Friday, January 15, 2010

NYT Motherlode: "Why have kids?"

The New York Times's Motherlode blog recently featured a post from a 24-year-old woman who was contemplating her future and posed the question, "Why does anyone have children?"

Those of us who don’t have children (for whatever reason) get asked all the time whether we have kids, and if not, why not.

So it was sort of nice to see the tables turned for a change, & parents being asked to justify THEIR decision to have children (if, in fact, it was truly a decision, & not an "oops" or "because that's just what you DO" reasoning).

Most of the comments were (surprisingly) thoughtful, detailed & well-reasoned, both pro and con. There were even a few (very few) that mentioned fertility & loss issues.

I found myself nodding in agreement with commenters #14, 30, 58, 79 & 345, whose comments were some variation on this one, from #235:
  • "I wish that people who choose to have kids give it half as much thought as the people who choose not too." [spelling theirs]
But comments like these did make me go "ouch!":
  • "I feel that those that do not have children are missing a big part of what it is to be alive."
  • "I never knew joy before I knew [my baby]."
  • "Having children is the only thing in my life that really matters."
  • "I don't know what else I'd live for now."
  • "My life really began when my sons were born."
  • "I do not want to be the sad looking 45 year old still hanging out at the bars while all my friends grow adoring families and begin to shift focus." [I don't hang out in bars, & I'm over 45, and yes, my friends have adoring families & have shifted focus -- but I sure hope I'm not sad looking...]
And, my favourite (NOT):
  • "At the risk of being flamed alive [she wasn't], I will tell you, both my husband and I… secretly feel sorry for people who don't have kids. Having our kids is, quite simply, and by far, the best thing we've ever done."
Ugh. There's nothing worse than knowing that you're being pitied.

I do think those of us who go through infertility probably find ourselves thinking about these questions & our motivations more than your average clueless fertile person on the street. You have to really want to be a parent to jump through all the hoops that we do in trying to reach that goal.

And those of us who opt to remain childless after navigating all those hoops (& still not being able to grasp the brass ring)(sorry, mixing metaphors here...) probably do the most 'splaining of all. (Or at least, we try.)

(I initially typed our "hopes" in the paragraph above, when I meant "hoops." Freudian slip?)

Not that (thoughtful, philosophical enquiries aside) it's really anyone else's business anyway.

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In the "yay me" category: I finally wrestled my Google Reader back down to zero this week -- a level it probably last saw sometime in early December. At one point, during the week between Christmas & New Year, despite my best efforts, it almost reached 1,000 posts, a new record for me. I did read or at least skim through every ALI-related blog post, although I didn't always comment. Some in other categories (politics, scrapbooking...) did get the "mark all read" treatment.


  1. I count myself fortunate, I know one of those couples that carried on how their children were the best thing, they never knew joy, etc. etc. Youngest son just left home.

    Mum is terribly depressed, father is going through a mid life crises, and they are divorced.

    Turns out that those things that gave them joy and meaning? Meant they couldn't find it anywhere else and everything fell apart when their kids moved on to live their own lives.

    The grass isn't always greener.

  2. Hi Loribeth,

    I just found your blog. I was watching Julie & Julia and was curious about Julia Child's infertility issues so I went to Google. And there you were in the search results.

    After reading a few of your posts, I just want to say I think you're an incredibly strong woman and a very gifted writer.

    I also want to tell you something I've only told one other person: my biggest fear in life is that I won't be able to have kids. I don't know why I worry about such things (at 24, no less) but your blog is really comforting for me.

    Just thought I'd share that. You don't have to approve my comment...I just wanted to thank you for being so open.

  3. I'm tending, now that i'm fairly sure children will not come to us, to be on the "why would i want to bring children into this world?" side.

    I've never been there before. I think it shows that i'm leaning toward a (yes sad) & hopeless view currently. I'm sure in time that will change because that is not my normal persona, but for now . . . ?

    Thank you for sharing this article.

  4. I often wonder if I would be one of those thoughtless commenters had I not gone through infertility. I hope not. From my own experience, I agree that having my boy has given me great joy, BUT I also am confident that I would have had great joy in my life had he not come along. I just think that we've created a culture of "family" that excludes those living without children. One of my dearest friends said to me (while I was on my 3rd IVF) that she was never a family with her husband until their children were born. I disagree, in fact, having a child has diluted some of the closeness, some of the "oneness" that my husband and I had before Adam. We were a family then, and are a family now, albeit a different one. Good post.

  5. If they haven't been there, they just don't understand. It seems like when talking about people without children, it is understood that it was their choice. Not a decision that was forced on them.

    I think the idea of not being able to have children is so frightening people choose to not even put themselves in your shoes. It's a shame they don't give it more thought.

  6. I know I had some of those feelings about children: the only thing that really matters, what I was living for (in the future), pity for those who were of a certain age and had no children.

    Believing and feeling these things were a large part of what made infertility so painful for me. I had thought that having children was my purpose in life, and then, boom, I couldn't have children. It caused quite the earthquake in my life. I am glad that I've been able to reassess my core beliefs about many things, but I still want kids. Badly.

  7. I prefer your summary to reading the actual piece. It seems that those with kids and those without spend more time justifying their choices than considering the others' point of view, and those of us caught in the middle are working hard to dodge pity or misunderstanding. At a minimum I think it's important for anyone who is considering children to fully recognize the responsibilities that come with the job.

  8. Thanks for pointing out this piece. I've had my battles with the NYTimes, but at least it always makes me think more clearly about my own life. IF has made me constantly evaluate why I want kids, way more than someone who just simply thinks it's the next step in their life. I usually cringe when people say "There's nothing more important I've done than have my child." Maybe IF has made me more bitter about these people, but I do feel like life is full of so many meaningful things. When this is said in front of people who don't have children, I think it's quite insensitive.

  9. I have used up more brain space than I care to admit: wanting children, wondering why I wanted children, wondering if I would ever have children or if I could live happily without children. The fallout from all of this has been documented on my blog. Can't say that happened to a friend of mine who got pregnant again while breastfeeding her first. Or my other friend who conceived on her first try.

    I love being a mum, but I also spent most of my life not being one and the life I had was pretty darned good! All of life is a struggle but if you can create value and find joy with or without children - that is the life worth living. Frankly I don't want my kid having the burden of "completing" my life.

  10. I feel sorry for people who don't know how to have joy without offspring. They've missed a HUGE hunk of the world. I can compare a bit, and while there is something unique about what you feel for your kid, it's not so beyond what I felt before for friends, parents, pets (yes, pets), people I admire, nameless strangers who are suffering needlessly. In short, to say that people without children have missed something crucial is to reveal that you have been missing a huge hunk of your heart and a major portion of what it means to be alive.

    My life had and will continue to have a purpose beyond my son. He adds an interesting dimension, and it's not always positive (i.e. I can't just go and live on the steppes of central asia in a tent for a year). If you only feel you have a reason to live after procreating, you should consider that a big old wake up call.

    Wow, that comes off as harsh. Oh well; I'm just sick of childless/free folks getting the rhetorical shaft.