What does REALLY wanting kids feel like?
August 13, 2022 11:23 AM   Subscribe

I often hear the advice that people should only have children because they really, truly want them, not because our society says it's a necessary milestone in life. This seems very sensible to me, but got me wondering - what does really, truly wanting kids feel like? Is it one of those "if you have to ask, it's not for you" situations, or is there room for ambivalence? Particularly looking for perspectives from folks who are (or would be) the child-bearing partner in a family.
posted by btfreek to Grab Bag (37 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
For me there were kind of points where I really felt it. I'd gotten married with the understanding that we'd have kids someday but for a while I was dealing with some trauma and other stuff that made me wonder if I could be a good parent, and even after years of therapy and really talking that through with people I trusted including my therapist, I wasn't sure.

But then I started finding it on my mind more and more. I would say there was some ambivalence that decreased a bit but didn't go away. I'm someone who tends to shut down 'wanting' because it wasn't a safe thing growing up, so gauging stuff by wanting is not always a winning strategy for me.

Then we stopped using birth control and I really kind of sat (laid) with that decision, really considering the ramifications. And I felt...excited, nervous, joyful. But not that kind of earlier 'omg what if I'm pregnant right now?' of the odd failure point. And then I felt more secure about it.

Second was after my first miscarriage, I was so sad. And I did want. So from there it was pretty clear.

I am glad I had kids, unambiguously. :) But I think that's the easy point. Hope this helps.
posted by warriorqueen at 11:30 AM on August 13 [4 favorites]

For me it was a journey that took years. I went from being 90% sure I didn’t want them, to being on the fence for a long time, to realizing I did want them. In that last phase, I kept on listing in my head all the million reasons why having children was a terrible idea, and yet… I kept coming back to it. It was like I was trying to force myself to see that I should decide not to have them but it just wouldn’t take. And then once we were actively trying the nervous, excited anticipation I felt when I first took a test confirmed it for me.
posted by piranna at 11:43 AM on August 13

I (F) wanted children - as in babies and toddlers. My husband, not so much. For him, the meaningful feeling was the close relationship and enjoyment he had with his own parents as an adult, and wanting to have that with his own future adult children. (Once we actually had the children, however, he immediately fell totally in love with them and was an amazing and highly-engaged father to them as babies and toddlers. We both really miss that phase, now that it is gone...)
posted by sonofsnark at 11:46 AM on August 13

I set a guideline that if we were 85% sure we wanted a kid we should have one. I figured I would be unlikely to get to 100% sure because it’s a decision that really changes life, but for that same reason I wanted to be very sure.
posted by donut_princess at 11:55 AM on August 13 [1 favorite]

Before I met my husband, I was sure I didn’t want kids. Once we got together and got married, I realized I wanted kids, but only with him. I was confident he would be an equal partner in parenting, and he would be a wonderful, loving parent (I was right on both counts!).

Even once I realized I wanted to have a kid with my husband, I still grappled with not feeling ready, or like it was the right time. I worried about loss of sleep, loss of freedom, the impact on my body as the person who would be pregnant and give birth. Finally I had to realize that the timing would never be perfect and I would never feel totally ready to give up those comfortable things and experience a huge life change with many unknowns. So I just picked a date for us to start trying and then we did it.

All of the cliches are true - we sleep less, have less freedom to do things spontaneously, have less time for ourselves, pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum were physically taxing (but not as scary as I feared). And the other cliche, that it’s all worth it and I can’t imagine life without my amazing kid, well that’s also true.
posted by rodneyaug at 12:11 PM on August 13 [2 favorites]

I'm just not a person who is EVER 100% sure about anything. Accepting this about myself was huge in allowing myself to have a kid (and making other big decisions like grad school, buying a house, etc). I developed a list of conditions that I needed to have met before having a child, because I knew I wasn't someone who would have one no matter my circumstances, especially as the child-bearing person in my relationship. That list included some financial benchmarks, an egalitarian relationship, some adventures out of the way, and some serious trauma therapy for me.
We just had our first, and I have not regretted it for a moment. I also feel so grateful to myself that I made an intentional and informed choice when and how to do this, because it's intense and hard as much as it's wonderful.
posted by Otis the Lion at 12:25 PM on August 13 [2 favorites]

For me it was a hormonally driven, very real physical craving. I literally longed to be pregnant and hold my own newborn. I broke up a relationship of five years to date people who wanted kids and married my spouse 18 months later.

