Tagged on the fence

MotherShould? Reading List

We’re launching a new feature on MotherShould?: a round up of articles we believe you’ll find worthy of reading. Co-editor Beverly Army Williams compiled today’s reading list.

As a double-income no-kids woman, I’ve been fortunate in having little push-back about my being childfree from family and friends, though strangers have been less understanding. Lesson learned? Stay surrounded by people who don’t feel compelled to poke their nose in my business. Laura Barcella’s article in The Washington Post makes it clear that I am not alone in being stigmatized for my choice. In all fairness I confess to a little judgement of parents on my end, and I appreciated JoAnna Novak’s Today’s Parent article in which she reflects her own judgements. Among the common unsolicited comments I’ve heard is that I’ll regret the choice later in life. Well, I’m getting to the later-in-life stage, and other than some grieving around holidays and baseball games, I align with the women interviewed in Self in not lingering in regret. One of my husband’s (an environmental analyst) reasons for not wanting kids is to have a smaller impact on the environment. Who knew that our decision creates a bigger impact on the economy? Read on, and feel free to share articles that help you make sense of being on the fence.

The Washington Post writer Laura Barcella responds to a study examining stigmatization of voluntarily childfree women (and men) in Americans are having fewer kids. But child-free people are still stigmatized.

Recent MotherShould? essayist JoAnna Novak examines her shifting judgement of parents in her Today’s Parent article Parents, I’m judging you (and I’m sorry, mostly)  .

Wondering what childfree women think about their choices later in life? Take a look at Self‘s article 10 Women Look Back on Living Childfree by Choice .

Adina Solomon covers Adults who opt to have kids cause ripple effect in US housing market in The Washington Post.

 

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Fearmongering on the Couch: Things My Therapist Told Me About Motherhood (That Maybe Weren’t So Helpful)

I’m sitting on a couch the color of hot dog mustard, three floors up in West Hollywood, glaring at my therapist’s toe cleavage. I’m trying to keep myself from storming out of the office. I’m not a bailer; I’m not a quitter; I haven’t ditched anything since senior year of high school. Well, false—that’s why I’m fighting the impulse to flee my session. I’m toying with bailing on a belief I’ve held my entire life: the ardent belief that I-don’t-want-kids, that I’ll never be a mother.

Like much ardency, my ambivalence about children was nurtured by example. My mother had put a career as a court reporter on hold to raise me and my siblings. “I never saw myself as someone with kids,” she told me recently. But she had had them, three of them. She’d attempted to give us everything and, since everything is unattainable, of course she’d fallen short.

I didn’t want to set myself up for failure, I thought subconsciously, and, consciously I thought I didn’t want to sacrifice my body, and aspirationally I thought I didn’t want to compromise my career and finally I thought I just didn’t really care. Soon, having kids was like deciding what to make for dinner: alternately of monumental importance or so pesky I’d just as well eat popcorn.

Still, I know others—especially medical professionals—aren’t so cavalier about the conception question. That’s why I’m surprised my therapist is so instantly down on the prospect when I broach it in our latest session. Somehow, this topic is so anathema, she’s stringing together more words than she has in any of our previous conversations.

“People don’t think about the possibilities,” she says. “They think it’s going to be this sweet, healthy baby, and you have to prepare yourself. What if you have a baby with autism? What if you have a blind baby?”

I nod, mouth tight. I revisit what I’ve told her so far:

  • My husband for-sure wants a kid; I think I could be happy with a kid.
  • My husband and I believe our lives would be conducive to raising a kid. We’re lucky. We have flexible schedules. Zero debt. A nearby campus where either of us could escape to write.
  • My husband and I do wonder, though, how anyone knows when the time is right. How to study the tea leaves of life and decide to decide …

That’s what I asked her, I think, as she shakes her head: how do people know?

“Would you have child care?” she drills. “Live in or drop off? Would you be able to afford it? Who would take care of the kid if they got sick?”

