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"You Don't Know Happiness Until You've Had A Baby"
I didn't truly know nausea until I read that statement -- one a mother made to a woman named Carrie Friedman who's not yet a mother, and whose main reservation about becoming one is the aggressive superciliousness of other women who've spawned. Friedman writes:

If you want me to join your ranks—and you've made it clear with your cold, clammy hands on my stomach that recruiting my uterus is of paramount importance to you—I need to set some ground rules.

First, please stop asking me when I'm going to get pregnant.

For all you know, I cannot have kids. For all I know, I cannot have kids, as I have not yet tried. But imagine how painful this line of interrogation would be if I had submitted to all kinds of procedures, only to come up empty-wombed. It would be emotionally devastating. Yet ever since the day after my wedding two years ago, I have fielded this question from the eye doctor, the dental assistant, my yoga teacher, the bagger at the grocery store. All of them feel entitled to ask. Don't. It's none of your business.

Next, don't completely abandon your own life and passions. You're setting a bad example for aspiring mothers-to-be like me.

I recently expressed my happiness over an achievement I had at work to a mother-friend of mine. She said, dripping with condescension, "Well, you don't know happiness until you've had a baby."

That's very possible, but don't rain on my parade, as I've never said to you, "Remind me, when you went to that expensive college you majored in diaper-rash prevention, right?"

I happen to love my job. It fulfills me in ways no other person—even a child—could. I learned through my own mother's example that the best lesson you can teach your kids is to pursue their passions. It's not selfish to have your own life. In fact, it's selfish not to.

...Finally, don't make your kid an extension of your own narcissism.

No one could possibly love your kids as much as you do, so stop inflicting them on others. Don't bring your kid to adult parties when you're not sure if it's kid-friendly. If they didn't invite your kid, they don't want your kid there. If you don't want to get a babysitter, stay home.

My husband thinks some people, particularly mothers, behave in these ways because it helps them validate their own choices. But he doesn't truly understand how infuriating it is, and that's because nobody badgers men with questions about procreation.

Becoming a parent was your decision, and I am thrilled for you. All I'm asking is that you let me make that choice in my own time. And keep your hands off my belly.

In case you're wondering, while I have six (smart, cool, well-mannered) kids who are my friends, when I'm asked whether I have any children of my own, I typically joke, "None that I know of." No, I didn't forget to have them, and no, I don't want to share yours in restaurants, stores, or airplanes, thanks. If you don't feel right drugging them, muzzling them, or (perish forbid!) teaching them manners, kindly limit their outings to Chuck E. Cheese -- or tie them to a stake in your yard until they can conduct themselves in a civilized manner.

Thanks, Norm

Posted by aalkon at July 26, 2007 10:34 AM

Comments

Nearly fifty and never having wanted kids, there's been no greater surprise in life than the erotic ferocity with which many women want children. Biologically that makes sense-- if, as was the case until recent times, giving birth might well cost a woman her life, or put her on bedrest for two years until digestive infections (ahem) took her away in a reeking nightmare of suffering. Nature had to be sure women wanted it real bad.

But the brainless certitude of the reproductively inclined seems especially callous in light of all the progress that's happened for gays in recent decades. No one in my circle would ever tell a lesbian "Oh, you just haven't met the right man yet." But as Friedman notes, clucking hens and cackling roosters are eager to recruit others to their flock... Only, it seems, for the safety of numbers.

Or maybe the company in misery.

Posted by: Crid at July 26, 2007 2:11 AM

"...and that's because nobody badgers men with questions about procreation..."

Actually, that's not entirely true. A longtime friend of mine, and his wife, moved into a neighborhood with several couples who have children. He said some of the other husbands pressed him about being childless, wanting to know why.

He told them that he and his wife had given up because she had miscarried several times, and told me that he felt like an asshole when he did this, because they quickly apologized and backed off.

I told him that he shouldn't feel this way; that it's none of their business and they're not entitled to an answer in the first place. If they felt guilty after getting their answer, those are the consequences. Screw 'em!

Posted by: Doobie at July 26, 2007 2:50 AM

"But imagine how painful this line of interrogation would be if I had submitted to all kinds of procedures, only to come up empty-wombed. It would be emotionally devastating."

Why does the drama queen author have to come up with fake "emotionally devastating" personal back stories to underscore the banal truth that chatty, casual strangers can be insensitive clods?