We ultimately were not able to have children and I aged out of the hormonal craziness and not having kids became at first a regret, then fine, then a relief and now that I have MS, and absolute blessing because I do not have the energy to parent.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:26 PM on August 13 [16 favorites]

For me, I have wanted to have kids since I was tiny. Almost for as many years as I've known I wanted to have cats.
From my early teens onward, that impulse would get stronger in the spring: I would feel desperate to have a tiny human to cuddle.
I remember being about sixteen and telling my mother that I wanted a dozen kids; she had an excellent response ("definitely take a nap".)

Interestingly, this impulse did not appear during the spring after my firstborn was born. It returned when he was about three years old, and (after sorting out the partner situation) I did end up having a second child. That completed my family, for me (which surprised me, because 2<1>
The feeling (for me) was basically like wanting-wanting-wanting something, where that something was to meet the people I'd bring into the world. Having met them, I proceeded to want to get to know them and watch them grow and develop, and I ended up finding them endlessly fascinating.

With that kind of wanting, having them was not even a question in my mind.

I'm delighted with both of them. They are both adults, now, and while being their mom has been a growing experience in the most challenging sense of that phrase, my life is infinitely richer for having them in it, in ways that I could never have predicted. They have regularly surprised me with joy, astonished me with watching them unfold and become their unique selves.
posted by Shunra at 12:32 PM on August 13 [2 favorites]

I can't agree with that.

There are some people out there that really, REALLY, wanted kids - and never ever should have had them, or been allowed near anyone else's.

It's possible to want kids for the wrong reasons. And it often expresses itself in that overwhelming, obsessive all-caps WANT.

On the flip side, there are people out there that never intended to have any whatever, and turned out to be utterly excellent parents.
posted by stormyteal at 12:50 PM on August 13 [20 favorites]

I regularly cried in the shower over not being financially stable enough to have kids. And I would have dreams about having a baby/being pregnant/being in labor, and wake up and just feel heartbroken that it wasn’t real. That started when I was in my early twenties, and continued until I had my kiddo (now one). I had times when I was at peace with “not yet” but I was never okay with the possibility of “not ever.”
posted by tan_coul at 12:52 PM on August 13

(Generational context: older GenX)

I think I first realized I wanted kids when I was about eight years old. I was an only child, but I loved being around babies and toddlers. Started babysitting in middle school and happily did it all through high school. At parties, I was (and still am) always the one who would end up in a corner playing with whatever child ended up getting dragged along because someone couldn't find a babysitter. My work in the nonprofit world has always been focused on education and kids. I just love them.

But beyond that, it was just assumed to be Something You Did in the world my husband and I grew up in (upwardly mobile suburban, met in college). You met your future spouse in college or occasionally kept your high school honey, got married 6 months to 2 years after graduation, got pregnant 2 to 4 years after that, but definitely before you were 30.

I had my first at almost-27 and my second at 33. Because we started young (but older than our silent-gen parents!), it didn't feel like we were giving up much - we were in the bullshit job phases of our careers. We hadn't gotten used to fancy vacations or dinners out or anything; we were always kind of frugal homebodies. I have generally loved being a mom, even during the long stretch of years I have no memory of beyond endless loads of laundry and grocery shopping and carpool pick-ups. I don't really feel like I sacrificed anything in having kids; my career kept chugging along and we were extremely lucky to have two sets of grandparents who helped out in lots of ways (including financially).

My daughter, on the other hand, first said around age 13 that she did not want to have children, and she is steadfast on that in her late 20s. I absolutely respect her decision and have never tried to convince her that she might change her mind or regret her decision someday. I think it's great that women/ child-bearing people have more options than my generation felt like we did, even though I chose the prescribed path.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 12:54 PM on August 13 [4 favorites]

No one should feel obligated to have a child. Parenting is very hard work, it really ties you down (you can't go anywhere unless you can find a babysitter), there is guilt over parental mistakes you think you may have made, there is worry about the child, etc. There is also some gamble related to whether the child will be born healthy.

