Babies

This is not a great article, but it made me want to blog today about something I think a lot about.

Lately it seems that I am going to a baby shower every other day.  Of course this is not actually true.  But I am at a stage in my life where I seem to always have at least one friend who is preggers.  Right now, I can name four friends who are with child.  I can also name several more who have produced babes in the last year or so.  I still have a lot friends who, like me, are childless, but those numbers are dropping quickly. 

Where am I going with this, you ask.  Well, I’ll tell you.  I like kids.  I like babies.  I like kids more, but babies are fun.  I think I’m pretty good with kids.  I think I’m pretty funny and a decent person to have around your kid.  Yet, I still don’t know — and I’m 35 — whether or not I want one of my own.  Most women I know seem to be pretty clear on the answer to that question, but I am not.  Of course, at some point — and maybe that point is now — I won’t be able to have one, whether I want to or not.  I don’t know if I want to be pregnant.  I don’t know if I want to adopt.  I don’t know if I want another person living in my house. 

I think I have some of the biological desire for kids, but my head gets really caught up in the question.  Frankly, and I know this is going to be shocking, I see having a kid as a really selfish thing.  Not a bad thing, but a very self-centered thing (adoption aside, really).  I see it as saying, hey world, there should be more of me.  And hey world, support my offspring.

I do not condemn anyone for choosing to reproduce.  Obviously I don’t. Quite the contrary.  Like I said, I love kids.  I love my friends’ kids, I love my relatives’ kids.  I like babysitting and being around kids.  I just don’t know about one of my own.  I worry.

I worry about the environmental impact of bringing another person into this too crowded world.  I worry about the economic impact on me and the kid (I read recently that the average American child costs his/her parents $285k or something before you figure in the cost of college).  I worry that the kid would be unhealthy.  I worry that the kid would be too much like me.  I worry that I would mess the kid up in all sorts of stupid ways.  I worry that I would never get a decent amount of sleep again. 

I worry most of all that the kid would be unhappy.  The world is such a tough place.  And while I would hope I would do my best to smother the kid with love and support and patience and compassion and education and laughter and all things good and decent, I worry that the world would come between us.  I worry that I couldn’t stand seeing the heartbreak or the depression or the inevitable tears.  I worry I would pass along all of my neuroses and insecurities and produce an unhappy soul.

I just worry.  So, for now, I don’t know if I’ll remain childless forever like the women in the Slate article (though I note the oldest was, what? 32? I’m not sure those women can count as choosing-to-be-childless-for-life) or whether I’ll try to join the club of reproducers. 

10 Responses to “Babies”


  1. 1 gwendolyngarden July 21, 2010 at 2:49 pm

    It’s a tough choice. In some ways I think it was easier in the olden days and – oh guess what? you’re pregnant! And you just had to roll with it.
    Not totally with you on the selfish thing- I think it is more complicated than “there should be more of me in the world”. Under that logic, you could then argue that adoption is selfish because you are saying I’m a better parent than anyone else, so now I’m taking other people’s kids.
    As for your many worries- possible that you are overthinking it? I know it is a big deal (well, I’ve heard it is a big deal) but people do it all the time. Dumb people. Silly people. Ridiculously preposterous people. Poor people. Rich, busy people.
    I couldn’t agree with you more on the angst and wondering… and good for you for even thinking about the environmental impact of a kid.

  2. 2 gwendolyngarden July 21, 2010 at 2:58 pm

    Let me be clear- in some ways it was obviously harder in the olden days, and I have no desire to go back.

  3. 3 gracieandkate July 21, 2010 at 3:13 pm

    Hmm. I don’t agree with you that my logic dictates your result about adoption at all. I suppose you could argue what you’re saying, but I don’t think my reasoning compels that result at all. With adoption, there is a kid in the world that needs a home. Unless you’re in hand-to-hand combat with some other parent vying for that kid, I don’t see that anyone is saying that they are “better” than anyone else. With reproducing on your own, you are creating something that was not there before. You are essentially saying that what you can produce should be out there in the world. Again, I don’t think that’s bad AT ALL. I know that I am in the (teeny tiny) minority of people who think reproducing is selfish, which is why I prefaced it with saying “I know this is shocking.” And you’re right — it’s definitely more complicated than “I want more of me,” but I still think it’s something you do (mostly) entirely for yourself. Sure, you may want to give your parents grandchildren, and you may want to give a previous child a sibling, but it’s something you’re mostly doing just for you (and your partner should you have one).

