Tagged life with kids

45 Makes Me Regret Not Having Kids

On January 21, I looked around me at the Hartford, CT Women’s March Rally, and I felt regret, deep like a splinter from an un-planed board. I was there with my friend Sarah and her 12-year-old daughter Ella. It occurred to me that by not having children, I deprived myself of the opportunity to raise humans who would be thoughtful, critical, committed citizens. Of course, the beliefs of parents do not always become the beliefs of their children, yet I was struck by the lost opportunity of passing on values that I believe are the very ones that make America great: tolerance, questioning authority, willingness to stand up for not only one’s own rights, but more importantly, the rights of the marginalized. Despite my regret, the number of children at the rally heartened me.

After the rally, Sarah and I exchanged emails about how and why she included Ella that day. Sarah wrote about bringing her daughter and son with her every time she votes, as well as family discussions about current events, politics and community. For her, it is vital that her kids understand the responsibility that goes along with their privilege.

While Sarah’s husband and son decided to forgo the rally, in part to avoid the overstimulation of the event, Ella decided, after much conversation, that she wanted to participate. Sarah did encourage her, sharing with me, “I told her that this would be a significant day for American women. I didn’t want her to miss out on the chance to be a part of such a special day. Ultimately, I hope that my daughter saw that there are things that we can not sit idle and accept.”

As we drove to Hartford, I got to see Sarah’s strategies for raising an active citizen. Ella, pussyhat proudly perched on her head, encouraged me as I knit as fast as I could to finish one for myself. Sarah made a point of reminding us that we should be prepared in case the media asked to interview us. She encouraged Ella to practice what she would say about why she was at the rally. I was impressed by her enthusiastic, smart answers about human rights and immigration issues. Clearly, making posters with her family, hanging out as her mom churned out pussyhats, and months of post-election conversations impacted Ella’s views. I could see that Ella had a sense of the rally being more than a new experience; she understood the protest she was about to voice.

About a month later, I asked Sarah what affect she felt the rally had on her daughter. She wrote, “It certainly normalized protest as a reasonable reaction to policy we find objectionable. She is also thoughtful about articulating the ideas that upset her and why. Ella got to see you, me, her grandparents, her ballet teacher, a friend and her mom among many other people in our community at the rally because there are ideologies that need protesting. Long term it remains to be seen if this creates an inner sense of civic responsibility, but I think it will.”

In the weeks since 45 has taken office–weeks that feel like decades–I’ve vacillated between relief that I don’t have children who will inherit this mess, and the same regret I felt at the rally. I feel encouraged, though, that there are legions of parents who are woke, and even more young people positioned to stay woke. And I see that my role in the lives of the young people I know is to be yet another adult who is unafraid to use her privilege and raise her voice in protest.

But what about my sisters who are on the fence about having kids? How is this administration shaping their decisions?

MotherShould? writer Ada Kenney weighed in, saying, “45 and the current Congress haven’t necessarily changed my plans about motherhood. Rather, they’ve heightened my ambivalence. I didn’t want to get an IUD before the inauguration as so many women did because I only have so many (if any) fertile years left, and seems like a waste to get it for just a year or so. But I also don’t want to raise a child alone with less of a social safety net than we currently have, and unless I meet The One really soon, that may be my only path toward motherhood.

“I have considered fostering or adoption before, and I fear those systems will be weakened in the next few years, so maybe I will do that. It would be a better move than having a baby in the face of the threat of nuclear war.”

In a recent episode of The Longest Shortest Time, Hillary Frank hosts a roundtable during which, among other topics, two lesbian couples examine the question of how 45’s administration affects their thinking about having children. Even within one couple, the partners’ views cover a wide range: eager to raise radical children vs. afraid to bring a child into the world where the parents (Black, queer) feel hatred around them.

How about you? Has the new administration muddied or clarified the decision for you?

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If You Knew You’d Get Divorced, Would You Still Have Kids?

If you’d asked me twenty years ago, whether or not I’d have children, the answer would have been an emphatic of course! From as far back as I can remember, I knew that I wanted to have children. Not just one or two, either– I wanted eight of them, preferably all boys. I inherited my love of children from my mom, who never missed an opportunity to hold a baby, squeeze those little sausage legs, or play peek-a-boo while waiting in the check-out line at the grocery store. She was one of 18 children, from a big Italian family, and I always knew I wanted a big family of my own one day.