With that said, there is room for ambivalence. I had never wanted children. My pregnancy was was a surprise. My best friend advised me to terminate. Boyfriend was all for having the baby. I chose to have the baby. I wasn't ready at all, and felt emotionally sick about it. As time went on during the pregnancy and I could feel the baby move and kick, my feelings began to change. Ultimately, being pregnant and giving birth was the highlight of my life, and I feel so lucky that I got to experience it. My child brought (and still brings as an adult) joy not only to me, but also to my parents, my siblings, and other family members. We all love my child so much, and it feels so good when he calls me Mom.
posted by SageTrail at 12:55 PM on August 13 [4 favorites]

I had my one and only daughter when I was 34. My husband and I married quite young and were decidedly against having kids. Then in our 30s, of course, our entire peer group (it felt like) started having kids and our niece was born. We started talking about it in the context of, "Would we regret it if we didn't have a child?" And that was the key for us. We both were feeling like we would regret it but it was for both of us a very cerebral decision. I was so worried that I would have difficulty getting pregnant (so many peers going through that!) and it did take a little bit for it to happen (but not too long). I remember talking about this fear (and all the other fears, we had a very frank discussion without holding back and I do recommend that) and my husband saying, "We could adopt!" I'm an adoptee and I was against that because you have to convince everyone in the whole world that you want a baby more than anything and that you'll be the world's most best and stable parents (my adoptive parents were not) and I was still very much on the 'if it happens, great, if it doesn't then that's fine' mode of thinking. I didn't think that would fly in the adoption interviews.

If I hadn't gotten pregnant, maybe I would have decided to go down the fertility route and/or the adoption path. Luckily, we did have a healthy pregnancy, and baby, and she's our one and done.

There's this narrative that you are called to parenting and mothering and being pregnant...I just think that is really not universal and frankly is mostly due to hormones. I think that my husband and I did find ourselves more open to it due to hormones as much as all the influences around us and also truly enjoying watching our friends become parents seemingly with zero hangups! (All perception, of course.) There is a strong biological drive toward furthering the species but that has nothing to do with whether one will be a present, good, capable parent. I think it's actually not a bad thing to be deliberate about it and choose it as a new life path. But, that's also because that is my experience and I'm happy with the parent both I and my partner have turned out to be and my kid is objectively amazing. :D
posted by amanda at 1:03 PM on August 13 [3 favorites]

For me, the feeling of wanting kids included making increasingly bad dating decisions with people who had some type of striking (but isolated lol) “good dad” quality - for instance, the kind of insane physical chemistry you get when you just know both your DNA strands are just jumping out of your skin to twine compatibly with someone else’s. Or I’d do mental parkour to overlook someone’s very weird emotional baggage because they were also very stable and a good provider. Or dating human tranquilizer darts who bored me to tears but who were mega stable and eager to have kids. I was just shopping for the “Dad qualities starter pack”.

Thankfully I snapped back into my rational mind and found someone who checked more than one box!

I found a nice partner who I liked, felt calm with, had good teamwork with, could envision parenting with, and who I trusted to commit to our kids for life even if things happened to not work out with us as a couple long term. (So far so good!)

We then made a point of babysitting kids of various ages together. We found we respected each others’ skills with kids and we really liked smiling at each other over the head of a cute kid!

I talked to pregnant people and asked them lots of questions (consensually!)

I followed pregnancy and birth accounts on instagram (badassmotherbirther is a standout) to know for sure that I knew what birth looked like and was ok with it.

I looked at lots of photos of people’s bodies after pregnancy and birth to understand what I might look like after having a kid. And I leaned about breastfeeding too. I made peace with possible worst cases scenarios of birth stuff.

I followed parenting, baby, and child development accounts - again instagram is great for this - to get ideas for my own parenting philosophy (I like a combination of RIE, respectful parenting, Montessori, etc etc).

I thought very deliberately about how I was parented and what patterns I wanted to continue and what generational curses (lol) I wanted to disrupt.

We set some financial and living space goals to try to ensure we’d be a stable nest for a kid.

So for me wanting a kid involved curiosity, fun research, goal setting, and creating a sort of mental vision board of what I was ready and willing to get into.

