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Babybrain: temporary insanity or actual change of mind?
February 19, 2012 9:19 AM   Subscribe

Happy DINK having doubts: How do you discern between real change in baby-making opinion and just temporary hormonal brooding?

Other threads have commented on the "do I want kids or not" debate, but I want to specifically ask: How do you discern what is legitimate thoughts about having children and just hormone-induced anxiety in the late 20s, early 30s age range?

Our situation: Very happy DINK (dual income, no kids) couple, married for three years. I'm 29, he's 27. Prior to getting married, we both were firmly in the "no kids, ever" camp. However, since we've been married my feelings on this have mellowed somewhat. When I was single, I could never, ever see having children. I'm an introverted geek with tons of hobbies and prediliction to stress/fret. That just doesn't seem like good mom material or a happy situation for me. I was always in the "love my nieces/nephews, but kids are crazy no thank you" camp.

However, now it's more of a specific consideration. I could see having a child...with him. I don't know if it's because I'm in a good, happy marriage now or because I'm coming up on 30 or what, but it's suddenly thrown doubt into my since-forever assumption that I didn't want kids. When talking to friends with kids or pregnant, I think about how I'd react or what we'd do in a similar situation with a kid of our own. We light-heartedly talk about "if we had kids..." sometimes. I don't know what to do with it. We've talked it over before, quite openly, and while he doesn't see kids as a dealbreaker or life-ending, he still doesn't think we really want them and a lot of my thoughts are just temporary. He's..probably right? I don't know. I should re-iterate that the Mr. has been nothing but supportive and great talking about such a big topic. We joke about getting a kitten or puppy (already have pets) to sooth maternal urges. We're both willing to think and talk it over again in the future.

These are the things that give me pause:

- Our marriage is great, solid and we could make really good, geeky parents.
- The idea of experiencing pregnancy and creating a new little life is kind of appealing to me, as is getting the chance to try to raise an intelligent, curious kid.
- The idea of building a stable family that exists beyond just us appeals to me.
- There's a not zero chance that my husband may die well before me and we're not close to our siblings or the "big, active community of friends" types. I don't want either of us to lose what little family we have with the loss of the other.
- While we're both low key and DINKy, we're also both pretty settled and conservative: well out of our nomad days, we own a nice home, good careers, savings, have good finances, on paper, we're very solidly prepared to raise a kid.
- My parents were both quite old when I was born. If we're doing this, I want to be doing it in the next couple years.

This is the stuff that terrifies me:

- We're both geeky DINKs with our own obsessions and a pretty low key lifestyle. We love our adult hobbies like nice food and technology. Seriously, we LOVE our life now. Would a child make us significantly more unhappy?
- I didn't want kids in the theoretical or abstract before. Is it rational to change your mind after marriage? Is this just temporary madness?
- I'm a worrier and a stresser, I would not be a very zen parent.
- I have two nieces (5 and 11) that I love to death but find exhausting to deal with in long doses.
- Husband has some stable-but-still-there health issues. The idea of having a child then losing him and having to raise a child alone absolutely terrifies me. (Yes, I know that contradicts the last point in the Pro column.)
- I don't know how I would deal with any of the other risks you take when having a child: losing a spouse, birth defects/disabilities, etc. I feel like if you can't accept a worst case scenario you shouldn't be doing it?

Any time I make headway trying to wrap my brain around this stuff, some other thought comes up and I get obsessive brooding about it. I almost feel like because I know it's a common question for women my age, my brain obsesses on it more.

Smart ladies who have survived late twenties, early thirties doubt...how did you keep sane, figure out which brain to listen to, and decide? And if this is just temporary insanity, how do I shut the babybrain up?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (53 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
 
I think there is happiness and satisfaction awaiting you either way, though I will say that from your reasoning you sound like you would be a very good parent indeed, despite your misgivings.
posted by hermitosis at 9:22 AM on February 19, 2012 [9 favorites]


You don't need to rush. Listen to the babybrain for, say, another six months or a year and see what it's tell you then.

My husband and I were in a similar situation, DINKs with no plan to have children ever. Then my brain started telling me to have a baby...and I listened for a year or two, and it only got louder. Hubby was against it, and then he listened to his brain for a few months, and then changed his mind. There wasn't any drama, any arguing. Just a lot of thinking.

Now we've got a 9-year-old and I'm incredibly grateful that we didn't miss this experience, which is the most wonderful thing.
posted by BlahLaLa at 9:28 AM on February 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


I was very much in your shoes. It sounds like you want to have kids, but maybe you need to sit on it a few more months to see if it 'sticks' before talking to your husband about it.

In the meantime, think about the following stuff:

- Kids are expensive, especially if you're paying someone else to care for them. Google around to see what the childcare rates are in your city and figure out how much of a financial hit that would be for you guys and/or if you can afford for one of you to stay at home with kid. (People change their minds about what they do for childcare after baby comes, but you should at least have an idea of what your options are.)

- Find out what the maternity leave is at your work and how you feel about it.

- Find out what your health insurance coverage is for pregnancy and labor and how you feel about it.

--

- Get your worrying under control NOW. Look into CBT, for example. Getting stuff like this sorted out while you still have a bit of flexibility in your day-to-day schedule and finances is advisable.

