Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Women and Children Series: Babies Havin' Babies by Shannon

Growing up I always assumed that my life wouldn’t be much different than other women in my family spanning back for generations. You get married young and you have babies even younger. Okay, maybe it’s not that intense, but my mother had my brother at the age of 19 and I came along two years later. My mom had four siblings, most of whom followed the same pattern, and we all lived within a two-mile radius of my grandparents. None of us traveled very far. I grew up within close proximity to all of my cousins, most of which inevitably would follow the same pattern: Have kids early, don’t travel too far from home. I always assumed I would follow the same pattern, until the age of 24 rolled around and I’d somehow meandered all the way from Texas to New York, childless.

As a kid, there were always babies around. Always. My brother and I were the oldest, along with one other cousin, and everyone else seemed to be in a constant state of infancy. Once one baby grew into a regular-sized child, another baby would replace it. Once I grew out of playing with dolls, they were replaced with real live babies. I was changing diapers on top of my homework for as long as I could remember. I didn’t know the state capital of Nebraska, but I knew how to change a diaper, how to bathe a baby, the correct temperature to warm a bottle, and how to pack the world’s best diaper bag.

At the age of 19, I nannied for my niece and nephew for a while. My nephew, a two year old who was somehow cursed with the same exact sense of humor as me, and my niece, a three month old, who, like my cat, just wanted to sleep all day. We got along well and I loved them, and I had it in my head that, like my cousins and me, they too, would need cousins within the same age range. Hopefully by the age of 22 I’d have a few kids of my own and they’d have some kids to play with and life would be perfect. These thoughts arose naturally. Babies! It’s sort of all I’d ever known. I couldn’t wait to have babies, even though I was convinced I’d be the worst mother possible. After dropping the kids off at home one night, I asked my boyfriend at the time if he thought I’d make a good mother. His only response was hysterical laughter followed by “Dude, you’d make a terrible mother.”

“Better a terrible mother than no mother at all”, I thought as I opened another beer, lit a joint, and put on another pan of Hamburger Helper.

The idea of a planned pregnancy seemed strange to me until a few years ago. Who gets pregnant because they want to? Isn’t it supposed to be a surprise? Guess what you guys? I’m having a baby! I’m pregnant! Let me explain. I am extremely pro-choice. However, the majority of people in my hometown are not. I’d never heard the word abortion until the age of 16 when I watched a movie staring Cher called If These Walls Could Talk at a friend’s house who was lucky enough to have HBO. In the ridiculously religious town that I grew up in, you can’t even get an abortion unless you drive three hours to a larger city, and you will more than likely be talked out of it before you’ve had a chance to establish a thought of your own by any number of men and women who think they know their way around your body as well as they know their way around the mall walkers’ route, which is probably the furthest they’ve ever ventured from home less that brief time they were stationed overseas while in the military.

When I was 25, my friends and I joked at the fact that we hadn’t ever been pregnant. “Why are we so lucky?” we’d laugh. I worked in a café in Park Slope, Brooklyn, at the height of the influx of babies in the neighborhood. On Tuesday mornings all of the neighborhood mommies would meet with their babies while unknowingly creating a stroller corral around the espresso machine and me. I once cleaned a table with an all-natural spray cleanser in the vicinity of a newly-pregnant woman who was meeting with her doula, only to have the doula yell at me, “Could you please stop poisoning my friend’s unborn child?” I apologized and went back behind the counter. I had no idea I could be so selfish and careless as to poison a woman’s unborn child who I didn’t even realize was pregnant. How would I ever be capable of caring for my own pregnancy? Never mind the fact that the air in Brooklyn is far more toxic than the spray cleaner we used at the café. More importantly, what the hell was a doula and would I ever need one? Would I be able to afford one? I Googled the shit out of it. I watched a documentary on the health care system in the United States. I mentally prepared my tiny apartment for an at home birth because the idea of having my child’s first life experience happen inside of a Fire in the Sky-esque hospital terrified me. I wondered if water birthing tubs were allowed in a fourth floor walk-up. I hoped that I’d be able to handle a natural birth so that I could experience the release of Oxytocin. Then I came back to reality and realized that I was no where near ready for a baby and I became pissed off at my body for trying to trick me, again, into thinking it was something that I needed. I made the pregnant woman a cappuccino and wondered if caffeine and pastries were worse for your pregnancy than breathing in vinegar mixed with water.

There are plenty of babies in the world. There are plenty of babies without homes and even more adults who won’t even consider adoption. Don’t you want to know what your baby would look like? I’ve often thought myself and heard other women say. It seems like a ridiculously selfish way to view life, having a baby over adopting one because you want to see what it would "look like." I remember sharing with a family member at one point that I didn’t think I’d want to ever have children. “That seems so selfish to me,” she said. Selfish to not want a child? My brain lies on the other end of the spectrum. I always thought it was selfish to want to have a baby. There’s so much suffering and pain in the world. Why bring something into it knowing that it will experience all of that? We’re trashing the planet and we’re going to leave it behind for all of these babies that we mindlessly carry around in color coordinated Bjorns and $600 Maclaren strollers. I picture a desolate wasteland with random chaos fires covered with garbage, huts made of the pieces of strollers that ended up in landfills. At least the baby was at some point comfortable and can now, 30 years later, trapped in a chemically-induced state of infancy, use the robin’s egg blue and chocolate colored cloth of the organic cotton Bjorn to sew an attractive loin cloth that might get them through one more nuclear winter.

