It’s a funny thing, being married and not having children. Typically, the first question past somebody’s lips are, “Are you pregnant yet?”, regardless of their relationship to you, or lack thereof. “Yet” being the most offensive word in the entire inquiry. “Yet” as in, implying it was expected years ago. “Yet”, as in reminding every female of a biological clock ticking away in the distance. “Yet”, as if securing child-bearing as a factual part of every woman’s life, so as to rob her of freedom of choice.
We’ve had grandparents come up to us and tell us, “I want to have great-grandkids already (some of them already do, and still, their eyes turn to us)”, and our own parents saying “I want grandkids too!”. How noble of you to volunteer us for such an intensive endeavor. Sometimes I just want to tell them, in a very matter-of-fact way, that my purpose in life is not to serve them forever (oh, master), just as their calling in life is to not live through me forever (your highness).
Having children is a decision that I’ve tossed around, mulled over, succumbed to, and fought against. It’s a discussion that I’ve spilled out on the table to Mikey, and that we’ve shoved back into a closet. I have always been a very deliberate, and intentional person, who strives to have my actions reflect my values, although I was never able to recognize that before in my youth. My thinking has always been of a psychological nature. I was attracted to books that taught me more about the human nature than all my human interactions combined. Maybe that’s why I am deeply attracted to psychological thrillers, and equally, as deeply affected. I used to consider myself a secret rebel, because I had an urge to initially resist and go against whatever I was taught, with the assumption that what the world feeds me is not necessarily right. “A girl who thinks too much”, they said. I don’t think too much, I simply think. Whether that’s a short-coming on my part is debatable, one that I’d heatedly deny. Regardless, I continue to dissect my actions, my thoughts, my feelings to unfathomable depths until I reach some form of inner peace. This is just a small look into my extremely complicated, weirdo mind.
Child bearing is a concept whose importance is so heavily ingrained in a multitude of cultures, since the beginning of man-kind. There is a large part of myself that feels a resistance to the idea, despite being raised with the notion that this was my future written in stone. There was always this timeline that was assumed and impressioned on me, as I am sure it was impressioned on you. One that entails schooling, a career, marriage, a home, a new car, the first child or pet, a renovation of the home, the second child or pet, forty years of servitude to the man, and retirement on a Caribbean island. It’s a cycle that so many have lived through and wrongly romanticized, but we all don’t fit in the same shaped box that the world wishes to conform us to, do we now?
For many people, after marrying, they have this expectation of having kids as the next step. Whether they are aware of the puppet strings manipulating their decision to do that or not, it just “naturally” happens (tongue in cheek). It’s such a common assumption, that any random stranger meeting you for the first time and learning that you’re married will probably ask about your children within the first five minutes. This would occur in almost every part of the world.
It isn’t to say that having kids doesn’t turn out well. A majority of the time, it turns out wonderfully. It’s something that happens that many do not express regret over. It is, after all, a gift. Unfortunately, this does not mean that it was a decision that many people felt completely in control of. In fact, I would wager that a majority of people cannot completely explain why they chose to have kids in the first place. Answers I would typically hear include, “I wanted to experience the joys of motherhood”, “I wanted to embark on a journey with my husband”, “I want to learn from my children”, and “I wanted the challenge of raising a child right”. But these all sound like reiterations of extremely vague explanations-past that have no depth and crumble right after I ask the question, “Why?”
Some mothers immediately recognize their lack of control over the decision making process AFTER giving birth to their child. There is a line that is crossed wherein a person loses their singularity once a child is born. The unexpectedness of this loss, or the unpreparedness to understand that part of yourself (and your life) is now shared by someone else can be very depressing.
