My mom was 21 when I was born. By 25, she had four kids. Today, that has shock value. I get tired just thinking about it.
I was a full decade older than my mom when I was a tired new mom with babies who wouldn’t sleep. It’s no wonder I was always tired. Being up all night in your twenties is easy. I was otherwise occupied on my 20-something late nights.
When I became a mother at 32, I certainly didn’t have the energy (or the body) that I had at 22. Three years later, pregnant again at 35, I was even more tired. The exhaustion of parenting is cumulative. Being pregnant starts it off with a bang, followed by seemingly endless night wakings, and then they learn how to talk… and you learn about a whole new depth of exhaustion.
Coming up on my 40-somethings, one bad night’s sleep can really throw me for a loop.
When I was 20 and pregnant, I made a choice not to have a baby. I had an abortion, stayed in college, and took the time to (kind-of) figure out what kind of life I wanted while it was still all mine.
Even at 27, newly-married, I still wasn’t ready for a baby. I remember the feeling very clearly—on my honeymoon in Paris, failed birth control left me in tears in fetal position in one of those short, deep French bathtubs. The idea of a baby was terrifying.
We are only two or three parenting generations into birth control being legal for married couples—and (mostly) reliable. The Supreme Court is still ruling on cases that impact women’s access to birth control. And yet the sense that we can control our family planning is almost taken for granted.
Don’t get me wrong—birth control is awesome. But it doesn’t always work. It just doesn’t—there are plenty of unexpected babies to prove it. Still, what it has done for women could fill volumes.
Many of my generation spend a sexually active decade avoiding pregnancy, with the naïve assumption that it will happen when we’re ready. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t.
The idea that you can choose when to get pregnant, naturally or otherwise, choose when to give birth or how, choose what your life will be like when your baby is born, whether you’ll nurse, how much sleep you’ll get, what your children will be like and what they’ll need…it’s all false freedom.
The first lesson of parenting—you have no control, surrender is your only hope.
So, when I read (here and here and here) about the controversy surrounding decisions by Apple and Facebook to pay for employees to freeze their eggs, my so-called choice feminism told me that more options available to women is always good. Except when it’s not.
There are good medical, economic and cultural arguments against egg freezing as a catch-all solution. For some, IVF is a gift, but for others it’s a disappointment—either way it’s far from a sure thing. And I agree with all of the cynics who see this as a way for companies to take the pressure off being a parent-friendly workplace. It does seem like a ploy to keep younger workers away from that struggle, to insist that pregnancy and parenting are things you can postpone and that will be there for you when you want them…In fact, why even time to date and settle down? You’ve got another decade at least. Just stay at your desk. We’ll take out your dry-cleaning. Go play ping-pong if you’re worried.
The result is a line is drawn between parents and non-parents, further sidelining those who would ask for more flexibility, day care options, sick leave, and other things that make work work. Even for non-parents, it maintains a cultural work ethic of having no life outside your job. No time for family, friends, whatever you want to do can wait. I hear marathon training is pretty all-consuming. It doesn’t have to be a parents-only argument against reasonable work expectations. Most workers would prefer a life that offers more—whatever that means for them.
It seems to me that we need a re-centering. The articles about the science of egg freezing, the struggles of IVF, the reality that it may not be as easy to have a baby a decade later, those are needed voices. But there’s more to having a family than how hard it is to get pregnant. If you have a partner and want a baby, or even if you don’t have a partner and want to have a baby, it’s misleading to be told it’s all the same.
Forget about getting pregnant and giving birth, having a baby is harder when you’re older. Being up late nights, having the energy to run after a toddler… all of parenting requires energy. While we may be more emotionally ready to parent at 40, we can’t ignore that our body was more ready at 20.
Similar to our focus on the wedding and the honeymoon and not the marriage, our attention to procreation is heavily weighted on the pregnancy and childbirth side of things and not to the life of parenting that follows. No one cares about that until they’re there. And apparently it annoys non-parents when parents so much as open their mouths.
I spent a good six months planning my wedding. A year is hardly uncommon. And I paid good attention in my prenatal classes, even took notes. Six-weeks focusing on everything up until the baby is in the world. Anything else is left for the steep-learning curve that begins when the baby arrives.
Maybe we should devote at least one week to the “happily ever after” of parenthood. Maybe pregnant couples should be required to do an internship—spend a day with actual parents, ask them questions. They could use your help anyway. Childcare’s not cheap (nor should it be—those ladies work hard!).
Parenting is hard in the same way marriage is hard. Making and birthing a baby—the only things we care about pre-parenthood—have virtually nothing to do with parenting. It’s like saying that someone who could plan a lovely wedding is likely to have a happy marriage.
The baby is easy, it’s being a mom that’s hard. And sometimes the baby isn’t easy. How are Facebook and Apple going to help with that?
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