February 17, 2004

poopypants

2/17/04


me holding Sean, 1971

There's a tightrope you walk when you get into your 30s, and it goes something like this:

a) You need to be old enough to know thyself and thus have a realistic chance of being in a relationship that will last more than 6 months. You have to have met enough possible mates to know who you will love until the year 2067. And you have to be wise enough to know the difference between heart-palpitating desire - and calm, long-term affection. Lastly, you must have sowed enough wild oats to have them purged from your system.

BUT...

b) You have to be young enough to have children.

Now, not everyone wants kids, but if you do, the unfortunate truth is that modern technology and medicine have done very little to widen the window of opportunity for women. Chances of conception dwindle pretty fast after you hit 35, and there's precious little you can do about it (besides fuck, of course).

The problem is this: Tessa and I just got married a few months ago, and we're having fun. We love our freedom, our peripatetic freelance life, and we're not terribly psyched about tethering ourselves to a child right now. That may sound selfish, but the honest truth is that it took me FOREVER to get to this place, when I could finally be married, and Tessa had to ford unbelievable mountains to get to me. Do we need to be a baby factory right away?

But then the question is, "how long are we allowed to wait?" I'm 36, Tessa is 34. There are now ways to predict how long you might have, but these are also problematic, and while Tessa says she'd love to know what her "sell-by" date is, a lot of women would be horrified by that knowledge.

This stuff also gets you into very prickly territory with right-wingers, whom I believe have been putting the hard-sell on dwindling fertility rates in order to shame working, independent women into lactating domesticity. If I see one more story about forty-something women who wax maudlin about the children they gave up for their career, I'm going to puke.

As for us, I wish there was some pithy advice, or an old wives' tale that could provide the answers, but in reality, it's a fish-or-cut-bait scenario. My desire for a large family has been tamed by the reality of how old we are. And not to be crass or anything, but I'd like to have at least two children in case we lose one. That's the advice I have gleaned from the ancient Mormon DNA that swims through my chromosomes; my forefathers buried so many children that they were forced to have several. I don't think my heart – or Tessa's – could take the loss of an only child.

So fuck it, maybe we'll have twelve. But that means I have to stop writing this blog and get to work.

"Hey honey?"
"Mmmmrph."
"Wake up."
"Mmmmrmmmah?"
"Wake up!"
"go away"
"I've come to exercise my right as your husband to-"
"Fucking go away."
(pause)
"Um, okay."*




* Dramatic re-enactment; not a real conversation. Verbal retorts were matched as evenly as possible with most-likely rejoinders. May cause chafing.

Posted by irw at February 17, 2004 10:47 PM
Comments
Posted by: block at February 18, 2004 4:56 AM

how 'bout the live in nanny option. something short of a real wet-nurse of course.

i was all for it. but susan said no...

Seriously though, it’s a relatively modern scenario for a man and a woman (or a couple I should say) to raise a child alone. 100 years ago extended families were all on top of each other. Grandmas, aunts, uncles, big sisters… it provided the parents all kinds of “breaks” from the kids. Built in help shall we say? I think this system was healthier for the parents as well as the children. The modern suburban American couple is pretty much going it alone these days comparatively speaking.

Maybe we need to think about inventing a new kind of extended family. That said, the girls and I would be love to baby-sit when you and Tessa need a weekend away.


Posted by: cathie at February 18, 2004 5:36 AM

over the past 6 months, i have been with two families who have lost their very young children to cancer. one was an only child, one the oldest of two. last week, my college roommate called to tell me she is pregnant with her third, but on the same day she learned this, she found out her oldest has leukemia.

frankly, i don't know how you survive the loss of a child, no matter how many you have. this is just one of the reasons i think it takes incredible courage to be a parent at all. it is the ultimate turning over of control...