(I played a devastating successful game of peek-a-boo with a stranger's fussing baby yesterday. His mother was trying to grab five minutes to photocopy papers and send a fax, so I found myself gurning and lip smacking to distract a tyrannical - but highly appreciative -chubby audience of one. A baby's capacity to be astonished by the same thing over and over is amazing I felt like a complete moron -but it was the sweetest five minutes of a boring day.)

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at July 26, 2007 5:55 AM

Y'know, I have 2 kids (yes, I know you know!), and I love them dearly, but I am SO glad when my mom offers to take them with her on a long weekend to her sister's, or shopping, or wherever, because, even though I love them, I also love having a break from them! Just as I'm sure they love having a break from me.

And it's funny, because sometimes when we're out together, and they see someone else's kids acting up, they're the first ones to say something about it. The older one looks down her nose and says, "that's just SO rude!" We were in Borders once and she totally embarassed one woman, whose son was wailing like a banshee, who then looked at me as if she were waiting for me to discipline my child. I just smiled and said, "some people have trouble teaching their children manners, honey." As we were walking back to the car, my daughter said, "Mom, did you see the look on that lady's face? You should have offered her some ice for that burn!"

Me, I love being a mom, but that doesn't mean that I have to insist that every other woman on the planet has to be one. Not every woman is cut out to be a mom, and it's nobody's business but hers!

Posted by: Flynne at July 26, 2007 6:24 AM

"...and that's because nobody badgers men with questions about procreation..."

I have never been badgered by strangers about this, nor have a I been approached by strangers for just about anything. This is due to the fact that I always look so happy in public and only after grad school discovered that shaving (at least some form of it) isn't really optional.

However my parents and friends have been badgering the shit out of me on this one. My wife's parents used to badgers her about it. I really wish that her parents had continued to badger her about it.

A few months after they stopped badgering her I get a full baby broad side. Now she freaking wants one. I don't hate the idea (any more) but I'm less then thrilled. I spend 7 years kneeling before the powers of academia, now I only have 5 freaking years to enjoy my career. So to all of those spouses that defiantly don't want kids secretly thank the stranger who badgers your significant other. They are your best chance for avoiding it. If you can wind up your in laws to do the same it's even more effective.

I will also point out to any wombzillas reading this. I do not hate kids, never have. Also, much to my own chagrin I'm very good with children. The unwanted skill with children is what causes all the badgering I get from my friends. Kids are a great thing for all involved in the hands of those who know what they are doing and do so willingly. They are a good thing for society in the hands of those who know what they are doing but do so reluctantly. They are a bane for all in the hands of ignorant and reluctant.

Posted by: vlad at July 26, 2007 6:32 AM

Have experienced ongoing issues with woomen who are any of the following:
About to get married
About to have a baby
Recently had a baby

Their inability to discuss ANYTHING that isn't their wedding/child makes me feel that it is very important that I never do any of the above things. I once endured three months strait of two women going "Do you think it is a boy? Maybe it is a girl? Nah it looks like a boy. But then your belly is high like it might be a girl." Seriously... could we talk about ANYTHING else? (Leaving, not an option, this was during work.)

On the flip side one of my current coworkers has a 2 year old and another on the way and is totally cool about it. She never brings up her little girl unless you ask, and even then she doesn't gush. Also, even though I don't really like babies, I have to admit that hers is really cute. Maybe that is becaue her mom is so awesome? Who knows.

Posted by: Shinobi at July 26, 2007 6:49 AM

Vlad is right on the differences of social pressure found among the 2 genders.

Women have a natural ability of building consensus with other females. Men have a natural competitive instinct within the gender. Even with our friends and male family members. The closest form of social pressure among guys on having children is when they compare their homes, cars and personal toys. Symbols of financial security in the raising of children. The closest form of pressure that men face that is similar to what women must endure is through the female members of their particular family.

Still women get it in double dose through female friends, co-workers (non family members) and family, because they are the ones passing the child through the birth canal and bear most of the burden of outward physical and internal emotional changes. Or have the choice to not have kids, where the social pressure really intensifies.

Posted by: Joe at July 26, 2007 7:04 AM

I have never wanted biological kids, I've always wanted to adopt. The typical response after I explain my position is "Why?! Is there something wrong with you?". Jesus Christ I thought I was doing a service to society by not reproducing myself.

Posted by: PurplePen at July 26, 2007 9:48 AM

Actually, everything I know about you from your posts suggests we could do with more of you (or, at least, a kid raised by you). It's the rest of them I'd like to see have their tubes tied.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at July 26, 2007 9:53 AM

Purple,

A lot of the hostile reactions or remarks is based on the notion of 'risks' when adopting children in relation to future emotional problems. They cannot picture the possibility that their own biological kids could have similar outcomes.

