The older I get, the more common the pregnancy and birth announcements become on my Facebook: pictures of newborns swaddled in blankets, tiny baby shoes posed next to bigger adult shoes in the same style. Clever puns with spaghetti sauce (Prego, oh boy).
But there are a few friends and acquaintances who have made baby announcements in the opposite direction: they’ve made it really clear that they don’t want kids. Ever.
And while “we’re having a baby” announcements are always greeted with utmost acceptance and excitement from the community, whenever someone states that they don’t want kids, they’re faced with disbelief and skepticism. For some reason, no one ever seems to believe them. “You’ll change your mind!” older folks say confidently. “Just you wait!” Others are just confused: “Why not?”
I’ve always wanted kids. I’ve even got one cooking inside me as I type. But it still bugs me that my non-kid wanting friends are constantly questioned and disbelieved, while my kid-having friends are encouraged and never questioned.
How is it that I’m 26 years old and pregnant, and no one has ever asked me to justify why I want kids? (Actually that’s a lie–in my child development class, written about below, we had to write down why we wanted kids or didn’t want kids, and there were LOTS of wrong answers).
In ways, it’s a much bigger decision to decide that you do want kids than it is to decide otherwise. In one scenario, you only impact yourself. In the other, you’re choosing to bring a whole life into the world. That’s a big deal.
And not only that, but it isn’t exactly a picnic raising children. When people describe the newborn months to me (which they do with increasing frequency) they always use the same language they’d use to talk about a natural disaster. “Life will never be the same,” my friends with kids say. “You’ll barely have time to sleep or eat or take care of yourself. You should prepare now never to talk to your friends again. You’ll be too busy just trying to survive.”
I’ve also babysat. It’s exhausting. Little kids require constant attention. They love repetitive activities that make you want to die with boredom. They make messes and are loud and don’t sleep well.
So if having kids isn’t a given–if you take a step back and stop feeling like it’s just what you do–why should you put yourself through that? It makes total sense not to have kids! It means a life of going out to eat when you want, focusing on your own hobbies and interests, traveling the world with no strings attached. Not to mention kids are ridiculously expensive. It’s also better for an already overpopulated world to not reproduce.
To me, it’s pretty obvious why someone would pass on the whole debacle. What’s less clear to me, is why people DO have kids. So I sat down today to parse out why I do want them. In writing.
My desire to have children actually started with a pregnancy scare. I was 16 years old, and I took a pregnancy test. The test came back positive. (Granted, I was so nervous that I dropped it in the toilet before I read the results).
My boyfriend at the time and I spent a day walking around town, discussing our options, trying to figure out what to do. And as scared and horrified as I was, I loved the idea of having a life forming inside of me. I remember pressing a hand to my belly as we walked, feeling connected to what I imagined was a growing bundle of cells.
When I got my period a day later, I was immensely relieved. But part of me was also sad–sad that there hadn’t been a little life. Sad that the connection hadn’t been real.
The feeling intensified when I took a child development class and we were assigned to bring a robotic infant home for the weekend. It was a pretty advanced fake baby–it was randomly assigned to be easy, average or hard in terms of its crying schedule and ability to be soothed. It had motion detectors, so it knew when it was bounced (or dropped), and you had to wear a wristband to ensure that you didn’t stray too far away from it. A magnetic diaper and bottle allowed it to record how long you fed it, and how often you changed its diaper.
I have never loved an assignment more. There was something about the feeling of putting the baby down, freshly changed and fed, and (robotically) content. I didn’t want the weekend to end. My boyfriend and I swaddled him up and took him out to ice cream, and people smiled and peered into his plastic little face and asked about his name (he was very realistic looking). The whole time, I felt simultaneously proud of our fake baby, and amused that we’d fooled the general public.
When we came back on Monday, I was surprised to find that my classmates had hated the assignment. They joked about wishing they could punt their babies across the football field (I think that was kind of the point of the whole exercise–experiential birth control). But I’d loved it. It crystallized for me then that I couldn’t wait to be a mom, and the feeling has grown since.
I’ve always loved taking care of things. It’s part of why I love having pets–there’s something about taking care of someone else’s needs that is incredibly fulfilling to me. When I worked at a barn in high school, the highlight of my day was bringing the horses back to their freshly cleaned, hay-ed and watered stalls and tucking them in for the night. I loved the idea that I could impact another creature’s well-being.