At 27, I found out that I had high grade Cervical Dysplasia, or precancerous cells on my cervix. I looked at images in the doctor’s office as we talked about the process of removing them, a surgical procedure called LEEP where an electric current is passed through a wire loop to remove the tissue, a fairly common procedure. It was explained to me that the cells may or may not come back at any given point in my life, and that the procedure could only be done several times before making the cervical wall so thin that it couldn’t possibly carry the weight of a growing fetus. I was shown in a comical way on a plastic representation of a vagina that a baby would literally just keep falling out before growing to full term. This was a lot to think about on top of worrying that my body would continue to breed cancerous cells and that I would eventually die of cervical cancer. Having a baby would continue to be the last thing on my mind, after punishing myself with guilt that I’d somehow created this busted baby machine that would never produce something that could make my family proud, because improv comedy wasn’t cutting it.

I called my mom and explained to her that my baby machine was, in fact, “busted”, and that I’d never have a grandchild to offer her besides my amazing cat. “Don’t be ridiculous,” she said. “I’m sure it works fine.” She was glad I was okay, but still convinced that a baby was surely on it’s way.

Cut to 5 days before I turn 30: I’ve reached a point in my life where I’m okay with not having children, mainly because I’d rather spend my time selfishly drawing comics, eating ice cream, and mentally jotting down ideas for the world’s worst screenplays. Despite all of this, lately I feel something happening inside of me when I see a baby on the subway. It’s not the usual cringe that I’d experience before, or the fear brewing in my stomach that the thing might accidentally touch me. It’s in my chest. No, not my breasts, unless producing milk feels like a warm tingly “I want to hug that thing” feeling. It’s this shift in my body and mind that I have this desire to care for something other than myself, my boyfriend, and our cat. To share love with something. To “take care” of something. This feeling that I might actually have what it takes to be a good mother and that I’m wasting my time here if I’m not taking care of someone. It’s a scary feeling, mainly because I can’t force it to go away. Even if I think having children isn’t something that I want, I can’t force the desire to have one to go away. I even noticed the other day how beautiful pregnant women look. In the past, I remember hearing various women talk about how afraid they are of gaining weight while pregnant, or complaining about how much weight they gained during pregnancies. I once read a blog written by a woman complaining that her first son had “practically ruined her body”. I imagined how terrible I’d feel if I overheard my mother saying that I had ruined her body.

My current mental state raises a whole new list of questions. When I was twenty, my thoughts broadly unaware, imagining having kids, it was “which car seat would look best in the back of the Hyundai?” and “What brand of baby formula will I use?”and now it’s “Will I breast feed in the park like that woman I silently judge every morning? Is adoption a better choice for me? Could I raise a kid in the city? Would I rather have a house with a yard as far away from NYC as possible?  How will I have time to make my own organic baby food? Will my juicer still be in good enough condition to make baby food? Is making your own baby food crazy? Will my cat feel neglected with a baby around? Will I use cloth diapers instead of disposable ones? How could I ever afford anything other than a 1 bedroom if I stayed in Brooklyn? Should I start gathering all of the baby stuff that I see on Freecycle? Do I keep this pair of pants that are too big “just in case”? Do I spend time worrying about Crib Death or shift my attention to starting a metal band called Crib Death? If I wanted to, how could I even afford to adopt? Could I love an adopted baby as much as I’d love my own? Am I a terrible person for even thinking that? How could I ever love a baby as much as I love my cat? Will my cat get jealous of my child? Will my child get jealous of my cat? What if my baby cries on a flight? What if I can’t handle it? How will I discipline them on the subway without being “that guy”? Will I even live near a subway? Which car seat pattern would look best with the upholstery in the Pacific Blue Hyundai? Oh, wait, I sold the Hyundai six years ago and I ride a bike. I can’t even afford a toddler seat for the back of my bike, how the hell can I afford to take care of a baby? What if my cervix can’t support the weight of a baby? What if I can’t support the weight of a baby? What am I going to do if my child behaves the way that I behaved? What if my child listens to a band called Crib Death and I just don’t understand? Is it time to trade in that old bicycle for a Subaru Outback? What are you doing Friday night? I really need to get out of the house for a little while to clear my head and I was wondering if you might want to watch my cat for a while. She’s potty trained but she will definitely wake you up for a 4 a.m. feeding. Don’t give her treats past 9 pm, even if she “cutes” you into it. And don’t close the bedroom door because she gets scared and then roams around the apartment crying for an hour. And don’t under any circumstances let her watch Fire in the Sky.

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