Post partum depression is increasing in occurrence among women in the United States. CDC research reports that nationally, 1 in 9 women experience post partum depression, and that some states, 1 in 5 women experience post partum depression. The cause is yet unknown and some would like to attribute it to hormonal changes, but there is no definitive truth. I took a Women’s Course once in college and I vividly remember research that argued that hormonal changes during menstruation and post partum actually cause women to have a heightened sense of awareness and a deeper connection spiritually and intuitively. In some indigenous cultures, these awakened abilities of women are so highly valued that women actually leave in groups once a month to go to the top of the mountains or in isolation somewhere to have the space to fully tap into this awareness. The class compares that to first world countries’ explanation of PMS, which could be the result of a woman’s awareness of their position or role in society, and the rage they feel at the injustice of it all. Likewise, post partum depression could be the sudden realization that they have just sacrificed a part of their lives for society. And while some may argue that hormonal changes could be the cause of depression, it is interesting to me that the risk factors and symptoms are non-hormonal at all, but rather societal.
Risk factors for Post Partum Depression Include
- Difficulty getting pregnant.
- Low social support.
- Being a mom to multiples, like twins, or triplets.
- Being a teen mom.
- Preterm (before 37 weeks) labor and delivery.
- Pregnancy and birth complications.
- Having a baby who has been hospitalized.
Symptoms of Post Partum Depression Include
- Feelings of anger.
- Withdrawing from loved ones.
- Feeling numb or disconnected from your baby.
- Worrying that you will hurt the baby.
- Feeling guilty about not being a good mom or doubting your ability to care for the baby.
This indicates to me that there is more to the depression than a scientific explanation of excessive neurochemicals floating around in one’s bloodstream. Whether it’s natural to feel our own humanness, or it’s due to a realization of an incomplete understanding of our undertaking, post partum depression at times happens but many are able to conquer it and move on to being fantastic and wonderful parents.
What I am going to say next may offend people because of my lack of experience in parenting and my statements regarding the task, but this is what I’ve observed and learned from deep discussions with current parents. Being a parent is romanticized as being a joy in life. A correction to that statement would be that it is a joy in life, at times. It cannot be denied that there are moments in parenting that are frustrating, infuriating, annoying, tiring, and downright unbearable. Raising a little human is much more difficult than raising a little fish. It requires more of ourselves than we would like to admit. It’s nice to pin on social media the good moments, the perfect family photo, the tenth photo you took that captures that “one moment” of child-like goodness, but it could also be extremely misleading to young would-be-parents to paint an image of perfection.
There is a devotion to being there for another human being that is required from all parents that I think really conflicts with my ambition to serve society with the aim of reaching a higher good. These two things are completely incompatible ends. There is going to come a point in my life, where my would-be child would likely ask me to play a game of hide-and-seek in the exact moment that I should be rushing out the door to get to work. I would have to either make a choice to play hide-and-seek without reserve or distraction for that child and be late to my first patient of the day, or to deny my child the game to see my first patient as promised. When I brought this up to Mike, he had the insight to say it could also be detrimental to both. Maybe you start the game of hide-and-seek which ends in frustration of being late and the need to end it early, thus resulting in you being a few minutes late for another human being. Now you’ve failed both the child and the patient. Which is why I am so angered by this idea of Life Work Balance that is being glamorized by the media. It’s this false lifestyle that can be really damaging to the human psyche. It’s an expectation that we have created, not only for women, but men and fathers too, that sets them up for failure. We pretend as if this can be transcended, when it can’t. It would be impossible for any human being to equally service everyone and everything at all times, day-to-day.
With that said, and with the knowledge of the human limitations for achieving SuperMom status, any devotion that I give to a fictitious child would hamper my strive to give to my community. Some might argue that you will be improving the community by raising a child right, with valued morals and principles, thus giving them the ability to contribute to THEIR community when they grow older. But isn’t that thinking a bit too much on the small-scale of things? I think I would have a greater effect on society if I could somehow touch multiple parents with my work. Whether that’s dentistry or my writing or my lifestyle. If I could influence a whole community of parents, whose child-rearing thinking, techniques and habits shift to raise a whole generation of better children, does that not make up for the one child I choose not to have? Instead of giving to one child, why not give to an entire world of children? I am not so egotistical as to think I would have this world-changing effect on society, but maybe I can change one or two or ten people through my work, who then pass it on to THEIR children, and is that not better already?
