Choices

Reading Penni’s meditation on the choice to have – or not to have – children – I have been thinking about my own choices. As she points out, it’s a discussion that is somewhat fraught, because not everyone makes the same choices, and not everyone is given these choices to make, and the pain of this can be terrible.

I was never possessed with a burning desire for children but I always assumed I would have them one day. I remember realising in my early twenties that yes I did want a family of my own, but it wasn’t forthcoming at that time, so I quickly turned my focus back to other affairs, like stories about dragons, European cities, and medieval poems. As I progressed through my late twenties it remained clear to me that I wanted children at some point, and I remember discussing this with Michael, telling him that he needed to think about whether this relationship was really long term or not, because if it wasn’t, I needed to know.

My desire for children at this point was intellectual, deferred. I had never had much to do with them.

The other consideration, of course, was career. If you finish a PhD aged 30, you really need to factor in several years of post-doc work, if you’re lucky, most likely preceded by several years of patchy contract teaching, trying to write, research and publish at the same time, and if you are lucky enough to get a permanent position at the end of all this you need to be prepared to move to wherever in the world this might be on offer. Which would mean, if I did everything right and was lucky as well, I might get a permanent position in five or six years. But where would that be? And where would that leave us? I decided not to find out.

So there were a multitude of little choices. I chose to move to Norway. I chose to accept a job there that had nothing to do with my career prospects but would provide not only an income but paid parental leave. Just in case.

As I finished my PhD we both started thinking about it and wanting it more and more. Michael was very keen. And in the end it was pretty much a physical compulsion to stop taking the little pills. My body wanted babies. And my mind, and my heart, and my partner agreed. We expected it to take a while.

We got pregnant immediately. Shortly after this, it went spectacularly wrong, and we were faced with a much more difficult decision.

We conceived again quickly, but the four months between ending my first pregnancy and discovering my second were painful and strange. I hadn’t anticipated how vulnerable you suddenly become, when you decide to say yes, let’s do it, let’s see. Because it’s not really a decision to do or to make or to achieve something, it’s a decision to let life happen, to open yourselves up to transformation and change which may or may not come, and often not in the way you expect, or at the times you had planned.

And now we are a family and our lives are changed and we are changed. We are only at the very beginning, and we are feeling our way forwards. We are learning how to balance our needs and our desires with the very pressing needs and desires of our little one. Michael reckons we should have got started five years earlier. I don’t. I relished the freedom and confidence and geographical, social and intellectual exploration of my late twenties. But right now I am entranced, challenged, and utterly in love with this little being we brought into the world. (And of course still exploring the world and relationships and ideas, but in different ways.) It is a marvelous adventure.

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6 thoughts on “Choices

  1. It is much more difficult for young women today, especially well educated ones, to commit to having a family. However, when you get to my stage of life with two wonderful sons, and 5 beautiful grandchildren, the love and pleasure their families bring to my husband and myself, could not be bettered. I look at my childless neighbours, now in their 80’s, and their life is so empty.

  2. I almost had a child at 20. When this didn’t happen I grieved for the me I might have been, until I got pregnant with Fred and realised how thankful and lucky I was to be doing it with someone I love in a committed relationship (we actually got married a few months before I conceived Fred but the marriage bit is sort of by the by – we actually did it more for the adventure of eloping in Greece than the piece of paper or the institution.)
    Sometimes I am overcome by how bourgeois my life is, I think having kids is one of the most vital and exciting thing I’ve done but it’s also one of the most boring, depending on the beholder. I find this constantly challenging. Having a third especially made me feel mumsy and hopelessly middle class when considered in the light of the groovy singles who don’t have kids. I think that’s one of the factors that seethes in the undercurrent of this discussion – we’re defensive because being considered boring is about the worst thing that can happen to middle class white people. And it’s not actually boring, so perhaps we overtalk the not boring bits – being able to hear the pulse of the universe, pinnacle of humanity etc.

  3. Hi Meli and Penni, I really loved both of your blog posts for the same reasons – you both look at people as individuals with rich personal and social lives who cannot be reduced to a type and included/excluded on that basis. Meli – your earlier post on cliched writing really resonated for me in the same (but different!) way. I love the way that you write about Felix and it is so generous of you to bring us along his development.
    One of the most hurtful things that Nas and I have encountered as a couple who have decided not to have children is the thoughtless comments from people – not directed at us – about how our friends with children have suddenly become a ‘real family’. Comments like that tend to put me on aggressive defence, which doesn’t work for anyone.

    Also, I resent the idea that childlessness might be okay for now, but when we’re 80, in spite of the rich, rewarding, wonderful years we’ve had together, with our families, our friends, our work and travels – just as rich, rewarding, and wonderful as someone who chose to have children – our lives will be empty! That’s actually just as hurful – do you think that we don’t worry about our futures? That we don’t plan – indeed, that we don’t have to plan extra carefully because financial, medical, and emotional support systems are built around the assumption that people will have children?

    Oops…see end of paragraph 1…

  4. yes it’s funny how encountering different choices can make us defensive. i’m sure rosemary didn’t mean to cause offense. that’s one of the strange things about the internet – you think you are talking to one person, and suddenly you are talking to several, and you aren’t able to mediate what you say to suit different contexts.

    it’s also hard to foresee all the time how talking about your own experiences can unwittingly hurt others. i’m thinking, for example, of the overwhelming joy some of my close friends (understandably) felt at the birth of their daughter, which was difficult for me to listen to because she was born the day after my first child would have been due. at the time i couldn’t understand why they didn’t try harder to be sensitive about it when speaking to me. but these things are difficult to negotiate and my grief in no way negated their joy. and i can share in their joy – from a distance, perhaps, and after the initial event, and friendships can still flourish despite periods of necessary silence.

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