Sunday, February 12, 2012

question yourself.

The general consensus of those around me seems to be that, since I'm 31, in a heterosexual marriage, and gainfully employed, I MUST BE on the path to Purposeful Babymaking. This assumption is magnified, I think, since both J.J. and I happen to work with children. I think I want children. I mean, I'm pretty sure. Like, to the point that, after over a decade on the birth control pill, I stopped taking it on New Year's Day. I wanted to make sure my ovaries still knew how to do their thang, minus the synthetic hormones. (Update: Yes. Yes, they do.) And even though the doctor assured me that said hormones were out of my system the minute I stopped taking the pill, I'd rather be on the safe side and give my body a while to flush the stuff out.

But? I still have some serious misgivings about becoming a mother.

The major issue is that I always thought that when I became a parent, I'd be a grown-up already. Well, despite having been a legal adult for 13 YEARS (a newly-legal voter + a tween = me), I don't yet consistently characterize myself as a grown-up. I never consciously outlined the prerequisites for Grown-Uphood, but I guess I thought there'd be a point where it was clear that college was over and adulthood was HERE. But it appears Grown-Uphood snuck in sometime between finishing grad school and - well, now. Because I am a grown-up...right?

When I look at the families who attend my child care center, the parents are - grown-ups, definitely. Like, obviously, and I would never confuse them with, say, our undergraduate student volunteers, as some of those aforementioned parents have done with me. What shocked me in the last year or so was having potential families tour our center. They'd walk in the door with round preggo bellies or drooly newborns or unruly toddlers (or all three, and maybe a grade-schooler to boot), and I'd greet them and hand them off to our director for the tour, and then - it would hit me: Those grown-ups? They are not my parents' age. They aren't even my older sister's age, not all of them. They're my age...OR YOUNGER. And they are, unequivocally, grown-ups. Then an undergrad volunteer would call me "ma'am" and I'd think, oh, my God, I'm one, too. I'm a grown-up, at least in the eyes of the general public.

But I don't feel like a grown-up. I'm not sure what exactly that would feel like - and as I said, I never listed the parameters for achieving grown-up status - but I didn't think it would feel like constant, unrelenting fraudulence. When the neighbor across the street came to meet us after we moved in, he thought J.J. was in high school and asked to meet his parents. What a relief - not only did I marry a super-young-looking hottie, but a neutral stranger had confirmed my fears that we don't belong in this new category of "homeowners." I was afraid of making major changes in our house after we first moved in because, you know, you're supposed to get the landlord's approval first. I kept glancing over my shoulder as we ripped up the threadbare carpeting on that first night - partially to keep an eye out for ghosts, and partially because I expected someone to come yell at us for doing such a thing without adult supervision. Last fall, when one of the child care teachers called me into a parent conference after the mother requested a chat with the social worker, the mother laughed when I turned out to be the social worker she had requested. She asked, "Really? How long have you been doing this?" Um, at that point, five years. I wasn't offended, though. Quite the opposite; again, just relief that others recognized the incongruence.

A few months before we got married, my period was a no-show. All the years I was on the pill, my period was as punctual as possible: every 28 days, at 10:00 on Wednesday morning, thar she was. Never a few days, or even a few hours, late. I know stress can affect your cycle, but I wasn't feeling particularly stressed (new house and impending nuptials notwithstanding). When it still hadn't arrived by Thursday morning, I was convinced: This was it. Preggers, for sure. Gonna need to alter that J.Crew wedding dress to allow for a baby bump. I called !Rachel, my pregnancy-scare consultant of many years, who advised me to call into work, get a pregnancy test, and chill the fuck out.

I focused on my breathing during the four-minute drive to CVS (which I figured would be good practice for WHEN I HAD TO BIRTHE THE BABY THAT WAS DEFINITELY GROWING IN ME HOLY SHIT). And another weird, out-of-body, Grown-Up phenomenon occurred: As I furtively darted through the aisles, anxiety squeezing my lungs, I realized that if someone saw me purchasing my two-pack of First Responses, they wouldn't avert their eyes in sympathetic pity. They wouldn't suspect the terror that gripped my every brain cell. They'd think affectionately, "Aw, that lady might be in the family way!" (And, possibly, "She might consider changing out of her pajama pants before venturing out in public.") My fraudulence would not be apparent. (Ha. "A parent." Unintentionally punny.) I hid the offending package with a magazine anyway, just like we did as college kids in Village Apothecary (except this time it was Better Homes and Gardens instead of Jane, belying my adulthood yet again).