- Yeah, as far as the lifestyle change... yes - it changes your lifestyle. But, at some point with my friends people get bored with the going-out-to-dinner, spending-money-on-stuff life. Now our days are filled with completely different, but much more fulfilling (IMHO) activities... like coloring, museums, parks... it is great. But yeah, sometimes you think "yeah, I miss going to movies..." but it is okay.
posted by k8t at 9:30 AM on February 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Having a child with a person you love and are committed to is so much different and better than thinking about having children in a general sense. You sound mature and very capable of taking on the responsibilities and thoroughly enjoying the joys of parenthood. Raising children helped make me a much more caring, less selfish, more 'centered' and satisfied person, and I can't imagine life without the richness they contribute to my life. There will be trying days, but there will be so many more days and moments that will be deeply satisfying that it more than compensates. Best wishes on your decision --
posted by summerstorm at 9:32 AM on February 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


I attribute all of my baby-brain to hormones.

Our situation is a little different. We both have fulfilling careers that are high maintenance, and require us to be at social events a few nights a week.

While we make plenty of money, we also like to travel, eat really well and have savings. That wouldn't be possible even with one child.

A lot of my friends have children, and their postings on Facebook about constantly being sick from daycare, or not having any social life, or being tied to a child's schedule reinforces our decision to not have kids even more.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:36 AM on February 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


keep a calender or a journal for a couple of months, note when you have strong baby urges. you might find that you're having them primarily around ovulation. i'm a 30 year old who is very happy to not have kids, but sometimes i get all schmoopy and think about making a baby with my husband - more often than not, this aligns with my cycle and a few days later i'm back to being blissfully happy to not have a screaming bag of poop.

another exercise - when you get stuck on wanting a kid - what do you think about? do you think about how fun it'll be to be pregnant? about a baby? maybe about cute clothes or baby giggles? try to make yourself think about the harder stuff - swollen ankles and uncomfortableness while pregnant, being sleep deprived for the first 6 months to a year (or longer), trying to find a daycare, dealing with a 9 year old who is starting their road to defiant teenager...stuff like that. when you find yourself involved in an activity a kid could not be there for, think about the logistics of getting that time without the kid and if you'd find the activity even worth it anymore.

for me, when it comes down to it, i value my ability to stay up late and sleep in and decide to just go out of town on a whim. i like sex in the living room and walking around naked. i like hours of near silence as my husband and i both tap at our respective computers. i also struggle with depression and anxiety and when i have a bad day, i can't imagine putting childcare on top of it when i find it hard to even do a single load of dishes. when i stop thinking of the fun stuff about babies and start thinking of the logistics, i always come back to being happy to be child free.
posted by nadawi at 9:38 AM on February 19, 2012 [24 favorites]


I can't tell you how to separate your feelings from hormonal changes (if that is even possible -- they must be deeply intertwined). But do check out the book "Stumbling on Happiness" and recent research on happiness and children. You're a geeky person, perhaps good reading material will help you understand your situation better.
posted by fake at 9:41 AM on February 19, 2012


I know where you're coming from. I am staunchly in the no kids group which my parents have only just become okay with, but my last bf was the first guy who didn't want kids either, and he and I both realized we could forseeably want kids together. This was a very interesting revelation for both of us.

For me, though, I can entertain the thoughts of having a baby around, and I can even delight in how hilarious it would be to have a toddler, too, but being pregnant? Actually coming to terms with the fact that there is another life that this kid will eventually lead? Dealing with adolescence and teenaged-dom and the expenses and the emotional trauma?

God no. Not for me anyway. I am going to teach instead. That instantly satisfies my want for kids because it lets me be mom for a controlled amount of time every day with weekends off. I worry about them, I share on their hardships and triumphs, and I work with them to e the best that they can be. At the end of the day they go home, and I do too, and I am much happier for it.

Raising a kid means eventually raising a teen and finally an adult. That's not someone I'm gonna be compatible with. And that's how I weigh my "oh we'd have such wonderful kids" thoughts with reality. YMMV.

I also plan to be mommy to like 5 dogs though so I am a little more weird than you probably are, but... :P
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 10:03 AM on February 19, 2012


Kids well, as Jonathan Coulton says, ruin everything -- in the nicest way. Your life will totally change, and in many ways not for the better. But in the ways in which it IS for the better -- oh, man, it's the best thing ever.

It is totally rational, common even, for your feelings on children to change after marriage. I know at least five couples who have gone through that. Four of them have kids now and could not even imagine their lives without their children.

It's not a rational decision; it never is. Fortunately you are young and you have time, and you can sit on it for six months and really think about it. But my advice is that if you really want to have kids, have your kids. Nothing in your "cons" column comes across as an absolute contraindication to me.
posted by KathrynT at 10:08 AM on February 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


There's no right answer.

If you pick either one, you'll rationalize it later as being the right decision for you (Most of the time).

Either way, you'll receive approval of your choice from people who made the same choice, and derision from people who made the other one. Since American (And probably any other self-sustaining) society has a pro-reproducing bias, one side will feel free to speak their mind, the other won't... Whether or not that shapes your decision is up to you.
posted by Orb2069 at 10:11 AM on February 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


The thing about having hobbies is, they're even more fun when you can share them with kids! You don't have to give up hobbies; indeed, you'd be a boring parent if you did. My husband and I look forward to being able to teach things to our 14-month-old when he's older, to get him excited about these things and share our joy with him.

