The one about indecision.
I recently read this New York Times article about the very modern fear of becoming a parent. It delves into the reasons behind this fear - indecision, financial insecurity, memories of your own difficult childhood - and examines the new services springing up to help struggling singles and couples make up their minds.
It’s a thoroughly twenty-first century problem - I’m sure none of us can imagine our grandmother’s sitting around wondering whether they’d come to resent their children for inhibiting their carefree #wanderlust #blessed lifestyle. I’m sure there’s lots of studies and stats to tell you that the increasing number of women in the workforce has lead to greater financial freedom, which has lead to decreasing rates of marriage and then suddenly the nuclear family is CRUMBLING. And I’m sure there are equal numbers of studies and stats telling us the opposite. It’s all a mess, really - but what it all boils down to is that more and more people are fretting over whether to have children at all, when in the past everyone was just lying back and thinking of England.
Upon reading this article I found myself wondering if I had ever been scared to be a parent? Had I ever experienced a moment of doubt that it was something that I would do? Of course I was terrified when I found out I actually was pregnant, but by then the deed was done. The article was about a fear that occurs much earlier and calls into question the whole direction of a person’s life, their relationships, career, living arrangements and finances. If I had experienced these questions, how had I overcome them? And if I hadn't, why hadn’t I? Was it absolute certainty borne from a deep knowledge of my inner self? Or was it just blindly following the path laid by social expectations?
After a little soul searching and a lot of wine I came to the conclusion that there's never been a time in my life where I didn't think I'd have kids. Scratch that - a time where I thought I didn't want kids. I was single for most of my twenties - the kind of single people are embarrassed about being associated with - and so when I turned 27 and knew my Saturn Return was on its way I bought a box of wine and started writing. It had dawned on me that maybe I'd never be in a long term relationship. That if I wanted certain things I'd have to do them on my own, rather than from the cuddly comfort of a partnership. This would change how I moved through the world and how I approached certain goals. I wouldn't be able to afford to buy my own place, and guarantee myself a modicum of physical security, on my measly publishing salary. If I wasn't going to be making a family of my own then I'd want to be as close to my originating family as possible so would need to move back home to Sydney. While I was writing down the things I wanted and how I would make them happen flying solo, the question of procreating popped into my head. Would I have the balls to do that alone? Was it something I wanted badly enough that I would tackle what was, undeniably, an interminably difficult role? Abstractly, yes I would. I wanted to recreate the relationships I have with my parents. I wanted to love someone as much as I'd been loved. I wanted to add a kind, thoughtful, good human to the world, because God knows we badly need them. But it still gnaws at my brain - do I want those things because I want them, really and truly?
It’s scary to think you have so little control over your own mind that something like societal pressure could convince you to do something as drastic as have a child. But then we’ve all been that teenager who drank too many bacardi breezers because Rebecca from PE said the cool girls from the local public school drank them - so clearly it does have a potent effect. I don’t like to imagine that I got married, had a child, own a dog and want a house with a yard simply because society taught me, from the time I was a little tacker, that those were the mark of success and that I should want them desperately and try to obtain them at all costs. But in all likelihood I did. I watched my parents, the parents of my friends and the various other random adults I came across in my formative years, and all of them had some version of the white picket fence dream. It is indisputable fact that I was indoctrinated to want this life, to crave it and view it as the only way.
I like to think I’m a reasonably well educated, well read, well travelled, generally well rounded person. I try to be someone who examines their life, their choices and their inner-most workings to make sure I’m on the best path for me, that I’m a good person and that I’m #stayingtrue to who I am and who I want to be. The seeds of decisions that I’ve made based on ‘The Norm’ - namely to get married to a man and have a baby - may have been planted there against my will and without my knowledge. But I like to think that I have enough wherewithal, knowledge and emotional intelligence (read: have had enough therapy) to have done each of these things in my own way. I was going to proceed here by listing all the ways I’ve broken with tradition to do things my way - but I think ‘doing things your own way’ also means not feeling like you have to explain all the ways in which you’re #different. Frank Sinatra had to write a whole song justifying how he lived his life, and we all know he was a big phony.
My daughter’s conception was many things: ill advised? Yes. Poorly thought out? Yes. Involving too much wine? Definitely. But one thing it was not was the result of external pressure. We chose to have her and we got just the sort we wanted.