It also goes back to my post on the meaning of life on showing true empathy towards strangers. Even at your age, you have shown more maturity than most people will gain during their entire lives.

Yes, you are a freak of nature, but a necessary one.

Posted by: Joe at July 26, 2007 10:56 AM

Happiness is not a matter of events; it depends upon the tides of the mind. ~
Alice Meynell

Posted by: Immigrant at July 26, 2007 11:31 AM

Yes, I have spawned. Yes, I will talk about her for however long I deem necessary to satisfy another's curiosity. I personally prefer asking people about their lives.
It has nothing to do with breeder obsession, folks. It's just rude schmucks who don't realize that a conversation is neither a monologue nor an interrogation. People just need manners.
I do find the quote hilarious, though. I personally believe that you don't know true happiness until you've celebrated your eighty-second birthday with a custom built Harley. I look forward to that day.

Posted by: Steph at July 26, 2007 11:33 AM

Shinobi says:
>Their inability to discuss ANYTHING that isn't their wedding/child makes me feel that it is very important that I never do any of the above things. I once endured three months strait of two women going "Do you think it is a boy? Maybe it is a girl? Nah it looks like a boy. But then your belly is high like it might be a girl." Seriously... could we talk about ANYTHING else? (Leaving, not an option, this was during work.)

I HATE this. It's just not that interesting to have those conversations over and over again. Especially when you're forced into them. I'm very pregnant, and somehow complete strangers think this gives them the right to come up and give me advice and ask personal questions. I DON'T CARE if your cousin carried high and it was a girl, or if you think my reaching for something on the high shelf will cause my baby to strangle. It's certainly none of your business what gender the baby is, or which number baby this will be.

I love my kids dearly, but fully realize not everyone wants to hear about them, and I would never dream of telling someone they won't know happiness until they have a baby. Please. Like everyone's experiences are the same.

Purple, as an adoptee, I think your wanting to adopt is wonderful. Being a parent is about how much you love your kids, how well you raise them. Not just how much of your DNA they share.

Posted by: Kimberly at July 26, 2007 12:32 PM

All the negative aspects mentioned on this particular entry are perfect examples of using the child as a prop for maintaining a false sense of self importance. Kimberly's case, they are using her own child by 'offering' her advice. Especially when it was not requested in the first place. All the interactions result in leveling the targeted person to maintain their artificially high sense of self esteem within their particular social groups.

Feel sorry for the kids who are raised in these types of family structures, because it will take years of therapy to recognize this particular pattern.

Posted by: Joe at July 26, 2007 1:37 PM

Thank You All! Those that are childless by choice usually understand very well why I would rather adopt. They are never the problem. I have my own selfish reasons for wanting to adopt, just like other people have their own selfish reasons to remain childless or reproduce. I just thought that this would be one aspect of my life I would not receive criticism for, especially by people who rant and rave about the joys of having children.

Posted by: PurplePen at July 26, 2007 3:21 PM

It's refreshing - and all too rare - to hear the viewpoint of women who aren't fawning over babies and foaming at the mouth to reproduce themselves. It's so infuriating to tell people I'm not interested in having children and have them smile condescendingly and say "You'll change your mind." My boyfriend sometimes gets the same reaction, but also gets told "It doesn't matter what you want, because you're wife will want them."

It's also refreshing to hear someone talk about the unholy brats that people are raising these days. I was in the supermarket recently and a man was letting his two terrors run wild up and down the aisle. After they rammed my cart into me for the *third* time, I asked him - politely - if he could please ask his daughters to stop running my cart into me. He didn't say anything, but whisked his kids away with a look on his face that very clearly said "Let's get away from the crazy, mean lady."

Posted by: MD at July 26, 2007 4:05 PM

I have quite a few children, and live in a community where that is the norm. When people start talking about their children I am just about ready to pass out from boredom. I don't talk about my kids unless asked.

Posted by: kishke at July 26, 2007 4:42 PM

Heh. kishke, don't know if you've read any Robert A. Heinlein, but in his last book he establishes that the mother of his most prominent hero - a woman who has and raises many, many children over a few millenia - isn't interested in *other people's children.* Oh, she doesn't loathe them, and there are children who she did not bear who she loves dearly who she obviously cares about. She just has no interest in hearing about the minor triumphs and tribulations of the offspring of strangers (thought she loves hearing about those of her own). You have fictional (and real) counterparts.

