Wednesday, March 26, 2008

I hope you don't mind that I put it down in words...

It’s been two and a half years since I started this blog, and sometimes I’m fascinated how central the issue of childfreeness remains in my life, how the experience evolves over time as more of my close friends get pregnant and have babies, with each year that I make family members wait for their grandchildren they continue to hope will come.

And while I feel like sometimes I beat a dead horse with my words, I’m constant encouraged to keep blogging by my readers. I often wonder how many of you there are, so often I see comments that say you’ve been following my journey forever.

Mostly, as I get older, I realize that while being childfree may not be as powerful an experience as having a child might be, it’s emotional in very different ways. If I’m typical, it’s on our minds regularly. Not having a child colors my days in the workplace, my response to marketing campaigns, my experiences on flights and at tourist destinations, or even at the mall or grocery store.

Often I wonder if this preoccupation with my lack of children and how it makes me different is actually how my unique brain (insomuch as we are all unique) is interpreting what many women would respond to with cluckiness, with "the baby rabies". Perhaps this IS my clock ticking, but instead of responding with deciding I’m ready to have a baby no matter what, my mind wants to write, speak, blog about my experiences as a woman whose brain and biology are at odds. Because I do think about it a lot. I would even venture to say for every moment a clucky woman thinks about how complete her life would be if she just had a child I think about how miserable a baby would make me.

I think about this because I’ve been asked why this is something blogworthy and how the hell I can think of all these things that I care so much about that I need to put it down in words. The people who ask, though, are never childfree. They have kids currently or plan to have kids one day. They don’t feel like an outsider, as I sometimes do, that the people around them don’t get them. They don’t worry about offending people and don’t have the pressure of having made a decision that has a tendency to be polarizing. They’re never told by "formerly childfree" women over and over and OVER again that as you get older, your mind changes, invalidating what they're feeling in the here and now. They're not treated like they don't matter.

Do I think I’m “special”? Only in that each of our life experiences is unique. I don’t think my childfree experience is universal, but it’s mine. It helps me to write about it and I’m thrilled to know it helps others to know that there is someone else out there, especially when they might not have the need to address it all the time.
For me, sharing the words is my escape. Sharing my experience in this blog helps me feel a little less alone in a world that sometimes overwhelms me by making me feel too “different”. And over 140 posts and two and a half years later, I credit this blog and the support of my readers for making me feel a little more a part of this world.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

These Dreams

So I have this recurring dream that I have a baby. The fact that I have a baby always comes as a surprise, like “oh crap, I forgot about the baby”, kind of in the same way I notice the cat’s litterbox is a mess or I haven’t fed my fish in a week (oops). I’ll pull the baby out of the closet, or the guest room, where it has been stashed away with other clutter, and then I wonder what to do with it. I ask myself how long it's been since I fed her, changed her diaper, cared for her at all. I fret about not being able to do anything and contemplate giving the baby to an infertile but desperately clucky friend, but then wonder what the family would say. Then, of course, I realize that I have no business having the baby and start making plans to get rid of it because, dammit, I want to go watch X-Files and I don’t have time for this.

What’s weirdest about the dream, I think, is that even though it’s exaggerated and ridiculous (like I really could have neglected a baby like, well, I neglect my pets sometimes), it’s kind of poignant. I can handle the responsibility of pets because they require minimal maintenance. I fill my cat’s bowl and he grazes for three days, and he reminds me (with incessant meowing) if his litterbox has become unreasonable and I deal with it. If I can’t find the 45 minutes to clean the fishtank, my betta will be fine ‘til next week. I can still do my thing, go to bed when I want, wake up 20 minutes before I have to be at the train station.

I often wonder if, in a parenting situation, I would be as lackadaisical about the care for my child as I can be with the animals. It scares me, to be honest. I can’t function under constant pressure, constant stimulation, and I think of the months of panic, sleepless nights, the need to keep the baby entertained… it freaks me out even thinking about it and even in my dreams I feel a panic attack coming on. Why won’t she stop crying? What does she want now? What about ME? Why can’t I put her down? (Oh, yeah, in the dreams the baby appears in my house as it is now – no crib, no toys, etc) What about work? And, of course, my husband is furious with me because I don’t know how to be a mom and HE doesn’t want to deal with it either.

