Calm my baby brain
April 15, 2021 9:46 AM   Subscribe

My partner recently dropped a metaphorical bomb on me. Early in our relationship, Partner and I discussed, and seemed to agree on, the Big Things – e.g., marriage (yes), kids (no). However, about a month ago, Partner let me know that their feelings towards having kids has changed and they feel they would deeply regret never being a parent. I've been planning for a childfree life since I was young.

If we were to have a biological child together, I would be the person carrying/birthing said child. I theoretically have about ~5 years before a big decline in fertility. Though I do plan on getting a fertility assessment done with my OBGYN soon, so I have a better idea of timelines.

I’ve told my partner I’m not ready to make a decision yet - I’m not where I would want to be financially/career-wise and I’m still working through childhood trauma in therapy that could be colouring my view of parenting. If I decided I did want kids, Partner would be a dynamite parent-partner to raise them with. Partner said this is all fine, and they’re very happy to keep living their life with me over the next few years while I decide. During this time, they have also committed to giving more thought to living childfree. In the end though, if we still disagree in a few years time, we will split up. Before the baby bomb though, we had talked about getting married and growing old together.

It hasn’t been that long since Partner brought it up, but I feel so consumed and burdened by this. I think about it every. single. day. and I would much rather it not take up such valuable mental real estate. I’m scheduled to see my therapist, but given how busy they are, I won’t be seeing them for a while yet. I'm usually a pretty decisive person, so sitting with this indecision/uncertainty is quite uncomfortable. In my anxious state, I've talked to friends, family, Partner, and I've done *lots* of reading on both sides of the aisle, but maybe that is just making it worse.

So, this is *not* a “Should I have a kid?” question; this is a “How do I stop obsessing over this decision and just live my life for a while?” question.
posted by Robocat to Human Relations (12 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
One method I've used for this kind of thing is to have a small notebook and take 5 minutes (literally, timed) a day to write down my thoughts on that topic for the day. I have sometimes repeated that with a second 5 minutes later in the day if it is a particularly bad day.

Usually that's worked to kind of 'park' the issue.

I would not read more about it now either (as much as possible, anyway). Maybe set a date when you'll consider reading about it again, like June 1.
posted by warriorqueen at 9:57 AM on April 15 [17 favorites]

The obsessive thoughts about it aren't that unsurprising given where you say you are in your fertility. I and my partner also planned to be childfree and were together for nearly 15 years before we had our one (and only) kid. I had trauma from childhood, also, that definitely colored my worldview as well as some strong rejection of the cultural push around marriage and the role of women as primary caregivers. We had been having talks about whether we would or would not regret having children right around the time that the figure of my childhood trauma died. That freed me up to consider parenting and raising a child in a world free of that person and it helped a lot! This is obviously not a solution for everyone. Which is why it's so great that you have a therapist you are working with. I'm finally working with a therapist and just starting to scratch the surface of some of those issues that are still traumatizing me. In our session this week, I expressed how I'm reluctant to open this can of worms because I don't have the space and time to be distracted by it (pandemic parenting, full-time working, spousing, blah, blah, blah) and she suggested that I mentally hand her the can of worms to hold on to until our next session. Maybe this is a visualization that works for you?

I will confess, that once my partner and I, after so long planning to have no children, decided to just go for it (and it was not in a perfect moment for career or anything else) that I became pretty obsessive. It's like, I just allowed that fertility clock to just take roost and allowed the wave of existing hormones to take center stage. I told my partner at one point, when we had a few misses, that I thought about it multiple times a day and he was all, "Really? Wow. I hardly think about it other than abstractly and, you know, in the moment." I may have smacked his arm pretty hard. Hormones are real.
posted by amanda at 10:00 AM on April 15 [3 favorites]

Also, just sending you good vibes. It's a major world shift and a huge identity shift. I struggled with it for awhile before I sat down with my husband and said, "Let's talk about all our fears and worries." One of those was the balance between he and I with parenting and household duties. Another was a huge change in my identity. Some of those things have had to be continually worked through. But, it was a very good conversation which laid the groundwork for what was, for us, a really positive start to parenting. There were things I was fearful of that he had not considered at all and he had some fears of his own which had not even occurred to me. Part of the result of this was him taking a real active part in educating himself on babycare. I focused on the birth stuff. And when I had a c-section he was ready and eager to use his booklearned baby skills and did great. He taught me how to diaper and swaddle. So great.
posted by amanda at 10:06 AM on April 15

My best friend and I have a term for this kind of obsessive worry behavior based on one time when a noodle was thought to be a worm and much worrying (and reading and doctor's visits to look at the 'worm') ensued. We call it "poop noodling". So when either of us gets into a worry spiral we can just remind each other not to keep poop noodling. It works very well.

Maybe when you feel yourself worrying at the issue, you can just tell yourself kindly but firmly to stop "braining the baby".
posted by RobinofFrocksley at 10:12 AM on April 15 [9 favorites]

This exact scenario happened in my (spoiler alert) previous marriage. What got me to stop obsessing was to realize that I had a viable plan because my love was strong enough to a) bear a child with my then-husband, b) see if everything promised about having a child was true (e.g., it’s different when it’s your own child, you’ll have nine months to acclimate to the idea, you’ll love your baby on sight, etc.), and c) give it two years to work out. Then either everything would be ok (probable outcome) or I’d give him full custody, provide child support and renegotiate my involvement in the child’s life; partner had been raised by a single father so that idea had history.