Posted by: Alan at February 18, 2004 7:05 AM

That is an interesting and rather deep dive into the implications of parenting but it is true that the fear of the death of a child is something a parent deals with. From the first sleep through the night when you awake certain something tragic has happened, to fears of accidents or worse, it weighs upon you. But what is the fear? There are many. The fear of a terminal illness and the child experiencing pain, the fear of how you would cope caring for a dying child and - the biggie - how would you deal with being left behind to live without the child. Facing and working through these fears is important but only as a most poignant example of the odd nature of existence. For me, it is not unlike the good old nuclear fear of my teens - how shitty for life to include the taking of it all away. By deciding to become a parent you are jumping into your own life in a uniquely full and committed way. As to sources of these little ones, don't forget your ability to adopt. We did for our second and may again. It led us into fostering, too, which we love. There is a strange moment you realize when you decide to adopt that you realize your child is already alive out there.

Posted by: Laurie at February 18, 2004 9:41 AM

Hi Ian. It's Laurie, from Manly Dorm. I stumbled upon your blog while googling Julianna's name (I saw the follow-up. . . 4 kids???), and I have been enjoying your blogs ever since. It allows me an escape from my cubicle existence for a few moments to enjoy some Wednesday's Child - reminiscent reading. Thanks. Your blog struck my interest, and I thought I would offer some words of "wisdom" of my own. My husband and I have been married almost 10 years, and we have one child, a 4-year-old daughter. She is the most wonderful human on the planet, and we adore her immensely. Suggestion #1: Do not have a child until you are absolutely convinced that you are ready. Being a parent requires an incredible amount of selflessness, and if you are not ready to take the focus of your time/energy/sleep/money away from yourself, at least during the first year, you should wait until you are. Suggestion #2: know your limitations. I am confident that I am a good mother of one child, but I suspect that I am too anxiety-prone and short-fused to be a good mother to two or more children. I enjoy my work and I like to spend time with my husband. Having one child in the family has enabled us to enjoy a healthy work/couple/family balance, at least for now. Suggestion #3: If you think that you need Celexa (my med of choice is Lexapro!) now, realize that you will really need it as a parent. I have never worried as much in my life as I have now that I am responsible for an innocent little person! You will worry about an endless stream of topics: abductions, illnesses, strangers, running with scissors . . . you name it. You think that you have had times of anxiety and depression in the past? You won't be able to remember what you were worried about in the first place once you realize that the a little baby's safety/health/happiness rests on your shoulders! The fear is unreal. I am telling you this from experience. All that said, I can tell you that parenthood is wonderful and my daughter makes me happier than anything (pharmaceutical and otherwise). Didn't mean to scare you. Just thought I'd share some insight that you may not necessarily find in the "What to Expect. . ." series! Good luck and take care!

Posted by: Tanya at February 18, 2004 11:59 AM

Ian, Darling. I must say that I agree with everything that Laurie from Manly Dorm said. So. True.

I would like to add, however, that nothing in the world will ease the pain of losing a child. That pain cuts so deeply and profoundly, that nothing but time will ease it (if at all) - and certainly not the knowledge that you have another one left. In fact, it could be said that you will hold on even tighter and fear even more for the "remaining" child.

On a happier note, I must disagree with your statement that "modern technology and medicine have done very little to widen the window of opportunity for women." Au contraire! There are a variety of options and fertility treatments available for women who are past the 35 year mark. Granted the risks increase for both mom and child, but procreation is more possible than ever.

I highly recommend it. You think you love Tessa and vice versa, but the love you feel for your own child will eclipse anything you've ever imagined. I always thought that if something ever happened to Brad (my dear husband), folks would need to put me on a suicide watch, so deep was my love. (heh, The BeeGees) But my capacity for love of my son astounds me every day. And I thank God for blessing me with such a miracle.

Good luck! *kiss*

Posted by: Nathan Arizona at February 18, 2004 12:30 PM

I agree with Tanya.

You just have to keep trying, son, and have faith that medical technology will catch up. Why, just look at Dottie and me -- it caught up with a vengeance!