The dreams are over-the-top, but they illustrate my feelings about being a mother so perfectly. It’s just not me. I’m too panicky, too jumpy, too lazy and selfish. Why do people feel it’s wrong that I know my temperament and personality well enough that I know it’s incompatible with motherhood, and most of all that I’m okay with that? I get the argument from some that having a kid changes your perspective on things like that, that they force you out of your lazy comfort zones, but I ask this: what’s wrong with those comfort zones? What’s wrong about having an expectation of a few hours to myself every day, needing those decompression hours to avoid a breakdown from exhaustion?

Feeling panicked, tense, unsure of myself, paranoid… I would actually liken my baby-havin’ dreams to a nightmare. Rarely do I wake up as tense, my heart racing, than I do after freaking out in these dreams.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

24 hours

24 hours is just not enough.
I'm not sure where the time goes. It was on my mind for a couple reasons, especially last night as I ran out of time to work on my portfolio samples to send for a job I want. Another thing brought it to mind today, and I figured I'd come on this blog and calculate it.

Wake up: 6:45
Snuggle time & out of bed by: 7:15
Shower & Get Ready, make lunches and breakfast, out the door by: 8:00
Wait for train, walk to the office, in my seat by: 9:00
Work work work, out the door by: 5:30
Walk to train, get home, in the door by: 6:30
Unwind, change clothes, begin making dinner by: 7:00
Make, serve and eat dinner, done by: 8:00
TV/movie/us time, 'til about: 10:00
Cleaning, Freelance work, jobhunting, portfolio prep, pay bills: 'til bedtime, usually 12:00

This is a fairly typical day for me.
This week my schedule looks like this for my evenings:

Tuesday -- Craft night
Thursday -- Date Night / Concert
Friday -- Out dancing at the club!

It's fairly common for us to have stuff planned about twice a week, and since I've been doing much more freelance work lately, I'm super busy on the other evenings. I'll tell you what got me thinking about this.

I heard a woman talking about how her husband is one of those "I've got my interests and they're not going to be altered by new addition(s) to the family" guys. And I couldn't help but think "my god, I'm one of those guys".

What would I give up if I were to have a baby? Music is a huge deal for me, and I start to really feel like I'm lacking in something when I haven't been to a good show or gone dancing in a long time. Going to shows, going out dancing, that's all a big part of who I am.

Okay, so I can definitely cut out craft night, right? Craft night is my opportunity to see my girlfriends, and it's an opportunity for me to be creative doing something other than my work. Sure, sometimes one of the hostesses' friends brings their baby, but I can't even imagine the ordeal it takes to get out of the house only to stay someplace and do crafts for an hour before it's time to go home.

So what do we cut? Us time? Hardly. If we had kids, we would work to keep our marriage at the top of that priority list... yes, more important than showering all that love solely on the kidlets. While I find cooking dinner every night fairly relaxing, it's when we relax together on the sofa watching X-Files or a movie that I actually get to unwind. I get overwhelmed easily if I don't have my decompression time and have learned how to deal with it. Having this time is simply non-negotiable.

"I've got my interests and they're not going to be altered by new addition(s) to the family." It's true. That's why I'm not making any new additions. I'm unwilling to make those sacrifices. Willingness to sacrifice a huge part of yourself is essential to being a good mom. I am unwilling, and I'm glad I know it.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Just in Case...

My father lost his job 6 months ago, and in an attempt to keep their house long enough to sell it they've moved in with my maternal grandmother to free them up to get rid of the clutter accumulated over 25 years of living in the house. In addition to garbage bags full of expired medication, hotel soaps and shampoos and other little crap saved "just in case", I've also helped my mom purge bags and bags of my 9-year-old niece's old clothes. I'm finding that my niece's stuff is the hardest for her to let go of.

It's the stuff where the "just in case" was most hopeful.

My mom's pretty much always known I'm not the Mom type. We talked about it long before I met my husband. She's always been a good 80% supportive, which I think is really great. It's taking rooting through boxes and bags of old baby, toddler and kid stuff to realize that maybe she isn't THAT okay with it.

My brother, a single dad, is the other half of the "just in case". But even though my mom dreams of him meeting a nice girl and finally settling down, he's already told me that he envies us the ability to choose to remain childfree. Unless there's some dramatic change if he meets that nice girl, he does not intend on making another kid. After all, his daughter is already 9. He found raising her overwhelming and he didn't even do most of the work (my mom did).

I understand my mom's mourning for C's childhood. She has raised her as her own daughter for the most part and I'm sure this is a natural part of it. But there is a sense of guilt that I'm not giving her another little one to fawn over, spoil and adore. I wish there wasn't because I know that I shouldn't feel guilty.

