Women In The Workplace: Babies Ruin Lives
Editor’s Note: In Ashley Samsa’s submission email, she explained to me that she used to feel like a bad woman for not wanting children, and being torn between her ambitions and child-bearing. She wished that more women could to hear stories like this, because the pressure to reproduce can sometimes be unbearable, and not knowing how you feel about having children does not make you a bad woman; on the contrary, thinking it through and making a decision that works for you makes you a good woman. I wholly agree. Ashley blogs at smallstrokesbigoaks.com and tweets at @samsanator. – Lauren
As my husband and I were watching television one night, a car commercial came on. A woman and a man are walking down the street and she turns to him and drops the ultimate bomb: “I want to have a baby.” He, in turn, dives into full panic mode and starts listing all of the things he wanted to do before he had a kid because, of course, he can’t do anything once a kid is in the picture.
I turned to my husband and joked, “Did you see that? You better hope I don’t get pregnant any time soon. Your life will be over.”
The idea that pregnancy will ruin your life is not a new one. This particular myth about motherhood starts when you are a teenager as a way for high school health classes to scare you. After all, all it takes is one sexual encounter to get you knocked up.
It follows, then, that my first experience with babies was one of fear. It was like a really long conditional statement from math class. If you get pregnant, then you will have a baby. If you have a baby, then you won’t have time for school. If you don’t have time for school, then your grades will drop. If your grades drop, then you won’t get into a good college. If you don’t get into a good college, then your life is ruined. Therefore, if you have a baby, then your life is ruined. And this isn’t even taking into account the scarlet letter of a bulging belly as you walk through the hallways, judging eyes following you all the way.
My formative assumption about babies, then, was that they ruin lives. Why would I ever want to take part in that? I had big things ahead of me: college, graduate school, writing the next Great American Novel, traveling the world. I couldn’t be bothered with kids. And this was the popular opinion among my peers as well. I remember being in undergrad, sitting with a very good friend on the quad just before her graduation, and she looked at the sky and said, “You know what the weirdest part about graduating is? That, for the first time, my life would not be ruined if I got pregnant right now.” When I met my husband – in graduate school, where I was successfully still kid-free – I laid it all on the table for him and told him that I didn’t want kids any time soon, if at all. Thankfully, he agreed.
After graduate school came the wedding, and after the wedding came the weddings of about a hundred of our good friends. And after the weddings of our good friends came the inevitable slide into our late twenties. And after that came the sudden dinners out with distant friends we hadn’t seen since their weddings where they announced the happy news: they were pregnant. Frankly, I had mixed feelings about the news. In my one-track mind, getting pregnant would still be an accident that would change the entire course of my life. After all, I hadn’t even started my Great American Novel yet, nor had I gotten my PhD or traveled the world.
It wasn’t until my best friend told me she was pregnant that the realization that my close friends would take the plunge, too, started to take hold. When she told me, I made the stupid mistake of spitting out the first words that came to my mind: “Did you plan it?” I asked, not because I thought she didn’t, but because I was genuinely curious to know whether or not adults actually got pregnant on accident. Was I, myself, at risk? It was just beginning to occur to me that people would actually want to have a baby, let alone plan for it. Eventually, I got my foot out of my mouth and apologized and told her how happy for her I was. Honestly, though, I had been telling myself for so long that babies were awful inconveniences that it was hard for me to start thinking about them as agents of joy and excitement.
Months later, I was at the same friend’s baby shower. The last gift she opened was from her mother – a vintage-looking box filled with all of her favorite baby toys and clothes. She started to cry as she pulled out items I, too, recognized from my childhood: the Gloworm, the Cabbage Patch Kid, the tiny shoes, the baby spoon, the blankie. I looked over to her mom, who was also holding back tears as she, undoubtedly, remembered cherished moments as her daughter was growing up, but also as she looked to the future of a happy daughter with a happy family, growing and mixing their new traditions with the old and creating something wonderful.
Later that night, I asked her how she knew she was ready to have a baby. She said, “Listen, Ashley. If you wait until you are one hundred percent ready, you’ll never do it. Take your time, but don’t wait for it to hit you over the head. It won’t. At some point, you’ll just realize that the risks are worth the reward, and you’ll be ready.”
I started to see how happy my friends were. I saw how people rallied around them, rather than judged them. I saw the look on their faces when they glanced over at their sleeping children. And I saw how beautiful their babies were.
I even held a few of them.
I started realizing that childbirth will not kill me, that people won’t look at me and scowl with judgment as my belly grows larger, that my Great American Novel may, very well, be inspired by a tiny human being of my creation. And who says I have to write it now, anyway?
This has been the greatest realization of my life: I can do it all, but I don’t have to do it all right now. I can write the book, get the degree, have a great marriage, travel the world, and have a baby. But it doesn’t all have to get done tomorrow, or even next year.
I will never have a happily ever after story about how I just knew my whole life that I wanted to be a mom. If my future daughter ever has the same crisis as I did and asks me when I knew I wanted her, I’ll have to be honest. The truth might be that I never knew for sure; only time will tell. But that doesn’t mean I won’t be a good mom. I’ll be a great one, in fact, because, if I do bring a new person into this world, I’ll be ready to give this whole mom thing everything I’ve got.
For now, I’m still writing, studying, and traveling. But it’s entirely possible that a baby will creep its way into those plans in the future.
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