Anyway, I’m not saying this was a good plan or fair to the child, just that it enabled me to go forward. In the end, partner couldn’t accept the idea and I couldn’t face having a child without an exit strategy. We split up over it and, while it was hard we are both happier now: me child free with a great career, adventures and marriage and he with two kids and a stay-at-home wife.
posted by carmicha at 10:36 AM on April 15 [15 favorites]

There's this concept in acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) by which we learn skills to sort of change our frame of approach to obsessive/difficult thoughts. You'll often hear it paraphrased as "dropping the rope," as in recognizing that the mental preoccupation and struggle you describe is akin to an unwinnable, perpetual tug-of-war that's built into our brains. You can stop engaging with that tug of war (drop the rope) by acknowledging those thoughts aren't going anywhere but they're nevertheless interfering with your ability to live your life. There are some great books/audiobooks/workbooks on this if you're interested. You can also find a bunch of relevant content about this on YouTube or in podcast form by searching for content from Dr. Steven C. Hayes.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 12:20 PM on April 15 [6 favorites]

I am not sure if Partner is set on it being your/their biological child, but one thing that would ease my mind is to put it on them to actually research money, etc if you end up wanting or needing to adopt or use a surrogate. This would ease my mind somewhat between cycling through "can I consider becoming a parent" and "can I also consider whether I wish to personally give birth."

Another possible thing is to ask them to actually research accounting for what the money looks like if they stay home or if you get child care - assuming that you will likely be reticent about leaving work.

Just some thoughts. It would put me more at ease to feel like my partner had some tasks to actually report back on, so that I could shelve those "what ifs" for now, and just focus on: could I do this if the money etc. was right?
posted by nakedmolerats at 12:59 PM on April 15 [2 favorites]

I just want to encourage you to be gentle with yourself about being "indecisive," because I don't think that's a great description of what's going on with you. It sounds like you were happily decided, and now you are reconsidering something very big at the request of your partner, and the consequences of this decision are profound: in one scenario, you are with your partner, whom you love, and you have a child; and in the other scenario, you reaffirm your wishes not to be a parent and your relationship ends. This is a big deal, and of course it is causing you some stress! It sounds like this has come out of left field. And it must be really hard, to feel like the future of your relationship is on your shoulders. And the timeline -- a few years -- is amorphous.

I suspect what might be going on is that you are doing some grieving for what you thought was your future, married to your partner and without kids. Even if you find another path that feels good, you are making some gigantic adjustments, not just about your life now, but about how you pictured your life in the future. Sometimes the hardest thing for me with change isn't just that things change in the now, but what I imagined for my future changes too.

You asked “How do I stop obsessing over this decision and just live my life for a while?” Journaling is a great idea. Let those ideas out, and don't censor yourself. Also, maybe some mindfulness? Instead of being stuck in this spot and then being frustrated that you are stuck in this spot, perhaps go, "Oh, I observe that I am thinking about this question again and experiencing some sadness and frustration." So try not to judge yourself for thinking about this because it's a very big deal.

I just want to affirm again that this is a very big thing thrown at you, and it maybe feels like the entire weight of deciding the future of your relationship is on your shoulders, and that's a LOT, and it's okay to be overwhelmed by it all. That doesn't mean your partner did anything bad or wrong, or you are handling this poorly. It's just a lot.
posted by bluedaisy at 2:26 PM on April 15 [19 favorites]

This is big. I’m sorry for the stress it’s causing you. It may seem tangential, but if you don’t already have an IUD, getting one might help remove any part of that worry that could be coming from the possibility of getting pregnant. When I was with a partner who didn’t seem to want kids, I was on the pill, and felt confident that an abortion would be fine for us: when I was with a partner who wanted kids YESTERDAY, I got much more anxious about the possibility of getting pregnant, and an IUD helped take away any background nervousness.
posted by rrrrrrrrrt at 9:00 PM on April 15 [2 favorites]

YOU may not want him to stay with you for a few years and then leave. I know if my partner said he was leaving in, say, 2024, the relationship would not outlast 2021. I would start to disengage almost immediately. That particular piece of his "ideal plan" may not be ideal for you, might be one source of friction you're worrying at.
posted by Lady Li at 10:32 PM on April 15 [2 favorites] big deal, we can break up in a few years if you're still not into it, is a huge change in relationship stakes. I think this is what's possibly throwing you underneath it all.
posted by tiny frying pan at 6:34 AM on April 17 [1 favorite]

I don't think I could just "live my life" and relax and chill for a few years with that anvil hanging over my head. "If I don't have a baby, this relationship ends, how do I get myself to wanting a baby or getting my SO to stop wanting one?" is lifechanging and traumatic. I wouldn't be able to think of literally anything else until that's decided one way or the other. Like Lady Li, that would be the sign for me to start disengaging and no longer building a life with this person, because that is a headfuck to know that you might very well break up in 3 years. Do you keep signing leases? How do you split up your joint home? blah de blah.

Frankly, I would not be able to stop obsessing either. That would be a level of ignoring new reality that would be hard to maintain. I think figuring out what you are going to do and thus ending the ambiguity should be your priority, because hell, you're already there mentally anyway. Bottom line, do you want this person badly enough to end up being primary parent (I hate to say it, but you sound like the one who has to birth the baby, so the work will mostly be on you...which is why I think it's so much harder for whoever has to birth the kid to cave in on this topic rather than whoever doesn't) to a child you never wanted, or is it so important to you that you stay childfree that you lose this person so they can find someone else to have kids with? Uck, but there it is. I don't know if your reasons for being childfree are "solvable" or not either.

I'm really sorry this happened to you. It'd be a nightmare for me if I was with someone and they changed their mind on this topic. I wish you all the best in having to deal with this.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:04 AM on April 19

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