When my nephew was born, I had one very important question for my sister-in-law. “Did you poop?” I asked, as she lay in her hospital bed, still hazy under the influence of the drugs. “Look,” she said flatly, already with the deadpan nonchalance of someone who’d been mothering for a lifetime (Dorothy from Golden Girls came to mind). “If you can squeeze hard enough to poop, you can have a baby.” I’d never heard my sister-in-law, six years my senior, say the word “poop” before, but I was pretty sure I was going to like the woman she was becoming. Growing up in the Deep South, it had always just been assumed that I, like all good Southern girls, would marry and procreate, preferably in that order, and in short order. But when my nephew was born, I was 25 and waiting tables at a kitschy bar in New York City, which is code for dancing on-slash-falling off of barstools and throwing up in public, not so much awaiting my chance to squeeze a child out of a hole in my body.
If anything, I was repulsed by everything having to do with babies, except the part where you make them. But, hovering over my sister-in-law’s hospital bed, the questions just came pouring out of me: Did your vagina rip? How bloody is the bloodiness? When your water broke, was it like a gush or a trickle? I needed to know everything, in case the pregnancy disease were ever stricken upon me, and I were forced to eject a baby from an orifice I considered private property — or, at least, a very exclusive club. I’d visit my brother’s little family often. I changed the baby’s diapers and sang him old gospel songs about rivers and Satan and praying while I rocked him in my arms. I loved him immensely, but I gladly passed him off when the going got tough. (It’s on the Official List of Aunt Privileges.) I thought about the miracle of life a lot — and how I never wanted it to happen to me. When my brother was in school for his PhD, and my sister-in-law working to support their crew, they needed free childcare. So I moved in with them in North Carolina. They’d get my nanny services, which came with prying questions about pregnancy and childbirth. And I’d get the cold, hard facts. The actual experience of being with a baby that summer? It was miserable, strolling a teething blob to Barnes and Noble in the damp July heat. He would grind his four teeth so loudly it nearly drowned out the Frappuccino machine. Each day felt like a personal Twilight Zone episode; I was stuck on a loop living the worst parts of motherhood: exhaustion, dancing around like a toy monkey non-stop, and getting pooped on. At least, I imagined they were the worst parts. But, oh my god, what if they were just the normal parts?
I was almost frightened by the love I felt for him. I couldn’t imagine the intensity I might feel for my own kid.
Occasionally, I would look at the dough ball with total amazement — his cupid’s bow a perfect slope, his imploring brown eyes full of anticipation. In these moments, I was almost frightened by the love I felt for him. I couldn’t imagine the intensity I might feel for my own kid. At the close of summer, I happily returned to my young-people’s life in New York and resumed my eye-rolling at fitful babies on the subway. I was back to doing incredibly interesting things, like, listening to a very important new indie rock band, stupid screaming baby! I was taking long showers that involved much self-care, paying $30 for cycling class, and dining at hip new restaurants where parents dare not bring their slimy-fingered kin. Then my New York friends began having babies. Some on purpose, some not. It was terrifying, like the plague. One of my best friends had a baby weeks before my wedding and couldn’t come. I was angry and devastated that she’d never share one of my most important memories. “We have to remember the reason I can’t be there is because of a good thing,” she’d say. But babies weren’t good things. They were needy parasites that took my friends away, made weird teeth noises in bookstores, and spoiled the riches of life; having hit 30, I was just beginning to enjoy luxuries like designer shoes and European getaways with my girlfriends. I was gathering my baby data, and signs were pointing to a hard no.
As I fled full-steam away from motherhood, I continued to corner my coven of mom friends and ask: "So...breastfeeding...is it as terrible as it seems? On a scale of 1-10, how tired are you, really? How long before you had sex again?" I needed to understand why anyone would willfully make this decision. I needed details. Then there were the questions I was too afraid to ask, for fear of sounding judgmental, or of instilling fear in friends who may not know, themselves. Do you like who’ve you’ve become? What about your career? Are you afraid of becoming irrelevant? I was also afraid of how I would answer them, I guess. As a writer (first life obstacle), who makes her living being “in the know” (second life obstacle), I couldn’t help but panic at the thought of going off the grid after a pregnancy, later to be disappointed by missed opportunities and pop culture references, and oblivious to how many new iPhones had been released. Then my brother and his wife had another child, one who exhausts and exhilarates me. I met my best friend’s baby. “Oh my God, you made that!” I squealed when I met her (and instantly forgave the babe for that wedding business). I didn’t need to be the full-time nanny to know: If any person were to hurt these kids, I would go Liam-Neeson-Taken on their ass. Warming to friends’ and family members' babies made me feel as though I were learning how to share the world with the friend-snatching species. And about halfway into my 31st year, I started to think that maybe I did want my own.
My worst fear: What if I hate being a mom? It’s not like you can return them.
I’d had the gut-wrenching feeling, off and on, for about a year. The unexplainable warmth that washes over you when you see the giggling, cooing cuddle monsters, with their bright eyes and gummy smiles. “Aww...” I’d say, with estrogen surging through my fallopian tubes (at least that’s what I imagined was happening). Then, as quickly as the warmth had come upon me, it would slip away. Reality would strike and, thinking only of how often I might eat and sleep that day, I’d realize perhaps I was more like the baby than the mom, which posed a fundamental problem. Even if I want this, I probably am not up to the task. In the midst of these hot flashes of parental desire, I was convinced that I was far from ready to be the real deal. My worst fear: What if I hate being a mom? It’s not like you can return them. So I kept asking questions, trying to make sense of my conflicting feelings, and secretly hoping someone would validate my confusion with their answers. "When did you know you wanted to be a mother? Do you ever want to punch your kid in the face, and if so, what do you punch instead?" My heaviest question — "Is it really worth it?" — I lobbed at every single new parent I thought might answer honestly. After they told me how they first thought they’d destroyed their marriages, how they think they may never sleep the same again, and the various war stories pertaining to their most intimate body parts, they would almost always reply with what I expected them to say: “Yes, it’s a good thing.” Everyone says you’re never ready to be a parent, and so you just decide to try to be one or not. That’s where I’m having trouble. I’m kind of selfish. I like sleeping, and writing has been my #1 priority for as long as I can remember. Could I change any of that? Do I even want to? But this feeling — this urge to keep asking — won’t leave me be. Somewhere between collecting data like a baby-mad scientist and cruising through my early 30s, I’ve begun to...stop fleeing. I learned through my years of crowdsourcing that it would be hard: the pregnancy horror stories, the birthing nightmares, and those dreaded first few months. But that doesn’t definitively mean bad. Women have been doing this since the beginning of time, and it’s not like some extreme collective long con...I don’t think? My husband and I have been talking about what’s next. And maybe that will be a baby. “I want that next level of intensity with you,” I said to him one night over a quiet dinner at a fancy restaurant, far away from the realities of early parenthood. “You know, bewilderment, and shit on our hands, and the kind of fear that makes you clutch your chest. Things you can only achieve by making a baby together.” He agreed that he would like that, too. Now, I’m in the weighing the evidence phase of my investigation. I have all the answers except one: Do I want to have a baby? And that’s a question only one person can answer.