Nathan Arizona, father of five
Tempe, Ariz

Posted by: LDV at February 18, 2004 12:44 PM

If you don't want kids yet, have Tessa freeze her eggs. It's a woman's eggs that go bad not her uterus. It's totally creepy but it'll work. But, sperm goes bad, too, btw. Usually when women conceive later in life and the kid has defects it's b/c the sperm has gone funky - seriously. Search the web, there are new studies on it. So you should freeze your stuff too. Then you guys can have kids when you're 50. You seemed stumped about what to do so just wanted to let you know what I've read recently. (I posted this before under the wrond date, but that does mean I'm not smart, just not cafffeinated.)

Posted by: LDV at February 18, 2004 12:47 PM

***DOESN'T*** (I deserve it for not taking typing lessons in 8th grade like everyone else!)

Posted by: Cris at February 18, 2004 7:01 PM

Hey- I stumbled across your blog while trying to find contact info for Tessa on the web (I'm both a CRH and Chapel Hill buddy). Congrats on the wedding. And as for the fertility issue -- don't be discouraged by some of the "facts" floating around, many of which are kind of propaganda. Risks for some birth defects like Down's syndrome do go up after 35, but fertility in general does not necessarily decrease. I think it kind of varies -- so who knows what your own physiologies hold in store for you. Time will tell, I guess. Say hi to your wife for me :)

Posted by: The Mom at February 18, 2004 11:41 PM

So many eloquent posts. I resonated with every one. But just wanted to add a few little facts:

• You were born when I was 35.
• Sean when I was 37.
• Michelle when I was 40.
• And y'all were the last three of five.

Hardest work I ever did (not the birthing, which was easy, but the raising thereof). But you two can do it. It's a balancing act... the good, the bad, the poopy. And that's BEFORE the teens, which is anther book.

It was worth it and I still enjoy the results every day of my life.

Posted by: Laurie at February 19, 2004 5:41 AM

Hi again. If I ever write a parenting book, I just may borrow The Mom's phrase and call it "The Good, The Bad, The Poopy" -- how apt! I wanted to add some thoughts regarding your preference for two or more children. I agree with the previous comments about the "heir and the spare" theory -- the death of any child, whether he/she be the only child or one out of 10 would be unimaginable. For a variety of reasons, we have decided to limit our family of 3 so that our daughter is our only child. I had the same fears you touched upon. . . I love her so much that if anything dreadful were to happen to her, no amount of Lexapro would help to pull me back from the abyss. I know this for a fact.

While I have reconciled in my mind the decision to have one child, I wanted to share a worry that you may not have thought of. . . and this is one that I cannot get past. I think that most people take for granted that if they get pregnant, they will have a healthy child. Considering all of the miracles of chemistry and biology that have to occur correctly and at the right time to produce a healthy baby, why would anyone assume that a healthy child would be the end result? To this day, I am amazed by my daughter -- she is healthy, intelligent, and happy, tall and athletic with good eyes, straight teeth and a great sense of humor. Where did this child come from?? She is not what I expected -- I imagined a little replica of me as a child. . . short, sickly, uncoordinated with terrible vision, teeth that required years of orthodontics, and a severe as-yet-undiagnosed case of clinical depression. I suppose my husband's "good" genes took charge. Granted, I was prepared to love and nurture a mini-me -- I just did not expect such a healthy, happy child. And I am afraid to push my luck again. Hence the irrational fear that I have as a parent: if we have been so fortunate to have a healthy, intelligent child the first time, should we be bold enough to expect a repeat performance? How can anyone expect as much? Am I a strong enough person to properly parent a child who has special needs? This all ties in to my "limitations" concept that I mentioned before. I am a good parent to my daughter, and we have a wonderful work/family/couple balance in my house for the time being. . . what would happen if we added another child to the mix? What if the child is ill or has needs that I can't meet?

Posted by: Tanya at February 19, 2004 11:07 AM

Laurie - WORD.

Posted by: LDV at February 19, 2004 2:18 PM

Again, do the deep freeze. Then if you can do it natually - yay you. If not, your special stuff is frozen and probably healthy. Then you can stop worrying about when to do it. Fertility issues are not propaganda. Some couples are lucky and never have to worry about it, but some couples are not - so why take that chance?

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