We now have two delightful exhausting hilarious energizing fascinating lovable perfect kids, age 4 and 1, and we both strongly feel that they’ve been the best things to ever happen to us. It’s even better than we hoped! We love it even more than we wanted it (and we wanted it a lot!)
posted by nouvelle-personne at 1:08 PM on August 13 [6 favorites]

I'll respond as a decidedly childfree woman. For most of my life, I never really cared one way or another about having children. For a little while, after I married my now-husband (who was open about not wanting children), I thought, "Well, I bet we would have a neat kid." It sounds like a weird way to think, but I would assume other people feel that way too - the combination of me and my partner seems like it could create an interesting and perhaps noteworthy child. I felt ambivalent, but like I could potentially be talked into it.

In the end, we decided not to try. But it truly could've gone either way for me given the circumstances, and I think that is a valid way for children to occur.
posted by wondermouse at 1:18 PM on August 13 [6 favorites]

For, I feel like the latter part of that statement is more true- people shouldn't have kids just because it's considered the normative life path. I am personally deeply mistrustful of the hormonal, "must have babies nowwww" type of want- which I experienced too & can be very powerful. Someone can feel 100% sure they want children due to the emotions associated with it, but still not be ready for/able to perform 18+ years of reasonably good parenting. I think ideally, people have a good understanding of what parenting actually entails, and are able to come to the conclusion that they want to do it despite the challenges associated with it. But they may only be say 70% sure, and that's okay as long as they are on the side of wanting to do it. Some of the best parents I know were quite worried and/or ambivalent about parenting, but were (and still are) committed to doing it and trying to do it well. I think that's what counts.

My perspective is as someone who did have her first child (who I love deeply) quite young, with the wrong person, based on that all consuming "baby fever" kind of want, and not a lot of practical knowledge about what parenting would entail over time. No regrets and I'd never change it because my daughter is amazing, but just to say that being 100% sure doesn't always come from an informed or self-aware place.
posted by DTMFA at 1:26 PM on August 13 [11 favorites]

I was desperately ambivalent about having kids. I considered abortion. I had my son anyway, childbirth was fantastic, and he was the very best thing that ever happened in my life. Being a parent was what sold me on being a parent.

I don’t think you always know or deeply want kids in advance, even if kids will turn out to be the best thing ever. Most of what women are told about having kids is propaganda designed to control and oppress them, not facts. Making a free choice to parent or not in the present ideological climate at least in the U.S. is not possible.
posted by shadygrove at 1:29 PM on August 13 [7 favorites]

I was undecided for many years, until I started to reach the age where I might lose the ability to choose. So I chose to have a kid then despite still not being really, truly sure. I know some people would say I shouldn't have had a kid because I wasn't completely sure, but ignoring judgey people is a necessary skill for parenting anyway. I knew I would try my best to give the kid a good life no matter what, and either choice has the possibility of regret. I don't regret my choice at all. Life is very hard now but very wonderful too. I don't think most people regret their choice to have or not have kids if they take the time to really think carefully about it first, even if that doesn't always get them to 100% sure.
posted by randomnity at 1:48 PM on August 13 [3 favorites]

My husband and I thought maybe we wanted to have kids but weren't sure. I always liked babies well enough but definitely never had that "baby fever" some of my friends had. We were enjoying our life together just fine and didn't feel like anything was missing, but we still did think about it. One day I was telling a friend (who already had 3 kids) that I just didn't have much interest in babies. She said, "You don't have babies because you like babies! That's like getting puppies because you like puppies. That stage doesn't last very long. You have babies because you want to eventually have a family that includes some really interesting, fun, warm, smart, kind, clever, creative, etc. people." And it was like a light bulb clicked on over my head. We ended up having 3 kids (the first when I was 34.5, after 8 years of marriage), now all in their 20s. I wasn't terribly enamored of the whole babyhood/toddlerhood phase, but my friend was right—it flies by, and now we have these amazingly wonderful people we love being around.
posted by wisekaren at 1:54 PM on August 13 [11 favorites]

I have heard people say they felt a physical urge to bear children, the way one feels a physical urge to fall asleep or have sex or go running. not, presumably, a similar sensation to any of those, but a similar experience in the way that you know very well what it is you want even if you haven't done it yet. the body tells you. different from enjoying the company of or the responsibility for children who already exist, although that is also, presumably, a sign.

there are also people who hear a baby shrieking and feel an urge (again physical) to go & comfort it, instead of an urge to go as far away as possible. so they say. this is without the baby being their own.

there are also people who say such instincts kicked in for them after they got pregnant and/or bore children, but not before. trusting that this will happen to you, even if you can't imagine it, is an act of wild faith that might qualify as "really wanting kids." even though acting on faith that you will feel something before you have ever felt it is exactly what other people tend to disapprove of as a wrong reason.

