Not long ago a coworker who is quite happily child-free asked me why I wanted children.
"Is it so you can have something that, you know, loves you unconditionally and everything?" he asked, completely genuinely and without a hint of guile or accusation.
Oh honey, I thought to myself with a smile. If I had wanted that, I would've snagged myself another puppy. They're lots cheaper and, if the yellow lab and wiggly two-year-old at my house make up any sort of representative sample, much easier to potty train.
Slate magazine recently ran a series of articles from men and women who are choosing to remain child-free. I read each entry with the same fascination that I watch bloodied trauma patients roll into the ER several times per week-- intrigued by an experience so very different from my spot in Two-Kids-Under-Three Land, where the sun is shining and the diapers pile up. Come on in! The water is fine!
I am not so naive as to believe that the cultural atmosphere around me did not influence my choice to bear children. I live in Utah, after all, home of young brides and minivans bursting with babies, the veritable mecca of child birthing. I was raised in a big,crazy family with all kinds of siblings; we ignore prefixes like step- and half- and not-technically.
The course of my young life did not include any women who were voluntarily childless. Of course I knew wonderful, happy, fulfilled women who, for one reason or another, did not have children, but I always assumed (perhaps incorrectly, now that I think about it) that given their 'druthers, they'd prefer to have a little brood about them. I assumed that women wanted children, and even though that seems a bit narrow-focused to me now, I can't entirely blame my young self. The women I knew wanted children.
I'm willing to admit it-- the idea of simply not wanting children seems odd to me. Not, of course, because it actually is odd or because people who don't want babies are any more bizarre than those of us who do, but simply because it's so different from my own experience. It's not unlike the way I think it's a little unbelievable that my husband doesn't like chocolate, or that that one girl my brother once dated didn't like cheese. My cheese-loving, chocolate-craving, baby-smooching brain just can't make heads nor tails of it.
I read this breathtaking essay by a woman I don't know but immediately loved (and not just because she, too, is a happily married Mormon woman who votes for democrats. It's lonely in our corner sometimes.) While my experience is not the same as hers, the words she chooses ring true in my heart. She said it: everything is MORE.
Sure, I always sort of knew in the abstract that I wanted babies. And then a switch flipped, and just like that I wanted babies. I wanted them in an almost tangible, desperate sort of way.
When that warm, sticky baby was placed on my chest, I instinctively knew that this was right. Not for everyone, of course, but for me. This journey that mothering is was an absolute essential part of my journey- as a woman, certainly, as a wife, and as a person. I am not the same person without my babies. I need them.
So I guess what I mean when I say that I can't explain why, exactly, I wanted babies is that it's not particularly important to me to figure out the right words for it. (This is good as I am failing miserable trying anyway.) Getting Bug to eat her vegetables and learn her letters and impress upon her that she must never, ever ride in a car without a seat belt, teaching the Baggins to be smart and kind and hold open doors for ladies, those are important things to me. I am supposed to do this. I am supposed to cry and hurt and laugh and sometimes threaten to sell my two-year-old to the gypsies. I am trying, harder than I've tried at anything in my life, to do right by these pretty babies, and, above all, not screw them up. It is achingly, agonizingly, heart-breakingly hard, but I want to do it. It's ok if you don't; your journey and my journey are our own. I'll celebrate your choices; they are brave and hard and right and you'll learn things I won't. I'll celebrate mine, too. My choice is clear.