Confessions of an Ambivalent Parent.
Very soon, my wife and I are going to have our first child. If the ultrasound is to be believed, it is a girl.
I am having a very hard time being happy about it. The closer it gets to the birth day, the harder it is for me to look at an infant without wincing.
My friends and relatives have noted this. They have reacted with a wide range of feelings, from disapproval to worry. I expect that one of them will place a warning, preemptive, get-to-know-you call to protective services any day now.
Well, before the baby arrives and the parenthood experience eats my brain and I become this soft, dazed creature who can only talk about feces color and how much I love George W. Bush because "he cares about the babies", I am going to explain my exact feelings on the subject. Lucky you. I believe that anyone who has the right to have the child also has the right to be unhappy about how much it is going to suck.
Soon, my wife and I will obtain our joy from the intangible benefits of loving and caring for our child and from the pleasures of guiding a new, young life. This is as opposed to now, when we get joy by doing things we like. Soon, we will get our fun from the many minor thrills of being the sole support for a tiny, young person, as opposed to now, when we get our fun by doing things that are fun.
As I understand it, some people find this to be an occasion of great joy, which leads to a richer, more fulfilling life. I, on the other hand, am finding that my feelings are a subtle mix of terror and horror.
When I express these feelings to people who are already parents, especially older parents, I tend to get a shocked, offended look. They look at me with that beaten-down, cultish, thousand-yard, glassy-eyed parent stare and express confusion that anyone would be unable to immediately see the joy that has been ground into their souls.
But, honestly, how could I feel any other way? First off, I am about to have to care for a frail, helpless infant life. Read any baby book. Read the lists of warnings and missteps, any of which will treat your infant to a speedy, horrible death. You aren't supposed to let a small baby sleep with sheets on it, because they might STRANGLE IT. Even if you haven't read any books, if the prospect of being a new parent looking after a helpless baby does not fill you with at least a small measure of terror, I'm sorry. There is something wrong with you.
And as for the fulfilling part, I'm sorry. I suppose I buy it on some theoretical level, like quantum tunneling and black holes. But the good things about being a parent are very theoretical and intangible, and the bad things are very real and imminent. I have no idea what it feels like to have my child look up at me and smile, or to hear her talk for the first time, or to see her graduate from college. I have no idea what those things feel like.
On the other hand, I know exactly what it is like to not sleep. I am very familiar with what it feels like to worry. And, while I have not personally experienced being up to my elbows in shit and vomit, I can vividly imagine it. And I know what it is like to worry that someone I love will die.
When you weigh both sides of the equation, when the bad is so imminent and easily understood, and the good is so intangible and distant, the question is not how one can be unhappy about having a child. The question is how anyone can bring him or herself to produce a sprog in the first place. Why are so many first-world countries having a hard time keeping their birth rate above the replacement rate? Because the people there agree with me.
I suppose all of this invites the question of why I decided to have a child in the first place. My response is that my reasons don't really matter. They weren't good reasons. I refuse to stipulate that there are, in fact, "Good" reasons to have a child. There are only bad reasons and terrible reasons.
And I suppose that this also invites the sentiment that I am selfish, uncaring, and irrational in my worries about having my daughter. I respectfully disagree.
I'm not selfish. Being ambivalent about having practically everything I valued in my life, including such tchotchkes as freedom and sleep, stripped away is not selfish. It's reasonable.
I'm not uncaring. I will love my child. That's what makes it so terrifying. If I didn't care about my unborn daughter so much, I wouldn't be so afraid.
I'm not irrational. The risks are real. The costs are real. I'm not making any of this stuff up.
And I'm most definitely not stupid. If I am going to go into this thing and give it my best (and I AM going to go into this thing and give it my best), I'm going to do it with eyes wide open. If I think, based on the information I have, it sucks, that's how I feel. I'm not going to pretend otherwise.
Well, screw it. I'm going to deal with this problem the way I feel all people should deal with any sort of adversity.
I'm giving in.
We have been saying that we aren't going to become those parents whose minds are eaten by parenthood. Well, fuck that. We are going to be insufferable. Any of our friends who don't have children will hear ceaselessly how much more fulfilled their lives would be if they did and how meaningless their little problems and stresses are compared with the bowel-lacerating nightmare that is having an infant child. Any of our friends who do have children will find us incapable of having conversations about anything but development milestones and feces. And we're going to have a baby shower. A big baby shower. And they can bring us shit.
I can't wait for our little bundle of joy. Our little angel is going to be such a ray of sunshine in our lives. She will be beautiful. She will not die soon. We will be happy beyond our capability to withstand it.
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