I personally think that looking for reasons to want something is close enough to wanting it as to make not much difference. same goes for looking for reasons not to want something. although I also don't think that just wanting something of this magnitude and consequence is, by itself, sufficient reason to do it.
posted by queenofbithynia at 1:57 PM on August 13 [3 favorites]

I'll add one more thing, amid all the "wanting to have kids" stuff, I REALLY did not take gendered labour imbalance into full account. I should have placed more importance on how much labour my partner was actually demonstrating in our dating and cohabitation stages, and what his standards and habits were in the domestic realm, because our standards are simply not compatible, which means I live in a low-grade aesthetic disaster mess unless I put in the labour myself to make it nice, day after day after fucking day.

Luckily because I chose an agreeable person who actually likes me as a person, we've come to a system that works reasonably well on many days, but on balance it is definitely not ever actually equal and certainly I am not the one who "wins". I'd say he generally does 25-45% of the labour, and on the days that fall into the less-equitable end of that spectrum, I am at best rolling my eyes, and at worst spitting fire with fury.

In the past I've also dated women who were more domestic and aesthetic than me, so I have also had the sublime pleasure of living within a labour split that went in MY favour, and let me tell you, the difference is night and day. That's a serious thing to consider.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 2:15 PM on August 13 [9 favorites]

To me "wanting kids" has a higher bar than wanting things that involve less risk. Basically I think people should only do it if they have trouble imagining being happy without children.
posted by metasarah at 2:29 PM on August 13 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for taking the time to share their perspectives! Just to clarify, I’m not really looking for advice on how to decide whether or not to have kids; I am also aware that wanting children is perhaps necessary but certainly not sufficient to be a good parent. I am just curious about how different people go about arriving at such a big decision, especially people who felt absolutely certain they did want to be a parent from the start (something completely alien to me, as someone who is ambivalent about nearly 100% of things all the time)
posted by btfreek at 2:43 PM on August 13 [1 favorite]

I would argue that a desire to have kids emotionally is not the right litmus test. Logic is a much better way to decide if you are well suited to raising children.
posted by mortaddams at 6:06 PM on August 13 [1 favorite]

Not the childbearing parent here, but for us it was a progression. In the early days of our relationship there was a moment of "there's a chance I'm pregnant" and I realized that if that was happening I was okay with it. There would have been some panic perhaps (we were youngish and not planning on kids) but we would have gotten through it.

Years later, the relationship was fairly stable and the financial situation was okay, and it just started feeling like the next step. Interacting with one of the neighborhood's little kids, my then girlfriend got enamored with the idea, and it felt right to both of us, so we got married and started trying for kids. It felt like there should be something more than our lives, and the something more felt like it should be children.

It was a rough road, with fertility troubles which we eventually overcame, and then the financial situation fell completely apart for a while, and then our second kid ended up being chronically ill, the marriage fell apart, etc.

I don't regret having kids though. It's the most rewarding, frustrating, wonderful, heartbreaking, amazing thing ever.

Just if you do it, you need to be all in. It will probably change your life in unimaginable ways. It's a different sort of love than romantic love. You give your heart to your kids uncontrollably, unconditionally, and permanently. Before our second I wondered if I'd be able to fall in love for them like I did the first. It was almost unimaginable, but I did.

If you're going to do it, do it with total commitment. It'll change every aspect of your life. Your relationship with your partner, your sleep, what you care about (in some ways), what you eat, where you go, what you like to do, your priorities. At the same time, seeing those smiles for you and how important you are to them is amazingly awarding. That first smile, all the times they come running to you when you come home, so excited to see you and tell you everything about everything...

On the other hand, the job of being a parent is incredibly demanding when they're young. I've known some people that entered into parenthood accidentally or casually. Even though I was very dedicated, there were times where I wondered why I thought parenthood would be a good idea (probably after 6 months of sleep deprivation). I can't imagine how much harder it would be if I had the role imposed on me involuntarily.

I'm not sure how much this answers your question but I hope it helps.