As for being able to separate the hormones from the rational mind, I don't know. I was solidly in the dont-want-kids camp until I was 32. Then I could see us having a kid. It took a few years to really decide, and our kid was born just after I turned 36. We both kind of wish we'd done it sooner, though on the other hand we really weren't ready for a kid before then (and still weren't when he was born, but you never are). It just finally got to a point where I was like, well, I think I'm going to regret not doing this, and we're running out of time, so let's go for it.

I did have moments while pregnant when I was like, "What have we done? Our life was great!" but honestly, have not felt that at all since he was born. There is more joy every day now than there ever was before, and life has gotten more complex, satisfying, and sweet.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 10:17 AM on February 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


For me it was 2 things: my experience with other hormone-induced moods, and the example of my mom. We didn't have children and now, at age 51, I'm utterly convinced it was the right decision for Hubby and me.

I know that hormones can mess with my mind. I used to get pretty bad PMS and some months the whole world would feel different for a few days. I felt that friends secretly hated me, Hubby was this close to getting fed up and leaving me, and other pretty extreme reality distortions. Eventually I learned, from enough repetitions, that if I just rode it out, a few days later things would snap back to normal. So I realized that hormonal thinking/feeling is totally whack and I made a point of not making any big decisions while "under the influence". (I'm firmly in the "listen to your head, not your heart" camp.)

My mom's life showed me that having kids can be a big source of resentment and exhaustion. She was ambivalent about children but had them anyway, and I think it was a huge mistake for her. She has had to sacrifice a lot of herself - time, money, energy - and doesn't seem to have gotten much happiness out of it in return. She says her children are her greatest joy, and it's probably true in the literal sense of "whatever's left of her life after the kids came along", but she's always seemed drained and joyless, always putting her own interests on hold until the next family milestone. She planned to get back into swimming/traveling/etc when the kids were in school, or in college, or living on their own (and my brother moved back in with them in his 30s), and now she's too old to enjoy the things she was waiting to do.

Shutting up the baby-brain: your head is smart and is looking out for your best interests as an individual. Your ovaries see you as a way to perpetuate the species. If they disagree, I'm going with the head.
posted by Quietgal at 10:19 AM on February 19, 2012 [12 favorites]


I think you sound like someone who would do fine with one child.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 10:20 AM on February 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


I went through this at about your age, and our lives seem similar (though we are probably less financially secure than you). I'm now 35, and we still haven't had kids. I don't know if we ever will, but we're not in a big hurry. I have never wanted to be pregnant, my spouse is adopted, and so we are both on board with adoption. This changes the equation a lot. I would be perfectly happy to wait until my early 40s to adopt some kids.

Definitely the hardest part about it is that a lot of people seem to take it personally that we are childless by choice at our "advanced" age. I think people view it as genuinely antisocial. (I suspect the people who feel that way feel insecure because we have not validated their own choices by making the same ones, but I digress.)

All this to say: The first thing you need to decide is whether or not you want to get pregnant. That's the part that's time-sensitive (although you have 5-10 years before you really have to start worrying about it).
posted by elizeh at 10:21 AM on February 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Now our days are filled with completely different, but much more fulfilling (IMHO) activities... like coloring, museums, parks...

Mine too! But I'm 36 and am gloriously childfree! Having kids simply to relieve the boredom of consumption sounds more like a lack of imagination than a clarion call to parenthood.

I'm a geeky introvert and I'm insatiably curious about many things - including people. I love thinking and learning and playing and it drives me mad when it's inferred that the only route to growth and self-awareness and selflessness is through having children. I love my friend's kids to bits but I'm eternally grateful that I live in an age where there is choice, and that I can pursue in depth those things that excite me and stimulate me without having to go back to first principles every time because the kids are starting from scratch.

But as a geek, if you do want to have children you'll likely be stimulated and excited by them too, and you'll learn how to manage your anxiety through sheer practice. Your concerns about 'worse case scenarios' are real but happiness research (and about 2500 years of philosophical thought) reckons that the path to fulfillment in any undertaking really is commitment, engagement and effort - regardless of what transpires. Basically - you'll cope because the very act of doing it teaches you how. Many people will only experience this by having kids - because you can't opt out without severe social and emotional consequences - but kids are not the only challenging, deeply rewarding activity you can apply yourself to.

Also, it's not binary. Kids won't stop you doing all of the things you love. The way to frame it may be to think about whether there are things you'd rather be doing than having kids at all - this is pretty much where I'm at, hormones and all. If so then you may need to think for a while yet. If not, you would probably be a great parent. Doesn't mean you have to be, so sit with your thoughts for a while and see how you're leaning in a few months time. It'll be good either way.
posted by freya_lamb at 10:21 AM on February 19, 2012 [16 favorites]


- We're both geeky DINKs with our own obsessions and a pretty low key lifestyle. We love our adult hobbies like nice food and technology. Seriously, we LOVE our life now. Would a child make us significantly more unhappy?