Maybe it's just because she's been so sad lately, that losing C's childhood things means (in her eyes, as one who equates stuff with memories) losing hope of more grandkids, and in the context of everything else they're losing since my dad lost his job it's just too much to take. Regardless, it's really hard to look her in the eyes as I insist that the baby stuff go in the "sell" pile.

Monday, March 10, 2008

To the Rescue

One reason people think I would be a great mother is that I’m kind of a rescuer. My husband and I have taken in several friends over the years who were down on their luck and have helped them get back onto their feet. I’m also borderline obsessed with making sure my niece doesn’t end up as broken as some of them.

Just last night we took in another one. She’s my husband’s “cousin” (actually his father’s second wife’s twin sister’s husband’s brothers daughter from his second marriage… yeah, so “cousin”). At 22, J has grown up with an abusive alcoholic mother and a pushover absentee father. She’s been burned in more relationships than you can imagine and, like a textbook abuse victim, is drawn to the biggest assholes on the planet. She’s been with her latest asshole for about 6 months… a verbally abusive neo-nazi who claims he hates Goths while saying he wants to be with her even though he hates her tattoos, her piercings, her general way of being. It’s INSANITY. It’s not worth sharing the whole story, but after a huge fight with her mother she got kicked out of her house. She was staying at the apartment of a married couple she’s friends with, and her friend’s husband made a horribly inappropriate advance on her. After a great deal of convincing, we finally convinced her to stay with us for more than just a single night at a time.

J has never been exposed to what a “normal” relationship is like. Even the friends she was staying with are full of nothing but problems, emotional abuse, etc. We’re hoping she can spend some time with us and see what it’s like. But it will be hard to get her to accept the help.

She wants to accept it. A lifetime of abuse has told her that she doesn’t deserve the charity. She has told me that no one’s ever been so nice to her simply because they cared and it’s really confusing to her. Even her friends who took her in did so because they wanted to be the heroes, then proceeded to make her feel like a nuisance.

We have the space, she has her own room, so it’s easy for her to stay with us. We welcome her staying with us. It’s what we do.

This is why, at times, I feel like one day we may be foster parents. Many moons from now if ever, but I believe that if we end up wanting to be parents, that will be our calling. Sure, if J stays with us for longer than this week (which we’re hoping she will), she’ll contribute to rent and groceries, but we’re happy to have her around to keep her out of trouble. While she’s with us she’ll see what our relationship is like and hopefully learn that she deserves kindness, charity, and love.

I have no illusions about this. I know that she’s far more likely to leave our home and seek out a place that’s more abusive, because it’s simply not comfortable for her to be this comfortable for a long period of time. I feel like we have to try, though. But we’ve asked her to commit to staying with us for a week to start.

How does this relate to my potential for motherdom? Well, because I feel like it’s more my position to help the broken pick up the pieces. Why bring more kids into the world when there are so many people out there who’ve been broken by their natural parents. If motherhood ends up being what I want to do, I only see it in the light of helping ones who are already here.

For now, those people are friends and family who need a place to go that’s safe from the negativity and drama of abuse. It’s a great feeling to be able to help.

Friday, March 07, 2008

What's Your Motivation?

Do I really need to be afraid to admit that I find my childhood best friend’s baby super adorable? Must I feel like I’m breaking some sort of code when I want to squish her enormous cheeks (she gets them from Mommy) or rub her soft little head, when I want to love her completely?

People seem to have a hard time parsing the fact that I adore the babies and kids that I care about (as opposed to the complete lack of anything for the babies of strangers, much like my feeling about people I pass on the street on the walk to work) with the fact that I don’t want kids of my own. “Childfree” is inextricably connected to “child-hating”, and there seems to be this impression (whether intentional or subconscious) that my affection for their kids MUST mean that this whole childfree thing is just a rouse, a plea for attention, trying to be cool. Because the alternative is that I really do dislike their kids and am just putting on an act for them.

Am I being melodramatic? When I’m with these kids, I feel this haze of skeptic energy. It could all be in my head, I’ll admit that, but it’s what I feel nonetheless. I feel it when my best friend over-apologizes for her kids’ clinginess, or their desire for attention, or even their annoying little habits. I feel it when I’m making goofy faces or interacting with another’s new baby, coming from over my shoulder. The halfhearted “oh, you don’t have to”s, the occasionally patronizing glances when I say I can watch the kid(s) for a few while they get something done or whathaveyou.