As for the "you'll never know love until you have a baby," I agree that a love for a child, when present the way it should be (i.e. in a non-abusive parent who wants the child and can love the child), is unlike any other bond. A parent literally needs to be willing to lay down his or her life for his child, on a second's notice. If you can't handle that, then don't reproduce, or at least don't raise any children. That having been said, there are a lot of distinctive bonds in life. Parent-child is not the only one. And anyone saying, "you'll never know what love is until you have a child" should, out of a sense of accuracy, follow it up with, "and you'll never know what true sleeplessness and irritation is, either." Without going into details, let us just say that I was about as planned and wanted as a child can be who did not require thousands of dollars and intrusive medical technology for conception...and, as a constantly wailing baby, I drove my parents CRAZY. They adored me, and they still adore me...but they understand why some parents without their life experience, understanding and time can end up lashing out at their children. They don't condone it, God knows - but they understand the impulse. (Just like I understand the impulse to murder, but am okay with severe punishments of those who do murder.)

Posted by: marion at July 26, 2007 9:27 PM

Exactly, Marion. And I used to tell my sister-in-law, when she would call me after yet another sleepless night with one of my nephews, "see, this is why babies are so cute, so we don't throw them out of the window at 3 a.m. when they're cranky and won't go to sleep!" And she'd laugh and say o.k, but she's still tired, dammit, and now Kevin's asleep!

Posted by: Flynne at July 27, 2007 5:55 AM

I've been getting the same rudeness from some people on this topic. I've been telling anyone who asked since I was 17 that I have no interest in having kids, and I was told I would change my mind, or I was told I was selfish, or asked why I hated kids, etc. etc.

Kids always like me, and I have fun goofing around with them, and this inevitably starts another round of interrogations, so I answer their questions with questions of my own until they shut up. If they ask 'why don't you have kids', I will ask 'why do you have kids', 'were they planned or an accident', 'if planned, how many were you planning to have originally', etc.

Posted by: Chrissy at July 27, 2007 8:14 AM

Marion, I had a Heinlein period about 15 years ago when I read almost everything he wrote. And then I got tired of him and haven't picked up a Heinlein since. But I think I remember the woman you mean - redhead, right?

Posted by: kishke at July 27, 2007 8:17 AM

I have 3 sons, aged 13, 16 and 18. I'm within eyesight of Grandmotherhood and you wouldn't BELIEVE the freakin BREEDERS that say 'Oh are you and your signifigant other going to have children?' Just because I'm in a new relationship doesn't mean I have to christen the damn thing with a human!!I'm 37 and there is NO WAY I'd start over!!!
I deliberately had my children young so I had the energy to raise them and I did not have to stop a career to take care of them. I started my career AFTER my kids so I could focus. I have great, independantly minded teens and there is NO WAY I'd return to the days of hauling around a carriage and a carseat!!
The biggest mistake these mothers make is trying to structure the world 'for the sake of the children'. I did NOT have CHILDREN, I gave birth to FUTURE ADULTS and when parents start adopting that logic, they won't allow their young critters to annoy the piss out of everyone else. I'm a basic boring cook in the general sense so I raised my children eating out 4 times a week. You can train the little monsters to behave properly in social settings. Thats why I have great disdain for parents who obsolve all bad behavior 'because they're kids'. Bullshit. Oh, and while I'm on it, to new mothers: stop giving your babies stupid, cutsey, trendy unique names that are just adorable on a 3 year old. That 3 year old needs to shake someone's hand in a business transaction one day as an adult and even she might not want to be Ms. Pixie Amber Sky (true name I know)

Posted by: Cathleen at July 27, 2007 8:59 AM

Cathleen, P.A.S., a truly awful name!

But if she uses just Amber it's not so bad. Better yet, she could use just Sky; that's kind of cool even. Bet that's what she chooses.

But the "Pixie" is unconscionable. It's an expression of the parents' ego and out-of-touchness.

Posted by: kishke at July 27, 2007 10:01 AM

Hey, I went to school with a girl whose full name is Crystal Shanda Lear. (Say it out loud if you didn't appriciate the awfulness of it.) Her parents thought it was cute to call her by her full name, too, so everyone in school teased her. Poor girl.

