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Feminspire | April 24, 2014

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Who Chooses If I Have a Baby: Me or the Patriarchy?

Who Chooses If I Have a Baby: Me or the Patriarchy?

After almost a year of appointments with various medical specialists in an attempt to find a way to explain an ever increasing pelvic pain, I ended up being scheduled for a diagnostic laparoscopy. The surgery was ordered by the second OB/GYN I had seen for this issue. He told me that the suspected culprit was endometriosis. I was given some informational pamphlets and sent home to wait for the day of the operation.

This was the first time I ever encountered the idea that I may be physically unable to bear a child.

Before doing some research on endometriosis and how the condition can potentially affect fertility, I had never entertained the possibility that pregnancy might not be an option  for medical reasons. At the time I was learning all of this I was 20 years old and felt that I did not want to have children. When reading the materials given to me by the doctor and finding that endometriosis can impact a woman’s ability to become pregnant, I felt a sense of distress that I had not expected.

For the first time I found myself having conversations with my loved ones about adoption and fears about how this might affect future romantic relationships. What if I met a man whom I loved and with whom I wanted to form a life-long partnership? What if being able to have a child with his wife, a child that is a genetic descendant of both parents, was paramount in his life? I was thinking about how this all might affect those other than myself, possibly in an effort to avoid examining my own feelings on the subject.

I underwent the procedure that summer. Upon awakening from my anesthesia-induced sleep and being given some pain relief medication I found my voice, and before the nurse could walk off, I said the first thing since regaining consciousness outside of a number on the pain scale. I asked, “Can I still have babies?” She told me that yes, I could. I immediately burst into tears.

This was the first time I ever really considered that the ability to bear a child might be incredibly important to me.

In the years years since my operation, I have spent much time thinking about that visceral reaction and what feelings it may reflect. Was it just a combination of fatigue and pain that spurred such strong emotions? If I do feel a great need to bear children at some point, or at least retain the option of doing so, what might the origin points of these feelings be?

There are many factors that might influence such feelings: my personal relationships, various social expectations, and growing up in a culture in which a woman’s ability to have a child is considered part of what makes her of value are just a few. How could I know the difference between my ‘true’ desires and that which I had been taught via a patriarchal social structure, and did the reasons for why I experienced these particular feelings even matter?

In these nine years I have found myself unable to discover just what it is I really want when it comes to children, especially when trying to separate my desires from my fears. With every year that passes, the pressure I feel to make a decision grows.

I am aware that should I retain the physical capability to bear a child to term, that capability does come with a time limit. While there are many women who are able to have safe, healthy pregnancies well beyond the age I am now, I also know that a ‘late in life’ pregnancy may not be an option for me. The possibility of early menopause looms enough before me to give me great pause. Preconceived ideas about the conditions under which I might want to have a child are constantly changing: For a long time I had wanted to be able to be married to the future father of my child before becoming pregnant and to be able to spend time as a married couple for at least a few years before having kids. With less than a year until I turn 30 and being currently single, I am slowly abandoning these wishful plans as I realize that I may not have the luxury of time.

Maybe waiting for marriage will prove to not be an option, and maybe waiting to meet someone I’d want to share parenthood with will also prove to not be an option. Suddenly I start to wonder if I’d want to have a child without the support of a partner. I start to wonder if I decide that I would not if that might be some kind of cue to me that maybe I don’t actually want children as much as I had thought.

As it stands, my current ultimate difficulty comes from the realization that my need to be on psychotropic medication to manage my lifelong major depressive disorder to the point of remaining functional could be enough to preclude pregnancy in and of itself. The research I have done up to this point has left me with the impression that there are only two such medications that would be ‘safe’ to take while pregnant, and I already know that one of them does not provide me with any therapeutic effect. Even armed with the possibility of one anti-depressant option, I have learned that that medication still has the potential to cause birth defects. I’ve also read that severe depression, if untreated, can cause complications that may include low birth weight, premature birth, and other problems. Not to mention whether or not I’d be OK with putting the burden of taking care of a woman rendered unable to take care of herself upon whomever I might be dependent upon at that time, whether that be a husband or not, for nine or more months (depending on if I would breast feed).

Suddenly I’ve found myself dealing with the guilt of entertaining the idea of what I’m worried may be a selfish endeavor; an endeavor I’d embark upon at the expense of not only any partner I may have but also the child in question. Recognizing that I would never think of another woman as being selfish for deciding to bear a child under the exact same conditions, I am again forced to reexamine my thought processes and my motivations.

Considering the pressure I am experiencing from the feeling that I may need another nine years to decide to have a child, but I may not have another nine years before the option is gone, I worry that I may never be able to operate with the comfort of feeling like I know what I want in this regard. Still, I know that emotional influences are constantly changing and my decisions about what is right for me are constantly in flux. From that I garner hope.

