I have several mothers in my life dealing with autistic children, and as a childless woman it's been made clear I'm not allowed to talk about autism and Aspergers. And I get it. I don't believe, as many do, that autism is some horrible affliction that means the end of the world. I think Autism Speaks is a misguided organization and I think the demonization of autism as a terrible disease is missing the point. I think these parents are doing an amazing job under difficult circumstances. I know their brilliant, hysterical, eccentric kids and I am in awe of the way their minds work. So autism activists — please understand I'm on your side.
THAT SAID, watching my friends' struggles reinforces a key reason I don't want to be a mother: I can't handle a sick or difficult child. I couldn't do it. I couldn't deal with my friend's often violent, moody, yet absolutely brilliant Aspie kid, who is hypersensitive to the max and has already had bouts of suicidal depression that required hospitalization. It's not in me. I just can't.
Whenever I daydream about potentially having a child, it's under perfect circumstances. The kind of circumstances that involve a bright, even-tempered child who is self-reliant and calm from the start. I picture I a child I could travel with, who we could teach to love Indian food and behave in restaurants, who never has tantrums or bad days. I picture utopia. That ain't the real world.
When I think about a child who's got my highly sensitive traits and neurotic tendencies paired with my husband's all-but-diagnosed Aspergers, I shudder. I think about the calls my friends get from the school that their child hit another because he acted out of turn in the game, or another friend is dealing a teacher who thinks her daughter's plan for care is stupid and the school is threatening to condemn her to learning disabled classes when she's absolutely brilliant, though incredibly particular and eccentric. I contrast these to the kids who make me think I could maybe do it someday — the easy ones, the mellow ones, the funny and geeky ones — and it just sinks in about what a great roll of the dice having children is.
Of course autism spectrum disorders are only a fraction of the things that can make life with one child more difficult than another, but they're the type of difficult with which I'm most familiar (and the one that my and my husband's history would be more likely to experience) so they're my example. My friends don't regret having their children, but they're also quite different than me. They've always wanted kids. They've known it in their hearts and have been committed from the start to devote their lives to being mothers. If I had a child right now, there wouldn't be that passion. There just wouldn't. Maybe I would change as so many new moms I know did, and suddenly feel that my child was my heart walking around outside my body or whatever.
Or maybe I would be like my mother, or my niece's mother. Cold. Detached. Resentful. Maybe I would regret forever changing my career goals like my mother did. My gut tells me that's me. My lack of patience, how easily I'm annoyed to the point of anger, my inability to play along with kids for too long without getting frustrated…all signs point to "don't go there", and that's okay.
I think I could love that "perfect" child and I think it could be great. But for me the idea of having an incredibly high maintenance or sick child sounds a little like hell. No… it sounds a lot like hell.
I am proud of the moms I know, and I think it's wonderful that there are parents out there who are willing to do whatever it takes to devote their lives to their kids. Childfree women fight the selfish label all the time, but in this case? I think it's good to be a little selfish, to know what my limitations are and to recognize them. I think it's healthy that I know what I'm willing to handle and that I'm not interested in rolling the dice.
My friends' spectrum kids are awesome. But with their particular brand of awesomeness comes a degree of difficulty that only the most devoted and amazing parents can truly handle with grace. While I tip my hat to them, their life is one I would never, ever want, despite how much we all adore their kids. I simply don't want the reward enough to take the risk.