Q. “I’m 29, just completing my candidacy requirements and research for my PhD, in a fantastic and stable relationship, and recently my uterus has begun to demand a baby. On the one hand, if I’m going to be writing my dissertation for the next year+ anyway (starting next summer/fall), why not do it with baby? On the other hand, I’ve been warned about getting baby-brain and losing 70-90% of my ability to sleep, think, focus, dress, anything. I wouldn’t be working so income would all be on SO, who does not make mint. But I do have substantial savings, and overly generous parents…
Basically, I know there is often no ‘good’ time to have a kid, and comparatively this might not be an awful time for me. Once I finish my PhD there are expectations of post-docs and full-time jobs, and no one likes to hire a lady just to have her take off for maternity leave right off the bat. Is this foolish? Should I just tell my baby-maker to put a sock in it (not literally)? Part of me doesn’t want to put it off until I’m into my late 30s, but the other part of me doesn’t want to jeopardize my awesome-science-future by saddling myself with a tiny person. I ask thee, oh bevy of women in various states of child/not-child, what is your collective answer/opinion?”
A. My dear, I think the question here is not whether something is foolish, but really, what is it that you truly want? There will be camps of people in your life, both from schools of thought that might ascribe your actions as foolish: those who think that putting your career ahead of your fertility will only result in disappointment, and those who believe that having a baby before your career takes off will only result in disappointment. Technically, they are both right.
Sometimes choice is mistaken for “will never have any regrets or negative feelings,” an assumption that is simply not true. Choice is about making the best decision for your wants, desires, and your specific situation. It does not mean that you will never question your decision, regret your decision, or even imagine what it might have been like if you made that left turn, instead of the right. I think the fact that there is no embracing of this state when we make our decisions is one of the many reasons people are so quick to dump out swaths of their lives, consistently searching for the decision that will eternally make up and quiet their questioning mind. The satisfaction of the perfect answer, the one where no imagined scenarios or back-of-the-mind wonderings happen.
I don’t think this exists.
Which I why I have to answer your question in the only honest way I can: I don’t know what you should do. You seem to be aware of the hardships that having a baby in the beginnings of your career present, but you also know the cycle of “when I” very well. “When I turn thirty, I will do this or be doing this.” “When I lose this weight, I will feel this.” “When I get a partner, I will begin my life the way I want.” “When I” is dangerous, because “when I” changes with you. Sure, there are people who are able to follow through on the best laid plans, but lady, life does not seem to give a damn about any of our plans. Which means we shouldn’t make the best of efforts to make them, but that only we cannot be so damn surprised when they don’t happen exactly the way we laid them out in our heads.
Each choice you make will present very specific hardships. It will also bring very specific joys. Neither will quiet the “what if”s. In the worst of times, you might be sitting there with a screaming, dirty baby, wondering about how your amazing career would have turned out by now, or you might be struggling for employment, mad that you may have wasted precious time on the search for something that isn’t turning out to be a walking, talking human being. These might be your worst case scenarios. However, your moments of happiness, whether with child or career, or hell, even both, are the ones that will fill you with an unimaginable feeling of “yes.” Yes, I am happy I made this decision. Yes, I am happy with where I am.
Everyone around you, of course, will become an expert about what you should or should not do, and to a degree, they are the best expert on their own experience. Even I have an opinion of what I would do, if I were in your shoes. Yet, the magical word in that sentence is “I,” and I am not you. So people will talk to you about what they would do and that they think you should do. Let them as much as you are willing to. How and why you decide that relates to you is completely in your court. Once upon a time, not too long ago, I was having a night out with some of my friends, when one announced that she was craving a baby. I immediately froze. A baby? She was like, twenty-five! Just married! The list of things that I thought (again, there is that funny word, I) would make her life considerably harder rolled down in my brain, and unfortunately, with the help of many glasses of wine, out my mouth, and into the air, where she had the graciousness to put up with my jabbering. Each reason I put on the table, seemed more logical than the last, and yet, she nodded her head politely as she does and said, “I don’t care.” After the party, I gabbed more to my partner, about the why, why, why, why? Of course, in his manner, he stated, “You act like it is you who is planning on having this baby.”
Herein lies the problem with sometimes seeking advice, rather than listening to your best judgment.
Those closest to you, the ones who deeply, madly, love and care about you? They have their baggage. Not lots, but sometimes just enough to get in the way of seeing your wants and desires, the entire complexity of your situation, as a reflection of their own choices. When my friend told me she wanted a baby, my own fears and conflicted feelings about motherhood rose up like a tidal wave, washing over her wants, filling the what ifs that she seemed to already be settled with, into an exercise for me to feel that everyone should be as conflicted about having children as I am. Know this if you continue to ask for advice from your loved ones. Know that they love and support you (even if at the time, it does not feel like it) but sometimes, it isn’t about you. Your situation becomes a vehicle for someone else’s projections. Only you can know whether this decision is right for you or not, and honey, you might not ever be 100% sure. You might not be sure when the morning sickness makes the simple act of waking up torturous, or the 45th re-write of your dissertation sends you into a pile of tears. It is okay to not be 100% sure. It is more that you know what it is that you want. The rest – the nitty gritty, more complicated day to day stuff? You will make it work, mostly because you have to.
Lastly, I certainly don’t want to amplify that nasty continuing rift between childless and children, the career versus the stay-at-home. Thinking like that is set up so that those who actually end up making the sacrifices will fight amongst each other, momentarily distracted from the larger issues at hand, and lord, if that isn’t tiresome bullshit. I certainly don’t think that you couldn’t do both, or that one is better than the other. I only know what I would do. So kitten, lay out what it is that you really want. What does it look like? What do you think it feels like? What is the type of life you so desire and how can you make it happen?
Only you can answer the question that is calling you, my love. Everything else is just an echo.
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