I was reading Ashlee Vance’s book on Elon Musk and an interview with Elon revealed to me that he was a huge proponent of procreation. Specifically, he reprimands smarter women for not procreating more. He notes the correlation between highly educated, career-driven, “successful and intellectual” women, and decreased child-bearing. He states that “smarter women” should have children, as an evolutionary responsibility to our race’s future. At first I was floored by this very influential and highly-educated man’s insistence on highly-educated women having children. For a second I was convinced. But then I had flashbacks from my evolutionary biology courses. Evolution is not generational. Evolution occurs over extremely long periods of time. It depends more on a mutational change that can permeate throughout the species and survive over numerous generations. Unless there is a mutational change that would make a smart woman’s child smarter than a regular human being, there is an unlikelihood that her having children will have an impact in the evolutionary progression of intelligence. Additionally, even if an intelligent woman has a child who is also more intelligent than his peers, there has to be the guarantee that that child will procreate with an equally intelligent human being. If the child procreates with someone with a lower IQ score, then there is no progress. There are other factors that could affect evolutionary intelligence. The technology which we are creating, at an increasingly rapid speed, is causing us as a species to access less and less of our brains. Atrophy of certain aspects of the brain due to an easier lifestyle can affect evolutionary intelligence more than the decision of one woman to have a child. Even something as simple as reading books, which was invented way before computers, is considered a fairly recent advancement in our society that arguably require us to draw less from niches in our brains that deal with imagination or memory.
Lastly, I would like to challenge the idea that intelligence is measured solely by biological factors. It has been discovered that IQ tests do not test intelligence alone, but rather motivation as well, which I would argue can be taught. Environmental factors can greatly shape a person’s motivation to learn. It would be wrongly assuming of anyone to think that a highly educated woman’s child will be born smarter than a child born in a third world country to two parents who work in factories. It has been shown time and time again that people from third world countries tend to tap into their potentials more than people from first world countries, given the same resources. Perhaps it is the survival-of-the-fittest in us all and an early introduction to how pressing the survival call actually is during our childhood years that help to shape this. Regardless, I think to myself at times, that maybe the smarter thing to do would be to not have children, but to give a child in need the resources and the ability to be able to reach their hidden potential.
I think this humanitarian ideal calls more to me now than ever before. There are plenty of children in this world already. I am one of those children who was born in a third world country. I have done outreach programs to third world countries multiple times in my life. I know that there is a need for help. Nicole Kidman’s role as Sue Brierly in Lion captured it best.
“Having a child, couldn’t guarantee it will make anything better. But to take a child that’s suffering like you boys were. Give you a chance in the world. That’s something.”
I think about this quote all the time. I wonder about whether wanting children is a selfish thing. Historically, having children came from a selfish need to increase the number of hands on a farm, or a need to carry the family name that we so wear with pride. The more modern reasons for wanting children that I touched on above all insinuate a sense of selfish pleasure out of the entire experience. It would be wrong of me to say that having children is just yet another social status symbol that we portray to the world, saying we are successful and happy, although partially, I believe that is true. Congratulations, yet another box you’ve checked off on your to-do list! Off course, I wouldn’t deny in the same breath that there is more to it than that. But the reasons that I hear always center around “I”. “I wanted to experience the joys of motherhood”. “I wanted to embark on a journey with my husband”. “I want to learn from my children”. “I wanted the challenge of raising a child right”.
But what is it that we want to give? And can we do that with what we already have?
The game plan for me was always to have children of my own. But it’s on pause right now, while I try to riddle through past influences and determine whether that choice was really made by me, or by someone else. This is just the transitional phase, and as with any transitional phase, it involves some heavy soul-searching, unearthing, and re-configuring. Undoubtedly, it would be insane of me, and completely degrading, if I decide to have children simply because someone else wants me to. Then again, people will call me insane for digging this deeply on a decision that some would unwittingly make in a heartbeat. There is a sense of “Hurry up already!” that we feel, like a scent seeping into a room. But as with everything else … slow and intentional, mindful and true.