I was not, in fact, with child. A few hours later, after a negative pregnancy test, an omelette with green peppers and spinach, and a few episodes of Tori & Dean: Home Sweet Hollywood, I awoke from a mid-morning nap and went to check my menstruation status for time number seven jillion. TA-DA! Relief coursed through me, along with all the water I'd chugged to generate enough pee for the pregnancy test (even though it explicitly instructs you NOT to do that). But the feeling remained that, for the first time in my life, if I'd actually been pregnant, I'd have been in a place where it would have made sense to me to raise a child, despite...everything.

It could be the longtime split between my essential self and social self that feeds this feeling of fraudulence. It could just be that I'm a fraud. Either way, the doubts creep in. Sure, I love babies. So does J.J. And we're both pretty damn good with them, with plenty of experience. If my uterus requires reference checks before opening up shop, I'll be able to supply them readily. But...I thought grown-ups, especially those of the parent variety, had answers. Had logic. Had confidence. What I'm learning, through the parents at work, my siblings and friends who are parents, even celebrity parents, is that grown-ups don't always know. Not even grown-ups who have kids. That. Is. Terrifying. 

These days, at the very least, I can acknowledge that my biological clock exists. I had wondered for a while if my professional life, where I spend my days hearing all about the myriad ways child-rearing can go awry, had permanently dismantled my biological clock. It's been my passion to support families and teachers as they raise kids, but...after a while, it seemed like becoming a parent automatically inducted you into the League of Eternal Complainers. No sleep. No sex. No stability. Horror stories of labors gone wrong and floppy vaginas and bungled adoptions. Children - even the well-behaved, "easy" ones - commanding your house and your free time and your brain cells. Fumbling through the stages of childhood development only to find that, once you'd mastered one phase, IT WOULD CHANGE, and you'd be a novice all over again. And that's only the tip of the iceberg if your child also has delays and/or disabilities. Being subjected to these tales for 40+ hours a week is enough to mangle the hands of nearly anyone's biological clock.

That said, I have yet to encounter a parent who doesn't then turn a loving gaze toward his or her offspring and coo, "But it's all worth it!" Sometimes I fear they have to say that, to convince themselves as much as anyone else. I've felt that way about purchasing a house and getting married, too - that once people do it, they feel a primeval urge to suck everyone into their institution (ONE OF USSSSS)...sort of a misery-loves-company dealio.

But then? Then I fall in love with a baby, and my biological clock ticks, ever so hesitantly. A kid at work, or my nieces and nephews...love. And that love - which is just a teeny-tiny fraction of what a parent probably feels - supercedes everything. Explosive baby diarrhea on my forearms. Discovering a trail of dried spit-up running down my back at the end of the day. Ruining jeans because I washed them without removing the stickers a little friend had bestowed upon them. Even the dread and fear that accompany a trip to the emergency room or a major surgery for my nephew - I'd still rather have him, obviously, without a doubt. And these aren't even my kids.

Who knows. For now, my favorite kind of kid is the kind I relinquish back to his or her parents at the end of the day. This might be another venture that my anxiety is trying to talk me out of. The "what ifs" are overwhelming, and avoidance is, as always, an easy out.

But I stopped taking my birth control pill anyway. I started taking prenatals anyway. (Side note, they made my pee kind of green at first, like the Incredible Hulk's pee. Or Slimer's.) Sometimes, even though you have doubts and misgivings, even though you're not sure if you're qualified or ready, even though you're scared and unsure and things might go terribly, horribly wrong - sometimes you have to forge ahead anyway. Because it will all be worth it.



  1. Cathy, I have so many comments, but not enough time or clear enough head space from lack of sleep (seriously, last night was for crap) to write a coherent response at this moment. But I wanted you to know that I'd read this, and do have thoughts if you want to hear them. No matter when you and JJ decide you might be ready to take the plunge, with all the what ifs, you will be fantastic. Until, that time when some bump in the parenting road pops up, and you pause for a moment and think HOLY SHITBUCKETS I'M THE ONE RESPONSIBLE FOR THIS HUMAN BEING WTH, you will make whatever decision you think is best, and move along there's nothing to see here. And you'll always have neurotic friends to commiserate with along the way! xoxo

  2. Tanya...thank you! Maybe you need to come pick up Matt a few minutes early next time so we can talk. ;) I'm terrible at making decisions, and I'm pretty sure this would be the first one I'd ever make that I couldn't back out of. Usually, though, when I get stuck in the decision-making phase, it's a sign that I need to stop thinking and just DO. Plus, what if I had to be pregnant for summer camp? That'd be weird. :)



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