Anyways, best of luck to you with whatever path you choose.
posted by DrumsIntheDeep at 7:00 PM on August 13

I always felt sure that I wanted kids. (And I did have them, and I haven't regretted it yet. They're teenagers now.) Try this: Take a couple of minutes to picture the kid you might have someday and your life with that kid. What kinds of images come to mind? Are they pleasing ones - walking hand in hand with a cute little kid who's saying something funny and interesting, snuggling on the couch and reading your favorite childhood books aloud, going camping and hiking, celebrating Christmas and birthdays, picking berries, teaching your kid about things you love? Is it fun or intriguing to think about what the kid's name might be, or to imagine what they might look like or what kind of personality they might have? For me before I had kids, the answer to those questions would always have been yes. That's what it feels like to want kids, or at least that's what it was like for me. It's hard for me to imagine anyone picturing life with an imaginary future kid and not picturing a lot of good things that they would then end up wishing they could have in real life. But I am very much an optimist by nature. Maybe people who aren't find it easier to imagine the bad aspects of having a kid.
posted by Redstart at 7:59 PM on August 13 [2 favorites]

Delete or disregard if too much of a detail, but I’m another childfree-by-choice uterus-owner here, and I can tell you that I have known since I was a smol child that I absolutely positively please dear god don’t let it happen to me do not want to be a parent. That feeling has never waned. I like kids; I'm good with kids. I do not want to be a parent. Have never had a “maternal” bone in my body. Two serious exes (one an ex-husband) wanted kids and I gave them lip service that I’d consider adoption because both of them said they’d be stay-at-home dads, but I shouldn’t have done that because I was lying to them. Caveat: I had told both of them when we started to get serious that I didn’t want kids (they determined in their respective heads that I would change my mind as I got older 🙄). Obviously, I split with both of them, for several reasons, but the kid thing was non-negotiable for all parties involved.
My long-time current friendperson has two now-grown kids. He is, by all accounts, a wonderful dad. His kids and their SOs adore him, and he dotes on all of them. There was a flash at some point a long time ago of well, I don’t think an accident would be horrible with this guy, but I think it lasted like maybe a month, and that’s the thing: I still felt like it would be an accident, and I still considered termination of this hypothetical pregnancy. He’d worried that I would want kids and that would drive us apart; I explained to him ages ago that not only did I not want to be a parent, I was having trouble finding guys who were not or didn’t want to be on the DaddyTrain. Now I’m finally getting a bisalp and I Do Not Have To Worry About The Thing Potentially Happening, and all I feel is relief and happiness.
posted by sara is disenchanted at 8:22 PM on August 13

I always wanted to have children, to be a parent. I have five now who as adults and children still live with me, and I would if I had the energy and life circumstances have happily had another five. I am extremely enjoying being an involved grandmother and am hopeful of ending up with a bunch more.

I come from a large and traumatised sibling group and we all ended up with very different child/child-free situations. I can't speak for them or my ex, but my lived experience is that there are two stages to parenting; their childhood which is labour intensive, highly emotional and gives you most of the power/control, and their adulthood which is a re-negotiation to be friends and family and relies on shared respect and experiences.

A lot of people - and this can be especially stark in adoption circles - want the childhood where they are the creator and designer of this little human who is deeply loving and eager to please, but are not thinking of the much longer adulthood where this person has their own opinions and decisions and identity. If you don't look forward to that adult to a whole lifetime with this imagined person and you are overly focused on the baby/child experience, things can get horrible.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 8:34 PM on August 13 [6 favorites]

I for sure 100% did not want kids. But it turns out that actually it wasn't kids I didn't want, it was being around other parents and the anxiety-driven, wacko expectations people have for parents and they have for themselves. Once I was able to disconnect the two, I was 100% on-board with kids (and I found a few parents that I aligned with, including my rockstar husband). So if you feel ambivalence, maybe just try to target what the ambivalence is about - is it kids themselves or *arm waving* all that other stuff.
posted by Toddles at 9:40 PM on August 13 [4 favorites]

I have felt the bodily cravings to have a baby. It was very weird because I have always known that I don't want to have children. Baby cravings did absolutely nothing to change that. Never trust baby fever, not on its own.
posted by Comet Bug at 11:52 PM on August 13 [3 favorites]

I did not end up having kids. I never felt the "want" some people feel, dislike being around babies and toddlers, and am not particularly good at living with people in general, so I don't think I'd have made a good parent. (I'm the oldest of 4 siblings, so I know what living in a house full of kids is like, and I really hated it at the time)

In my 30s as a single person, I was aware there was a decision to be made. But I felt strongly that that decision couldn't be made in isolation. I remember thinking:

-- Default: I never meet anyone and I don't have kids
-- Possibility: I meet someone and form a relationship, and we decide not to have kids
-- Possibility: I form a relationship with someone who REALLY wants kids, and we have kids???

