Hello, it’s April 2017.

1: Rereading a hibernating blog is an effective and distressing way to find scores of old typos you enthusiastically threw on the Internet for everyone to read.

2: Still no baby for me.

3: Seemingly dozens of babies for everyone around me. I have stopped trying to remember all their names. I assume all girl babies are now named Clementine or Olive (or other cute, organic snack food) and all boy babies are named Declan or Ezra (or other vaguely historic man name).

4: Clearly all procreation should cease until we get our shit together as a human society. I speak of, for example, pipelines, violent airplane exhibitions, and rampant capitalist greed; militarized policing of communities of color; wonton gentrification; the very boring state of popular music; our deeply troubled manchild president and the shitshow of an election that led to him; the rise of populism around the world; our nonsense lack of effort to counteract climate change; Betsy DeVos; the ignorance of the Democratic party in ignoring the pressing racial and economic needs of our country (am guilty here); the hypocrisy of the Republican party in repeatedly compromising every possible ideology or value for the sake of winning; the two-party system; and that thing that happened at the Oscars that doesn’t really matter but seemed like unnecessary drama. Canadians can have kids — especially Justin Trudeau, who should probably reproduce as much as possible for the salvation of our species. Everyone else has some other shit to take care of first.

The Decision: No Baby.

Existential Crisis? Have A Baby.

Occasionally, I yearn for the simplicity of fulfillment via reproduction.

I’m not the only one. My friends say it: “Maybe I should just have a kid, quit my job, stay home.” My coworkers, too. And in books, movies, on TV, across our all cultures, it is the ultimate, obvious purpose. Reproduce. Create life. Bored? Have a baby. Hate your job? Have a baby. Hate yourself? Have a baby. Lacking any purpose, motivation, reason to live? Have a baby.

That’s cynical and extreme. The real feeling is more gentle: Are you reasonably content, but wondering what’s next and unsure how to add newness to you life while feeling you still have impact on the world? Have a baby.

We want to feel important and necessary. We want to try new things and become new people. Is it wrong to feel that having a kid is too easy a solution to our shared existential crisis? The “purpose of life” is supposed to be our grand mystery. We’re supposed to wonder and worry over this. But what if the answer really is, simply, that we should have babies? Like almost everyone does? Like turtles and snails and dandelions do? Is that too obvious? As a modern person, is that too easy? I’m doubtful: If reproduction was really fulfilling, would we have existential crises at all?? Perhaps the answer should be less selfish, more social; less animal, more intellectual. But what if the purpose of life is not a great mystery? What if the obvious path is the right path? What if the ultimate happiness, the ultimate fulfillment. is biological destiny? What if I have no greater purpose than to get pregnant?

(I’ll interject an awkward anecdote, to demonstrate that I don’t like obvious answers: In 1st grade, my teacher asked us whether cold water or hot water would turn into ice faster, in the freezer. I remember sitting in the back row, and being the only student to raise my hand when she asked if hot water would freeze faster. I was so sure she was trying to trick us — there was no way the answer could be cold water. Why even ask the question if the answer was so obvious? Did she think we were dumb? I argued with her that this was a dumb question, and she called my mom — who, from what I remember, agreed that it was a dumb question. Why waste time on questions with obvious answers?)

The decision: Baby. Not because anything in me really wants the baby, but because occasionally I can’t deny the allure of doing what most humans throughout history have done.

Survey says: The Childfree decision takes time

My boss brought her adorable baby to work today, toting his happy face and bare feet around the office while we worked on something from 8am to 6pm. The baby is super cute and very pleasant. The mom is a blessedly low-key about parenting (not pretentious or self-righteous). And my office is wonderful in allowing parents lots of flexibility, including bringing kids to work.

Later, on the internet: A stream of newborn photos. It seems last October was the time to get knocked up, because everyone just had a baby.

With a great relief I didn’t know I needed after such a baby-full day, I received a few messages from another friend — a lady who blogs about travel and sometimes cupcakes (both more exciting to me than newborns in all their identical newborn hospital hats).

Kimberly sent this link: research on why people decide not to have kids. (View the original research paper/abstract here.) Key points:

“Blackstone and Stewart note that respondents conceptualized their childfree lifestyle as “a working decision” that developed over time. … Despite some concrete milestones in the process of deciding to be childfree, respondents emphasized that it was not one experience alone that sustained the decision. One respondent said, ‘I did sort of take my temperature every five, six, years to make sure I didn’t want them.’ Though both women and men described their childfree lifestyle as a ‘working decision, women were more likely to include their partners in that decision-making process by talking about the decision, while men were more likely to make the decision independently.”

That last point about gender-typical differences is a bit tangential, but interesting. It aligns with what my friends seem to experience: As ladies, we talk constantly about the decision to have kids or not. We check in with our respective partners, or occasionally the men bring it up, but their decision-making seems highly internal. This stereotypical gendered dynamic might be off-putting, if I didn’t feel that familiar relief we get from learning that an odd thing in our lives is actually very common. It’s OK if my husband and I make a decision in this weird way … as long as everyone does.

The researcher’s larger point is that the decision to not have kids is thoughtful, rational, and develops over a long time. Which is also reassuring on two levels. Personally, it’s nice to know most other people spend years considering their feelings; my decision-making process is relatively normal. And it’s reassuring on a societal level: I like the thought that people across the country are taking time to carefully consider one of the biggest choices in their lives. Nice work, childfree people! Excellent thinking skills.

