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On the Happiness of Procreation
Remember this? From this morning?
I feel stupid whenever I write anything about having the baby, honestly, because it’s the ultimate YMMV situation. So this is definitely a single-player account with little, if any, universal applicability. Also, I only have one kid, and she’s just shy of six months old. Okay?
Going in, I was expecting that having a baby would be extremely emotionally transformative, but very little fun, at least for a long time. Because of the exhaustion and the sniping-with-co-parent and the paranoia and the vagina-stitches and the breastfeeding and the crushing existential weight of what you’ve gone and done. But, again, emotionally transformative, so that you push through the no-fun because you have never experienced such crazy, overwhelming love and devotion and awe.
And it’s been … exactly the converse, for me. She’s LOTS of fun, but I … have not really been emotionally transformed? God, this sounds bad. I love her so much, but I love her like I love my parents, and my husband, and my best friends, and my 15-year-old mixed breed dog. Incredibly! Delightfully! Fiercely! But it’s not a whole new feeling. She’s like having a really high-needs roommate that you just couldn’t picture living without. You know, the kind that would have a chore wheel.
I wonder, sometimes, if I’d be more OH MY GOD THE OVERWHELMING PASSION SHE’S FULL OF STARS about the whole thing if she was a little … more work? Is it like Stockholm syndrome? Is the CRAZY LOVE something that partially happens because you’re up all hours working on your baby’s behalf and you need to submerse yourself in her life-force in order to survive? But then, I know other people like myself with easy babies and zero hormonal depression that were absolutely FULL OF STARS.
I’m definitely glad we had her. I want to have more. Maybe two more? And the ethics of the situation are more academically interesting to me than anything else, because … I don’t really care about whether things are Good, often, if I want to do them (haaah, like many of us, hence the horrible state of the planet). But now, having had her, I never say things to people like YOU WILL NEVER EXPERIENCE SUCH LOVE UNLESS YOU HAVE BABIES, because, at least for me, it’s just not true.
While I was pregnant, I watched that Louis CK thing about how children shit on your dreams, but how you not only love them immeasurably, they have the power to make you love other people more, and love dead people more, and to tap into some primordial Platonic ideal of love, etc., etc. And I feel as though that’s what I was prepared to be hit by.
I can’t really say that I’m disappointed that that’s not how it worked out, because that sounds almost frightening to me. My cousin used to have a huge crush on kd lang, but said that she figured actually being in a relationship with her would be waaaay too intense, and intense doesn’t wear well. I love my baby, I love doing things with my baby, I love watching my husband WITH my baby, I love watching my parents interact with my baby. My mother has been emotionally transformed by my baby. Absolutely. It’s an incredible thing to see. It fills me with happiness.
Back when I was thinking about having kids, I had a long talk with my father about it. And he said not to bother. No! Seriously! He said not to bother. Keep in mind, my father is absolutely crazy about my brother and me, and we have tons in common, and have two-hour phone calls about Deadwood, and stuff. And he wanted me to have kids on some level, because he thought it would be neat to meet them, but he also told me I probably shouldn’t. Because, he said, people often have kids because they’re bored, and I don’t seem like the type to get bored, and if he had a do-over, he would not have gotten married and had kids. He’s an introvert, he needs hours and hours of alone time and Miles Davis albums and A.E. Housman poems, and the experience of having children can be profoundly unsettling if that’s how you interact with the world. And then, the rest of your life, he said, you have this unsatisfiable need for your children to be with you, and your children will never really need you that way in return, which is like being in somewhat unrequited love for the rest of your life. And I completely believe him.
So, what am I trying to say here? First, that I completely believe in Benatar’s belief that not-being is perfectly fine. Secondly, that having babies can be really fun, if you have a ton of free time and a lot of money and maybe a partner and definitely a person to come and cook and clean and do laundry for you for a month (thanks, Mom!), and probably under other circumstances as well. Thirdly, that you can have a wonderful life and experience all the possible human emotions just as well with a border collie pup and some kind of Game Meats of the Month Club subscription. Fourthly, that the world is kind of a shitty place, and there’s no real reason for anything, so just try to be happy and nice to other existing humans, and maybe you’ll want to have a baby with one of them.
And, I guess on a final and MAYBE unrelated point, I have a wonderful friend who’s pregnant right now, and she’s not keeping it, which is the correct decision for her, and has been for a tremendous number of us, myself included, throughout human history, and it’s so important to say that having a baby can be a massive Bad Idea at some points in your life, and a Fantastic Idea later, and that you can enjoy the shit out of your Fantastic Idea baby without being super conflicted about anything that came before in your life. Love you! Have babies, or don’t have babies, or don’t have babies now, and have one later.
But, you know, you should recycle and stuff.