“We’ve talked about a lot of these things,” I say, frustrated—and concerned. Her business card says she does marriage counseling. What kind of blazes is this woman dragging couples into and how irreversibly burnt do they come out?

I try another tack: optimism and blunt honesty. “I’m afraid about losing my time to write, but I think, realistically, that wouldn’t happen.”

“Well you have to spend some time with the kid,” my therapist says, perhaps operating under the misconception that people without kids don’t think through that hypothetical alternate reality. (I’m sure there are people who’ve never imagined a crib in their living room, but that’s not me.) “Even if it’s with a nanny all day, you’ll see that kid every day, every night, and they’re going to know if you resent them. They’ll be able to tell. And then they’re going to grow up and hate your guts. And your husband’s going to resent you for ruining your relationship with your child.”

Of course I don’t want that, I tell her, but inside I begin to worry. Maybe I’m too demanding a patient, I consider. I want to be furnished with advice, not doomsaying. There’s a worse possibility, too, one that terrifies me: maybe I’m so unfit to be a parent that this scree is my therapist’s not-subtle attempt to communicate BAD IDEA TURN AROUND ABORT MISSION.

“I mean, of course,” I say, when she asks if this is an issue I want to work on. I hear myself flail. “I could see having a family being really nice when the kid is an adult. When we’re older and, you know, we want a connection to youth.”

The noise-machine in the next office burbles quiet.

“What do you think?” I say, finally. “Am I wrong to be considering this?”

“You sound very selfish and cold,” she says flatly. “I don’t think these are reasons to start a family, so yes, I would say you’re wrong. It doesn’t sound like you want to start a family out of love. This just sounds like a cold, calculated decision. We’ve got one more minute.”

I leave the office and postpone my usual call to my husband, the one where I ask if he wants me to bring anything home. I feel riled up and slightly haunted, like I’m dragging around—and selfishly neglecting—the ghost of the baby I could potentially bring into this world. As I head to my car, I glance in the Thai nail salon, where a pregnant woman roosts in a leather pedicure throne. I see two men pushing a stroller. There’s the rest of life, too, shop windows for a marijuana dispensary and an adult bookshop and an oyster bar, but I keep expecting to see my reflection augmented, me plus that ignored ghost infant.

I drive home, very carefully, very slowly, as though there’s human cargo and not dry cleaning in the backseat.

It takes me two hours to tell my husband what I’ve heard from my therapist. We’re at the kitchen table.

“Your therapist hardly knows you,” my husband says, when I’m too upset to eat dinner. When I say I’m too selfish to deserve to live; that I just want to quit life.

“She’s a professional,” I say. “She’s using her objective judgment.” I don’t really believe her, but I’ve been obsessing about her judgment—YOU ARE SELFISH. Maybe this is how it would feel to truly want a child, I think, to move from minute to minute thinking BABY BABY BABY. I wonder if there will ever be a time when I brood over sweet potato fries thinking, YOU ARE A MOTHER.

“Isn’t she supposed to be supportive?” he says. “Why isn’t she pointing out all the ways that having a family could improve your life? It’s not just a chore, you know. Plenty of people will tell you that their children bring them unquantifiable joy.”

I concede. I think about how my therapist would read this situation: she’d think my husband is trying to get me to change my mind definitively about having kids. Wrong. She’s wrong, too, about what it means to critically examine all aspects of a choice as life-changing as whether or not to begin a family. It’s difficult enough to move beyond ambivalence—no one needs a megaphone for their self-doubt. But I see that the dangerous thing about an ardent belief or a conviction is how it locks you into a position; it forces you to become a quitter instead of someone who evolves.

The next day, I call my therapist’s office and cancel all future appointments. I would’ve done the same thing, my mother says when I tell her. Sure, I’m no more decided about children than I was twenty-four hours ago, but one thing is certain: I am ready to embrace the thrills and mysteries of what it might mean to be a quitter.

