocket, next time you come across some jerkhole who thinks he has a right to ask you personal questions or dictate your personal choices.

  5. I’m sorry you’ve had to deal with people asking you all those invasive questions. They have become so commonplace in social situations that people are shocked when someone objects to them.

    I think the main reason these types of questions are leveled at engaged women is that our bodies are regarded as public property and/or commodities. Public property and commodities are both available for discussion, legislation, consumption, and control. So asking a woman questions about her body and what she plans to do with it is considered perfectly acceptable because our bodies are for use, for control, for service, etc. As you noted, the Prime Minister of Australia clearly sees women’s bodies as population-enhancing tools. Our bodies are not solely ours. That is what these questions really mean, even though I’m sure most of the people who ask them have good intentions.

    I think it’s also important to note that these questions are classist, which you did touch on. Not only does the person asking not know if you’re able to have children or want children, they don’t know if you can afford children. The pregnancy and the delivery alone is prohibitively expensive for any woman in her twenties that I know. To add insult to injury, paid maternity/paternity leave doesn’t exist for the majority of workers in the U.S.

    Thank you for writing about this, Ashley. It touches on a lot of difficult issues and I think it’s important to connect the personal to the political.

    • Ashley on

      Afford! Yes! I sense another post coming on…

      I think the main reason these types of questions are leveled at engaged women is that our bodies are regarded as public property and/or commodities. Public property and commodities are both available for discussion, legislation, consumption, and control. So asking a woman questions about her body and what she plans to do with it is considered perfectly acceptable because our bodies are for use, for control, for service, etc.

      Yes. You are absolutely right. Which probably also explains why, when I say I don’t want children, they say: “Does Tim know this?” Like I had to ask him permission first. Ugh.

      • Afford! Yes! I sense another post coming on…

        Haha I hope so. Classism shapes so much of our social interactions it’s ridiculous.

        Yes. You are absolutely right. Which probably also explains why, when I say I don’t want children, they say: “Does Tim know this?” Like I had to ask him permission first. Ugh.

        I think that’s exactly what that question implies – that you need his permission, and if you don’t have it then you are “out of line.” When people sense someone is stepping out of their socially assigned role, they become instinctively uncomfortable. I’m sure that question often comes with incredulous, wary, or generally concerned looks, because choosing not to have “Tim’s” children without his permission is deviating from your assumed role in the relationship.

  6. Not much to add except, with you on all of this–the unwanted questions from others, the necessary questions of myself, etc.

    • Ashley on

      You get all that too? Sorry to hear that! :( If you come up with any good retorts, let me know.

  7. Having a public engagement and marriage is inviting the public into your life. Otherwise why not a private commitment ceremony? People want the involvement of their family and friends and community and government (hence civil marriage) in their relationships. It’s not so shocking that once you put these intensely private personal things (choices about long term romantic erotic partnership commitments) into the public sphere, the public would feel invited into your private sphere.

    I’m not saying people couldn’t be more considerate and polite. But it is a little like a celebrity or politician arranging family photo opps and then complaining when the press wants to talk about their family.

    • Ashley on

      I have to disagree with you here, Tara. There is absolutely no way to have a private marriage. Of course I want the involvement of friends and family in my life, but I don’t want to invite them into my bedroom, so why should the conversation about my reproductive system be any different?

      The point here is not that people shouldn’t be able to ask what I’m thinking, but that they shouldn’t be able to tell me that what I think is wrong.

  8. Dawn,
    YES. Thank you for bringing that up. Finances are a big part of the whole equation, especially when our insurance companies don’t like to pay for things relating to pregnancy.

    Tara,
    I’d hardly consider wearing an engagement ring to be “inviting the public into your life.” These questions are inappropriate, period. Just because I put on my Facebook profile that I’m married does not mean someone has the right to ask me how often my husband and I have sex, and if it’s any good.

    If I’m talking to people about having kids and getting pregnant, then I’m inviting people to ask me questions about it. If I’m just walking around going about my daily business but I happen to be wearing an engagement or wedding ring, NO, they do not have a right to ask me those things.

    Would you say that just because I choose to go out to eat in a restaurant — a public place — people have a right to come up to me and ask me my weight and BMI?

  9. When I got engaged a friend and coworker said to me “prepare to have some of the most unfeminist conversations you have ever had.”

    This was 6 months after getting my MA in Women’s and Gender Studies, no less, but she couldn’t have been more right. In many cases it wasn’t just the “what are your colors?!” questions that mean so much more than a simple question (I think they speak to the idea that the wedding is solely the realm of the bride) but the – “oh good 29 is such a good age to get married!” translated to, “thank god you won’t be 30!” and of course the same question you’ve gotten about not changing your name “what will you do with the kids!?!”

    I completely sympathize with you, but unfortunately can’t offer an answer. I’ve witnessed many woman choose to take different paths in this realm, and while they have all had to compromise in some aspects, most do not have regrets. It is just infuriating that academia is still so limited, not just for women and mothers, but in addressing all aspects of personal life.

    • Ashley on

      Ahh, you are so right! Those comments and questions do mean so much more! Thanks for sharing your expertise! :)

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