What causes this? Is it because their child’s inability to convince me to be a mom somehow a negative reflection on the kid’s inherent adorableness? Is it because they are so overwhelmed they can see why I might choose NOT to go the mom route and they’re overcompensating with “see? See how great being a mom is?!!!?!!” Is it self-conscious on her end because she believes I think less of her now that she’s a mother? Is it just me being neurotic, pure and simple? It’s a mystery.

It reminds me of a tale a friend who dealt with infertility told about her fear of holding the babies of women who knew she was having problems. She felt all the eyes on her when she held the baby, as if the moms were watching to see if a look of hunger, desire, jealousy came over her, proof that her motivation was suspect, that her desire to hold the baby was pure selfishness. I feel like I’m being watched to see if they can catch the secret look of disgust or horror, the moment my smile breaks and my REAL feelings about their baby come rushing past so they can say “I knew it! You really DON’T love my baby!” I don’t know how to get past this.

Part of the joy of being childfree is the no-strings-attached enjoyment of the kids in our lives. It’s like there’s this cloud hanging over every interaction, though, a self-consciousness on my part, perceived or actual judgment on theirs. It’s a combination of both, surely, and I just wish it was an accepted thing, that those who don’t want to raise children of their own might actually still like the kids in our life. I don’t want my motives to be suspect.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Pros and Cons

We're often told that we focus too much on the negatives of parenting, that we never stop to think about the positives. And, of course, we're conversely not allowed to suggest that parents consider the negatives. Naturally, many parents can't even fathom the negatives because the positives are so overwhelming.

But what if it's the negatives that are overwhelming? Let's try a little exercise:

Pro: A little piece of each of you, assuming the child is biologically yours; a child you can influence and mold to be a person.

Here's the thing. As appealing as aspects of that may sound, the resounding reaction as I write is one of neuroses, of what-ifs and what-am-I-losings.

What if I screw it up?

I simply cannot imagine the level of stress this question would plague me with day in, day out. I fly into panic attacks over job interviews, over altercations with friends, over the perception that someone, somewhere might be upset with me, that I did something to upset some sort of balance. Raising a child would be one humongous panic attack for me. Not for you, not for anyone else, but this is my reality.

I think about my experience helping with my niece, and the stress was constant. Did she eat enough for breakfast? The first day in my care she got sent home sick from school, possibly just from her own stress because her normal caregivers were gone, but it was also insinuated that I didn't feed her enough for breakfast. Am I doing her a disservice by helping her on her homework? Should she be reading a more challenging book? Is this TV show giving her low self-esteem? Am I spending enough time with her? This went on for nearly three weeks and I NEVER STOPPED WORRYING that I was doing it all wrong.

I hear tales of friends with new babies, first babies, who are dealing with this constant worry, especially my friend whose baby was sick the first few weeks, with occasionally nasty doctors insinuating that SHE was doing something wrong and making her feel like a failure. Constant worry.

The other question that would plague me is this:
Did I make a mistake here?

When I weigh pros and cons, the cons are simply overwhelming, but none moreso than my fear of regret. But it's the fear of regretting HAVING a child, not the fear of regretting the choice to remain childfree. It's the fear of a child knowing that I wish I never did it, that I had my old life back, that I simply don't like babies for more than a few moments, that I don't have the mom gene that makes vomit and poop okay, that I choose my career over them and leave my husband to raise the child. I honestly feel like adding a child to my life would add a great deal of burden for something I simply do not want, no matter what my body occasionally twinges and tries to suggest (that's a whole different post). And I feel as if staying childfree opens me up to be the best aunt, mentor, and friend to my beloved niece, to the children of friends, to enjoy children the only way I can -- when I can give them back -- while keeping the parts of life that *I* find fulfilling.

It's not that we don't think about the positive aspects of having a kid versus a childfree lifestyle, and I think it's because it's not something that can be quantified. How do you compare seeing the world to seeing your child graduate from high school? Apples and cheeseburgers, friends. Two different lifepaths, each one valid, neither one that can be decided by simply making a list of pros and cons.

When I tried the exercise above, listing a con for the pro, I ran off on tangents because there simply is no comparison. This is not a black and white issue. It lives in the gray area, so we need to find different ways of making decisions.

For me, it's about going with my gut, even as it sometimes defies me lately, with little twinges of "I wonder". It's knowing what I want from life, knowing my temperament and that of my husband, and knowing what we can, can't, and really would rather not handle.