To say that I love children is like saying fish love the ocean. As a teen, I spent most of my spare time helping out on the play-yard with the kindergarteners, volunteering at the Y teaching children with special needs how to swim, babysitting on weekends (often without pay), and working as a camp counselor. In college, I taught preschool and babysat on weekends. After finishing my BA, I went to grad school to study child development, got my teaching credential, then taught Kindergarten for two years. Children were a part of every facet of my life.

When I was almost thirty, my husband and I decided to have children. We’d been married for three years. We came to this decision with much intention, partly because he was a programmer, and always considered all the consequences before he entered into anything. Some of the factors we considered were: whether we were financially stable, what we could offer children, whether we could afford to have me stay home until they were in Kindergarten. As much as I thought we were making a well-informed decision, I realize now that we hadn’t considered what should have been the most obvious question: would we still want to have children if we had to go it alone?

We are conditioned from early childhood to imagine the perfect family scenario– mom, dad, 2.2 kids, a dog, a white-picket fence. My version of this was that I’d be a stay-at-home mom , my husband would be involved and attentive to our family, and we’d have my doting Italian mother (Nonna to my kids) only two miles away. I’d had fantasies about pregnancy, too– that glow, that gorgeous round belly, people helping with my groceries. It wasn’t long, though, before reality caught up to fantasy in a dark alley and gave it the good beating it deserved.

The disillusionment began somewhere around the sixth week of pregnancy. I came to understand the misnomer of morning sickness, which was not relegated merely to mornings. No– it lasted all day, every day; and whereas for most people, morning sickness subsided after the first trimester, for me lasted five long months. I managed to gain 60 lbs with my first pregnancy and 58 lbs with the next. And that pregnant glow? Ha! What I experienced was more a putrid shade of green. Looking back, I suppose this was the first indication that perhaps having children was not going to be what I had imagined. But I got through the pregnancy, and after nine months of feeling like a bloated cow, I gave birth to a beautiful and healthy baby girl.

Those first few days were as magical as everyone says; all I wanted to do was gaze into my baby’s eyes and hold her close. Then a couple of weeks in, those magical days were replaced by anxious nights, filled with completely irrational thoughts. I was convinced that my precious daughter would get into drugs or have unprotected sex. Even after those initial anxieties subsided, I could never have anticipated all the worries that would accompany having children. In the rolodex of my mind, I filled card after card with every new worry inherent to parenting. But, despite the worries, I enjoyed being a mom. For me, the benefits far outweighed the costs.

I was fortunate enough to have been able to stay home until my daughters were six and four. I’d planned to stay home until they were both in school, but as it turned out, my husband was not happy being married. I think marriage and parenting took a tremendous toll on him. In February of 2006, when divorce was imminent, I took a job as a preschool director in a small school that offered a lot of flexibility. By December, the girls and I found ourselves in our new house without their father, a maze of boxes looming in the living room. Over time, and with my mom’s help, we settled into our new life.

My mom, who lived only two miles away, was a tremendous help. She watched the girls if I needed to run to the store or if I had a meeting. She’d make sure my freezer was stocked with minestrone and sauce. In many ways, having my mom was better than having a husband; she was more helpful and I never felt I had to walk on eggshells with her. But less than two years into my divorce, we learned that my mom had Stage IV colon cancer. The oncologist gave her 6-12 months. The surgeons performed an aggressive resection of her colon and liver. She came to stay with me for a few months while she recovered. The surgeon felt confident that he’d gotten all the cancer, and for a couple of years, it looked as if she might defy the odds. Then, after almost two years of being cancer free, she got the news that her cancer had come back. It was, hands down, the hardest time in my life. On top of being a single mom, I took on the job of being her caretaker. She stayed with us while she recovered from an aggressive surgery, and again at the end when she was housebound and on a morphine drip. I wouldn’t have traded that time with her, but it added another element of challenge to parenting. Somehow, though, I made it through.

