Tuesdays are for frantically finishing reading assignments for Wednesday (somehow it always takes longer than I expect to finish a 250-page tome on social theory); Wednesdays are for sitting in class all day; Thursdays are “me” time. I had a hard time falling asleep last night even though I was really tired; I also woke up early this morning. Probably had a lot to do with the 2 cups of coffee I had yesterday… it’s not a lot compared to the 5 20-oz mugs/day I used to drink in college, but I quit the caffeine 2 years ago when I went off the Pill (I actually enjoy the freedom from caffeine dependency). So two cups is a lot of buzz for me!
So while I lay in bed, irritatedly counting sheep, my mind wandered (of course) to the ever-present topic of procreation. I had to ask myself, why do I want to have a child? Why?
[I have to insert a major disclaimer here: while I seem to spend a lot of mental and emotional energy scrutinizing MY reasons for wanting to have a child (and generally finding them wanting) I don’t seem ever to apply the same rigid or strict criteria to other people’s decisions along the same lines. This moral/ethical relativism is probably problematic at some level but that’s fodder for another post. More power to y’all and mazel tov if it works for you!]
I don’t see that question very often on IF blogs, but I have long been a champion at the Navel-Gazing Olympics (which is why I’m now in a graduate program where these mad skillz can actually be put to use for profit and fun!). And I can’t just leave it at a simple answer, I have to evaluate my reasons to see if they stand up to some ethical/moral standard in my head. So here are some reasons I came up with:
1) Because Terry wants to. This is the only non-arguable reason I have. I love my husband dearly, and I long to give him a son or daughter. I long to see him become a father, to become vulnerable in that particular way. I long to see him form a relationship with an infant, a toddler, a small child. I think it will make him an even better person than he already is.
About 2 years after we got married, I started talking baby, but he was dragging his itchy feet – he loves to travel, and believed that having kids would mean we’d never get to do anything “interesting” again. But when he saw some of our friends go to Guatemala for three months with their one-year-old, and then to Cambodia for two years with their (then) 3yo and 1yo, when he saw my sister travelling regularly to Peru with her baby, he said to me that he’d realized we could have kids and it wouldn’t mean that our life was over. He’s ready now. He’s the main reason I keep trying.
2) I want to belong to the Mommy club. No, I don’t want to quit or postpone my career to devote myself to sippy cups and diapers. Maybe I’ll feel differently once I do have kids (when my sister became a mother she said that she’d found her “vocation”), but what I’m trying to say is it’s not the lifestyle that I long for (honestly I think I’d be bored, bored bored out of my skull – like I often was in my last social service, kid-oriented job – I love being back in academics, I feel like I have found…my vocation…) – it’s the belonging that I long for. It’s the role, the status, the initiation into the inner circle of women my age. Being able to participate in all those conversations about early childhood development, trading stories about the adorable/smart/exasperating thing my child did this morning, being able to compete in the who-suffers-more-for-her-children Olympics (I say that tongue in cheek, but isn’t it so true?) – I want that.
I don’t think I feel or believe that being able to gestate and bear a child = womanhood, although I know a lot of people do feel that way, including some of my close friends. I respect that, but I don’t feel that it’s necessary for me. I feel like I have many opportunities in my life to love, nurture, and give life, and I feel like I have been a fully actualized woman in my womanhood probably since I was about 20 yo or so (which, interestingly, had nothing to do with sex, since I was a virgin when I got married at 28. But that’s another story). I don’t feel like I need to produce a child from my body in order to be fulfilled as a woman. I don’t know why I feel this way, I just do (someone did suggest once that it’s because I’m intellectul, which might be the reason).
So Reason #2 relates solely to social group practice, and that’s, well, not a dumb reason per se, because human identity is very closely related to group membership/participation (this is actually part of what I want to do my dissertation on), but it’s an insufficient reason. What makes the Mommy Club an intrinsically better group to belong to than, say, the Latina club, the knitter club, the smart people club, the video exerciser club, or the various other identities that intersect in my individuality? Nothing, that’s what. But there is a socially constructed age/status progression in our culture that put “Parenthood” after “Marriage” in the sequence – regardless of the fact that many, many people don’t actually follow that sequence. It’s still hegemonic. I’m just saying it’s not a universal absolute, so I can discount this reason as having “validity.”
3) Where the hell was I? What am I talking about?…. oh yeah, “Reasons I want to have a child.” Hm…. Well, there is actually another reason: I want to have a baby. Geez, can I get more tautological? I want to have a baby because I want to have a baby???? Yeah, that kind of brilliant is sure to get me published!
I guess I’m actually talking about two levels of desire – in framing the question, “why do I want to have a child,” the want refers to a “higher” level of desire that includes intentionality at a more cognitive, rational level. In saying “it’s because I want to have a baby,” I’m talking about a more primal level of desire, the gut-instinct, if you will. It’s certainly there. It’s not as all-consumingly strong as it seems to be for a lot of the bloggers I read, but it’s there. Or maybe I’m just more distant from it because I’m in such a strongly head-oriented context, where the body and emotions are relegated to the background. Last summer I was certainly more emotional about the whole thing.
So should I have something just because I want it? I realize that for most people this is the only and a completely sufficient reason to have a child, and that’s fine. For them. But not for me. About four years ago I realized that a very powerful part of my psyche is a deeply ingrained belief that, generally speaking, I can’t have what I want (but other people should, generally speaking, have what they want. I know. Makes no sense). This belief sabotaged more than one relationship, kept us from taking a really good job in DC (for T, not me), and – on a more positive note – works really, really well for preventing me from spending all my discretionary income on expensive things. Sometimes it seems like the more I want something, the more I believe I can’t have it. I think it’s a defensive reflex I developed as a child to kill desire so I wouldn’t feel the pain of having it unfulfilled. I think that at some level I believe I don’t deserve to have the things I want – the BIG things, I mean. I’m working on it, though, and T helps a lot.
BUT – aside from my twisted psyche (or maybe not), I also have to question the primal-urge reason as being, well, just too primal. It seems to be connected to a sort of Darwinian need to put my genetic material out there – and what, exactly, makes my genetic material better than anyone else’s? Nothing! That’s what! So this reason completely fails to stand up to scrutiny. It seems either self-serving or sentimental.
It also seems to me that there are some pretty good reasons for NOT producing a child from my body, that far outweigh the completely pathetic “because I want to” reason. One, overpopulation. Two, orphans. Three, the world is one seriously fucked up place. A lot of the time it seems just plain wrong to deliberately bring a new life into this world of pain and sorrow (again – wrong for me, not for other people). I should add here that T and I had been planning to go off birth control in December 2003, but I went through a period of about half a year where I was just too depressed to even think about it, postponing the plan for 12 months. (Now I wonder what would have happened if we’d started trying sooner…). At that time, I could only imagine that if I had a child, he or she would grow up to hate me for giving him/her life and would most likely commit suicide by 21, in which event I would be directly responsible for bringing even more pain and suffering into the world. I still feel that way sometimes. Hm…. ok, maybe this is still part of the twisted psyche thing. Which means I am NOT FIT TO BE A MOTHER!
Is that the real reason for my doubts? A lot of people have told me I’d be a great mom, and part of me really does believe that. Another part of me is convinced I am way too selfish, moody, unstable, and absentminded. I believe I have a lot of love to give – but wouldn’t it be better to give it to an abandoned or orphaned child? (or is this just a self-serving rescue fantasy?)
So here we circle around to Reason #1 again… T wants us to have a biological child. He’s not ready to talk about adoption yet (although I’ve been filling his ear with my ideas and “contingency” plans in that area). And so I’m content to keep trying.