And I’ve always signed myself up for those kinds of roles, whether it’s bringing home kittens that need bottle feeding (which means waking up every 2-3 hours, manually stimulating them to poop and pee, and obsessively monitoring to make sure they’re warm and dry and alive), or volunteering at a wildlife refuge.
But it goes deeper than just having something to take care of (if that were it, I’d stick to dogs and cats–they’re cheaper). I also want to share tradition and culture with our children. I can’t wait to teach baby L how to cook, to show him snow for the first time, to bundle him up and take him with us to cut down our annual Christmas tree.
To teach him about Jewish traditions through Passover and Chanukah. In short, to pass on the traditions that were passed down to me. In fact, a portion of my desire to have children has been to pass on my heritage, and in a more concrete way than just through tradition or religion. As a Jew, it is meaningful just to have the privilege of passing on my genes.
My children will be Jewish by birth (though, like me, it’s unlikely they’ll be Jewish by religion–unless they want to be). The chance to have a kid is a direct defiance of Hitler’s attempt to wipe my culture out. My baby will be proof that Nazis failed once. And that they and their kind will fail again and again–that love will win out, and babies with diverse heritages will be born generation after generation despite their best efforts.
Events like the Holocaust should be a deterrent to me. Global climate change certainly gives me pause. But I also can’t predict the future, and I don’t believe that fear of the unknown is a good reason to avoid something as big as bringing a life into the world.
Because as hard and scary as our world is, there is so much that is glorious about it. I can’t wait to see Baby L taste different flavors, to watch him discover his interests and passions, to introduce him to roller coasters and ice cream and swimming. When people argue that we shouldn’t have children because the world is going to shit, I always want to point out all the different times in history when people have thought that. And also, just because life might be hard and heartbreaking, it doesn’t mean it isn’t 100% worth experiencing. In short, I want to share the best part of the world with him, and I want to be here to help him through the hard things.
(I should note that I do not want to have kids because I hope that they’ll make a positive impact on the world. I can’t predict how my kids will turn out, and what their desires might be. Sure, I hope the next generation solves all of our problems, but my kids may not want to fight for the environment, or work for a non-profit, or try to stop human trafficking. They may want to do something frivolous and unimportant, like design new candy corn flavors. That’s okay).
It helps that my own childhood was grand–full of color and fun and play. It’s easy to want to give a similar experience to someone else. When I look back on it, I remember blinding sunlight and dappled shade, standing in front of the air conditioner and singing so that my voice came back distorted and robotic, the smell of Christmas in the air when we stepped out of the car after our annual road trip to visit my dad’s family in Michigan. I remember fresh bread and linguine and clam sauce and sleepovers spent whispering late into the night.
Finally, the last reason I want to have kids, is because when I imagine the opposite, my life seems bereft of color. Of the richness that comes from multiple generations living together and learning from each other. Right now I don’t laugh very often–really belly laugh, the way I did as a kid. There isn’t much excuse for play. And I only have the chance to dabble in pretend when I’m creative writing.
But when I’m around kids, my whole life lights up. They make me laugh–with abandon, helplessly, fully–with the things they say and do. Their unique perspectives always make me think twice about my own opinions and beliefs. And I hope that I’ll be the kind of mom who’s just like my parents–who delights in traditions like Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy, who makes up
imaginary characters that will populate their worlds and fill them with magic (and mine, too).
I guess my point is that maybe we all need to ask ourselves why or why not, before we make decisions about kids. There are really great reasons to want to have kids, and there are really great reasons not to want them. There are also really bad reasons to want kids–reasons that put kids in unhealthy positions, or force them to be something they’re not, or place a parent’s insecurities and unaccomplished goals on them.
I’ve found that the people don’t who want kids tend to be the ones who’ve thought it through carefully. Who have asked themselves the important questions instead of just assuming that their life had to take a certain track.
What about you? Do you want kids? If so, why? If not, why not? And if you already have them, what factors did you consider, and did you feel like not having kids was an option?
(P.S. I want to make it clear that people who have kids accidentally–without considering whether they wanted them first, or even while not wanting them–can still be absolutely amazing parents, and can still want their kids for all the right reasons. This post is not intended as judgement against them).