I used to not like kids. They were annoying to me and I felt pretty awkward around them. The babies were too delicate and I didn’t trust my instincts yet, and the older ones asked a bunch of weird questions and would do awkward things.
Around the age of 19 (I’m currently 24) I started really, really wanting a baby at the exact same time as my 18-year-old friend. We were both Ivy Leaguers who’d been raised to avoid pregnancy until we were good and ready, but somehow we found ourselves just really loving the idea of kids. Honestly, I think it was actually the idea of pregnancy that seemed appealing to us, and my best guess is that we were fighting our way through one of the toughest universities in the world (I would later essentially say “F this s***” and transfer to an entirely different kind of academic program at a new school) and really feeling hardcore patriarchy (compared to what we’d known before). I think that we were hearing of our friends back at home (I’d left California and she’d left North Carolina) having babies. Some of them were getting married. More of them were just… having babies. And despite everything we’d been taught about why it’s not super fun to have a baby before you’re ready (trust me, none of the hometown pregnancies we were thinking of were planned), I think we just said to ourselves, “well hell, it must be better than this BS” and got bogged down by societal pressures.
What do I mean by societal pressures? Almost every single interaction I have had with the media (yes, all forms of media) has tried to deliver the message that I, as a young woman of the 21st century, must come to the conclusion that the most important things in life are to fall in love (with a man), get married, and have at least one baby (and that baby will become proof that our life has value… if the baby turns out to be a model citizen). Some of the more detailed media messages include the following:
– I, as a young woman, am only as good as my looks
– I, as a young woman, pose a threat to men because I could get pregnant and try to “trap them”
– I, as a young woman, am responsible for changing the world that men have largely screwed up
– I, as a young woman, deserve to be raped and/or harassed if I dress the wrong way
– I, as a young woman, should dress provocatively to attract men’s attention
– I. as a young woman, should spend lots of money on makeup, jewelry, hair products, and body products, to attract men’s attention
– I, as a young woman, should be feminine
– I, as a young woman, should be assertive sometimes, but mostly non-threatening and submissive
– I, as a young woman, should be grateful if I’m in a relationship with a man who doesn’t hit me, belittle me, try to or successfully control me, end up stalking me, threaten me, or cheat on me
– I, as a young woman, should be grateful if I’m in a relationship with a man who hits me, belittles me, tries to or successfully controls me, threatens me, or cheats on me, as long as he has a lot of money
– I, as a young woman, should be grateful if I’m in a relationship.
– I, as a young woman, should not be sexual in any way that does not involve another man
– I, as a young woman, should feel ashamed if I am sexual
– I, as a young woman, should recognize harassment as a “good” problem to have, because it means I’m attractive
– I, as a young woman, should be more flirtatious so as not to seem boring
– I, as a young woman, should be boring so as not to seem flirtatious
– I, as a young woman, should want kids one day
– I, as a young woman, should not consider abortion
– I, as a young woman, should only consider abortion
– I, as a young woman, should be more outspoken
– I, as a young woman, should be less political
Do you see the road to nowhere paved by the media? (And there’s so much more). So my friend and I were trying to unpack all of this shit (because how could I not just go ahead and spell the word out after all of that) and found ourselves drifting off to baby goo-goo-ga-ga-la-la land. Can you blame us? Look at how strangely things have come full circle. Doors have been opened to allow us to be in university settings alongside some of the most privileged people in the world (making us some of the most privilege people in the world) and these doors have given us a way OUT of the binding female role (get married very young, have kids very early, raise kids, please husband, and die), and YET, the pressure coming from everywhere made us so desperate that we were daydreaming about the thing that was supposed to be a choice.
Whew! So motherhood.
I still want it one day, but I’m afraid. I’m afraid to give up my ticket to freedom that I was awarded by being born in a progressive part of 21st century America to successful and open-minded parents. I’m afraid that when I have kids, I will give up all of myself for them. And dammit, I have QUITE a sense of self. I’m not ready to lose it, but I still find myself daydreaming about motherhood every once in awhile, despite alllllllllll of the information I have collected about the responsibilities and agonies of being a mother.
One day, I might have children, and I’m sure that it’ll be beautiful and hideous, rewarding and terrible, and everything in between on most days. But it’s such a loaded thing now, and I hope that by the time I get around to doing it, there will be a lot more doors held wide open for us women.