Baby or No?

My friend Kate recently blogged about the big question: Do I want to have a baby? This is an incredibly personal choice and asking others opens a Pandora’s Box of opinions across the board – just check out her comments. I admire her for asking. I tried commenting on her post, but found myself getting long-winded, defensive of parenthood and then really wishy-washy at times — basically, I couldn’t put my thoughts into a nicely packaged statement, so I decided to just blog about it here (albeit still long-winded, I admit!).

“Do I want to have a baby?” It’s not something to take lightly, and if you’re on the fence, I’d say give it some time. I listed a few thoughts. Obviously, as a mom of a year tomorrow, I’m gonna have something to add to the conversation.

1. Not sure about a baby? Start with a pet. Seriously! When a young couple gets a pet, you can pretty much assume one of two things: they’re trying to save their relationship or they’re practicing for a baby. If you’re in the latter group, you’ll find pets, like kids, demand patience, training, discipline and unconditional love. They need lots of attention and families tend to bond over them. You generally plan around your pet a lot. Kind of like kids. Will a pet totally prepare you for a baby? Hell no, but it’s good practice is all I’m saying. As for people in crappy relationships, google “couples therapy” and your zip code. Don’t put a pet through your drama.

2. Don’t wait for the money. If you save your pennies for a baby, you’ll be 80 by the time you’re ready to have one. I’m not saying if you’ve been laid off and your house is in foreclosure, it’s as good of a time as any to get knocked up, but time will escape you if you’re always waiting for the magic income number or for some silly status symbol in order to justify having a kid. And remember that money is relative. Your poor might be my rich. Way fewer people would have kids if they obsessed over their bank accounts (I realize in some instances, that’s a good thing).

3. Don’t wait for the magic age. I have a friend who is so caught up in status and finances (and, frankly, his high-maintenance lifestyle) that he thinks maybe by 40 he’ll be ready for a baby (wonder if his fiance knows!). While 40 is by no means old, you have to picture yourself as your child ages and how that impacts them, particularly if you’re not the hippest of people. Nothing is more unfortunate to me than out-of-touch, technology- and pop culture-challenged,  health/safety-obsessed parents. They’re the ones whose kid wears a helmet to the bus stop (supervised, of course). I suppose you could be out-of-touch at any age, but I’ve noticed the older,  former yuppie parents are the biggest offenders.

4. Don’t worry about what you can’t control. If you really want a child, don’t talk yourself out of it because you’re worried about XY and Z. A good ob-gyn will discuss things like medical history and genetic factors, etc. The chance two healthy parents will have a child with birth defects are so slim, it’s not worth getting worked up over, but the docs have to discuss it with you. As for what happens after your pink-faced screaming rug rat pops out? That’s up to you and who you choose to help raise him or her. You CAN be a good parent, you CAN’T guarantee your kid is going to always be what you deem a “good” kid. J and I joke around about how Ollie is going to be a jock-y Alex P. Keaton-type because we’re so opposite of that. I’ve fully accepted it, but that doesn’t mean we’re not going to encourage music lessons, surround him with art and literature and teach him how to be DIY, empathetic and cultured. I mean, the kid already likes carnitas, for god’s sake! So far, so good!

5. Sample from the buffet of parenthood. Take what you like from your parents’, friends’ and relatives’ parenting style and pass on those styles you don’t jive with. And be unapologetic about your convictions. Read all the books you want, watch all the parenting shows you can stand, but when it comes down it, it’s gotta be your own unique style if it’s gonna work. You’ll find what works and what doesn’t in your household. And don’t NOT do something just because your parents did it. Sometimes your folks were right, believe it or not. You’ll slap yourself for thinking or saying it out loud, but get used to it. They were unfair assholes when you were 16, but they built the character you have today. Remember that. And guess what? You might as well accept that you are someday going to be an unfair asshole to someone else.

6. Ask for help. You’re going to need it. For daily childcare tasks, split it with your spouse if you have one. Don’t be a hero. If it’s a question of health and safety, start with pediatricians because they’re the experts, but your mom, sister, neighbor, etc., who’ve had kids have some tricks of the trade, too. My mother-in-law told us to bathe our little turkey in cool water when he had a fever. Sounds a little old-school (albeit obvious), but that fever went right down. The Internets is OK, but make sure to use reputable sites. Health, safety, discipline and development often comes down to common sense and asking the right people the right questions. And not being too proud to do so.

7. Baby on board … and abroad. Wonder if you are ready to have your lifestyle completely shaken up with the addition of a baby — and if jet-setting will come to a halt? It sort of depends. International travel with an infant? Probably not a great idea, though people do it. You’re probably not going to be throwing back pints at a pub in Ireland or zip-lining through the jungle with a baby in tow. If you have grand travel plans best enjoyed with adults, find childcare or get travel out of the way before you make a baby. As for daily tasks and errands, you’ll find it’s faster to do them solo while your spouse or sitter watches the kid. J and I alternate doing errands solo and occasionally a grandparent out to help, but largely make family trips out of errands. Sure, taking baby along requires more planning and packing, but nothing is so important that you can’t spare a few minutes to prepare for it. Simply put, you can’t hole up inside until your kid can stay home alone. Plus, kids, much like adults, are designed to go places.
8. Remember: Dumber people have done this parenthood thing. My friend Staci once told me “dumber people have done this” giving me instructions on using the el train when I was new to Chicago. Advice that — guess who — her mom gave her about learning to drive. Gotta love moms. That bit has stuck with me. The truth is, dumber people have kids all the time. Some dumb people have eight at once. Without a partner! And get TV shows out of it! Not so dumb, I guess. With that in mind, just because dumb people have kids, doesn’t get the “smart” ones off the hook to be sloppy. You still have to always be on your toes. Always. Especially when your kid is 16 and knows everything and hates you/wishes you dead.
9. Go with your gut. You’ll know when you’re ready, and when you’re ready, hopefully you have a very uneventful pregnancy and birth. And suddenly, you’ll find you’re not so worried about as much anymore because you’ve had nine months to wrap your head around being a parent and prepare your home and life for the baby. Not to mention, you really don’t have time to obsess over your decision when your decision is peeing on you.
10. Enjoy life. Whether you decide to have kids or not, it’s important to enjoy life without regrets. I’ve never regretted our decision, not when I was waddling on the icy train platform in below-zero weather at 8 months preggo; not when I experienced some fucked-up labor scenarios I still can’t visualize; not when my tits were cracked and bleeding from breastfeeding; and not when I was severely panicked during Ollie’s first fever. I’m actually kind of proud of those survivor mommy moments. Maybe if I was 15, living at home without a partner, it would be a different story, but now that we have Ollie, I have so much joy I didn’t know I once lacked – a different type of joy I never got from anything else. The ups and downs of the parenting experience have been more fascinating than pretty much anything I’ve done in my life, and I’d like to think I’ve done some pretty cool shit. I also look at life so much differently, in a good way. I’m more patient, more empathetic, and have rediscovered my child-like wonder (which I really missed when I was in my bratty, confused, cocky 20s). If I never had a child, I’d still be me, though, and that’s important. And like life before Ollie, I continue pursuing my aspirations, challenging myself and exploring my hopes and fears. I think it’s a huge disservice to children when parents “give up” themselves and let the role of parenthood consume them entirely. Some people have kids to “complete” something that’s missing within themselves or their relationship. I think you really have to be your whole self at all times to truly nurture a child. The end.
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