Posted by: meshaliu at July 27, 2007 10:35 AM

I have kids, and because of that I completely understand the logic behind not wanting them. As I tell people who I know well enough to talk about their future plans, kids aren't all they're cracked up to be. My young adult daughters are a handful. I love them to death, but it hasn't always been fun. I think there's an interesting mix of good and bad in parenting and I would never for one minute second guess someone's decision to remain childless. I am definitely not of the "you don't know love until you have a child" mentality. Like Marion said, you also won't know true irritation and irrational anger until you have a child.

I once told a passing acquaintance congratulations on the upcoming birth of her child. I swear, she LOOKED pregnant! I vowed then and there to stay out of people's personal lives. If they want me to know, they'll tell me.

Posted by: Laurie at July 27, 2007 2:09 PM

Old joke:

Passerby woman to beer-bellied man: "If that gut were on a woman, I'd swear she was pregnant!"

Beer-bellied man to passerby woman: "It was, and she is."

Posted by: Crid at July 27, 2007 6:51 PM

kishke: Yes...though that doesn't really narrow things down much in the Heinlein oeuvre. I'm thinking of Maureen Johnson Smith Long, Lazarus's mother/wife/babymama. (Heinlein has an...interesting moral structure in regards to romance in his later books.)

It's interesting....I've occasionally discussed Heinlein's stance on child-having with some friends who see him as a mindless breeding-pusher. The funny thing about that is that he himself didn't have children, and yet had a wonderful life with his wife Ginny (red-headed, unsurprisingly). And many of his coolest characters have no children and express no desire for children. And, in his later books, everyone has what seems to be an unlimited lifespan and can become young (and fertile) again whenever they want. If we were all expecting to live for, say, 1000 years without permanently aging (and could go anywhere in the galaxy we wanted), I think that most people would end up having children eventually...if only because, after a certain point, one would feel as though one had been there, done that, with every other major challenge in life. AND...in many of his books, a foundation pays people to have babies. Seriously.

(Sorry for the digression. Just wanted to provide some pre-context for Heinlein in the off chance that someone picks up one of his books after seeing this mentioned.)

Crid: Hee!

Names: My rule about those is that ONE of the names you give your child should be a nice, regular name. Want to name her Glinda? Fine, name her Glinda Anne, or Mary Glinda. Give the kid options in case he/she ends up as Chief Justice of the United States. (And if he/she ends up as an actor, the kid won't have to go through a name change to get a SAG card. Win-win.)

Flynne: I see the difficulty involved in raising a small infant as a feature rather than a bug. Essentially, parents' brains are being reprogrammed (lack of sleep combined with difficult, repetitive tasks and a completely irrational master is a great combination for brainwashing). And, as Michael Lewis has said in an essay about parenthood, it's the difficult, tedious, icky tasks that we do for other creatures that bonds us to them, be they children or animals or fellow adults. I also see it as somewhat of a barrier to entry to those people who really don't want to spend the time required to be a good parent...though, admittedly, it's not all THAT effective where that state of affairs is concerned. But yes, babies are cute so that we don't throw them out the window before they start smiling and otherwise responding to the giant people who cater to their whims.

Laurie, it's funny...we make assumptions about people every day that generally serve as shorthand for figuring out how the people we know and meet all fit together, but we never think about them until something like, "NO, I'M NOT PREGNANT!" happens.

Posted by: marion at July 27, 2007 9:49 PM

> And, as Michael Lewis has said
> in an essay about parenthood,
> it's the difficult, tedious,
> icky tasks that we do for other
> creatures that bonds us to them

As a fan of Lewis I'm sorry to have missed that passage. But the best thing I ever heard from a therapist --in fact the only thing I ever heard worth repeating-- goes like this: All human bonding involves bodily fluids. Milk, come, tears, sweat, piss, blood...

Posted by: Crid at July 28, 2007 2:53 AM

You're absolutely right about the naming thing, Marion.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at July 28, 2007 6:10 AM

I'm thinking of Maureen Johnson Smith Long, Lazarus's mother/wife/babymama.

That's the one I meant; couldn't remember the name.

(Heinlein has an...interesting moral structure in regards to romance in his later books.)

I know. That's part of what turned me off to him. The way he glorified incest in the later books I found kind of sick.

Posted by: kishke at July 29, 2007 9:01 AM

Ms. Pixie Amber Sky (true name I know)

Wow. How wrong to determine a child's career at birth. I'll be shocked if she doesn't end up going to work in clear heels by the time she's 20.

Posted by: justin case at July 29, 2007 9:33 PM

Yep, her and her friend "Starr Delite". True name, I kid you not.

Posted by: Flynne at July 31, 2007 1:00 PM

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