Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Baby Lust




Nabokov once wrote, “My heart was a hysterical unreliable organ.”

Same. See also: ovaries!

Both organs conspired to turn my life upside-down when, in my 35th year, all of a sudden, I wanted a baby.

Big deal, you’re thinking. Typical biological clock going tick-tock, tick-tock, right?

Not exactly. I already had two teens from my first marriage. When I remarried, my husband got a vasectomy. I held his hand through the procedure, got sick on the smell of cauterization, brought him bags of frozen peas as he recovered. We figured it would save us unnecessary worry. We couldn’t afford another child even if we’d wanted one. And we didn’t want one.
                                                             
Until I did.

The urge to reproduce resurfaced a few days before Christmas of 2016, when (I’m embarrassed to admit) I saw Jenna Bush Hager on the Today show. She was fresh from a visit with host Savannah Guthrie, who had recently given birth to a son. “It sort of makes me want another baby, which I haven’t said out loud yet,” Bush Hager gushed.

Something clicked. I knew that feeling. That longing for a new being, a fresh start, especially at that moment, as many were mentally preparing for the end of the world as we knew it. It was the worst time in history to have a baby, but maybe that was point.

An apocalypse baby. I liked the sound of that.

I hadn’t Googled anything baby-related in years, and when I did, I immediately landed on the documentary The Business of Being Born. My heart swelled as I witnessed woman after woman brave the harrowing experience of giving birth. I cried when the midwives caught the squirmy, squinty-eyed infants and placed them on their mothers’ chests. Birth is an experience you never forget, and that moment where mother and child meet for the first time is by far the most mind-blowing a human can have.

So maybe that’s what was behind my baby lust: meaning. In a world that seemed to be going to shit faster than a baby can fill a diaper, I wanted something pure and good to cling to.

Most women I knew in their mid-30s were just starting their families or had decided not to have children at all. Rare was the 35-year-old who’d raised a couple of kids and, just when they were about to launch, decided to bring a new baby aboard.

Would I regret having another baby? No way. Would I regret not having another one? That was more difficult to answer.

When in doubt, Google. “Age 35 want another baby am I crazy?” I typed into the search bar. The online threads that popped up unanimously veered towards “Do it!” whenever a woman—regardless of age—asked internet strangers if she should have a(nother) baby. But I was not the kind of mother who hung out on parenting websites or message boards (or so I thought). This advice was not for me. No one would list “maternal” among my top 10 traits. I was a Mommy & Me drop-out. My frequent refrain was: “I love my kids, but I hate parenting.” In many ways, I was the anti-mom.

So how to explain this overwhelming desire to sign on for another 18 years of child-rearing?

I took to Instagram to remind myself what infants looked like and to see if they triggered further baby lust. (My teens were born before social media existed. Back then, if you wanted to bombard people with baby pictures, you had to mass-email them.) Spoiler alert: babies were still cute! Only now, they had more clever clothes, like onesies that said, “Needy AF.”

“OMG I have to have one!” I thought. (The onesie? The baby? Both.)

My husband found my baby lust amusing but didn’t endorse taking any action on it. He enumerated the reasons why having a baby was a Very Bad Idea. For starters: the sleeplessness, the spit-up, the crying, the diaper blowouts. Later there would be the parent-teacher conferences, the carpool lane (aka my hell on Earth), the dental and pediatric appointments. Parenthood was 10 percent fun and 90 percent toil.

There was also the question of how old was too old to start parenthood all over again. My eggs were likely bargain-basement material now, and my husband’s sperm might not be much better. Pregnant women over 35 are often considered “geriatric” and high-risk by the medical community. A woman my age had a 1 in 350 chance of conceiving a child with Down Syndrome; by age 40, that chance rocketed to 1 in 100. I’d also read there was a higher likelihood of congenital defects and autism if the father was of “advanced age,” which my husband apparently was. And how’s this for scary? My baby daddy would be almost 70 by the time our imaginary child graduated high school! Given all this, was it fair for us to bring a baby into the world?

“Maybe having a baby is a ridiculous idea,” I said as we headed up to bed one night.

“Yeah,” my husband sighed, sinking into bed next to me. “I felt old just going up those stairs.”

My brain said my baby days were over. Ah, but my heart (and my ovaries, if they were indeed still operational) had other ideas. I recalled the blissful sensation an infant sleeping on my chest, the knee-weakening smiles, the squeals of delight. I missed a lot of the awe of parenting when my children were little because I was too consumed with just trying to survive as a single mom.

Would I be a better mother now because I was more mature, more settled? Maybe. But then I thought about the nausea and the weight gain and the full-body pain and the hormonal rollercoaster involved in gestating and giving birth. I realized I wasn’t attached to the experience of being pregnant. In fact, I could do without all that, thank you very much. I just wanted to grow our family. Was there another way to do that?

I contemplated this question and eagerly awaited the answer. I kept my heart open to whatever form it might take...and sure enough, an opportunity to parent again eventually presented itself...

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