Can't answer that with certainty, but food and tech are luxuries that aren't entirely necessary for happiness. When you have a child, you will probably need to cut back, but you don't need to eliminate any of those things. I'd encourage you to hang on to your hobbies because those will keep you sane.

- I didn't want kids in the theoretical or abstract before. Is it rational to change your mind after marriage? Is this just temporary madness?

This happens all the time. We have some friends who never wanted kids and then changed their minds after being married for 12 years.

- I'm a worrier and a stresser, I would not be a very zen parent.

Worrying and stressing are not deal breakers. I'd argue that perfectly zen parents aren't very effective parents.

- I have two nieces (5 and 11) that I love to death but find exhausting to deal with in long doses.

Exhaustion is the name of the game when you have kids. But when they're your own, it doesn't seem as bad. It's as tiring, just not as aversive.

- Husband has some stable-but-still-there health issues. The idea of having a child then losing him and having to raise a child alone absolutely terrifies me. (Yes, I know that contradicts the last point in the Pro column.)

In my opinion, this is probably the least convincing reason to not have kids. Health issues or not, you always run the risk of accidents happening and being on your own. My sister-in-law has cystic fibrosis and she decided to have a child. Her health gives her problems consistently, but bringing that baby into the family has been nothing but a blessing.

- I don't know how I would deal with any of the other risks you take when having a child: losing a spouse, birth defects/disabilities, etc. I feel like if you can't accept a worst case scenario you shouldn't be doing it?

No one knows how they will deal with all of the issues that might come up. I've worked with kids with severe disabilities for 10+ years and I still don't know how I would handle it if something happened to one of our kids. There are always risks, but keep in mind that the chances of those risks becoming reality are pretty low.
posted by puritycontrol at 10:27 AM on February 19, 2012


As a woman who's decided not to have kids, I can say that I've gotten baby brain a few times. Its strange, to have overwhelming emotions of wanting a kid. But fundamentally, at my core, I'm not interested in having kids. I think part of the baby brain comes from being in a strong relationship with someone you love, with someone whom you can see having kids with - at least in my case. But, every time I sat down and REALLY thought about it - about the changes it would mean in my life and what I feel like I'd be giving up and its just not for me.

So it could really be either. I think everyone's advice here is good. Sit and think on it for a while. Maybe you do, maybe you don't. There isn't anything wrong with either choice.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 10:27 AM on February 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


I'm in your boat too and putting off kids for now. I find that the best birth control for me is to go to the aquarium on a weekend and say OMG I can't handle that. However I am keeping track on the calendar of how many days I wonder/want.
Cheers to being a DINK though, there aren't enough of us :)
posted by ibakecake at 10:29 AM on February 19, 2012


- because you can't opt out once the kids are born without severe social and emotional consequences -

I missed this important distinction!
posted by freya_lamb at 10:30 AM on February 19, 2012


After a life of swearing I'd never want kids then I had a serious case of baby brain 2 years after getting married (I think assumed being in serious committed relationship with a man I could see would be a great father triggered it) and my husband who started our marriage not wanting kids came around to wanting them to, we loved each other so much we wanted something that was part of both of us. We could both see ourselves as happy DINKs for the rest of our lives but also could see ourselves as happy parents for the rest of our lives so in the end we went bugger it and just stopped the birth control, the theory being if "the fates" gave us a baby we would be the best damn parents we knew how to be and if they didn't we'd accept that decision too and continue our lives as they were.

It may not be the sensible thing to do, but really when it came down to it both lives (parents or DINKs) would have been fulfilling in their own way, there is no right choice. Turns out I can't have kids, which when I found out made me sadder than I thought it would, I mourned (and some days am still sad and wonder what would have been) but we left it up to fate and fate decided. We occasionally talk about fostering or adopting.

Just remember either option is viable and has it's pros and cons, there is no right or wrong option. Personally if you decided to have kids you sound like you'd be a great parents, but if you don't you still would be great people too and you can be an extra enthusiastic Aunt which is great fun.
posted by wwax at 10:51 AM on February 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I agree with Orb2069 (no right answer, post facto rationalization of choice.)

It doesn't seem like you are at risk of making the decision on a whim or due to 'baby-brain.' It seems that you are carefully considering your options and need to discern what the right choice is for you. Perhaps you should think about how the decision might affect you now, a few years from now, and a few decades from now? That is, being pregnant, raising a child, and having raised a childhood to adulthood.
posted by borges at 11:15 AM on February 19, 2012


Smart ladies who have survived late twenties, early thirties doubt...how did you keep sane, figure out which brain to listen to

Stuff you want is the stuff you want over time. If you think you want a jelly doughnut and an hour later you don't, you probably aren't all that into the doughnut. But if you find yourself driving to work or in the shower or at the gym over time thinking, 'I sure would like a jelly doughnut.' I think you want the jelly doughnut.

As for hormones, well, everybody has them, and they're part of our conscious lives and whole existence, not just something that gets us drunk now and then so I think it's possible that sometimes 'hormones' as a conceptual bucket might get a few too many items thrown in it. Although if the only time you ever consider this is when you have deep clawing PMS it might be a bigger bucket.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 11:15 AM on February 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


If you can be happy without kids (and based on your post, you certainly can be), don't have kids. You certainly wouldn't be doing the world any favors by adding another human to it.
posted by crazylegs at 11:30 AM on February 19, 2012 [7 favorites]


How do you discern between real change in baby-making opinion and just temporary hormonal brooding?

