It's Sunday, so that means it's Show and Tell time. Here's what I've got:
I have a long post in my head about being a parent versus not being a parent, and about my long road to where I'm at now. But even though it is technically Sunday already, you are going to have to wait until it is a little MORE Sunday to hear more, because I must hit the hay before I start drooling on my keyboard.
I just spent a good hour on the phone with an old friend, chatting about how we both feel we are at a crossroads, and neither of us is sure where to go next. She has a baby, and just left a job she held for a very long time, and was very good at. I want to have a baby, and know that I will soon need to leave the job that I invest so much of myself in. We were lamenting the fact that we are both the type of woman who sometimes think too much. It makes major life decisions so difficult.
Which brings us to this week's Show and Tell. The decision to try to have a child was not an easy one for me. I am not one of those women who believes that the ability to procreate is the very essence of being a woman. I have always seen motherhood as an "if," not a "when." And truthfully, I can't even buy a dress without trying on 15 of them to make sure I've made the best decision possible (I can recall this happening as early as fifth grade. . .again, I'm hardwired wrong). In my opinion, there is no decision in life bigger than whether to have a child. I agonized for a long time, and at many points felt like I would never be a mother. Motherhood is intertwined with self-doubt and fear, in my mind.
I grew up in a large extended family, so I have always been surrounded by strong and outspoken women. This meant that I was surrounded by women with children, but also had powerful female role models who chose not to have children. But despite the stregth of the women with children, I often felt like many or even most of them could have done so much more in life, had they not been weighted down by their children. When I was younger, it certainly seemed that the women without the children had more. They traveled more, they seemed to have more fun, and they were always up for anything. The women with children, on the other hand, sometimes seemed tied to bad relationships, to jobs they didn't really like, to lifetimes of hard work and boredom. I didn't want to be THAT kind of woman.
So I wasn't. I traveled, I got an education (or two), I have a career that I love. It finally struck me that it is not our choices that make us who we are, but how we feel about our choices and how we choose to live our lives after making such choices. Or, to put it another way, there are lots of different ways to be a wife, or a friend, or a mother. You can be a good one or a bad one, one who still engages in all of her passsions, or one who completely gives up her life and turns off those other parts of herself.
So as I got older, I started questioning all of my old assumptions. The two assumptions that have haunted me the most were whether the women without children really had better quality lives, and whether the women who seemed weighted down were actually bearing the weight of the children, or something else entirely.
I was still struggling with the answers to these questions when I read Maybe, Baby?, but the book brought me clarity on these points. The genesis of the book was a Slate column where people wrote about the decision to parent, or not. There are essays by a wide array of people about being parents, or not. It took all of the things I had been thinking about, and expanded them beyond my personal circle of relationships, and gave me insight into the life experiences of those who have gone before me. It was like a lightbulb came on as I read.
Where I came out at the end of the day was that women have good quality lives both with and without children. The lives of the women without children seem to be filled with more external stimulation, like travel and art and literature. The lives of the women with children don't necessarily lack these things, but they also have an extra layer to them that is internal to and unique to the family. In reading the parent stories in Maybe, Baby?, in looking at the lives of my thirtysomething friends both with and without children, I sense a nuance, a texture, an abundance inherent in the lives of those who have children, which seems to me to be absent from the lives of those without. Looking, on the other hand, at those who chose life without children, and watching several women near and dear to me move past 50, having never had children of their own, I can honestly say that I don't think their lives are any better, or that they are any happier. Their lives are different; their paths have been different--but neither better nor worse.
I don't say this to disparage those without children. I think there is value and meaning and worth in a life without children. It is just different. Both choices are good, but different kinds of good. So the question then became, which is my path? The more I analyzed, the more I thought, the more I realized that the answer to that lay in whether I could answer the second question--and whether I could live with the answer. Looking back to my own childhood, were the women closest to me--the mothers that surrounded me--weighted down by their children?
In some respects, I will always struggle with that demon, this fear I have of being trapped in a life that does not suit me. But eventually, in reflecting on it, I came to realize that this has always been the thing that has made me question whether I should have children, all because of perceptions which are now more than two decades old. But in the rare moments when I can stop living inside my head and second-guessing myself, I know that the answer is that what the women who earliest shaped my views of motherhood suffered from the most was a lack of imagination and desire, and everything else followed from there.
When all is still and I can actually hear my own voice, I know that I have created a life for myself that does not in any other way resemble their lives; there is no reason why motherhood will be any different.