I Was Born Today, 14 Years Ago

Dear Robin:

I’ve been happily married for three years and we are starting to discuss when to have a child.  My husband and I each want just one, but my desire is not as strong as his.

I see how excited he is about having a baby and I’m finding myself ambivalent or just “on the fence.”  Is this a sign I shouldn’t have kids?*

Marie in Portland

Dear Marie:

Thank you for your letter.  Wow – what a coincidence it arrived on my birthday!**

Not the birthday typed neatly in a lie on my driver’s license (along with the one about my weight), but my true birthday: June 9, 2001.  That was the day that my son Jake was born, turning everything I thought I knew about life and the world utterly (udderly?) upside-down.

On the Fence, In the Hot Tub

Like you, I was on the fence about having a kid.  I assumed it was in my future but was not frothing at the mouth to have one as many of my friends were. 

My husband Patrick (known by Mr. Patience and Understanding as “The Canary In a Coal Mine”) was not on the fence – he was psyched to become a dad.  I think he knew deep down how great he would be as a father and wanted to get started on that part of his life.  

We took some chances here and there and our beautiful boy began dividing himself repeatedly within my dehydrated, hungover womb after a hazy night in Reno that ended in a hot tub.

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Yeah, it turns out that myth is bogus, so don’t count on the heat and the bubbles if your aim is to avoid gravidity.

It’s Not Easy

Pregnancy was not that tough for me.  Motherhood, at least in the beginning, was hard.  Really, really hard.

Here are the things you can expect as a possibility when your kid stops kicking you from inside your body and instead starts kicking you from without:

  • Inability to breast feed and associated chafed and bleeding nipples;
  • Inability to lose the weight you gained during pregnancy;
  • Postpartum depression ranging from mild (you cry at life insurance commercials) to severe (you cry when you first wake up in the morning, don’t stop all day, and strongly consider that your family and the world may be better off without you);
  • Confusion as to why you, an intelligent and accomplished woman, cannot for the life of you figure out how to properly secure a diaper or do the Burrito Blanket thing wherein you wrap them tightly so they feel like they’re back in your womb, which at this point you desperately wish they were;
  • Frustration that the little fucker won’t sleep;
  • Frustration that the little fucker won’t take the bottle once you admit you are a horrible mother who can’t breast feed; and
  • LACK OF SLEEP AND RESULTING PSYCHOSIS 

I was not the early mother I had hoped I’d be.  Patrick was.  

Thank Goddess for him because he stood in as mother and father when I was a crying crumpled heap on the floor or drowning my sorrows in a bar so I could just feel like myself again.

Patrick: I could say thank you a million times and it would never be enough.  Thank you for helping me through the darkness and into my role as a better mom.

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Here’s the Good News!

You have probably called your doctor by now to schedule a hysterectomy.  

Please reconsider.  Here are some other things you can expect when you become a mother:

  • Discovery that the word “love” is exponentially more complicated and bigger than you previously knew;
  • The critical life lessons learned when you are charged with keeping another human being alive and well;
  • An opening of your soul that a writer with my mere talents cannot possibly articulate;
  • A connection to your spouse that broadens and deepens to include the rest of your life, regardless of whether you stay together;
  • A sense of your ability to continue in the world even after your death; and
  • A heightened sense of empathy that comes from motherhood.  Now you understand tragedy from the perspective of a parent.

If You are On the Fence

I have given advice to women who do not wish to have children but whose spouses do that they should not create a life they don’t wish to care for simply to save a marriage.  That never works: the marriage dies anyway and the child is left to wonder, “Why doesn’t my mom love me?”

Conversely, and this may seem irresponsible but since this is my blog I don’t care what anyone else thinks, if you are ambivalent about having a child I would nudge you towards that exploration.  This advice is not merely based upon my own experience, but upon observation of other women in the wild (Portland and the surrounding area).

I have known many women who were betwixt and between on the subject of motherhood and who decided, either purposefully or in a hot tub in Reno, to go for it.