The urge to have children is hormonal, period. We're animals with smart phones. If monkeys could text, a full 30% would be texting pictures of their junk, just like us naked apes.

I would take the hormones into account as a part of the total decision-making spectrum on this, not as something to ignore in the decision-making process.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:35 AM on February 19, 2012 [8 favorites]


Do note that in contrast to the article cited above ("kids make you happier"), a lot of the research out there seems to indicate the opposite -- that kids make people less happy, at least for the first 15 years or so, and cause a lot of strain on marriages.

Citations:

http://healthland.time.com/2011/03/04/why-having-kids-is-foolish/
http://www.thepsychologist.org.uk/archive/archive_home.cfm?volumeID=22&editionID=174&ArticleID=1493
http://www.tannerhelland.com/917/children-ruin-marriages-for-most/
http://thesocietypages.org/graphicsociology/2011/05/17/are-people-who-have-kids-happier-not-really/
http://www.forbes.com/sites/willwilkinson/2011/03/04/why-you-dont-believe-that-kids-dont-make-you-happier/

It's also the case that your career is likely to have serious setbacks if you have a kid. Women who have kids are perceived broadly as "less committed" to their work, even if they're not -- and their salaries reflect that. Statistics say that it's likely you'll get fewer awesome projects, lots more thankless crap.
posted by adrienneleigh at 11:38 AM on February 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sometimes I wonder if couples who are lukewarm on kids start families for lack of better ideas for things they could co-create. Start a business together, make art together, blog together, whatever. And seriously, get that dog or cat. It's a small dependent creature that needs affection and care, and will never require college tuition. Yes, it's not a kid, not on the same level as kids, but if you embark on projects with your husband and get a pet and there's still something missing, I think you will know for sure that it's a kid, not just boredom/hormones/etc.

You're two adults who can make your marriage into whatever you want. Explore that space of possibility, think about what it means, and if you keep coming back to kids, have a kid, and if not, you'll come up with some other way of creating meaning in your marriage that will be unique to you.
posted by slow graffiti at 11:49 AM on February 19, 2012 [7 favorites]


Keep in mind that deciding you want kids would be renegotiating your marriage, because that's the understanding you had. What if you husband doesn't change his mind? What would be more important to you?
posted by spaltavian at 12:15 PM on February 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


I am 100% sure I never wanted kids, don't have any kids, am 47 now so not clear that I could even change my mind if I wanted to, and let me tell you that I have had overwhelming waves of baby-craving from time to time nonetheless. And "from time to time" I mean "as recently as a couple of months ago."

Our hormones often want things our brains don't. I don't do everything my hormones tell me to by any means--I don't eat a whole cheesecake for lunch, or rip the clothes off that hot repair person and ravish them consensually on the kitchen floor, etc., etc. Not getting pregnant is yet another time where my brain has overruled my hormones.

But maybe your brain isn't as certain as mine is. I don't know. You can figure this out. And then your husband needs to figure out what he thinks. And then the two of you need to figure out what you think as a couple. Self-scrutiny is one way to do this; couples therapy is another way.

Something else to think about is taking care of your nieces for a couple of days, and seeing how you like being a child's primary caregiver. My husband and I adore our nephew and my various godchildren, and whenever we are their primary caregivers even for an evening, we sigh with relief when their parents come to collect them and high-five each other for having chosen not to parent.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:40 PM on February 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


None of your initial misgivings have changed so I'll vote for "hormonal".

Which doesn't make it not real; hormonal feelings and changes are very real.

I suggest trusting your past selves and not having a child.
posted by the young rope-rider at 12:41 PM on February 19, 2012


Also, the research on kids and happiness is strongly mixed. I think they make you less happy for quite a while but happier once they're grown and no longer needing you to do things for them. In other words, having kids is great but the actual time spent raising them? Not so much.
posted by the young rope-rider at 12:45 PM on February 19, 2012


Another thought: As many have stated, children will change your lives irrevocably, forever. They constrain the possibilities available to you. So I would give you this advice:

Regardless of what decision you make, take full advantage of your young DINK status now. Go on all your adventures; do all your risky activities like skydiving. Squeeze as much as you can out of the years in which you are young and resilient.

People give things up when they have children. When I was younger than 10, my mother used to paint with oils. She has done other things since then, such as ceramics, but I haven't seen her paint since. I don't think she stopped liking it.

In the grand scheme of things, that's not a big deal, but it's something. The little things change too. Do everything you want to do before making a life-changing decision.
posted by Strudel at 12:46 PM on February 19, 2012


I started to write a long answer, but decided that the kernel could be contained in four sentences:

1. My friends who have children have never regretted the decision to do so.
2. Some of my friends who have decided not to do so have regretted the decision bitterly.
3. At a certain point, unless you decide to adopt, biology will make the decision for you.
4. Having your children is radically different from having children in the abstract.

