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 Syndrome. Women 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 Dramatically. Even 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.