Monday, November 01, 2010

the baby question

I turned 40 last July. One of the many benefits of getting through your 30's is having a firmer grasp on knowing what you want out of your life and why you want it. Also, people are starting to get used to the way you are and not expecting you to make any big changes. For instance, if you've always been kind of a slacker with not much of a job, by the time you are 40, people will usually stop asking you when you are going to get a job.

Like all child-free people, I spent some of my 20's and most of my 30's explaining to people why my husband and I do not have a baby. To family, to friends, even to acquaintances and strangers I've justified, explained, and rationalized why I do not have a baby, do not want a baby, and am not planning on having a baby. Deciding to not have a baby is not seen as a legitimate choice in this culture. Or in any culture. This is especially true when you are happily married, educated, middle-class, and good with children. My husband, Andrew, and myself are all of the above. Kids love us. We love kids. We just don't want them living in our house.

The truth is, I've never wanted to have a child. I've always wanted to be an artist and live my life unburdened by having to raise another human being. I know that being an artist does not preclude having children, that there are people out there who do both. In fact, one of my closest friends and artist who I admire most has two children under the age of five, and she pulls off the parent/artist thing in a way that I find kind of magical. But that's not me, and that kind of balancing act is not something I want to try out and see if I could be good at it, too. The problem with becoming a parent is that even if you suck at it, you usually won't get fired, and if you don't like it, you can't really quit.

Our decision does not dim the hope of certain people. One time, I called a good friend with happy news. "Guess what?!" I said. "You're pregnant!" my friend said. Ummmm, no. I had been selected to go attend a workshop as a resident. "Ohhhh..." my friend said. We were both disappointed and slightly embarrassed for the other, her wishing I would get it together and get knocked up already, and me wishing she would get used to the fact that I am and will remain child-free.

I bring this subject up because it's a question everyone has to consider, whether or not to raise children. The cultural expectation that one should have a baby overrides many people's decision-making process around the question. I had another friend who didn't realize she did not want a baby until she married someone who didn't. It never occurred to her to question whether or not she wanted a child, she just thought she would because... well, because that's what you do. As I get older it's a question that comes up less and less, and it's a relief. There's very little support for people who don't want to have children, and the conversation around it is usually the same. Are you an artist with a baby or struggling with the baby question? I'm very interested in the journey people people go through when thinking about this decision. Post your thoughts here.