JoAnna Novak is the author of I Must Have You, a novel, and Noirmania, a book-length poem, forthcoming in 2018. Her creative nonfiction has appeared widely, in publications including The New York Times, Salon, Runner’s World, Lit Hub, Catapult, and The Rumpus. She is a founding editor of Tammy, an independent chapbook press and literary journal. 

 

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Playing Mom

From the Editors: In this essay, recent college graduate SJ Enloe reflects on how a 19-year age difference between her and her little brother causes her to think carefully about motherhood.

“Mom, can I have some chocolate milk?”

I stare at Isaac, who looks puzzled for a moment then giggles.

“Sarah, can I have some chocolate milk?” I nod and grab the Ovaltine.

“I called you mom,” he snickers.

It’s not uncommon for my brother to call me mom. After a few years of trying, my mom discovered she was pregnant a month shy of her 40th birthday. I was 18-years-old and just finishing my first year of college. My sister and I had no idea our mom and step-dad had been trying to have a baby, so her pregnancy came as a complete shock.

We tagged along for her 18-week ultrasound so the whole family could be there to find out his gender. Soon after, one of my aunts suggested that I throw my mom’s baby shower. I spent that summer driving around buying favors, decorations, and the like, all the while telling my mom I was going out with friends or just buying new clothes. I organized family members and friends to help out and surprise my mom, and it all came together perfectly.

My brother was born on November 14, 2012, a little more than a month after my 19th birthday. I was there to witness his birth (as much as I tried to look away) and cut his umbilical cord. I like to think it was that moment that my brother and I became inseparable.
Before my brother was born, I spent most of my time in my room, barely seeing my family – despite living under the same roof. Now I’m almost always playing with toy cars or sitting with him watching whichever Peanuts DVD is his favorite that week.

Though I sometimes find myself forgetting I’m not his parent, I also frequently forget my age. Playing board games and going along with the latest game he’s made up are my favorite past-times. Sometimes, if the TV has been left on, I’ll sit alone watching Curious George or Sesame Street.

We often look at toddlers crying over silly little things and laugh, but taking a little time to play along with my brother helps to show me that my problems are just as silly and laughable.

In those moments when I feel like I’m his mother, I contemplate whether or not I actually want to be a mother. My fiancé and I talk about it fairly often, and we’re both on the fence. Until the last few months, he’s never really wanted kids. For much of my life, I operated under the assumption that I was supposed to be a mother. I knew it was my choice, but became afraid to explore that choice. It’s a huge decision to make and there’s so much that goes into it, and I’m afraid of making the wrong choice. My brother, however, forces me to have that discussion with myself.

In moments when my brother is bratty and acting up, I immediately push the thought of motherhood from my mind. On several occasions I’ve texted my mom, “your son’s being a terror, and I’m never having children.” Then there are moments when we’re cuddled on the couch, and he’s being sweet as can be, giving lots of hugs and kisses and being much better behaved than usual, and I think “this isn’t so bad.”

I have some time before I make any decision on the subject, but I’m glad I have some first-hand experience in mothering to help me make a more informed decision. Until then I’ll continue making chocolate milk and playing mom.

Enloe headshotS.J. Enloe is a recent graduate of Westfield State University, who enjoys writing and walking into walls;  she can’t avoid it, so she’s learned to live with it. You can read more from her on her website or at The So-Called Right Track.

 

My Pregnancy Choices and the Economist Inside My Head

From the Editors: This essay was submitted by Hillary Sackett-Brian. Continue the conversation with Hillary in the comments.

I recently read an article in The Atlantic titled, “Thinking About Pregnancy Like an Economist” and it reminded me how much my own economic brain has weighed in on my decision whether or not to have children.

As a child I played “house” with my friends and younger sisters, imagining the wonderful husband and cherub-faced babies I had in my future. Even as a teenager, those who knew me wouldn’t have predicted that I would stray far from that path.

