To baby or not to baby
sang Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy*. I’ve always loved the lyric because, being an awkward, feminist-leaning, hard-thinking kind of girl, inconsistency of feeling is frequently familiar to me. Yep, it’s boring a lot of the time. I sense I might enjoy life more if I stopped wondering what it all meant.
It’s also why I love this letter to an agony aunt which tackles the issue of ambivalence with regards to having children.
“For those of us who aren’t lucky enough to ‘just know’”, it opens, “how is a person to decide if he or she wants to have a child?”
Incoherence in desire
Like all Cheryl Strayed’s answers to the dilemmas sent in to her, this one reads more like a philosophical or poetic essay than a typical problem page response.
The person who has written in wants to know when he will find an answer – when he will ‘just know’ – but she tackles the issue in a different way by pointing out that ”there will likely be no clarity, at least at the outset; there will only be the choice you make and the sure knowledge that either one will contain some loss.”
I found a definition of ambivalence as ‘a species of incoherence in desire‘. A beautiful way of putting it – who hasn’t known uncertainty, conflict about things that, in other particular ways, appeal to them?
“Yeah we want the world binary, binary
But it’s not that simple” (Tim Minchin, The Fence)
The decision to have children, or not, is a dilemma that has probably become more pronounced in recent years; it’s no longer something most people do as automatically as previous generations.
Questions I’ve heard discussed with regards to the matter: what about my time and my lifestyle? How will I cope being tired all the time? Can I afford it? Does the joy outweigh the loss? When do I get to read a book/go to the cinema? What will it mean for my relationship? When is the right time? What about MEEEEEE?
On the train once with a friend, she talked about how she had always known, with no regrets and no guilt, that she did not want children – not because she didn’t like them, but because she felt unequivocally that it wasn’t right for her.
Other friends know equally unequivocally that they do, and that they do now; some friends are already parents or are pregnant or trying to get pregnant, taking the possibility seriously, leaving the likes of me and other peers – the chin strokers, the flaky undecideds – or as-yet-undecideds – behind.
Parents. Mum. These nouns, with regards to me, are fairly terrifying, and unimaginable. Off other people go into this world, a world that still seems strange and far away for me; or they don’t, and they know it’s a voyage they don’t want to take. The rest of us perch awkwardly on the fence.
Parenting is a club we’re not in or not yet in, one where they will talk and think about different things and have less time for our concerns – and for us (again, what about ME?) At times it feels like oceans separate you between your world and theirs, between your distinct lifestyles, or their certainty and your pondering.
In defence of ambivalence
I find that people who claim to ‘just know’ about something are rarely 100% wholehearted - they’re conveniently forgetting about the host of complexities, doubts, fears and self-deceptions that any significant life event or decision entails. Ambivalence is usually much more common than people would have you believe. And it’s a pretty sensible place to be where big life questions are concerned.
Wholeheartedness sometimes turns out to be something you just think you want. At least ambivalence can encourage you to sift through your shifting, complex, conflicted and perfectly rational emotions towards something or someone – and come up with an answer that may not be absolute, but is as right for you as you can ever know at the time.
That’s not to say people who are wholehearted haven’t thought things through – just that ambivalence isn’t abnormal, nor is it necessarily a bad thing.
The ghost ship
Strayed’s advice is very sensible – take a long hard think about what you want your life to be like in 5, 10, 20, 30 years time; weigh up the pros and cons carefully.
The analogy of the ghost ship in the article is lovely – the idea that there will always be other possibilities, other paths we didn’t take that glide invisibly alongside our actual lived lives like a silent phantom.
Uncertainty can be painful, and it’s easy to envy people who know – or seem to know – what they want. I am still guilty of agonising over decisions, of letting my ambivalence towards issues drive me up the wall. How can I be occasionally repulsed by something I sometimes think I want? How can something that makes you happy be the source of ultimate frustration? Then you realise it is the stuff of life, the stuff of passionate life – love, dilemma, debate, with its ebbs and flows, its ever shifting patterns of desires and dreams. The things I end up loving have often been the source of my biggest questions or conflicts. Somewhere out the other end, whatever that end ends up being, is something rewarding, something meaningful and authentic.
PS – if I ever have a baby and the baby grows up and the internet hasn’t broken and the baby reads this – no offence baby. I’m sure you’re rad. Rad enough to understand that life isn’t all black and white.
*I concur with Tweedy on certain areas though – not about *you*
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Tags: babies, parenthood