Looking back, I think I made the right choice, though there will always be a part of me that wonders "what if". I'm at the age where, if I'd had kids in my 20s, they'd be in their 20s; sometimes I wonder who those people would have been.

But there are "what ifs" about many decisions in life, and I'm okay with that. When the pandemic hit, I was grateful for my solitude; I couldn't have endured lockdown with another person.
posted by Pallas Athena at 4:40 AM on August 14 [2 favorites]

I developed secondary infertility after my son was born, and I’m now in menopause so it’s too late for a second. For me it translated into trying every fertility treatment we could afford (and still having regret that we had to wait a few probably crucial years before we had an insurance plan covered IVF, and even then we only were allowed 4 tries). It meant seeing my friends having second and third and sometimes even fourth children and being increasingly unable to be happy for them. It meant feeling painfully jealous of pregnant strangers I’d see on the street. I saved so many of my son’s clothes to use again, long after it was likely I’d ever need them, and could just barely donate the box holding my favorite maternity outfits when it was clear I was in perimenopause and it just wasn’t happening.

It meant looking up every website about fostering and adoption and realizing that it wasn’t something that would work for our family situation, and still arguing with myself about ways to somehow make it work.

Also, and this is the hardest part to admit, I really wanted a daughter, which of course would not have been under my control in any way. Someone to name after my grandmother, and who might resemble me a little (in looks or in attitude or in interests)… I want that imagined daughter so much that sometimes when I see women with baby girls it still hurts. So much so that I’m less close with a couple of my friends who had daughters who were born at the time that my child(ten) would have been born if my IVFs had succeeded. I don’t want to be. I just needed space at the time and I never was able to overcome it completely.

But the thing is, I don’t want their daughters. If I could push a button right now and have a baby boy I’d be thrilled. I’m certain this isn’t about having a daughter (AFAB or not). It’s just the place I’m putting all my feelings about not ever having another baby, period, because otherwise the enormity of it would be too much.

So for me, right now, truly wanting a child means there is an active, breathing gap in my life where I think another kid should go. My son should have a brother or sister to fight or play with and measure himself against. We should have another kid who is similar to or different from the first so we can be reminded that every kid is their own person and not put so much pressure on our son to hold the (unintended) weight of our dreams or expectations. He should have another sibling to share the burden of dealing with us as imperfect parents as we all age, and to grieve with when we’re gone if we actually do our job right. We feel the loss of that - or those - kids all. The. Time.

And having said that, I think it is 100% normal to be ambivalent about having kids, even if you want them. Having kids is an enormous responsibility. Especially in our society, on mothers. I think you could argue that some ambivalence is usually a healthy sign of maturity, not lack of desire.

When people say you should really want kids, I think what they mean is that having kids is a full-time, take-no-prisoners, often thankless job. And if you don’t go into parenthood wanting to have them, you’ll never make it through the bad times.

I wouldn’t wish what I consider really wanting kids on anyone.
posted by my left sock at 9:32 AM on August 14 [5 favorites]

I will also say that wanting ("REALLY wanting") to be a parent while saying an absolute No to being a mother (in terms of the subordinated social role) is not a feeling that women, specifically, are encouraged to explore or to embrace. not that we need to be encouraged in order to discover what we want, as if we were small children ourselves; we do not. but the identical combination of desires is often treated in men as if it means they want children, and in women as if it means they do not want, and should not be trusted to have, children.

you specified child-bearing people with partners, not women. but for anyone who happens to be both, as so many people are, this is an issue. and for such people, listening to their own innermost desires on this point is not encouraged no matter what society thinks it says.

as someone else sort of alluded to above, it is not uncommon for intentionally unchilded women to say Sure I'll have kids, as long as someone else does the gestation and you do all the unpleasant physical labor of the first ten years. when do we start? -- because they know that the person they are speaking to will never, not in ten million years, follow through. it's calling a bluff. but the really unfortunate position to be in is of a woman who says that and means it and really wants to do it. Such people exist, they absolutely count as really wanting children, and once in every great while someone takes them up on it. and they should feel great about it.