    Maybe I should clarify more. I don’t think people who have children are necessarily selfish people. Not at all. But I think the decision is selfish. I guess I just really disagree with what I perceive to be the common attitude that having a kid is somehow selfless. I realize that as a parent, you are forced to give yourself over in a previously unchartered way — your time is not your time, your body is not your body, your stuff and money and wants are not all yours anymore. You’re needed in a way you never were before. And your decisions are now about someone else. But you created that situation. You did that because you chose to, you wanted to be that person, you wanted someone to need you in that way, and you are doing it for you.

    So maybe we can agree to disagree? I knew this post wouldn’t be popular. I’m just trying to air the way I think about it for ME. Not for anyone else.

    And please don’t get me wrong, I am selfish. I don’t know that I want to give up my life as I know it. I like it. I like doing what I want to do and living mainly on my own schedule. I don’t think I’m being selfless by not having a child. I think I’m selfish either way.

  4. 4 gwendolyngarden July 21, 2010 at 3:34 pm

    I understand what you are saying. I think that maybe selfish is the wrong word. It might be not entirely selfless to choose to parent a child, but selfish implies the complete opposite: that you are only doing it for yourself and what you will gain from it.

    I would love to have my own child so that I could show someone with my eyes (or my husband’s eyes) the great things about life in America: camping in Northern Wisconsin, Valley Forge, Yellowstone. My family history all the way back to the Pilgrims. I don’t think that’s selfish. It is wonderful here and I’d love to share that with someone. I could do this someday with an adopted child (indeed, that is my only option) but I don’t think that I am selfish for wanting a child that I give birth to; and conversely I don’t think I would be selfless for adopting. I would still want any child for those same reasons.

    Obviously this is something that goes to the core, and I understand your anxiety about having children (or not). It’s such a personal decision, I feel like the last thing we need to do to each other as a society is to label our decisions selfish or selfless. It’s all a bit more complicated than that.

  5. 5 gracieandkate July 21, 2010 at 3:46 pm

    Well, I’m saddened to hear that you think my opinion is “the last thing we need to do to each other as a society” but, like I said, I knew this post would be unpopular. That’s why I’ve taken so long to write it.

    We disagree. There are many reasons I want a child: to show the child Renaissance art, to play the child Beatles music, to take cute pictures of the kid and puppy. But that’s all about me — what I want. And I think that’s what having a kid is. I don’t think selfishness is inherently bad. At all.

    I don’t think it’s fair to say that expressing my opinion on how I think of pregnancy and reproduction is doing anything to anyone or “society” as a whole. I was, and am, expressing how I think about having a child. Just like many people out there write about their selflessness in having a child, I am writing the opposite opinion. I think I will be selfish if I choose to try to have a kid. That being said, that does not at all mean that I won’t choose to do so. It doesn’t mean I think it’s bad or wrong or anything but great when people do choose to do so. I think my friends who have had children are awesome and I think their children are super super awesome. Do I think they’ve done something for the greater good? No, not really.

    In any event, again, it’s how I think about it and I’m sorry that you think it’s harming anyone.

  6. 6 gracieandkate July 21, 2010 at 4:41 pm

    Also, and I promise I’ll be done here, I think you may be right that ‘selfish’ is too loaded a word to use. I don’t mean it like, you’re a selfish person if you have kids. Not. At. All. I don’t mean it like you’re selfish like someone drives a Winnebago everytime they go to the store. I mean it like, you’re doing it for you. It’s about you. And that’s how I think of it. I wonder if I can come up with a better word to express how I think of it. Probably not.

  7. 7 Raoser July 21, 2010 at 8:15 pm

    Well, I’m just stepping on board now, but for my two cents, I get it. I’m constantly on the fence about having children. Sometimes I think it seems beautiful, and wonderful and amazing, and other times it looks scary and like a lot of work and a major source of stress.

    It does feel like people expect women to not only want babies but to be passionate about them. I like kids and babies and all of the ones my friends have, but I often feel a similar pressure. I feel like I’m supposed to want them more than my career, like I should want them so much that the first thing I do when I go out on a date is ask a man if he’s interested in marriage and children. The thing is I don’t want to ask a guy that, because if someone did that to me, I’d turn and run.

    I think people have a desire to procreate out of something very deep and biological, something out of their control. And, it can, and often does come out of a desire to pass on that genetic line. It’s been going so long, and is so socially ingrained that I don’t know if people really think about where that desire comes from. I don’t think parenting is totally selfless. I mean plenty of people have children without thinking about what they’re doing, and then bring them into unhappy homes, or financially stressful circumstances. They don’t think through the amount of work being a parent is. And sure, selfish can come across as a loaded word, but I hear what you’re saying. When there are so many children in the world who are starving, homeless, and loveless, it’s challenging to justify wanting to see your eyes looking back at you.