The Decision: No Baby. Sorry Facebook — no newborn posts from me.

 

Maternity Leave Is Crucial and Annoying

I’ll admit that I simultaneously, unequivocally, support extended leave for all parents — while I also resent new parents who get multiple months “off” to care for a new kid.

Yes, I know new parents are working. “Working.” But doing something new and emotionally gratifying is still a break from trudging through the same dumb meetings we have every week at the office.

I know you lack sleep, and breastfeeding can be terrible, and negotiating parenting strategies with your spouse is as pleasant as setting yourself on fire. But you also say that staring at your new lump of baby is the most blessed miracle you’ve ever experienced — so let’s not pretend it’s not a break from your “real” job of showing up 9-5 at the office. You may be stressed, but it’s fun, new, exciting stress.

And while you’re having fun stress, I’m taking on your old stress at the office. I’m answering your emails and gathering your data. I’m returning your calls and generally covering your ass. And I am 95% happy to do it, because it’s good for my career, and because this new-parent-baby-bonding time is important for you and I support you. But 5% of me is bloody annoyed.

I am annoyed that while you’re sitting in your pajamas watching Carebears, I’m wearing Spanx in a meeting with faculty.

I’m annoyed that you’re gazing lovingly into the eyes of you child, a new human born from your body, an entire person created by love with your partner — while I am stating at Excel, trying to bend a pivot table to my will.

I’m annoyed that you’re imagining the amazing life this new baby may have, while I am hoping to find something better for lunch that a two-year-old Cup O’ Noodle in the back of my desk drawer.

Parental leave in the US sucks. Everyone should get adequate paid time off to spend with their children. But to expect non-parents to cover these months of work without getting something of comparable benefit is penalizing people for not having kids. (To be fair: I did get extra compensation for covering a maternity leave. And I did take three months off for travel. I really, really can’t complain that much. But I will complain a bit.)

Having a child is a huge undertaking, and it makes sense that people take time away from their day jobs to begin this parenting work. But is also a choice people make, and it’s a great privilege that many professionals get months off work to explore and experience being parents. Shouldn’t people without kids get time off to explore whatever we care about? We could probably all use three months on something — travel, study, volunteer work. Three months of fun travel might will seem luxurious to new parents who are staying up all night with a newborn — but while I’m sitting at work, three months home with a baby seems pretty luxurious. We all choose what to do with our lives. If some people choose to not have kids, we shouldn’t be excluded from otherwise-standard benefits.

The Decision: No Baby. Yes leave time anyway.

Another one bites the dust.

Another one’s gone. And another one’s gone. Another one bites the dust.

Dun dun dun.

Another coworker is pregnant.

It feels a little like Red Rover: The playground game that begins with two equal lines of children, each team calling to weakest players on the opposing side to run and attempt to break through their line of joined hands. When the weak kid fails, they join the opposite team, until one team had gathered nearly everyone on the playground, and the losing  team is down to a sad one or two chldren. I don’t exactly remember how it ends, except that slowly one team disappears; the majority always wins.

Slowly, my friends and coworkers get knocked up. Some are predictable. Some have hoped to get pregnant for a long time, and I’m thrilled when it works out. Some have much more success in parenting than I would have expected, and again I’m very happy for them.

But occasionally, I take a pregnancy announcement as a personal affront. Some people are seemingly past the age of reproduction, or have never mentioned kids, or for whatever reason I just assumed they were on Team Childfree. So when they’re suddenly two trimesters in, I feel betrayed.  Excuse me, expectant mother, but can we pause your miracle of procreation to consider how I might feel about your life plans? I’m your coworker. Didn’t you bother to wonder how this might shift my self-centered worldview?

Every acquaintance who becomes a parent is another loss to the other side. Individually, I’m happy for them. But en masse, I am distressed to find myself in an increasing minority.

At work, I am excluded from an ever-growing number of conversations. I have nothing to contribute when talk turns to C-sections at the kitchen coffee cart. The baby talk is simultaneously irrelevant, uninteresting, and a reminder of how much our culture centers on parents and children. When you have nothing else to say, ask about someone’s kids — they’ll talk endlessly.

For now, my social life is safe: But what happens when even one couple from our small circle has a baby? Our dinner parties of four couples may not withstand even one pair dropping out due to parental obligations.

Gradually, the childfree world around me shrinks and I am surrounded by mommies and daddies. I hate to be divisive, and I don’t think the culture needs to be. Parents and nonparents can blend together comfortably. In theory. In reality, however, I see parenting change people. They spend less time on their jobs. They RSVP yes to fewer parties. They have little to talk about except kids.* So when someone gets pregnant, it feels like they’ve been traded permanently to the other team.

I lied a little when I said I didn’t remember how Red Rover ends. I don’t remember the rules clearly, but I do remember this: despite my small hands and skinny arms as a kid, I was surprisingly great at this game. No one could break through my strong grasp, and no one could stand against my tiny weight when I charged through their line. I knew my goal, and my determination was great. I rarely let go or failed to break through.

The Decision: No Baby. It feels a bit unnecessary to continue this conceit, but I appreciate the consistency.

* Generalization. One couple I know maintains thoroughly normal work and social lives, and well-rounded personalities, while parenting a two-year-old. They work hard, and talk about things across a variety of non-baby subjects. They’re generally Model Parents, in the sense of being good people who also parents among other things. (They’re probably “good parents” in a more traditional sense — but I wouldn’t really know, since they talk mostly about things other than their kid.)