In short, she is me—and pretty much most of my friends. Smart, driven, highly educated, independent, adventurous, poised, passionate, successful, stylish and fiscally responsible. As my mom would say, she has a "good head on her shoulders."
I listen over pinot noir and chicken piccata (God, do I love capers) as she tells me how she tries to picture herself with kids. She'll come home after a long day of wooing doctors, tired and just wanting to wash her face and zone out, and thinks about having to feed a child, get him or her into the bath, read a bedtime story and hold her breath as she tiptoes out of the bedroom hoping, just hoping, her little one goes right to sleep. Would she feel soooooo tired? Would she resent the intrusion into "me time"? Would it just feel like too much work?
I nod and take another bite of linguini, twirling the long strands of pasta onto my fork as she continues. After six years with her husband, they have had enough conversations to know what each other needs. He needs her to do everything: work, plan their vacations, do the grocery shopping, clean the kitchen, pick out his dress shirts, research home buying strategies, write his cover letters, etc. She needs to be appreciated for doing everything. "Babe, you're the best!" is pretty much all she needs, she says. And really, she doesn't mind doing everything because she likes being in control. I smile at her self awareness and candor. Good girl for owning that.
|Are you ready?|
I pour myself another glass of wine (the restaurant is BYOB) and nod. I savor the tangy flavor of CVS's best bottle of Kendall Jackson as it coats my tongue before I swallow and take another sip.
And what about work? She makes six figures with her bonus and kind of likes the freedom of having all that disposable income. She's worked hard to get to where she is. Would she want to stay home? She doesn't think so. Would her husband stay home after finishing law school? Probably not. What would they do for childcare? And isn't it really expensive? How much do you pay your nanny? she asks.
$13 an hour, I tell her, which is about $2,000 a month.
She grimaces. That's like a mortgage payment, she says.
I know, I say. It sounds like a lot.
Yet here's the thing, I say, leaning in as Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg says all women should do in her new book about the lack of female leadership in corporate America. I lean in for a different reason than Sheryl, however. My message is different from hers.
Here it is: I had no idea how big my heart could feel until I had a child.
There is nothing like the smile Owen gives me when he's taught himself to stand for three seconds before falling backward onto his butt. Nothing. There is nothing like the smell of his baby head as I lay in the dark with him, stroking his hair, while he drinks his last bottle before bed. Nothing.
There is nothing like the look of anticipation he gets when I say, "One...." as I slowly remove one tab of his diaper. "Two....." as I peel back the other tab, and "threeeeeeee!" as I rip open his diaper and exclaim, "There's the pee-pee!"—a game I established to distract him from flipping over when he was four months old.
There's nothing like the feel of his little hands pawing at my shins and working his way up to my knees as he tries to climb the "Tower of Mommy" to get into my arms. There's nothing like watching him suck on his bath toys and pat the surface of the water and look over at me with pure joy as he slashes. Nothing. There's nothing like the time I blew a raspberry on his belly and he reciprocated by leaning over and blowing a raspberry on my leg. Or the grunty laugh he makes when I tickle the bottom of his feet.
Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.
I always suspected I'd enjoy having children, that they'd bring an uncomplicated sense of joy, hope, fun, and did I say joy? to my life. And it's even better than I ever imagined. Holy shit.
Now, here's the fine print. Yes, it will change your marriage. I have never argued more with Dave than in the last year because with kids, there are just so many more things to fight about. What time should he go to bed? Should we feed him another 2 ounces when he wakes up crying? Is it okay to let him sleep in his swing or will it forever ruin him for his crib? Should we rush home to make sure he gets a good afternoon nap or is it okay to let him sleep in the stroller? Is an orange and half of a banana too much sugar for him in one sitting? Will he really die of SIDS if he sleeps with a blanket? When should we transition him from a bottle to a sippy cup?
But the experts say this. I don't care what the experts say, I want to do it like this. We should be on the same page. Right, your page. Can we agree to disagree? Yes. No. I don't know. Blah, blah, blah.
Yes, that careful balance that you worked out when you were childless, when it felt like you were so damn compatible will be turned upside down. Yes, it will be expensive. But I would pay my nanny $20 an hour if she asked (just don't tell her that) because what better thing to spend my money on than the peace of mind of knowing that Owen is in good hands?
Yes, you will struggle to balance your work life with your home life. You will question your identity. "Have you figured out whether you're a working mom or a mom who works?" my friend, Amy, a Senior VP with a 2 year old and a second on the way, asked me the other day.
You may feel pressure to stay at home. You may feel guilty that you like leaving the baby behind to go to work. No matter what you do, you will be shamed by other mothers. And you will shame yourself. Just wait until someone asks you whether you breast feed. If you don't, you will find yourself giving a long, self deprecating explanation of why not.
Parenthood is a landmine of guilt, a mirage of "the right way to do things." Attachment parents will tell you your child should sleep in your bed and be offered your breast if they so much as whimper. Weissbluth and Ferber will tell you to let your child cry it out. Every time you are tired, frustrated and confused about why your child will not eat, sleep or <<fill in the blank>>, you will be reminded of what the experts say. Then you will be told, "Just find what works best for you." Then when you do, you will be judged again. Both by others and yourself.
Then why is this process worth it? Here's the other thing: for some people it's not. I cannot tell you how much I respect couples who look around at other parents, look back at each other and say, "Nah, not for us." I don't think parenthood is for everybody. I like that it can be a conscious choice rather than once you get married, the next logical step. I don't think parenthood is a prerequisite for joy, fulfillment or self actualization. There are other ways to forge deep connections with others, large and small, and to find meaning in your life.
I hope I don't sound like a sanctimommy, something I've been accused of before. I'm not here to say, "There, there, oh childless one, you have no idea what you are missing in your life." I don't want to perpetuate the cycle of judgment, our society's knee-jerk compulsion to shame. I'm here to say that for me, having a child is something that feels so, so right, even though I worried and pondered the same questions as you.
Once reality came around, once Owen was here, all the mental gymnastics I did—and continue to do until I recognize it and stop myself—to figure out what being a parent would look like for me and for Dave, fell by the wayside. So many of the worries, ideas and theories are just that—worries, ideas and theories.
So, go ahead and wait. Wait until you get that glimmer of a feeling that you're ready to be a mom. Or not. (And yes, our conversation may have a greater sense of urgency if you were 39, not 32, because of that goddamn biological clock.) More and more I'm realizing that being a true feminist—and a true friend—means supporting other women no matter what it looks like, no matter what they decide to do.