    Of course it goes far deeper than that.

    As I said before, I know it’s a deep and biological desire, and I believe it’s a bond that can never be matched. It’s also something I might do someday and like you, I don’t look down on it. Parents are amazing for what they do. No question about that.

    Ultimately it’s a very different, highly individualized decision, and what’s hard is society has a habit of still treating it as more of an “across the board” one.

    Kate, I just want to say, you courageously voiced a different perspective on a very sensitive subject matter. Kudos for that. I know that’s scary.

  8. 8 Sara H July 22, 2010 at 9:04 am

    Hey there…. I haven’t read you’re “moving right along” post yet, so I’ll just go ahead and add a comment here first. 🙂

    As a currently pregnant lady, I’m not offended by your description of the decision or process as selfish. I see what you’re getting at – I feel like there’s a different word that sounds nicer, but if we’re using the dictionary and looking at strict meaning, I see it. I mean, we’re having a baby because we want more kids/bigger family, and I personally am really looking forward to the experience of parenting a child from the ground up on my own terms (as opposed to stepparenting and coparenting with the ex). I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t think I could do a good job (I think I can, I think I can) but ultimately it was a decision that was based on what we as a couple wanted to do. Parents are very selfless in many ways, but I see your point on the decision to actually have kids.

    And btw, having kids just isn’t for everyone – my sister just doesn’t want them, period. That’s who she is, and I appreciate that she has given it enough thought to know what the right thing is for her rather than assume she has to have kids and then be unhappy (making for unhappy kids). Also, life just doesn’t always work out for it – I was probably lucky to get pregnant as easily as I did at this age (35! although I still feel like it’s all such alarmist talk – all of your eggs DIE the second you turn 35! I don’t think so, I’ve got a good friend who managed to get pregnant while on chemo at age 39, and the baby is great), and all the other stuff in life didn’t really make it possible prior to now.

    Your post brings up a subject that always fascinates me – I always think to myself, what do we do that really, really ISN’T selfish, in that dictionary-strictest-sense-of-the-word? Can I honestly say that I do volunteer work for completely selfless reasons? Can anyone? How does your personal satisfaction in a selfless job well done offset your actions? Does the ends justify the selfishness? That’s a slippery slope. Always a quandary.

  9. 9 Stephanie August 4, 2010 at 10:48 am

    I only have a couple points to make (obviously way way after the fact). I debated about whether I really wanted to ever have kids for about the last decade, and then, as I approached the big 4-0, got really hot on the idea. I do think there’s some biological urge there, but there’s also consciousness, and since I was single then, I would debate with myself whether I’d rather have a partner or a kid (I know that sounds funny, but whatever, it’s the debate I’d have.) I decided that I’d rather probably have a kid. (I won’t go into the logic here.) But I do think part of it is wanting to have connection and love in your life, either way. And as my family dwindled – losing my grandparents and aunt (way too young), I became super conscious about that need. Wanting to fill that need for love and connection probably is selfish in someways. But so is wanting to fill any need if you think about it that way. And, I think having a child through adoption or having a biological child is does follow the result of wanting something.

    Here’s the big “but” though that I wasn’t prepared for when I had Fritz. Once I became totally responsible for another person, I lost a lot of the ability to be selfish in my life in the ways that I was used to because I just didn’t have that luxury any more. So, for good or bad, that’s the rub. It’s interesting in that way, and frankly, I miss being more selfish! I miss me time and I miss being able to sleep in. I miss feeling like I look decent. I miss going to happy hour! I miss all that stuff that I liked doing and the freedom! Selfish selfish selfish! but I also love Fritz in a way that I didn’t know I was capable of and it shocks me on a daily basis and I try to savor all the moments because I know they will be gone forever. Selfish!! 🙂

    Now that I’ve written “selfish” so much, my opinion of selfishness is changing! I am kind of for selfishness (within reason!)

    That said, I am with you on the environmental front for sure. Reproduction is not environmentally responsible, at least in 1st world countries. I don’t think that can be debated. But hey, someone’s got to do it!

  10. 10 Stephanie August 4, 2010 at 10:52 am

    Oh, also, for the record. I hope my comment doens’t cause any ruckus! I thought the post was interesting and thought provoking and wanted to share my experience. It certaily doesn’t reflect negatively on any one else’s 🙂


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