If you asked me today if I had to do it all again, would I have kids, there would be no definitive response, rather a long, uncomfortable pause followed by an incredibly uncertain I’m not sure. I have to stop here and qualify this by saying that I have two of the best kids I’ve ever known. If they were not my own kids and I met them at a gathering, I’d be instantly drawn to each of them, and would seek them out as friends. But, here’s the thing– if I had to do it again, what I would change is the mindset I had going into having children. I genuinely thought I was making an informed decision, but the questions I considered barely scratched the surface. I couldn’t possibly have planned for the curveballs that life throws, nor could I have fully appreciated the fact that mothering is relentless. Sleep is scarce, and not just in the early years. As I write, it’s 3:30am. My 14-year-old daughter woke me because she has a fever. Even when I feel I have nothing left to give, somehow I find a way to give some more. And I don’t begrudge doing any of it for my children.

No doubt, I was naive in imagining a perfect little family. In my wildest dreams, I could not have imagined what it would mean to put my own life and creative pursuits on hold for a good ten to twelve years, let alone to do so selflessly, without harboring resentment. When my husband and I thought about having children, despite the fact that we were well aware that roughly 50% of marriages end in divorce, we didn’t consider the real possibility that we might end up divorced, and we most certainly didn’t consider the scenario of parenting without a partner. This was an oversight with consequential repercussions, for us as parents, as well as for our children. Even with the most thoughtful consideration and planning, there are always unforeseen circumstances. I know this to be true with just about everything in life. So why did I think parenting would be any different? I guess it goes back to the house, the white picket fence, the American dream, that mythical perfect family. I wanted it so badly. I tried so hard to create it, to shield my children from every pain and hardship. It took a long while for me to realize that the pain and hardship are essential to developing compassion.

I guess if I could impart a bit of advice to someone on the fence about having children, it would be to ask yourself, in complete honesty: Are you willing and able to parent your children alone, and still live a happy and fulfilled life? The answer does not have to be yes.

dimartino-headshotAnna DiMartino is a writer, artist, teacher, and mother. Her writing has appeared in Whale Road Review, Silver Birch Press: Learning to Ride, Atlanta Review (Spring, 2016), The Cancer Poetry Project 2A Year in Ink, Volume 6 (San Diego Writers, Ink Anthology); Serving House Journal: Issues 8, 10 and 12, Steve Kowit: This Unspeakably Marvelous Life, and is forthcoming in Lake Effect. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Pacific University and leads a read and critique group for Writer’s Ink. Visit her website at www.annaodimartino.com.

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MotherShould? is One!

One cold afternoon in 2013, we sat in our university’s Writing Center together. Catherine said, almost in passing, how she wished there had been a place where she could have read stories about how other smart women made their decisions about whether or not they wanted to have kids. We commiserated about how little baby ambivalence (what Catherine later coined “bambivalence”) was discussed.

About a year later, another wintery afternoon, we bounced ideas about website names back and forth while we ate lunch we’d fixed together. We represented the two sides of the baby question fence. We represented the complexity of the decision. We represented the desire we share to melt the walls between women who have kids and women who choose not to.

Nine months later, we published our first essay.

MotherShould? is a labor of love. While that sentiment is a cliche, in this case, none seems more accurate. As we’ve grown as editors, and as the site’s readership has grown, our commitment to our mission has, too. We feel privileged that so many women have trusted us with their stories. We hear from our readers how important the stories are to them. MotherShould? is a place where bambivalence is not judged.

We spend a lot of time with every piece we publish. We work with our writers as they “…sit down at a typewriter and open a vein” as Ernest Hemingway once described writing. Writing for MotherShould? isn’t always easy, but nearly all of our writers have called it cathartic, have been buoyed by comments and emails from readers, have felt that by sharing their story, they have come to a richer understanding of their experience. If you have a story you want to share, we invite you to send us a note.

We love everything we publish, and we hope you’ll revisit all of the work here and share it widely. In the meantime, we’d like to highlight a few pieces published in the last year. Thanks for being here with us!

