The Ripple Effect: When Friends Start Having Kids
I turned 31 a few days ago.
Two days in, 30 + 1 isn’t looking all that different from plain old 30. I still target the wine with the $9.99 (and under) price tags. I still order too much takeout and drink too much coffee, which I buy from Starbucks instead of brewing at home. I still pretend parking tickets, if stashed away in my glove compartment where I can’t see them, will somehow be forgiven. Out of sight, out of mind, right?
In many ways, I still feel like the same old kid I’ve always been. But I’m not a kid anymore. And I haven’t been for a long time.
Six or so months ago, a good friend emailed to tell me she was pregnant. I’ve known this particular friend since we were girls with milk mustaches and lunch boxes and hair pulled back in pigtails. At the time I received the email, I was in the throes of my Master’s thesis and not able to focus on much outside of my own world of literary fiction. But, as I read her initial thoughts on becoming a mother, it became apparent my friend wasn’t just excited: she was overjoyed.
Not more than a month later, I found out two more childhood friends, as well as my older sister, were also expecting, all within a month or so of one other. And so began a ripple effect of pregnancies, a time in my life where I half-expected that any friend I hadn’t seen in a while to meet me for coffee or dinner would deliver the same news: pregnant, pregnant, pregnant.
Don’t get me wrong: I love children, and I love the women in my life having them. They are smart, strong, and successful and so ready, I think, to take on the joys and struggles of motherhood that it doesn’t seem anyone could be more qualified for the job.
But, still. With each new pregnancy that crops up (and, boy, do they crop up; these days, it seems like logging into Facebook is really just about checking to see who’s announcing “boy” or “girl” or posting new baby photos), I find myself going back to the same question: why doesn’t it seem like I’m ready?
You could argue I’ve been in a “mothering” type of role for years now. I first met my five and a half year-old stepson when he was a drooly, smiley 10 month-old waddling toward my outstretched arms. At that time, he wasn’t my stepson; he was my boyfriend’s baby who left his mother every other weekend to go spend a day or two with his Dad. Over the years, as I have gone from girlfriend to spouse and stepmother, I’ve grown into my role as third parent, and I’ve learned to love it along the way.
But that’s just the thing: I am a third parent, and I’m not a mother.
When my nephew was born, I’ll be the first to admit it stirred up whatever kind of biological clock was ticking within me. There he was before us, swaddled in a soft blanket with tiny blue stars on it. He was beautiful, and he belonged to my sister. For me, it was a bit tough to swallow, this idea that she could have a baby of her own, a baby who she wouldn’t have to give back at the end of the weekend. He was hers to love and to love freely.
In the two years between then and now, however, something fundamental has shifted. These days, I look at my stepson, so smart and independent and proud of his accomplishments (sounding out words, somersaulting, writing out his name), and I wonder: Is this enough? Because, more often than not, I find myself thinking that it just might be.
I was the type of child who tucked her baby dolls into their cradle at night, who made sure they’d been given their bottles and had their diapers changed. I am the type of adult who coos at and cuddles with my cats, making sure I pat each one of them on the head when I leave the house each morning and return each night. Up until quite recently, I always just assumed that I would have children. But now, as I watch many of my friends become mothers around me, I find myself asking: why I don’t want it as much as they do?
In our society, it seems women are allocated a narrow window of time before assumptions start being made. If someone hasn’t had children by the time she’s 35 or 40, it’s because she either can’t have them naturally (her fault) or because she can’t find someone to have them with (her fault again). When I got married, it wasn’t will I have kids, it was when will I have kids? In either case, I responded with the same: I don’t know?
Because I don’t. And, really, why should I? Why can’t I just leave it as a question mark and figure it out when I get to it? At 31, I guess I just have other things on my mind. Like so many of my writer friends, I want to devote my time outside of the office to the writing and eventual (fingers crossed) publishing of my book. I want to do some daytime drinking with a dear friend who’s in town for my birthday. I want to think excessive swearing is still just really, really funny.
So maybe 30 + ? will be the year to have a baby. And maybe it won’t. But, as far as I can see, 30 + 1 is just fine where it is.
Written by Stacy Thompson
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