I Don't Know If I Want Kids — Not Because I'm Selfish, Shallow, Or Self-Absorbed, But Because Time Isn't On My Side
I was on my first-ever business trip when my co-worker, Sue, looked over at me from the driver’s seat of her SUV and told me that I should really consider freezing my eggs.
I knew little about Sue before we embarked on a seven-hour road trip from where I was living in Minneapolis to my hometown of Chicago. I was excited when she suggested to our boss that I join her for the regional booksellers convention, if anything for the free ride to my parents’ house. I was nervous for the drive, though. I was 22 and just out of school; she was in her early-40s and mid-career. What would we talk about for that long? Would I be stuck brainstorming publicity plans the entire time? Will she judge me for wanting to stop at Culver’s for butter burgers?
Turned out Sue went to college in Wisconsin, so she was all about the fast food. It also turned out that she and I didn’t run out of things to talk about. We chatted the entire way — we never even had to turn on an episode of This American Life to fill the void. She told me about living in Brooklyn before it was cool, the time her downstairs neighbors put a sewer rat in her apartment after she called the police on them, and when her whole company went under while she was at a cellphone-less meditation retreat. She asked about my very recent ex-boyfriend, and she told me about her last relationship, and how, not long after it ended, she decided to have a child on her own.
Her openness rubbed off on me, and after more talk about relationships and families and babies, I said, almost without thinking, “I just don’t know if I ever want to have kids.”
“Freeze your eggs,” she told me in a kind suggestion kind of way, not a pushy, “you-need-to-drop-everything-and-freeze-those-babies-up” kind of way.
“Yeah maybe, I don’t know.” Then we talked about the spring book tours.
I thought of Sue, and this moment in particular, a number of times while I was reading Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids , collected and edited by Megan Daum. It’s fitting that, while reading this set of essays (a collection that has the word “selfish” in its title), I thought about myself most of all. And even though each writer had a different reason for choosing to be childless, they all seemed to have had a distinct memory of what exactly brought them to that decision. For Paul Lisicky, it was a matter of not having the right partner. For Kate Christensen, it was realizing that she had to work on making herself a stronger person. And for Laura Kipness, it was a combination of knowing the lifestyle she wanted and questioning the whole idea of “maternal instinct” itself.
What I came to realize is that even if circumstances change, and my own wants and desires change, I'll always be fighting one thing: time. Not only do babies take a lot of it, but they require that you plan, big-time. That's not exactly my strength.
Making a time-sensitive decision that also happens to be one of the biggest ones you’ll ever make in your lifetime is very hard for people like me: those who change their minds a lot. In the last six years, I’ve moved five times. Since I graduated college, I’ve worked three different jobs in completely different fields in two different cities, and am now starting to maybe think about whether I want to continue the desk job route or if I want to apply to grad school and dedicate time to what I believe I’m really passionate about. I don’t know what I’ll be doing or how I’ll be feeling five years from now, one year from now, even six months from now.
My mom, who knows of my fears, once told me "one day you'll just know." Just like that. Like waking up and knowing I want a smoothie for breakfast.
I also think that young women in 2015 are moving into adulthood at a slower and less linear rate — it's not just me. I feel like for many of our parents began behaving like adults over a shorter timespan or almost all at once. Graduate. Get a job that pays the bills. Have children. Put them through school. Retire.
This isn’t the mindset for many young adults now. I was always told to “do what makes me happy,” both in my career and in my personal life. For me, that meant going to a liberal arts school instead of doing something explicitly career driven — something that didn’t land me a well salaried job after graduation. Something that means it’s going to take me longer to become completely financially independent. Something that means I’ll need more time to figure out the person I want to be — which includes becoming a mother or not. It’s not fair that it’s time is moving slower for me in every other aspect besides my aging reproductive system.
What if, though, I did figure it all out at one point? What if the identity crises stopped, and what if I did find the right person — or even just get more comfortable and confident with myself? Sometimes, I think that I would I would be thrilled to be a mother. But what if I run out of time before I get there? Michelle Huneven, in her essay “Amateurs,” described it perfectly:
I always assumed that someday, at some vague, distant point, I’d become a fit and willing parent. With years of therapy, I did outgrow my resentment toward and impatience with kids, and I got a handle on that driving need for parental attention and love; I accepted, with some sorrow, that it was too late to get that particular package—your chance for it comes only once in life … I became more able and even somewhat willing to be a parent, but by the time that happened, and by the time I met a man who might be a wonderful father, we were too old and, as he likes to say, too set in our way.
I fear that, not unlike Michelle Huneven, I'll wait too long to realize what I want and end up regretting it. I think about this most when I spend time with own mother, who has spent my entire life supporting and loving me unconditionally. How could I not want to give that same love to another human being? My mom, who knows of my fears, once told me "one day you'll just know." Just like that. Like waking up and knowing I want a smoothie for breakfast.
What will always stick with me from Sue, and from all of the mothers in my life, but also from all of the childless writers in this essay collection, is that there’s no common way of choosing (or not choosing) to be a parent. And what they’ve all taught me is that, no matter what my decision is in the end, I’ll reach it on my own eventually. That, and if I feel like time really is running out and I still don’t know, I can always freeze my eggs.
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