I understand why someone would never want what I have.
Three weeks after my son was born, our childless college friends came over to visit.
It wasn’t exactly a great time. I was sleep-deprived, bloated, bleeding, cracking (both my nipples and my sanity), and elbow deep in dirty diapers. Perhaps most terrifyingly, I was coming to terms with the fact that my life would never be what it was just 21 days earlier, when I was cleaner, better rested, definitely richer, and able to leave the house whenever I chose.
I turned to my friend with tears in my eyes and said, “I understand now why people abandon their families.”
I didn’t suffer from postpartum depression (which, along with postpartum anxiety, affects an estimated 10-20 percent of new moms). I was simply a woman who was realizing the magnitude of the decision to procreate — something more and more people are contemplating today.
According to a 2022 Pew Research Center study, approximately 44 percent of non-parents between 18 and 49 years old say it’s not likely that they will want children someday. I don’t blame them. From the global threat of climate change, to the increasing political polarization in this country, to financial fears, the reasons to not want to have kids are seemingly endless.
I always wanted to be a mom. As a kid, my stuffed animals were always sick, and it was my job to nurse them back to health. Starting at age 10, I was a helper with the toddler room at my synagogue during the high holidays. By 15, I was babysitting regularly, then I got my first job as a camp counselor, which I did for six summers. When I was 17, my nephew was born, and my then sister-in-law got mad at me for constantly waking him up so I could look into his eyes. (Twenty years later, I fully understand the true meaning of “never wake a sleeping baby,” and I feel terrible about that.)
My husband and I were married at 23 and 25, so we didn’t experience the sensation of “running out of time” some people feel when they meet their partner a little later. But when we learned I was pregnant, I suddenly felt slammed by an awareness of all the things I might never do, the places I might never see.
At that time, my husband and I both had jobs that often required travel, and it became clear that we couldn’t be on the road at the same time. Because he earned more and I was, well, the mom, we didn’t question that I would transition to a different area of my profession to make sure our new roommate would never be left alone.
Then, in my second trimester of pregnancy, we learned that I’m a carrier for a genetic disorder called fragile X syndrome.
The TL;DR explanation is that this is one of the most common causes of severe intellectual disability. This led to a long, painful, and anxiety-inducing journey for my husband and me: more genetic testing, an amniocentesis test, countless doctors’ appointments, and discussions amongst ourselves of the odds and risks, the pros and the cons.
Luckily, our son, Dylan, was born as healthy as can be. As I write this essay eight years later, he’s trying out for a travel soccer team while his 5-year-old sister, Riley, is at her sewing class, and I love them both more than I could ever have imagined.
And still — I understand why someone would never want what I have.
Recently, my son woke me up at three in the morning to ask when people born on leap day celebrate their birthdays. After I sent him back to bed as nicely as possible (i.e. without any expletives), I lay awake thinking about how crazy my life is. My son wakes up every single morning at 5:15. My weekends (and at least half of all weekday afternoons) are dedicated to soccer, art classes, play dates, and parties. I am slowly approaching the end of a decade’s worth of wiping other people’s butts.
I miss watching Law and Order: SVU marathons on weekends, but I’m running my own personal marathon chasing my kids instead. My hair is always in a messy bun, but it probably would be even if I weren’t a mom (although maybe it would be more recently washed…without a child banging on the shower door). Most nights I’m a short-order cook making multiple meals and eating other people’s rejected dinner.
But every once in a while, as my children eat, they look up at me over their iPads (yes, I let them watch their iPads while they eat dinner sometimes; no, I don’t feel bad about it) and say, “Thanks mom. I appreciate you.”
I wouldn’t trade any of this for anything. I love being a mom, but this life is not for everyone, and they don’t need a global catastrophe to explain why. I will always understand how someone else might not want to be a parent. And whether it’s one of my friends or one of my own children, I’ll never be the pushy person who asks why.