By S.R. Taliaferro
She was in her forties and had just gotten married, this former coworker of mine. When she returned from her honeymoon, we chatted about how lovely the wedding was and spent time looking at the beautiful photographs of the wonderful day. A short time into all of the gasps at the pictures of the bride and groom, she hit me with the news that she and her new husband were trying to have a baby.
I am not the one to spout off and rain on someone’s parade, but that does not keep my mind from internally screaming the question: Why?
Why, became even more resounding when she told me about her medical issues and the fertility process she was embarking upon. My internal angst about this probably showed through the frozen smile on my face but was only detectible by someone who knew me fairly well.
Why are people so adamant about having children? Is it vanity? Is it purely a biological compulsion? Is it a religious demand? Odd questions coming from a woman with six children, but it’s primarily because of having six children that I ask the questions. I know why I had mine and it wasn’t any of the above, or that I was dying to have children. Honestly, I don’t recall ever thinking about being a mother as I was growing up, except to bemoan, through tears, how I wouldn’t treat my children in such a way, after I had gotten a whipping for misbehaving.
A short time prior to when I started having children, my sister already had a child, and many of my cousins and peers were having children as well. In one conversation with my dad, he asked, “When are you going to have a baby?” I thought it was odd for him to ask that question, since I thought marriage should have been the first question. In hindsight, he most likely asked because it seemed that everyone else at the time was popping out kids without the benefit of marriage let alone any inkling of strong relationships. I had also turned down his offer to help me go to college. Those were the days when a good job was still in good supply with only a high school diploma.
Anyway, this question stuck in my mind and I began to second guess my own logic. I began to feel as though something was wrong with me since I didn’t have any thought of having children. Regardless of the fact that I wasn’t in a relationship and there was none on the horizon, the seed had been planted that I should be drawn to the light of making babies by any means necessary.
So, when I was caught in the web of a man, whose primary idea of women was that they were baby making machines, and that he wanted to ultimately have an army comprised of his seed, I was in the right place for such a warped mindset to take over my life for a considerable amount of time. It was a mindset that I allowed to impregnate me, in fact, seven times within eight years.
That started over 23 years ago, and resulted in a tumultuous divorce 11 years ago, that wound up being the most empowering thing of my life. Through that divorce, I learned huge lessons not only about myself, but the individuality of children. I learned what a monumental task and responsibility it truly is when one makes the decision to bring a life into this world, without consent mind you, then to attempt to rear the child up to be happy, loving, and a positive contributor to the world.
The rearing of children, is so huge, especially when your goal is to do it “right,” that I now wonder how the human race even goes on. How does this task not scare the living crap out of most people? Why do so many people go to such great lengths, like my co-worker, to have children? These questions might lead one to ask whether or not I even love my own children. The answer is that I most certainly do. It’s just not that smothering clingy kind of ownership love that I’ve seen many parents display. It’s a love that’s been guided to embrace who they are, purely as individuals, completely separate from me. It’s this separation that allows me to see the monumental task for what it really is.
In order to get away from the bliss of procreation and get to the nitty gritty of it, we have to start with the terminology. We say, “I want to have a baby.” This conjures up images of a cute little bundle of fat cheeks and squishy legs. A little being of sweetness whose only form of communication is a melodious gurgle of a cry that is easily quieted with a breast, a clean fresh bottom, or a gentle rock to sleep. We envision fluffy blankets, tiny booties for tiny feet, a snug bottom fitted into onesies, and the twinkling of music coming from a mobile positioned just above the baby for the child’s amusement. We may even think of late night feedings, and chuckle it away as a minor inconvenience to having the wonderful gift of an infant whose life is completely dependent upon the parent’s dutiful love and guidance. In return, is given what some laughably seem to interpret as unconditional love.
This imagery is quite an alluring thing. What I loved most about having a baby, was the way newborn babies smell like pepper around their necks. I could not get enough of nuzzling my nose into the necks of my little ones, and breathing in that wonderful fresh scent and the feel of the closeness of their little bodies. I have a smile on my face right now, as I reminisce about it. I’m even getting a little giddy about it all, but being the very present person that I am, I would not lose my mind and think that I need to go down that road again. Memories suffice just fine. But as you see, I actually do understand the compulsion of wanting a baby.
Babies are wonderful. It’s what they could possibly turn into for a whole host of reasons, that people should take a considerable pause. In fact, I would venture to say, that schools which embark upon having teens carry around baby dolls or eggs to discourage them from having babies, should actually figure out how to tether the little darlings to life sized thirteen year olds who they have to feed, clothe and help navigate through the changes of their bodies and minds. That is where the challenge begins. That is where the real deal awaits. That is why nobody ever says, “I want to have a thirteen year old!”
In those teen and young adult years, lies the measure of one’s fortitude as a parent and where the inevitable question, “why did I do this?” or some variation of that question, seep into one’s thoughts. The utter befuddlement of watching them bobble around in their lives, puff chested, with faux independence; demanding to make decisions when they can’t even decide to use the container of milk that is already opened in the refrigerator rather than opening another. A mild example, I assure you; however, the big to-do that a discussion surrounding this lack of basic awareness could bring about, is one that could raise the roof of any household.
Now, imagine dealing with such a developing mind if you’re fortunate enough to have selected a co-creator that is committed to you and the family versus the possibility of doing it alone. When you’re able to co-parent, there is at least the opportunity to share the insanity. However, there is a 50/50 chance that this endeavor would be a solo one, since 51% of single mothers are ether divorced, separated, or widowed, while the other 49% were never married in the first place. (Single Mother Guide) There is nobody for you to turn to, just to check to see if you’re the crazy one or if it is indeed the child, when his response to the question of why he stepped right over a fabric softener sheet lying on the floor instead of picking it up was, “Don’t nobody be looking down on the ground.”
More seriously, think about how to deal with drug and alcohol use and hanging around with the proverbial “wrong crowd” who are basically kids of similar mindset or situations as your child. Think about how you’re going to guide him or her down a good life path that is their own. This is more difficult if the child doesn’t gravitate to something he or she has a passion for before leaving high school. Once they leave high school without a plan, the issue becomes “grown folks” playing video games to pass the time in between waiting to hear back about one warehouse job or another.
I realize that deciding to become a parent is a very personal choice. I offer no advise one way or the other. But, what I do offer is the idea of the gravity of the decision. The understanding that it is not simply having a baby, but rather, an endeavor into the development of a human being. The most progressive yet regressive; creative yet destructive being on Earth. How will you ultimately fair with the challenges that come? I welcome all comments.