For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to be a mommy. Not only did I play with baby dolls from toddlerhood to embarrassingly far into my preteen years, but I also routinely made lists of the names I would give my children, updating them as my tastes matured.*
Not only did I want kids, I wanted a lot of them. Six! With a set of twins! Preferably redheaded! I said before I understood the dark realities of pregnancy, childbirth, and child-rearing. By the time I graduated from college I had bagged myself a red-headed sperm-donor husband and had brought my hopes down to the more reasonable goal of three to four biological children and at least one adopted child to break up all the little redheads.**
I wasn’t entirely naïve. I had done A LOT of babysitting in high school and college. Mostly with very young children. At one point my senior year I was getting up at 5:30 AM to watch kids for a few hours before school, heading to another family’s house from 10:30 – 3:30, and then finishing my day with a third family from 4:00-6:30. And after college I worked for a year as a full-time nanny, which I extensively chronicled earlier on this blog. I got burnt out and exhausted from working with small kids all the time, but no matter how tough it got, never once did I waver in my conviction that I wanted to have kids of my own someday.
About a year ago I got baby bug in the worst way. Everyone was getting pregnant and having babies and, being in a meaningless corporate job at the time, I found myself wishing for motherhood more than ever before. I knew that the timing wasn’t right. And I knew that the sudden, overwhelming urge to quit my job and grow a baby was not a good enough reason to bring a human into the world. But the logic of the situation did not stop me from hoping against hope that the baby fever was God’s way of preparing me for a surprise pregnancy. And even though I wasn’t trying to get pregnant (in fact, I was actively preventing) I still managed to feel disappointed every month when it became clear that God had not miraculously intervened and made my body defy science and logic to conceive anyway. Jonathan and I agreed that we would re-visit the topic of baby-having in a year or so and see how we felt about it then.
For several months I continued to have baby-on-the-brain. Then I decided that if getting pregnant in a year or so was a possibility, I should probably do all of the things I really wanted to do pre-baby. Hence the commencement of Operation Lily Runs a Marathon and Operation Lily Goes to Grad School. I really wanted to undertake Operation Lily Travels the World, but sometimes even I have to be an adult and realize that I can’t have everything, so I settled for last summer’s vacation to the Dominican Republic and my marathon trip to Disneyworld. I also decided that before I had kids I wanted to be healthier, which led me to a radical diet change where I cut all sugar and starch from my diet and started eating lean meats and vegetables. I lost 20 lbs in 7 weeks and have a lot more energy and much fewer health problems than I did before.
I’ve made a lot of changes and a lot of progress over the past year: I quit my job, started grad school, ran a marathon, changed my diet and lost weight, did some travel, grew out my hair, and stopped biting my fingernails. But something else changed too. Starting in about October and growing steadily ever since has been a strong feeling that I no longer want to have kids. Not just right now. Maybe not at all. Ever.
If you know me at all, you know how weird that is. Like I said before, all I have ever REALLY wanted in my life is to one day be a mommy. I mean, I’ve wanted to have a meaningful job and a good marriage and to write and help others and all of those things too, but even when some of those things have been unclear or I have felt directionless, I’ve always had this deep desire for motherhood someday to hold onto.
In fact, my desire to be a mother has driven me to the point of fear sometimes. Thinking of having a house full of kids has made me feel a lot of pressure to figure out what I want to do career-wise as fast as possible because I don’t feel I will have the luxury of going back to school or trying to figure that out once I start having kids. I have put a lot of pressure on myself to get these things figured out because, after all, I’m 25, and if I really want to have 4 kids, I’m going to have to get started on that in the next few years.
But for the last 4-5 months I’ve found myself wondering if I really want to have kids, and I’ve concluded that what I really want is to have babies, not children. In other words, I love the idea of carrying a baby and then having this tiny little creature who is part of Jonathan and part of me and part something all his own. But I don’t want to bring an 8-year-old to dance class or fight with a 10 year old about cleaning his room. And I certainly don’t ever want to have a teenaged son.
Frankly, there’s a part of me that doesn’t even understand what the point is of having children. I know most of you won’t get this, but sometimes I think, “I could spend most of my life raising these kids who may or may not turn out to be good people, regardless of how good of parents Jonathan and I are, and for what? So they can go out and have their children that they spend their lives raising those kids so that those kids can grow up and have their own families.” There’s just something inherently narcissistic about it to me. I mean, if we just wanted children out of a desire to give of ourselves and our love and raise great men and women to right the wrongs of the world, there would be no more orphans. We would look at these millions of parentless children and find exactly what we were looking for. But that’s not all. We might want those things, but we also want mini-me’s made in our own likenesses.
Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful that there are parents in the world. After all, if my parents had felt this way, I would never have existed. And I like existing. I’m just not sure that, for me, the reasons above are good enough reasons to have children. I’ve been thinking a lot about parenting and how, to do it correctly, it really does require you to sacrifice everything for the sake of your kids. I see the family I work for now where the parents aren’t willing to self-sacrifice for the kids, and how their kids suffer for it even though they have all the material wealth in the world.
And I look at my own family. I have two parents whom I respect and admire deeply. Not once in my life have I ever doubted that they loved my siblings and I and that every parenting decision they made was genuinely out of a desire to do the best for us. And yet, I look at my siblings and me – my brother who has wrestled with addiction for at least 10 years, my sister, whose entire understanding of her world has been rocked to its core since leaving home, and me, who has lived believing that my best would never be good enough and that no matter how good I was and how hard I worked, fault would be found in me. My youngest sister is on the brink of adulthood now and we have yet to see the things she carries.
My point in saying all of this is not to rag on my parents. It’s to point out that even having some of the hardest-working, most self-sacrificing, godly and loving parents in the world, we have reached adulthood deeply scarred. If this is the reality for a family so committed to raising their children well and loving them deeply, I am utterly terrified to think of what I, a much more selfish person than either of my parents, might do to my theoretical children.
When I started to articulate how I am feeling about all of this, it sort of freaked me out. I mean, I have ALWAYS been the one who loved kids and couldn’t wait to have a family. And more than that, I’m really good with kids, especially really little kids. It’s one of my main skills – something I pride myself on. Jonathan and other close friends are convinced that this is a phase I am going through and that I won’t feel like this forever.*** They might be right and that will be ok. It may be a phase I am going through that will last 6 months or a year and then it will fade away and I will go back to the way I was before. But for now, this is where I’m at and I’m embracing it instead of fighting it.
So what does the future look like for the girl who spent her whole life planning on being a mommy only to discover that she might not want to be one? Honestly, from right here it’s looking pretty unlimited.
* If I had named my kids at age 11 they would have been called Chloe and Oliver. But then, of course, we named our dog Chloe so I couldn’t use that one anymore.
**Because I am convinced that all of our children will be redheaded, recessive genes be damned!
***At least, Jonathan is certainly hoping that’s the case. I can’t really blame him, I mean it’s sort of false advertising for him to pick a wife based on the fact that she wants to bear him 4 sons, only to find out after the deal is sealed that she really doesn’t want any. Bad form, Me. He has assured me that he will still love me if I do not bear said sons. But I can tell he still thinks the whole thing will blow over.