Written by Kat Star

  • Ashley

    Thank you for sharing your story. Have you talked to your doctor about having children in your 30s? I wouldn’t abandon all hope just yet. I’m 29 this year, and I’d like to have kids someday, but that “someday” seems far away still. I am not yet ready, and I don’t know if I will be by time I’m 35 either, so I’m in a similar situation.

  • Chris Allen

    Not every person is meant to be a parent—I’m not talking about physical limitation here (though those can play a role), but rather, the personality in question and the conditions of one’s life. Our son’s godparents made the decision not to have children. Aside from the fact that they’re still struggling economically, they honestly assessed themselves and realized that they simply didn’t want to become parents—their gifts lie in other areas. They do love kids, they’re very warm and nurturing with our son, and that’s how they show their love for kids: being wise adopted-aunt/uncle and older friends, and sharing with him the best of who and what they are and their knowledge/experience. They’re not geared to be directly responsible for a child 24/7/365/22+ years, and they are fine with that. Their only aggravation is relatives and friends who think they *ought* to have children, and strangers who sometimes downgrade them as people because they chose not to have children.

    I’m honest enough myself to admit that while I’m great with around age 10 and up, and very good with little babies, I’m not as good with toddlers and young children—I’m not as patient and I simply don’t enjoy the caretaking involved as much for that age, if we’re talking 24/7. Doing it as a grandparent is fine, because I get to give them back, lol. I love them to pieces—I’m just not as good at playing with them, entertaining them, communicating with them, and disciplining them, etc. as I am with older kids. On the other hand, my parents rock with toddlers and young children, and are at more of a loss with the older ones, so family-wise, it balances out a bit.

    But all of that is grand (and great grand) parents, uncles, aunts, godparents, etc… it’s not being the parent, and that’s my point: you can have a wonderful relationship with a child and *not* be a parent, because kids *need* all those other folks in their life, too: people who aren’t their parents who will be nurturing, who share their wisdom and experiences, who have fun and will play with them, who act as confidants and who encourage their interests and dreams, and commiserate their miseries. All of us are teachers to children, and any child can benefit when you take on those roles with them. Sometimes it’s easier doing so when you *aren’t* the parent, because you don’t have all the other duties parents have to take on for their children.

    Being a parent means you’re the steward for another human being, one who you are committed to and will love for life, even after your stewardship is ended. There are countless books and stories that extol the virtues and rewards of parenthood; not so many that discuss the problems and issues. Bottom line is, it’s a responsibility that doesn’t go away, not for one second, for 22+ years (nowadays) to come. Each child is different: what worked with one may not work with another, and all children seem to create that moment or moment where a parent is in total despair because *nothing* they’ve tried seems to work (which is when you need to hunt for expert opinions and other parents’ experiences, but even then there’s no guarantees).

    It’s not about “continuing the family line”; it’s not about “wanting to experience the joys of parenting”—it’s about walking into it with open eyes. It’s about knowing how those joys are fleeting moments and nostalgic memories you treasure later, but also that there’s some day-to-day drudgery, the need to put your screaming child’s needs above your own, the frustration of trying to teach them something, only to see them do just the opposite, etc. It’s knowing that no matter how much you want to be the perfect parent and how hard you try, you are a fallible human being who isn’t omnipotent, and you’re *going* to make mistakes, you’re *going* to sometimes do things you swore you’d never do, or say the dumbest things imaginable. It’s knowing that you simply *can’t* give your child everything you’d like to, that you *can’t* always fix things and make them better, that they’re going to experience things you can’t always protect them from. It’s knowing that this other human being *depends* on you to be your best, to do your best, to try your best *all* the time, and knowing that sometimes you’re going to fail in that—and you have to learn to own up to it and to apologize and try to do better next time (because if you’re teaching them honesty and respect, you have to be self-honest, and honest with them, and respectful of them.

    Prospective parents too often focus on their desire to be a parent, rather than on the child, what the child’s life with them may be like, and on the enormity of the commitment they’re making to this potential human being… which leaves them struggling when reality sets in, and often colors how they see their child and deal with him/her. It doesn’t just change *your* life forever—it also sets forever the *child’s* life. If you choose to be a parent, try to think about all that and approach it with as much or more concern for how life will look from your child’s position, as what it will be like from yours. :)

    If you decide that (for whatever the reason: physical limitations, financial, personality) that you don’t want to be a parent, there’s still a lot of ways you can nurture, teach, effect, and love a child or children all around you—and children need those things, too, and you’re just as valued a person for reaching children in *that* way, as you are if you parent one yourself, because you’re *also* helping this person grow and be loved. :)