Baby hunger

A young woman with big dreams for her future confronts the confusing and unexpected ticking of her biological clock

Published February 23, 1998 6:14PM (EST)

A strange thing happened to me the other day.

I was walking home from the corner store, a paper tucked under my
arm, when I almost tripped over a baby. This child, who couldn't have
been more than 2 years old, had broken away from his mother and
was waddling toward me, shrieking in apparent delight at his newfound
freedom or perhaps just the ability of his legs to carry him.

The toddler, who had a big round face, blotchy red skin and pale yellow hair that
stood straight up in a wispy mohawk, stopped directly in front
of me. He looked up the long distance from my shins to my face and
stared at me as if he knew me. There was a pause. Then, for no reason
that I can think of, his face crumpled into a thousand creases and he
began to bawl, his arms stretched out at his sides as if he were being

For those in the know, spontaneous tears are as normal a part of
babyhood as wet diapers. I, however, was not in the know, as the fine
layer of sweat forming on my brow proved. But the heat building around
my temples was more than just a reaction to the little red human
screaming at my feet. Deep in my heart, I wanted nothing so much as to
swoop the toddler off the ground and take him home with me. My fingers
fairly ached to feel the softness of his fat limbs and the oversized
roundness of his skull in my palm. For an instant, I considered boosting
the tike into my arms and speeding away before his mother could catch on,
or at least sitting down on the sidewalk and tickling him.

I of course did neither of these things, but I must admit that my
baby-snatching impulses have been multiplying at an alarming rate. Without
knowing how it happened, I have somehow become a baby-coveter. I have
become the kind of person who turns and stares at every baby that
strolls by, exclaiming, "Oh, did you see that baby?" I have found myself
perusing children's clothing stores with nary a niece or nephew to buy

How, I ask myself, could this have happened? I am 26 years old, I'm in
a stable relationship and I make a decent living, but I am simply not the
kind of person who goes around coveting babies. I am too independent,
too feminist-minded, too interested in having fun and flat-out too damn
young for that sort of thing. Babies are for sissies.

Granted, I no longer hang out in hip bars until all hours of the
night. In
fact, I couldn't really tell you where the hip bars are anymore. And I
suppose it has been a long time since I bought thrift-store clothes,
pierced a body part or dyed my hair a color wilder than Espresso
Brown. And though I'm loathe to admit it, it's also been a while since I
escorted at an abortion clinic, volunteered at a women's shelter, served
food to the homeless or marched to take back the night. Instead, I've
focused on building a career I love and have
forged a relationship with a man that I think will last the rest of my life.
But does that mean I have to go around having babies?

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

For so long, I believed wholeheartedly that only the most exciting
important of lives could lie before me, and having babies had nothing to
do with it. How could I have
babies when I was going to write the great American novel, be a
sculptress and redesign the country's social services programs?
Motherhood seemed shockingly mundane. She just wants to settle down
and have kids, my friends and I would say about girls we didn't like,
girls who were beneath our scorn because of their lack of ambition or
creativity or chutzpah. Wanting to be a mom, cooing over babies -- that
kind of thing was just not for girls like me.

Oddly enough, I don't think that kind of thing was really for my mom
either. The woman was pretty wild during my childhood. She used to
throw huge parties where musicians from around the state would set up shop in
our living room and play past the point their fingers began to
bleed -- on into the morning, when she'd fix them breakfast. On special
weekend afternoons she used to take me to dark sailor bars down by the
waterfront where she went disco dancing and introduced me to bartenders
who would fix me pink and blue drinks and let me practice my moves on
the multicolored dance floor while they gossiped. Her friends were
artists, filmmakers, musicians, and the only thing they didn't approve
of was living a conventional life. "If anyone tries to marry you
before you're 35," she used to say, "I'm coming after them with a shotgun."

She also used to say, though, that having my brother and me was the
thing she ever did. But I always thought it was just a happy coincidence
that she liked us so much; it didn't occur to me there was anything innate
about having children that brought the kind of joy she spoke of. I thought
other moms were probably bored and boring, clearly at the end of their

But, oh, what is this change that has come over me? A fundamental
shift has taken place right before my eyes and beyond my control:
babies, being a mom, buying those little no-spill cups, the whole thing
suddenly seems cool to me. And even more important than that, it seems like
something I could incorporate into who I am.

Perhaps it's biological, I think to myself. Although I consider myself so
young, I'm a year older then my mother was when she started having
kids, and I'm several years older than most moms of her generation

Or maybe, I think, I'm subconsciously picking up on a societal shift.
Maybe the culture is going to begin revering taking care of children all
of a sudden, and
I'm just ahead of the curve.

Or who knows -- maybe I'm just not the bohemian rebel type after all. (I
also find myself fantasizing about owning large quantities of thick,
high-quality towels, if that means anything.)

What I do know is I find myself counting the years until I predict
I'll be
"ready" to handle the responsibilities of owning a baby. I watch young
moms out of the corner of my eye, trying to imagine all the things they
know, about which I haven't a clue. And I squirm with jealousy, thinking
that every day they get to hear all those cute things babies say and
every day they get to feel those tiny arms wrap confidently around their

So for now, I'll stop in front of the Baby Gap windows and sigh at the
tiny overalls and itsy button-down shirts, and I'll continue to drool over
the babies sitting next to me on the bus, and I'll keep begging my friends
to start having them, and I'll continue to wonder how a girl like me ended
up aspiring to something like this.

By Heather Chaplin

Heather Chaplin is currently working on a book about video-game culture for Algonquin.

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