I am a 34-year-old happily married woman. My husband and I are currently struggling with the question of whether or not to have a child. Actually, I'm struggling with it more than he is. I think he'd be happy to remain childfree. However, I think that he could be persuaded to genuinely change his mind. Up until about a year ago, I would have certainly identified myself as childfree. However, during this past year I've found myself sometimes longing for a baby and a family that includes children. I'm not sure why this issue has become important to me at this point in time. Possibly, it's because of my age and the fact that I'm beginning to realize that my biological window for childbearing may close at some point in the next few years.
I change my mind about this issue almost daily, and go from feeling like I desperately want a child to feeling like I do not want to give up my independence, autonomy and disposable income. I know this sounds terrible, but money is central to my reluctance to fully embrace the idea of becoming a parent. I grew up in a lower middle class household where lack of money was always an issue.
We owned a home and never went without the necessities of life, but there was very little money left over for nice clothes, vacations or any other luxuries. I think I felt bad about this because I grew up in an area where this was not the norm. Many of my childhood friends came from upper middle class backgrounds and I can remember feeling very ashamed of my cheap clothes and my family's banged-up cars, in comparison to what my friends and their families had.
I went to college and then grad school, secured a good (but not extremely high-paying) job and married. My husband and I make a decent income, but we are not wealthy. We can afford a very comfortable standard of living because we both have relatively demanding jobs, and we don't have kids. We certainly do a lot better than my parents did. We vacation abroad, drive nice cars, go to the theater and have a comfortable nest egg for our future. However, having a child would certainly change that to a large extent. Saving for college and paying for daycare would make it impossible for us to continue our current lifestyle. I'm also unsure whether it would be realistic for me to think that I could continue full-time in my current job, if we did have a young child.
I feel like I am at a crossroads because I really do not know what to do. My husband and I can both see the strong appeal of raising a child and having our own family. However, I hated being broke and feeling ashamed of that as a child, and I vowed I'd never voluntarily put myself in that position again. I am used to living a certain way and am unwilling to give that up.
However, I feel pressure to sort this out soon because, if I have a child, I want to do it while I'm relatively young. I know that people can adopt kids at any age, but I don't want to be the 60-year-old mom at high school graduation. I don't expect you to be able to tell me whether or not my husband and I should have kids. Though, I would appreciate any advice that you can offer on how to go about figuring this out.
Dear Maybe Baby,
How clever of you to sign your letter with the title of Salon's new book!
OK, you didn't really sign it that way. I put that in. I just wanted to plug the book. I hope you don't mind. It's a good title, don't you think? And you are raising just the kinds of questions that the book's 28 authors address. So one suggestion I would have is to read this book.
As for me, I think your reasons for hesitating to have a child are very good. It's been almost three years since Salon ran the "To Breed or Not to Breed" series, out of which editor Lori Leibovich developed the "Maybe Baby" book. In my essay for that series, which also appears in the book, I tried to describe how I came to understand whether I wanted a child. Questions similar to yours presented themselves.
For me, it was a matter of coming to understand what it actually feels like to want something -- to really, really want something. One day I realized that I knew what it felt like to want to be a writer. I knew what it felt like to want to marry my wife, to play music. And when I thought about having kids, I just did not have that same feeling, and neither did my wife. We knew that there were people for whom having kids had never been in doubt. They always knew it, as we had always known certain other things. That was the key point.
Then, having discovered what we felt, it was a matter of making practical choices. We knew we could not have everything.
So, being somewhat conservative in our estimate of what is actually possible to achieve, we decided that we ought to concentrate on those things we really knew we wanted. That is what we are doing now.
There was also a certain spiritual angle to it at the time -- coming to know what I wanted as something that "the universe" or whatever also wanted of me, or something like that. And that was important, too. My wife and I felt that if we were supposed to have kids, that we would probably intensely desire kids, and that kids would probably happen. And we were willing to let kids happen. But kids did not happen. At least kids haven't happened yet. So be it.
We're at peace with it. That may well sound a little Northern California hippieish for your taste. To put it more pragmatically, we subjectively assigned a value to childbearing and then ranked it against life's other competing objectives.
As I noted in Monday's column, if you're in San Francisco this Thursday night, April 13, please join us at 7:30 p.m. at Books Inc., 2251 Chestnut St. in the Marina district, to celebrate the publication of "Maybe Baby." Perhaps after the short readings this question can be discussed at greater length with the editor and three writers present -- Lori Leibovich, Andrew Leonard, Lakshmi Chaudhry and me.
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What? You want more?