In the Waiting Room by Tara Parmiter

Choosing My Choices and Stuff by Ada Kenney

Have I Got a Deal for You by Nicole Savini

Who Decides by Joyce Hayden

Creativity 2.0 by Leah Gotcsik

How I Learned I Want to be a Mom by Jennifer DiGrazia

How I Learned to Want to be a Mom

From the editors:  Jennifer DiGrazia describes how her perspective on motherhood shifts when she meets her partner Jamie, who is already a mom. 

Despite being a “girly-girl,” I didn’t really want children.  My dad had two more children with my step-mom when I was a teen, and I knew that they altered life.  I have memories of family vacations in a mini-van packed to the rims with the six of us, our luggage and baby paraphernalia.  The Huggies smooshed up against the back window were the ultimate embarrassment, and I hated the space taken up by strollers and car-seats and the stench of spilt formula.  I liked my half-siblings, but I quickly learned that kids required enormous amounts of work.  They totally messed up life with their constant needs.

When I was in my late twenties, finishing up my Ph.D. and starting my first real job, I married Jamie, my partner; she shared custody of her son with her ex-partner.   I first met Jacob when he was 5.  He had sparkling blue eyes, liked to brush my hair, and sat on my kitchen counter to get away from Scully, my 75-pound lab mix.  He was easy to love.

Although I didn’t know it at the time, being married to someone with a child was lonely.  Jamie and Jacob “got” each other.  We might be at a crowded park, and they would meet one another’s eyes.  Jamie would tell me it was time to go.  She just knew what he needed. Observing them made me nostalgic for something—a connection, a sense of belonging—that I had missed.  In my early thirties, I began to look longingly at women who were breastfeeding, bundles nestled into their chests, the abandon with which their babies collapsed into their bodies.

I tried to fight this urge.  I was busy starting a new career.  I thought I should feel grateful that I had never gotten pregnant during my tumultuous teens and twenties. Besides, many friends and family members didn’t exactly embrace my growing desire to have a child, and they were quick to remind me of how much I had—my partner, my pets, my step-son, a steady job in an uncertain economy. I also have major depression, which was finally controlled with with a balance of drugs, exercise and diet.  I knew all the arguments against having a child–overpopulation, the need for baby supplies and sitters, the hormonal imbalance.

But, something had shifted dramatically in my own emotional landscape.  Part of the attraction of being pregnant was that I couldn’t come first.  Previous exposure to my half-siblings and Jacob became reasons for wanting kids.  I knew, better than most, that a baby would have to come first.

There was precedent. Jamie’s partner had birthed Jacob.  When we finally agreed that we would try to get pregnant, Jamie knew how to fill out the forms and pick the “criteria” for a donor at the cryobank.  I didn’t care how we chose, so we matched some of Jamie’s characteristics: white, Jewish, and educated, with the pool of donors.  The website also gave the donors’ reasons for participating at the cryobank–some even sent a note to the prospective couple.  We read those narratives avidly, narrowed our options to three.  The first was no longer available, so we went with the second.

We got pregnant at home on the second try. I was thirty four, and I had an easy pregnancy, and nine months later, after a difficult birth, our son, Jordan, was born.

Jordan breastfed until he was over two, and I enjoyed the pressure of his sucking mouth and warm body against my breast.  I felt anchored.  My world became really small, focused on deciphering the mysteries behind his rich brown eyes and reveling in his curiosity about the world.  He said “Mama” when he was really young.  However, he rarely slept, never crawled, and at 5 months old, when he didn’t gain the requisite weight, he was given a failure to thrive diagnosis, the first of many diagnoses.

Everyone wants to know how lesbians get pregnant and these stories are interesting, important, and complicated, but of course, they don’t end there. When conception is complicated it’s easy to get caught up and lose sight of what is infinitely more important: babies become people, and sometimes they become people who don’t conform to or fit neurological, social or educational developmental expectations.

Jordan is now 8 years old, and he has a dual diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder and Autism Spectrum Disorder.  He is the most precious–and complicated–person in my life.

Jordan is an enigma—a wonderful, difficult enigma.  When he is melting down because he can’t have computer time and he can’t regulate his emotions, when he is spewing invectives at me or anyone who challenges him, or when the special needs bus comes to collect him each morning at 7:00, Jamie will sometimes tease me, “You spawned that!”  He is incredibly perceptive, asking, in almost the same breath, details about the Greek god Poseidon when we read the latest Rick Riordan novel, and, “Does everyone have something like I do?”

