One of the most interesting (and difficult) things childless women of my generation go through is what seems to be the two waves of motherhood amongst their friends. With fortysomething women having first babies in unprecedented numbers, it truly is a new and disorienting experience.
First, you ride out the marriages and births in your twenties and thirties and then hunker down with your remaining childless friends. Then those friends make last-minute detours into motherhood in their forties. As a Generation Xer, it does feel like a lot of women simply lost their nerve when it came to childlessness for the long haul (or their other dreams fell through). I implicate myself in this as well; I don’t know how much those factors played into me wanting to have a child.
I thought of this again while reading about the writer Jancee Dunn (of course I don’t know her whole story or why she changed her mind). Here she is at 40 or 41, in 2009:
Most of Dunn’s vignettes are funny (occasionally hilarious), but she does tread solemn ground when she writes of her decision not to have children. An otherwise pleasant woman becomes incensed when Dunn confesses she and her husband enjoy their childless existence: “‘Don’t you think it’s selfish not to have children?’ This dishearteningly familiar argument never failed to amaze me. Why on earth was refraining from adding a child to a world with an exploding population and diminishing ozone layer selfish?”
And in 2011, at 43:
You said you were fearful that having a child would mean the loss of your freedom, identity and the joy you took in your work. In what ways were you wrong and right about that?
Well, it has definitely curtailed my freedom. I still blithely say yes to invitations to things and then realize that I have a baby at home and I can never just sail out of the house again. And I love to travel, it’s my favorite thing to do, and I just can’t see myself traveling for a while, so I wistfully look up travel sites sometimes when the baby is napping … And also, with a 3-month-old, I am just starting to regain my marbles, so my writing is more like “typing.”
So I’ve lost some freedom, yes, but I find that I don’t mind. When I have been out to meet an editor for lunch, I find I can hardly wait to race back and squeeze that baby. As for my identity, adding the title “mother” to it has enriched and enhanced my life. And I take just as much joy in my work, but I don’t obsess about my Amazon numbers as much. The baby has reset my priorities in the nicest way.
|A: With such a close family, why were you so ambivalent about having children?Q: Because I had what I felt was a wonderful life, one that I had worked hard to get: I wrote books — my dream in life — wrote for great magazines, traveled all over the world, loved to explore New York City, had many close friends … I could go on. I never felt like your life had to necessarily be completed by children. I still don’t. It’s certainly not for everyone.I was very afraid of losing my freedom, my identity, the joy I took in my work. And I got weirdly fixated on the idea that I’d never be able to read the paper cover to cover again.Q: Now that you have a daughter, what has she taught you about mothering, yourself and life in general?
A: I just read the paper cover to cover this morning while the baby had a nap. I mean, really — what a silly thing to fixate on. But since I’ve had the baby, I find myself blathering all the clichés that I’ve heard a million times about being a parent (“it’s so different when it’s yours!”) I’ve found that she could fit into my life just fine, and that in fact my life has expanded and gotten richer. Every day brings a fresh surprise, and that has been surprising to me. For instance, it shocks me that a tiny person who is 2 months old can have such a funny personality. She has a sense of humor! Also I find I talk more to total strangers. The world is much friendlier. People love babies and that has been so fun.