One really important part of your post, though, is where you write, about your husband, that "he still doesn't think we really want them..." (emphasis added). Maybe you were just writing quickly, but if not: I can see that he might not really want them, but to attribute that feeling to both of you, when you are having urges, implies that your feelings aren't as important as his. That would be a red flag for me.
posted by brianogilvie at 12:59 PM on February 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


I was you exactly, except my husband doesn't have health problems. I went through all of these same feelings at your age. The little mental exercise I used to do with myself was, at random times of day, to ask myself "Would this be better with a kid?" I would imagine the scene with a child of various ages from baby to teenager. And just about the only times I ever answered yes were at the holidays. Also, even when my pro-kid feelings were at their strongest, there wasn't ever a single day where I felt that today was the day to start trying. Plus, I seem to know an awful lot of families with kids with catastrophic physical or mental health issues, and it seems like a bad gamble to me unless you feel like you simply can't live without kids.

I'm now at the age where the decision is about to become irrevocable, and pretty much the only times I feel pangs of doubt are when I hear people talking about advocating for their parents with health care providers. Who will take care of me? But I know very well what a bad reason that would be for having kids. I work with a lawyer who is kept on retainer to look out for her elderly client, and she's terrifically conscientious and proactive for her, frequently visits her to make sure everything's okay, and most importantly, when something's not okay, she has the skills to make it right, and the legal obligation to do so. Which is a lot more than most people can say about their kids. I know that's not what you were asking about, but it's been on my mind, so thought I'd throw it in there.
posted by HotToddy at 1:09 PM on February 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


My feelings about children aren't important here, but I just want to point out that biologically and evolutionarily, your body will always push you towards wanting kids. Once you have kids, your body will push you towards loving them more than anything (oxytocin bonding). I hate to be so reductionist, but the fact that people with kids don't regret it doesn't say something about their secret desires or changing their minds or that, objectively, they're HAPPIER; it's just evolution.

So if you have kids, you will be happy and fulfilled on a very basic level, even though your life will change, and even if you're intellectually not as satisfied. If you don't have kids, you may regret it from time to time on that deep level, even though you're traveling the world and doing all the things you want to do. Can't be helped.

Both routes will make you happy, and both will leave you with regret. The only way it can go wrong is if you and your husband come to different conclusions about the better of the two.
posted by supercres at 1:10 PM on February 19, 2012 [11 favorites]


I'm not qualified to answer your question directly, but I have a few thoughts to share. I've read a lot of the research papers showing that people with children are less happy than people without children. I don't dispute those papers. Childraising is an incredible strain, and what's more, a good number of the published studies seem to have employed sound research. But the fact that, on average, people with children are less happy than people without children (or that people generally experience less marital happiness after children than before) does NOT mean that every couple that transitions in to parenthood will definitely become less happy. This is often poorly understood - a population statistic is not a personal prediction. (Of course, believing children will make you happy, trying really hard, or doing everything right will not guarantee your happiness either.)

I was fortunate enough to come from a home with a lot of love. Even now, as an adult, my parents tell me constantly how much they love and appreciate their children, and - more to the point - how glad they are that they made this choice for their family. For us, family is a real source of joy and happiness. My parents feel that their children have brought them closer together (yes, they have told us this, and I am sure they were being sincere). My sister and I feel lucky to be a part of our family, and we are really enjoying knowing our parents as adults. I think everybody thinks about becoming a parent in relation to their own parents and their own childhood. For me, this is a very positive thing, and of course that affects how I feel about becoming a parent myself. Whether this is a helpful way to think about things, I can't say.

Lastly, I just wanted to mention that there are a lot of people these days who don't believe that exhaustion, boredom, intellectual dissatisfaction, or unacceptable compromise are necessarily parts of parenthood/motherhood. Check out this site
for information and stories from couples who want to be equal, committed partners - equal in childraising, breadwinning, and also in personal recreation time. Personally I've found these ideas really inspring.
posted by Cygnet at 1:26 PM on February 19, 2012 [7 favorites]


I wonder if you're making a decision based on convention - I'm not all, "everyone should have kids!" but if you want kids, I think you should have them. Dealing with your own kid(s) will be different from dealing with you nephews/nieces. You don't HAVE to raise your kids the same as everyone else.

Also, if you are worried about your husband dying before you and taking care of someone as a single mom, what about realizing your child would be a continuation of your husband that will continue to live on? It might actually make things easier? I haven't experienced this personally, just wondering.
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 1:41 PM on February 19, 2012


I'm not sure I agree with the whole hormonal attribution, either. The feelings you have of wanting a baby are very real, no matter where they came from. Your job is to use all your available sources of information to decide - not to discount one source as "hormonal." And don't be afraid to make a gut decision, either, because nothing is certain in life.

For me, one of the ways I knew I truly wanted kids is when I realized I was thinking about all aspects of raising them - what it would be like to train a 2 yr old; teach a 5 yr old to read; deal with a snotty teen .... so I was more sure that I wanted to be a parent, as opposed to falling for romantic notions of being pregnant and having a baby.
posted by yarly at 1:44 PM on February 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


Any husband who makes an intellectual pact with his wife to "not have children" is a fool. Sometimes you can't fight biological instincts (or if you do, it will just make you miserable), and your husband ought to be aware of that.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:49 PM on February 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'd give it time to sort itself out--revisit it in 6 months or a year.