(what a childbearing person ought to do in such a case, to be happy, is be as cold-blooded & brutally utilitarian in their partner selection as child-desiring heterosexual men have always tended to be. this is something that must be considered well before the fact, though.)
posted by queenofbithynia at 9:39 AM on August 14 [6 favorites]

I wanted kids so much that when it was clear that I wanted out of my disastrous first marriage, I was thrilled to find out I was pregnant with our second child before I could leave. (I wanted more than one kid, and my ex repeatedly told me that I was ugly and no one would want me, so I got pregnant so I could at least have a second child)

Was it difficult? I guess yes, but my ex was a lousy dad and I was doing everything on my own anyway, so leaving when the second one was a year old was actually a relief. I'm sure I made mistakes, since no one has a real manual and we are all just winging it. But the joy and fun of my kids has never waned.

They are grown now, and they are the most fun, considerate, intelligent young men I could have ever wished for. I am completely enjoying them as adults as much as I enjoyed them as toddlers.

Being a parent was just something I knew I would do. I didn't really even question it.
posted by annieb at 6:08 PM on August 15 [2 favorites]

I had intense baby fever in my mid-late 20's when my boyfriend/fiance/husband and I were not yet in a good financial place to have them. I vividly remember seeing photos that his friends had posted on Facebook of their baby and ugly-crying with envy and longing. I had spent my whole life adoring babies and kids and I just knew I wanted to be a mom. I kept ranked lists of potential baby names and imagined what our future kids would look like and be like.

Then an odd thing happened. I finally came into myself as a whole human being, started discovering new interests and passions that made me feel alive. My career started to take off. I no longer felt like something was missing, I no longer had a hole that needed filling. And yet by then we were married and it was my husband's turn to have baby fever.

I think if he was someone different, I might well have two kids by now. But all the talk about trying for a baby revealed some grave doubts in my mind about the kind of father and co-parent he would be. I realized that having a baby with him would be my nightmare, the reality of it absolutely terrified me. We ended up divorcing, and in hindsight it was the greatest blessing in disguise.

Post-divorce, I realized how much of me had been stifled in that relationship. I finally began living according to my own compass and finding out who I really am. I remarried and we had many months of debate about whether or not to have kids. He was on the fence, and I was still in the "now that we're married, we are supposed to have kids" mindset. We pondered just one and done, or none. One day I looked around, and realized that I no longer have an ounce of envy for my friends with kids. While I adore their kids, I no longer feel the want to have my own. Husband and I are happy with our life the way it is, and we have a lot of concerns about the kind of world our children would grow up to inherit. And so we decided on none.
posted by keep it under cover at 12:04 AM on August 16 [1 favorite]

Hit enter too fast - all of the above is to say that in my own experience, the feeling of wanting to have kids can come and go. Even though I had that feeling for literally decades, never waning, the feeling very quickly left me when I discovered a life with more options. Who knows, maybe in 25 more years, suddenly at the ripe age of 65 I will have intense longing to be a mother again and be absolutely devastated by regret. But as someone who agonizes over every decision big and small, I am surprisingly very content with my decision.
posted by keep it under cover at 12:12 AM on August 16

Gen X here. I love babies and kids, always have. As a young/teen person I was nearly always in charge of a band of younger cousins or neighborhood kids. I never questioned that I wanted kids, and likely lots of them. And then I hit my 20 and 30s and found myself utterly unwilling to do the things that other women my age did to ensure that they had kids. It baffled me that women were willing to beg their friends for hookups, stay with shitty dudes, etc, because "at least" they'll get a baby out of it. It was then that the nagging thought that I didn't want kids enough to want them at any cost entered my head, which lead to the belief that maybe I didn't want kids at all. Give me other people's kids all day. I'm a stellar aunt, random adult friend, what have you. But I've never been sorry that my college/20s era dudes didn't yield fruit. And now I'm married to a lady, so there's that. As much as I love her, I don't have a need of any type to have kids with her.
posted by donnagirl at 6:07 PM on August 16 [1 favorite]

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