Cities without landmarks
Niagara Falls, U.S./Canada
Every week or so, my partner and I sit in a shrink’s office trying to get over our bafflement. We’ve been baffled for some time now. About 17 months. We never planned to have kids and now we have one. And while we love this kid very much, and we can no longer imagine the world without him, and he’s a beautiful golden-haired boy full of personality, his presence stumps us. We never meant to be parents. We’re totally non-parentals. (What is the opposite of “parental”? The word doesn’t even exist, which goes to show how ridiculous the notion must be to the world, no?)
When I grew up, I played with Legos. I never dreamed of baking or tea parties. I had dolls, but I didn’t think they had feelings or needed to have their diapers changed. Then, when I was 9, my mother had my sister and I experienced all the hellish joys of raising an infant. My sister was a great kid, but by the time I was 25, I was quite sure that she was the only child I was ever going to have.
Like Brittany Shoot, the author of “Why I Got My Tubes Tied at 27,” I was sure enough that I researched getting my tubes tied and was open about it with any serious boyfriends I had over the years. With my last ex-boyfriend we had even gone to a doctor to inquire about vasectomy. The doctor told us that at 28 my ex-boyfriend was way too young and no one was going to do anything for me for a long time. Like Shoot, I heard the same lines about being too young and how I would change my mind. It even angered some people when I dared to defend my choices.
Hey, I liked dogs. I always said I’d love to have a dog. I love big dogs, like Alaskan Malamutes. I envisioned myself getting old with an Alaskan Malamute as my companion. Walking outside, my attention didn’t snag when I passed toddlers and strollers. I only saw dogs. It was the dogs that I would ask about. Whenever I’d pass one, I’d get an instant urge to swoop down and cradle whatever big-nosed creature was looking up at me with moist black eyes. I would want to squeeze it. Pet it. Eat it. I wanted to eat its face. In a loving way. I wanted to eat its face in the loving, urgent, instinctive way.
With babies, if they were suddenly and sneakily wheeled in front of me, I just wanted them to go away. I didn’t want to hold them. I wanted to hold puppies. Some people probably thought that made me a bit of a bitch.
Childless and defensive, I made it to my 30s. By then, I was with someone who didn’t want children as much as I didn’t want them. He was in a couple of serious relationships before ours that ended because of the child issue. I knew this when we met and it was one of the things that I liked about him — this solid stance. He also carried a birth-defect gene. Although this wasn’t the main motivator behind our decision to be child-free, it pretty much sealed the deal.
We talked about getting a dog if we ever moved out of the city. We decided on a Newfoundland. We looked at houses in the country. Two bedrooms were our minimal requirement; we would convert one into an office. But country homes were too much work and we loved our freedom, so we ended up putting money down on a downtown condo development instead, one bedroom, on the 13th floor. I started dreaming about a fitting, condo-friendly dog: a whippet.
As our relationship got real-estate-serious, we began to talk more seriously about permanent birth-control options — vasectomy or tubal ligation. This time the ages were more suitable: me over 30, him over 40. I had had a pregnancy scare before so I wanted to ensure it wouldn’t happen again.
And then I got pregnant. And we decided to keep it.
We decided to have this baby because I couldn’t go through the grief of another termination. We decided to have it because my partner’s father died and the sense of mortality transformed from a needle falling on glass to a gong. We decided to have this baby because I went to see the first ultrasound at 12 weeks, and they made me listen to the heartbeat, and they said “baby” as if the primordial blob was one, a baby, indeed. We decided to have this baby because my partner secretly changed his mind after watching a friend of his adopt a daughter.
So we had him. The first three months were awesome. We ate rainbows for breakfast. We kept him in a wicker basket beside our bed. We shivered with love over his impossibly beautiful ears, eyes, everything. His wet diapers, yes. Even his inherited birth defect was so minor that it gave us very little to worry about.
We sold the condo, bought a house with a baby room.
And then it — they — caught up with us: our true child-free selves.
As all parents do, we too had to renegotiate our lifestyles. But because we’re both in artistic fields, our lifestyles also mean our lives, period. After those pink-clouded first three months it suddenly seemed very cruel to have to give up huge chunks of who we were in order to cater to this … blob who was now undeniably 100 percent human. This is what we struggled with most.
As all parents know, nothing is more important than a wet, hungry baby. Nothing. Not even the column you have to file or the photograph you really need to send out. You can’t just leave the house, slam the door behind you. Go to three art openings, stay up till 5, have a lot of drinks.
I had a lot of drinks, eventually. I couldn’t handle it, the change. And my partner got very ill. We made it through both, the drinks and the illness. We ended up going for counseling where every week we work on reconciling our old selves with the new ones. In our sessions we mourn our wild child-free ways. But we’re getting over our shock slowly and our bafflement has started to scab over a little now.
Should child rearing be left to people who want it? Not necessarily. It turns out, I love being a mother. I love everything about it, even the tantrums on the floor, bloody snot and painful pinching of my breasts included. My partner and I will often put the baby to bed and then will spend the next hour or so looking at photographs of him from when he was a newborn. We often neglect to eat our breakfast because we’re staring at our son eating his. We talk about him on our very rare nights out, even though we promise ourselves we won’t behave so pathetically. We both look at kids and babies all the time now; there’s an entire world of these amazing creatures with their giant cartoon eyes and serious frowns and fat feet. Incredible. I know now that, as far as experiences go, this is the one that you absolutely must have before you can know for sure what you want. Of course, by then — it’s too late to change your mind.
Niagara Falls, U.S./Canada
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