I have to say, I've never had this "baby brain" thing happen to me. 32 years old, happily married for 9 years. Huh. I bet your life will be amazing no matter what you decide.
posted by sugarbomb at 1:59 PM on February 19, 2012


One thing I notice from your post is you have a fair number of labels and kind of pop-ideas you've attached to or shy away from: DINK, worrier, stressor, zen parent, geek, good mom material, babybrain, etc etc. I can tell you, a great relief -- yes, relief -- of having children is the pretty much wholesale dismantling of this kind of thinking. I'm not saying you don't have authentic concerns, I'm just saying you sound like you've built up a locked down version of having kids. Oh, and also ... hormones are forever. They are part of your constant chemistry. They are not intermittent saboteurs of rational thinking.
posted by thinkpiece at 2:18 PM on February 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Not to mention, who doesn't want more geek babies?
posted by thinkpiece at 2:46 PM on February 19, 2012 [6 favorites]


(ms. Vegetable)
My babybrain went crazyfor a while. Do you have a therapist? My therapist, knowing my craziness well, has strongly advised me that having kids would be a bad idea for me.
I realized i really just liked the idea of having a kid. I romanticized it. I wanted to buy nursery furniture and cloth diapers.
I would never want to be a single parent. Ever. In your situation, that's what would bother me the most.
I have to remind myself that the rational side of my brain knows more about what's good for me than my babymaking hormones do.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 3:06 PM on February 19, 2012


It happened to us. The baby is due in March.
posted by gerryblog at 3:16 PM on February 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Reading this book might be helpful to you: Maybe Baby: 28 Writers Tell the Truth About Skepticism, Infertility, Baby Lust, Childlessness, Ambivalence, and How They Made the Biggest Decision of Their Lives.
posted by southern_sky at 4:20 PM on February 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


- I have two nieces (5 and 11) that I love to death but find exhausting to deal with in long doses.
- Husband has some stable-but-still-there health issues. The idea of having a child then losing him and having to raise a child alone absolutely terrifies me. (Yes, I know that contradicts the last point in the Pro column.)
- I don't know how I would deal with any of the other risks you take when having a child: losing a spouse, birth defects/disabilities, etc. I feel like if you can't accept a worst case scenario you shouldn't be doing it?


These are not insurmountable objections, but they would definitely give me pause. The other one, which you don't mention, is the wear and tear on a marriage that frequently occurs after children enter the picture. I blamed the fact of our existence for my parents' divorce--in retrospect, probably unfairly--but I still notice that Dr. Tully Monster and I are much closer and more affectionate with each other than most of our friends who have children are with their spouses (and they sometimes remark on it, with some envy and regret).

I decided when I was about 28 or 29 that I wouldn't have children; my husband was leaning that way as well. But when our friends and contemporaries started having them, that was around the time that the hormones kicked in, and I was extremely ambivalent during most of my thirties. I loved the idea of children; I love my nieces very much, too. But I also find that coming home to a reasonably orderly house and a quiet, peaceful life that enables me to do what I want when I want is actually surprisingly important to me. Maybe that's selfish of me, but I know there are other ways in which I can contribute for which people with children don't have a great deal of time.

I think when I got to 40, the hormones subsided. Sometimes I have extremely minor regrets, and I often feel isolated, because most people I know are too closely involved with their families (children and grandchildren) to open up their circle to include me. But I am mostly at peace with the decision now and am starting to think that much of the turmoil was chemically-induced.
posted by tully_monster at 4:24 PM on February 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


great relief -- yes, relief -- of having children is the pretty much wholesale dismantling of this kind of thinking

In my experience, I have found that people who really invested energy in labelling their lifestyle choices continued to do so, often with increased vigor, after they chose to become parents. "I'm an AP SAHM" and so on.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:33 PM on February 19, 2012


From the perspective of a woman who was seemingly born without the batteries in her biological clock (and is now incapable of having kids anyway) - I mean I never ONCE had the urge:

Once you have a kid, you HAVE that kid. As a poster above noted, you can't really "opt out" once the kid is born without severe repercussions. There are no "lemon laws" for kids. What if it turns out you don't really like parenting and do want your old lives back? What if you get a really difficult-to-raise or special needs child? Can you see yourself running hither and yon advocating for IEPs, speech therapy, etc.? If you do get a bright, docile and adorable child, can you envision beyond the baby/toddler/early childhood years to your child's adolescence? Adorable five-year-olds don't stay adorable and five forever, and even the nicest teenager is going to be a teenager and test limits and dye their hair blue and be grumpy and hormonal because that's the nature of the adolescent beast.

Will you be able to love an actual child and not just the idea of a child?
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 5:48 PM on February 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


Dude - don't ask us. This the most personal choice you can make. This is something you have to decided based upon what feels congruent to you (and your partner). If you ask us, this is what going to happen:

- The parenting evangelicals will tell you about how no one regrets having children, and how having your own is so much different, and how you will experience a joy that is beyond understanding!

- The childfree radicals will say that all of your desire is based upon social pressures, that you shouldn't cave, don't cave, you're independent!

- The happy parents will talk about how there are ups and downs, and maybe some things that they wished they'd done differently, but they can't imagine not having their kids!