My journey took a sharp turn in college, when I came out as a lesbian the summer after my freshman year. My mother insisted it was just a phase. I vehemently denied it, but secretly felt a sense of loss, wondering if this meant I was giving up the fantasy life I had dreamed of as a child. I worried my new identity would prevent me from becoming the wife and mother I always thought I’d be.

I grew to know myself better over the next four years, as many do during college. I moved to the Midwest for graduate school and started dating a straight cis-gendered male, as if confirming for my mother that my foray into lesbianism was indeed just a phase. He had no interest in having children. He was a proud member of what I soon learned to be called the “zero population growth movement” (ZPG) and I, too, now in love, was soon convinced of its principles. According to those in the movement, a demographic balance where the population neither grows nor declines is an ideal to which the whole world should aspire in the interest of pursuing long-term environmental sustainability. (American sociologist and demographer Kingsley Davis is credited with coining the term).

I was in the thick of my Ph.D. program in resource economics, and I endeavored to apply what I was learning to my real life. The overarching goal of resource economists is to better understand the role of natural resources in the economy in order to develop methods of managing those resources to ensure their availability to future generations. So, naturally, the zero population growth movement intrigued me.

Essentially, followers of ZPG recognize three ways to achieve this goal:

  • voluntarily limit births
  • enlist coercive family planning policies (many will cite China’s “one child policy”)
  • do nothing and let nature limit population growth through famine, disease, and war

Sounds scary right? So, I thought I should “do the right thing” and voluntarily have no children. After all, I was born into a situation of privilege – unlike many women without the financial, physical, or political means to access contraception and other family planning services. They would not be able to make this voluntary choice, so it was my responsibility to share the burden.

I carried the torch of the ZPG movement even when that relationship ended.

In Spring of 2011 I met the woman who would become my wife. She had dreamed of having children her whole life and told me many times over the first year of our relationship what an amazing mother she thought I would be. But I continued to beat the drum of ZPG, now adding even more economic flair to the narrative.

In a lesbian relationship conceiving a baby is no small expense. The methods available can cost anywhere from hundreds, to tens of thousands of dollars each try. I posed this to my partner, “Think about all the things we could do with that money instead.” We could save, travel more, invest in our hobbies, live for ourselves and be perfectly happy. Or so 25-year-old me thought.

After a couple years, I had convinced my wife of the storyline, and she no longer pushed the baby plan. Then, in 2014 everyone I knew (or at least it seemed) started having babies. It wasn’t until my younger sister gave birth to my nephew that year that it really hit me. “I want this”. But now it was me who had to convince my wife that having a baby was a good idea. I was flip-flopping and she wondered why. Except this time I didn’t have any economic storyline to provide. I could no longer employ cost-benefit analysis as to why we SHOULD have a baby, it was just a FEELING.

Ugh, feelings. I was confused and conflicted with these things I hadn’t felt since childhood. I even felt guilty for wanting something that I knew I couldn’t reason through. When I try to explain WHY I want to have a child, all the reasons sound narcissistic at best. But, here we are…(maybe?) back on the baby plan. And boy, does it involve a great deal of planning.

Every day I tell my students that every decision involves costs and benefits, and only by carefully and intentionally weighing those costs and benefits can we hope to make good decisions. I do think that approaching my pregnancy planning with an economic eye will help me, but I think there may be more wiggle room than I was previously willing to admit. But one thing that I can agree with in The Atlantic article is this: “It became clear quickly that I’d have to come up with my own framework–to structure the decisions on my own.” So here I am, with economic tool box in hand, accepting that as methodical as I may plan to be, sometimes I might just have to wing it.

Hillary Sackett  headshotHillary Sackett-Brian is an Assistant Professor of Economics at Westfield State University where she teaches Environmental and Natural Resource Economics among other courses. She lives in Brattleboro, VT with her wife Rachel, three dogs (Gunner, Duke, and Raisin) and two cats (Grover and Gatsby). In her spare time she enjoys trail running, garage-saling, and coffee drinking. Follow her on Twitter @HillarySackett.

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