Parenting Jordan leaves me feeling not only needed but overextended.  We endlessly consider medications, doctors and diagnoses. We read articles, consult experts and work to manage his behavior–while trying to maintain a semblance of childhood for him and life for ourselves.

Despite the exhaustion, I love being one of Jordan’s parents.  I love the sparkle in his brown eyes, the mischief in his giggle, the softness of his wavy brown hair, his boundless curiosity on good days.  As we continuously help him negotiate his way in a world intolerant of mental illness and anything that challenges the norm, I see him in increasingly complex ways.  Even taking into account our time at the hospitals, our experiences in schools, the continuous monitoring he requires, when I hear my friends and colleagues describe their own parenting trials, I realize that our struggles are the struggles of all parents who want to raise good people–just amplified.  Daily, he reminds me  what I had hoped to learn: it isn’t really about me. I am so grateful for that.

jen digraziaJennifer DiGrazia grew up in Nevada and now lives in Northampton, Massachusetts with her partner Jamie, her son Jordan, two dogs and three cats.  She teaches writing at Westfield State University.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How Kids Changed My Definition of Fun

Happiness studies suggest that we humans are bad at knowing what makes us happy and that having kids does not; in fact, it decreases marital satisfaction, and according to one study, women rated housework as preferable to taking care of their kids. In response to these studies, some argue that there are different kinds of happiness: pleasure in the moment and pleasure reflecting on our past. Sure, they say, kids decrease daily pleasure and increase daily stress, but parents experience joy in reminiscing and the satisfaction of raising a decent and productive human being (if all goes well). But what is often overlooked in these discussions is pleasure born out of deprivation.

After living in New York City for a decade, I started to find it hard to get excited about anything. We saw live music all over Brooklyn, ate amazing meals, watched movies in the park under the Brooklyn Bridge, danced at PS1 or the Williamsburg Pool Parties, enjoyed boozie brunches, and hula hooped in Prospect Park. This list makes me drool now, but it was my norm, and my pleasure senses dulled. One night at a bar, a Huey Lewis line popped in my head, “I want a new drug.” I had gotten bored with my fun and my freedom, and ironically what I actually needed was to make my life more boring and more taxing so that the fun things would feel fun again.

I’ve always enjoyed working hard or even depriving myself to rediscover the pleasure in something: beers after a frigid New England day on the slopes, the first piece of chocolate after giving up junk food for Lent, the first cup of coffee after quitting caffeine, and sleeping in a bed after a few nights in a tent. In an episode of Radio Lab, a man hiking alone in the South Pole digs up a bag of Cheez Doodles that he buried for himself 86 days before. The video of this exhausted, starving adventurer digging this treat out of the snow is moving: he hollers, he dances, he experiences full-on bliss. Every day of having a kid is like hiking the South Pole and something as simple as dinner and a movie or sleeping in is that hard-earned bag of Cheez Doodles.

Of course, you don’t have to have kids to achieve this contrast. People find all sorts of ways, both big and small, to make their lives harder so that their free time is more satisfying. We train for triathlons and marathons, spend weeks of our vacations building houses for Habitat for Humanity, and hike the South Pole.  (It is worth noting that most of the world doesn’t have the privilege of reaching a fun saturation point and does not need to manufacture difficulty.)

My mom once said, “don’t wait too long to have kids or you’ll be too selfish.” If I waited too long, she thought, I would become too accustomed to the freedom of living single in a city, a freedom she never experienced, but what neither of us knew was that bathing in freedom can feel a little like drowning and that the limits parenthood puts on your life can actually liberate you to find fun and even excitement in the smallest, most blasé freedoms.

When I lived in New York, a birthday meant drinks and dancing with all of our friends. This past year on my birthday, my husband, a nurse, was scheduled to work 3 p.m. to 3 a.m., which meant that I would have to leave work on a dark and freezing February night and drive an hour to pick up my son at my in-laws and then another thirty minutes to get home and get my son fed and ready for bed. At the last minute, my husband called to tell me he got the night off and that he’d ordered pizza. I was ebullient.

 

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