- The happy childfree peeps will point out all they've managed to accomplish, sans kinder, and how they can't imagine living their lives differently!

- Those people who like to make women feel bad about themselves will talk about how your ovaries are in danger of shriveling up!

- People who think adoption should be more popular are going to tell you to not even worry about pregnancy, as you can adopt!

- The evolutionary psychologists are going to tell you that you are your hormones, and that they will dictate your behavior!

- Enlightenment-grounded humanists are going to tell you to reason to this decision rationally - you are more than a bundle of genes!

- Family-minded couples afraid of old age will wonder who will take care of you when you're elderly, if you don't have kids!

- Family-minded couples whose children died young, or whose children developed addictions and wandered into oblivion, or whose children were too busy, or whose children were too selfish, would point out that your eldercare is really up to you to plan/execute!

- The people who are bitter about life experience Y will tell you to do X instead (or to do Y, because misery loves company)!

- Tiny baby hoodie manufacturers are going to tell you to make at least one baby, but to be sure to buy enough tiny hoodies to keep it stylish and warm, as well as to accommodate its prodigious growth!

- ...you get the picture!

I am childfree. My partner is childfree. Occasionally, he ponders having babies intellectually when he sees a cute baby nephew in a cute baby hoodie or something. I think I got a hormonal stirring, like, once, and it totally scared me, and then it disappeared 15 minutes later. We both know people who never wanted kids, had one by accident, and loved them fiercely, and went on to have bundles more. We also have some friends who don't normally share this, but who will admit that even though they thought they wanted kids, they really regret that they did. They do not love having kids. And if they could go back, they wouldn't have them again. And yeah, this makes them feel like monsters, but they wish more than anything that they could have made a different choice. We talk about stirrings and how we're all just animals and how there is a strong drive, and we can understand them, but when we actually think about the day to day reality of parenting a child into adulthood, we just can't. We can't do that. I know I can't. Parenting is so important, and I don't want to do it. Ever. No matter whether the baby looks cute in that little dress, or when that toddler says something funny. I think of parenting and the only response I get is BZZZ, BZZZ, BZZZ, followed by an urge to flee.

Not having children is a huge decision that will impact your entire life.
Having children is a huge decision that will impact your entire life.

Either way, it's a huge decision, and only you can make it. That is what is so scary - no matter what we say, your friends say, your parents say, this is all on you. Only you can do this, and only you can determine what will make you most happy.
posted by vivid postcard at 5:55 PM on February 19, 2012 [16 favorites]


as is getting the chance to try to raise an intelligent, curious kid

Note, my parents got the chance to raise a Christian, low-key kid, but what they got was me. You might be ready to raise an awesone geeky kid, but that kid is an individual. Will you be ok with raising a jock who thinks linux is "the gay"? Don't base your descision to have a child on what you want that child to be like because you don't get to choose.
posted by fuq at 8:36 PM on February 19, 2012 [9 favorites]


I didn't want children until I married my AWESOME husband at the age of 38. I was married to someone else in my late 20's.

The quality of my marriage changed my mind after 38 years of knowing I didn't want children (back even when I was a child!) almost instantly.

What makes you think this is hormones talking and not what you naturally feel when you have an awesome excellent partner and marriage?

Food for thought. I can attest that emotional and financial stability can spark a desire to have children were previously there was no desire at all.
posted by jbenben at 9:35 PM on February 19, 2012


Do you know any older women and/or couples you respect who had children, or didn't have children, that you would feel comfortable talking to about all this? It might be a good thing to get the perspective of someone who's either done a full parenting tour of duty, or had a happy child-free existence.

I have been a mom a very short time, and the only useful things I have to say are:

- There is a psychological gulf the size of the Grand Canyon between thinking about the Hypothetical Child and having the Actual Child Who is an Actual Tiny Person Right Here With You. On the other side of the gulf will be a lot of good AND bad feelings you have no inkling of right now. Those feelings are often overwhelming (both good and bad) and consequently your ability to accept emotional upheaval is also something to consider.

- Worrying aside, you sound like a sensible woman who would be pretty happy as a parent, but also happy as not a parent but just a person with her own interests. And that probably makes you better mom material than someone who would NEED those kids to make her happy. Maybe.

Take the time to think. You have it.
posted by daisystomper at 10:35 PM on February 19, 2012


I would like to comment on the previous post that mentioned the following:

"It's also the case that your career is likely to have serious setbacks if you have a kid. Women who have kids are perceived broadly as "less committed" to their work, even if they're not -- and their salaries reflect that. Statistics say that it's likely you'll get fewer awesome projects, lots more thankless crap."

I would counter that by saying while your career may dwindle, your husband, being a father, would stand to benefit. Whether is a new fire inside that makes fathers work harder or the perception that they are supporting a family, I would guess they typically make more than non-fathers.

http://curt-rice.com/2011/12/14/the-fatherhood-bonus-have-a-child-and-advance-your-career/
posted by amazingstill at 12:25 PM on February 20, 2012


@amazingstill Well, sure. But if SHE is fulfilled by HER career, that's kind of a shitty consolation prize, don't you think?
posted by adrienneleigh at 5:23 PM on February 20, 2012 [7 favorites]


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