Not one of them regrets it.  Not one.

Women’s Liberation is just a lot of foolishness. It’s the men who are discriminated against. They can’t bear children. And no one’s likely to do anything about that. ~Golda Meir

Today, June 9th, is my birthday: the day I gave birth to the young man who pushes me every day to:

  • Be a better person;
  • Teach him what is truly valuable;
  • Do good deeds for others without compensation;
  • Give love freely (not THAT kind of love, mind you!);
  • Maintain a happy family, even though it’s a little complicated;
  • Push myself beyond previous measure; and
  • Create in him the same love he receives from his parents, amazing step-parents supplemental-parents, and family.
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Head to Head: Jake and Mom

Happy birthday to me, but of course, happy birthday to Jacob Louis Gortmaker, who came into this world with a howl 14 years ago today and whose kindness, sense of humor, stubbornness, and quiet reflection reminds me that whatever else I’ve failed at in life, at this I am a great success.

Because, you know, it’s all about me.  

Readers, what do you think?  Sound off in the comments, please!  What can you tell us about your experience as an ambivalent parent?

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*This letter was drafted to construct today’s homage to motherhood and my kid.  Please forgive my transgressions, as I pride myself on only using 100% organic, free-range letters.

**Gilding the Lilly for dramatic effect.

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Debbie

    Robin, you and Patrick have a very unusual post marriage relationship. Therefore, I do not agree that having a child enhances the bond between spouses after you’re no longer together. I have absolutely no bond with my ex-husband and most people I know have no bond with their ex spouse. I don’t know what magic you did to create a friendship with your ex husband, but it would be nice to hear what it is so other people can learn so there isn’t so much animosity post-divorce. it would be very helpful for successful co-parenting and managing all sorts of hurdles that you must deal with with your children. in fact, consider this a question for your next blog. I didn’t insist on lifetime alimony even though I could have, and now that child support is over, how do I get my ex husband to contribute to our son’s expenses while he’s in college? I am NOT talking about spending money because I think college students should work a little bit and earn that for themselves. I am talking about things like health insurance and other basics things that college students should not have to worry about, especially when apparence can well afford to help but chooses not to.

    1. Debbie

      A parent, not appearance – darn auto correct.

  2. Jennifer

    Today was a beautiful tribute to all of the women who think that having a baby is a wonderful fairy tale of precious pictures of baby, a perfect glowing new you and a husband who is filled with joy and jumps up for those midnight diaper changes!! NOT

  3. Seagypsy

    Happy Birthday, Jake and thanks for sharing him with us, Robin.

  4. winedrinker

    First – HBD to your beautiful (yes, beautiful vs. handsome) boy. Those pictures…I die.

    And second, bless you. For being honest about your struggles and for not painting rosy pictures. Motherhood is amazingly beautiful and amazingly awful. My kids are my everything but they DO cause cracked nipples and sagging boobs, headaches, heartaches, pain and self-doubt. And they are responsible for all those things you listed and then some. It’s such a deep and true love. I wouldn’t change it for the world. Even after pushing three huge heads out of my downtherehole.

    Keep up the great work woman. You rock.

  5. Sean

    So here’s the deal. No one says they have regretted their child, but that is not all of the story.

    We have 2 children the first is a bright, bright loving empathic girl of 10, the second a 5 year old boy born with a chromosomal defect.

    I love them both to bits, but given access to a time manchine their mother and I would have stopped at #1. Everyone has a breaking point and the first 2-3 years with a handicapped child had us coming so close to ours that we could taste the blood in our mouths, and do not believe in the sayng that what doesnøt kill you makes you stronger.

    We are still here, still together and stil love our children, but the stress of the first year has impacted my wife’s mental abilities, she has long periods in those years she cannot remember.

    I won’t go on, but if you are in doubt you have to decide before if you are going through with it. Most likely you will get the perfect child for you and will be happy. I know that I did not particularly want #2 beforehand, but we agreed that it would be good for #1 not to be an only child, now I know that was not enough for me at least.

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