The entire time I was growing up, into my twenties and thirties, I had a tacit understanding with myself: I would have kids. The question, if asked, would not be if it would happen, but how many. Having grown up the middle of five makes certain things clear, and one of them was the inevitability of a family with progeny.
The hilarious thing is that I was as far away from having kids as a dude could get. Even as I turned 32, I was still besot by fear, depression, and widespread emotional immaturity that allowed me to sabotage every relationship I attempted, let alone one that would lead to having kids. By the time I had ended my suicide sojourn in the sun-forsaken folds of Beachwood Canyon, I had stopped even thinking about the possibilities of being a real member of society. And yet, deep in the recesses of my DNA, even then I couldn’t imagine a life without having children. My presumption knows no bounds, apparently.
I did the math in 2000: I knew I was pretty fucked up, and it would take at least 18 months to right my ship enough to be deserving of any kind of girlfriend. This “girlfriend” and I would have to date for two years before contemplating marriage, and I couldn’t see us being comfortable enough with the idea of children until we had been married for about two years.
So there I sat as a 32-year-old, telling myself the earliest I’d ever have a kid was around my 37th birthday. I was off by only six weeks.
Here’s the kicker: despite my so-called instinctual surety about having a child, I was pretty freaked out by the reality of it. While we were on our honeymoon, Tessa mentioned the possibility of us going off birth control. My stomach tightened, and I said, “Um, okay, but that means we can get pregnant tonight, you know.” I sensed her stomach tighten as well, and she said “Oh. Oh yeah. Maybe we should hold off for a bit.”
In 2004, we had begun our weird Hollywood adventure, getting a deal with the same company that was premiering “Lost”. Tessa and I decided we would see how far the deal went, and wait nine months before trying to have a kid. We got pregnant about five minutes later.
Nothing like “having no choice” to focus the mind, and from the instant of our pregnancy test, we had no regrets, and were off to the races. Since we have some folks out there who have been freaked out by the comments regarding having children and what it might do to your personal identity – or your relationship – I’ll just tell you a few things I learned.
• Nothing worth doing in life comes without a huge dose of ambivalence. When I finally told myself it was okay to be scared of having a kid, and that I was frightened that I’d never sleep again, and that it was normal to feel like I was losing my sense of self, a huge burden lifted from my shoulders. It’s okay that you’re not totally psyched “like you should be”. Nobody is grading you.
Everything huge in life – like getting married or starting a new career or having kids – will be accompanied by some amount of fear and sadness, AND THAT IS TOTALLY COOL. What is NOT cool is lying to yourself.
• Lean heavily on others. Show me a woman who tries to be a hero for the first three months of her child’s infancy, and I’ll show you someone who drives her car into the ocean in a fit of postpartum despondency. Even if you’re in a hospital, get a midwife; once you’re home, use a doula. Breast milk is fantastic, but don’t forget a bottle so others can relieve you of your duties.
About six weeks into the Lucy show, Tessa had been going nonstop, and she finally turned to me and said “I’m not saying I’m having postpartum depression, but I can definitely see the offramp to postpartum ahead.” I ordered her to go to yoga in a different town, and I took Lucy – even though Lucy wouldn’t take milk from a bottle. Better for the Lulubeans to scream it out than to have Tessa actually go batshit bonkers. From that point on, I understood I’d have to be more proactive, and I wish I’d known it sooner.
This next piece of advice may be controversial, but if you have the money for good child care, a good babysitter, a good nanny… use it. I’m not afraid to announce how much help we’ve had; Laura, our babysitter/nanny, showed us a world where we could still work, still write, still travel, still have some alone time, and still dive for hours and weeks and months and years into the magical mystery tour of our daughter.
I realize that isn’t possible for everybody. But it is a night-and-day game changer if you can pull it off.
• The libido does return. Eventually. Read the comments to get a sense of when it might happen, but for almost everybody, it really does happen. In some cases, better than before. For us, it took about 6 or 7 months, when Lucy started eating solids. I know many people who got it back when they stopped breastfeeding. I read somewheres about making sure you have normal sex for a while again, good old-fashion fuckin’ for fuckin’s sake, before contemplating the next child, should you choose to go that route.
But again, ambivalence is not your enemy here. It’s okay that things are a little different. It’s okay that things are worse. This too shall pass.
• Statistics are crap. I’m well aware of the studies that show that couples with kids are slightly less happy than those without. I mean, first off, I don’t know anybody who isn’t happier having raised a child, no matter the circumstances. Do you know anybody who wouldn’t do it, if given the chance to do it over?
Secondly, those studies give you a false assumption: you read them and think “Couples that have kids are less happy because of the kids”, when really it’s more like “Couples that have kids are less happy because they keep fighting over kid-related issues.” Or maybe I should just get straight to the point… most couples who have kids are unhappy because the mother is pissed off at the father most of the time.
I’d be overjoyed to be proven wrong, but it seems like we’re at this odd juncture in the sexual revolution: women have been told they should expect an even split in parenting duties, but guys are not holding up their end of the bargain. Sure, dudes are changing diapers (something my own dad – and probably yours – has never done) but on average, even women in “progressive” relationships are still doing more cleaning, more laundry, and yes, WAY more childcare than men.
I believe this is pissing women off, and while they love their child, they’re sick of having two of them. I realize this may not the experience many of you on the blog have had, but you’re a skewed example.
• Men are from Mars, women are from Venus, people with kids are from Uranus. Let’s face it: before you have kids, people with kids are goddamn horrifying. Their cars smell like barf, there’s cheddar goldfish crackers shoved into every seat, their house is littered with random doll arms, the DVD player has Barbie and the Three Musketeers in it, and if you have to listen to them talk about the new Bugaboo cup holders, you’re going to kill yourself.
Worse yet are the breeders who just keep on having kids like they need farmhands and dowagers, tons of screeching yard monsters shoved into burgundy minivans, GPS-calculated to head for the nearest Happy Meal. The parents have lost all resemblance to their former selves, cannot have conversations about anything not related to the kids, stuck in a constant revolving state of bragging and kvetching. They make jokes about how they can’t stay up past 9pm anymore and actually think it’s funny.
As a young person without kids, either married or unmarried, these professional American parents – whose last act of rebellion was finding a Kinks toddler t-shirt in a size 2T – represent the death of art, the death of passion and the death of hope. But I’m here to tell you, it doesn’t have to be that way. It takes a little extra work to stay… I dunno, “cool”… but there is no “Parentzilla” gene that is switched on when you have a kid.
It’s your journey, and you can make of it what you will. If you don’t want the Maclaren Techno XT stroller, don’t get one. If you don’t want your house flooded with plastic shit, stick with wood. If Dan Zanes, The Wiggles and Barney give you hives, well, go with what you know:
God may help those who help themselves, but Nature rewards flexibility. Your best work may come from being turned upside down, your pockets emptying of old notions, an inverted view shocking your senses back to vibrancy. Having kids ain’t for everybody, but it’s for anybody who has them.
Plus, BABIES R CUTE!!!