Thursday, May 30, 2013

Best Laid Plans — UPDATE

Lots of people have asked about my friend I referred to in Best Laid Plans.

With a lighthearted laugh she blames it on the chemicals, the oxytocin released at birth. She loves her son. Loves him "so much it hurts. Like literally hurts." Her family thinks she's crazy because this comes as such a surprise to her. "They don't understand that I really did not expect to love my baby."

It's not easy. He's not a good sleeper and the broken schedule is wearing on her. (This is a common theme among the parents of newborns in my life right now.) She's so tired. Every conversation starts with how goddamn tired she is. And it's dull. Her son is gorgeous, but he's not very interesting right now.

And her instincts aren't finely honed. This bothers her. Dad's a pro, like he's done this before. He anticipates the baby's needs, knows how to quiet him, can interpret the cries in a way she's still struggling to do. She's self-conscious about it, but considering this wasn't ever her dream she's not surprised that she's absolutely clueless. But she wishes she was better at it. I have a feeling every mom probably feels that way.

She's worried about what this means for her career. She's the primary breadwinner in the relationship, the one with the degree and the good job. The one with benefits. They know they can't survive — not near Chicago at least — on Dad's salary, but the cost of childcare is so daunting she's admittedly in denial about it. Budgeting terrifies her. It's never been something she's had to do before, and now money is suddenly very tight. It's uncomfortable for her. This was exactly why she didn't want children.

I have faith they can get past all of this because she does love the hell out of her son and her husband. She's learning to be a mom and getting better at it. I'm hopeful for them. I get the impression that things are going as well as could be expected, if not better. 

The Harsh Realities

There seems to be a movement right now that encourages parents to admit that, on some days, parenting kind of sucks. I think this is a powerful movement, and I know that there's power in being honest with one another. Making struggling parents feel guilty for not enjoying and cherishing every single movement, making them feel like terrible people and parents for wanting to punt their children into the neighbor's yard, that's not helpful.

But honestly? It's all fuel to my fire, reminding me why I've made my decision.

I have several friends with toddlers right now, and others who've recently gotten past the "hell years", as one mom who just got through those years put it. "Oh god, 2 is the very worst." "3 and 4 are the worst. I don't envy you." I'm hearing it over and over. I'm seeing it in their mommy blogs, reading it on their Facebook pages, hearing about it on instant message. It's the rants, the frustration, the agony. "I understand why people hit their kids."

But it's not just that. I'm hearing it from the parents of newborns too, how just a few weeks in they're at their wits' end because they're not handling the sleep deprivation well, or the boredom after working consistently every day of their adult lives. "I understand why people shake their babies," my goddaughter's mother admitted after the third long, colicky night.

You have to really want it to cope well with the realities of parenting. The more I hear from my friends, the more I understand that parenting is no job for a fence-sitter. I'm well and truly over any fences now (funny how a European vacation can do that), but in the moments when I think parenting could be cool I think back to the hard stuff, the moments that are currently driving a number of my girlfriends absolutely crazy. The ones that need to be disclaimer'ed to hell and gone so everyone understands that there are beautiful moments mixed in with the contemplations about how bad it could REALLY be to give a toddler a shot of whiskey to help them sleep.

I'm so grateful that my friends live in a world where it's safe to talk about how hard parenting can be. It helps new parents understand what they're in for in a way that I don't think previous generations were allowed. They were told it was the best time of their lives, that the kids grow so fast you have to love every moment, that you have to do everything right 100% of the time or you're a bad person. Even the parents of 10-year-olds I know didn't get that freedom. Not like today.

Today they can cry out in solidarity when potty training isn't going well and they just decide to put the potty trainer in front of the television because at least then he'll sit on it until he has to go. That's powerful stuff, and I think it's going to help this generation of new parents do a much better job.

It's also something I feel fortunate I'm not a part of. I'll sit back and listen, experiencing parenting vicariously through them while thanking the powers that be that my house won't ever have a poop-covered toddler running around… and if that does happen, it's not my problem to deal with it. 

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

The One Thing That a Woman's Supposed to Do

Sometimes I watch terrible chick flicks to laugh at them, but  What to Expect When You're Expecting was a whole other brand of awful.

On the one hand, it reinforced that I definitely do not want children. I don't see myself in any of their lives. Yes, they're fictional, but I've pretty much known all the women whose caricatures are portrayed in the film, from the breast-obsessed mom to the image-obsessed mom. They've all been in my life at some point, and I cannot relate in the slightest.

It kind of makes me feel defective.

I don't really mean that in a bad way. I've talked about this before, feeling broken, defective, like something's wrong with me because I don't want kids. It takes on a different tone now that I'm older. It still sucks, feeling left out, but lately I find myself feeling extremely grateful that I've recognized this in myself and have been working so hard at loving my life as it is.

But when Jennifer Lopez's character bawls about not being able to do "the one thing that a woman's supposed to be able to do", it made me twitch. It made me angry. I've heard friends dealing with infertility say this a lot, that not getting pregnant means they're a failure as a woman, or as a wife.

Fuck that.

I genuinely feel sympathy for families going through infertility. I cannot imagine wanting a child, especially not wanting one so badly that every failed month is painful. I get it.

But you are more than your ability to procreate. I am not doing this world a disservice because I'm not procreating. I'm no less of a woman. You know what I was meant to be? A designer. An entrepreneur. A badass aunt and a really great partner. I'm meant to be me.

Be strong. Be sad if you need to be sad — I'm not saying there's no place for disappointment and devastation. What I'm saying is, stop equating womanhood with childbearing. Stop equating masculinity with the ability get a woman pregnant. Stop excluding me when you say "family" is everything. My husband and I started a family when we got married. We count.

I've been told I'll never know what love is, that I'll never fully appreciate my own mother, that I'm wasting a perfectly good uterus, and that I'm doing a disservice to my family and the world. These are not paraphrased statements. People have said these things to me. They've also implied that i shouldn't have gotten married, that I'm childish and immature, that my husband isn't a real man because he hasn't managed to knock me up for whatever reason, that I'm a bad person and incapable of loving the children in my life, that my life lacks meaning because I don't want kids of my own.

I'm mad. That's my emotion tonight; I'm mad. I'm tired of being bullied and made to feel less than what I am, and movies like What to Expect reinforce that. A woman is nothing if she doesn't get pregnant. Husbands are bumbling and stupid and lose all their masculinity when they become parents.
I didn't expect a good movie when I watched this. I knew what I was getting into, but it was far worse, and not at all funny. It was pathetic, and it made me feel sorry for people whose world is shattered if they can't have children.

Having children is great… if that's what you want. But someone whose goal in life was to be a mom is a complete mystery to me. AND THAT'S OKAY. I have different goals. Stop trying to make me feel like I'm less than you because of them, and I will never make you feel like you're less than me because you chose a different path.