Monday, November 07, 2005

Melancholy Monday: Mommy Musings

Yes, you read the title right. I am going to write something melancholy about the question, should I be a mommy, which will be a post that is at odds with Antheia's from earlier this week.

I am 35 years old. I am not passed the age to have children, but I am running out of years in which I can do it without serious medical interventions. I know, I know, adoption is always a possibility and a rather socially responsible one.

What I have noticed lately is that I am getting, against my expectations, a clear urge to have a child. I wouldn't say that means I have no ambivalence about it.

I am not in my twenties or even early thirties anymore. I have spent many years being fairly free to decide when I would do things. I do have a dog that is prone to seizures, but I have little regret with placing him in a kennel if I want to take a long vacation.

I work really long hours. Frankly, I work too hard. This has paid off for me, since I earned tenure at a relatively young age and earned a teaching award in the same year. I am not trying to brag here. I mention these two achievements because I worked insanely for both of them. I don't know how I would have accomplished either of those if I had a child.

Whatever I choose to do, I put all my energy into; I don't think motherhood would be an exception.

Yet, here is the rub. When I tell my colleagues or friends that I fear I may regret not having children, they almost always tell me that it is not something you can plan for well. I should stop analyzing whether I want to, whether I would provide adequately for them, whether I would feel frustration at giving up my research, ad nauseum.

I have mentioned the movie Lost in Translation before in a melancholy monday post, and I must do so once again.

There is a scene in the middle of the film where Bob (Bill Murray) and Charlotte (Scarlett Johanssen) are talking about marriage, growing up, and the uncertainty of the future. Bob talks about the way that having children changes you:

Bob: It gets a whole lot more complicated when you have kids.
Charlotte: It's scary.
Bob: The most terrifying day of your life is the day the first one is born.
Charlotte: Nobody ever tells you that.
Bob: Your life, as you know it... is gone. Never to return. But they learn how to walk, and they learn how to talk... and you want to be with them. And they turn out to be the most delightful people you will ever meet in your life.
Charlotte: That's nice.

I am worried, frankly, about "life as you know it . . . is gone." Now, let me try to prevent some of you from making well-meaning comments to the effect that it is worth it. I am already convinced by that part of the deal. I see what children have done for many of my friends. I know what I get from other people's children. That is not a hard sell.

What is a hard sell is totally committing to changing my life forever. You see, if I were to have children, I would have to seriously consider giving up my job. Again, before the "conservative" readers get too excited, let me clarify that it would not be because I would want to be a full-time mother, or that I think one should be a full-time mother once one has children.

I would have to give up my job because I would tie myself to my partner in a way that I am simply not tied to him now. He is a research biologist; he will be on the job market again very soon. It is not clear where he will end up. I doubt he will end up in anywhere near me with the sort of job he would love to do. Anyone familiar with the two-body problem in academia knows what I am talking about.

I cannot even begin to consider seriously having children with him until I accept, fully, that I would have to kiss my job goodbye. I honestly do not know how I could keep my job, get pregnant, and then carry on the typical "commuter" relationship while I am nursing. No way.

Part of the reason I would consider having children is because I could have them with him. So, what point is there in having children if you cannot be with the person you want to raise them with?

I don't expect any miracle solutions to my dilemma and hence I am destined to be rather melancholy about this for awhile. I wouldn't mind some sort of miracle, if I could bring myself to believe they actually happen. What is more likely to happen is a coincidence that works out in my favor.

I will not ever consider my life to have been poorly spent if I do not have children. I get to use some of the skills of good parenting as a teacher. I also don't think I will end up bitter, turn Conservative, and decry the feminist movement.

The fact that I didn't have children yet had nothing to do with a political stance, and everything to do with a moral stance.

I don't think you should have children (if you are lucky to successfully prevent an unintended pregnancy) until you are mature, stable and willing to raise them. I think it is one of the most important jobs on the planet we can do. I haven't been many of those things until recently, and it took my several years to get here.

I also think that while all those things are necessary, they are not sufficient. You also need to want to have them. When you do find someone you want to have children with, then there is no guarantee that it is as simple as that. Again, I think it is no small thing to take on the responsibility of being a parent.

Because I admire and value it so much, and would want to do it well, I am perpetually in ambivalence about doing it at all.