It's 7:40AM in the morning. Baby J has just finished her morning milk at 7AM --- she barely drank any, I almost think she woke up just to have her wet diaper changed --- and almost immediately closed her eyes again. We co-sleep (another topic for a very long post...), so she's snuggled next to me, scratching her ears, wriggling and kicking her feet, and every now and then creepily grinning in her sleep.
When we celebrated her 2-mo birthday with friends a week ago, I was reminded of why I decided to get pregnant. Note that, I meant get pregnant, not being a parent. Since at that time, I had no idea what it meant to be a parent, and I still kind of don't.
My decision to have a baby was recorded in a single Google Talk chat. It was March 2013. I had finally finished grad school the year before and started working at PacBio. For the first time in my life, I was getting a paycheck that made me felt like an adult (except most of that then went to the insane rent in San Francisco). In March, they sent me to a conference. The conference had nothing to do with babies, since it was a meeting for sequencing core labs.
There were many tracks (talks) running concurrently at the conference and I had to pick and choose which ones to go to. At some point, there was a window of time where there were no specific talks that I felt needed to go to. So I did what all nerds do. I remained in my seat after the previous talk, opened my laptop, and starting working while casually talking to Ian on Google Talk.
I only peripherally paid attention to the talk that was happening and remembered thinking, "Hmm, that is a strange topic to have here. What is IVF?"
And then here's the chat:
And the rest is history. I stopped taking my contraception pills in May, got pregnant in June, suffered a chemical miscarriage in July, got pregnant again in November, and popped this one out this August.
But just to rewind a bit, the conference talk wasn't the only thing that made me decide to have a baby. It was just the last push. As a daughter of a Chinese mom, my mom spared no time telling me, since my years in grad school, that I was "getting old". She had me when she was 28 and then my brother 3 years later and was done. Apparently to her, having babies is a no-brainer.
To me, not so. I was not concerned about finances; I was and still am somewhat naive about the amount of $$$ it takes to raise a kid. In some ways I'm not wrong. There are ways to raise kids at all income levels and I felt that with two healthy, able-bodied parents, the kid would at least be well-clothed and fed. Another reason I am more financially naive is because schools are really cheap in Taiwan: I went to college for $1000 USD a year, and I lived at home. I joke that if we can't afford to send Josephine to college in the US, she can go back to Taiwan. But in all seriousness, if we're talking about education here, I think a lot of it is going to be through MOOC in the near future.
So I didn't worry about money. Similarly, I also didn't worry about balancing work and family, because I also didn't know that raising babies cost of a lot of your time --- and exclusively the mother's time, if one decides to breastfeed. Somewhat ironically I am now reading Lean In on my iPhone Kindle during breastfeeding, but yeah, I also was naive about this part.
So what was my concern, if I was so stupid to think money and time were not major constraints?
It went down to one word: my mental and bodily freedom.
And I think this is the one thing I cannot avoid sacrificing. Unless I use a surrogate or adopt a kid, I have to give up my body for a year or more just to have a baby. It wasn't that I minded carrying 25 lb extra weight walking around. It was that I knew I couldn't go in the air once I got pregnant, and I had been in love with the circus since my third year in grad school. I love being 20 feet up in the air, with no harness, no safety, just me, my body, and the rope. I wasn't a professional circus artist, but I was going to the circus 6-7 days a week. Circus wasn't just exercise, it was my life through training.
Could I give it up for a year or longer? What if my body never gets back to where it was and I would just never be as strong as I was? After 30 years of being short, chubby, not athletic, and having no sense of artistic freedom, I was finally starting to feel confident about my bodily self. How can I make sure I won't have the thought "If only I didn't get pregnant...then I'd still be able to do this and that!...."?
I also vaguely knew that having kids would mean spontaneous travels would become more of a problem. I am an avid traveller. I take vacations at least once every year and I always like going to new places. I knew I had enough money to raise a kid, but one extra plane ticket to Japan or Taiwan is an extra thousand dollars (omit the fact that really young children don't need tickets...yes you can fly with them for free then, but kids live much longer than 2 years), and that's a lot.
I guess looking at it, I could say: I didn't want to dive into pregnancy for all the selfish reasons.
And then there's a remote thought: What if I never have kids? Imagine how much time, money, and freedom I'd have! If I don't ask for much, I could even retire early and go live off somewhere cheap and relaxing and just do things I like for the rest of my life. I would only be burdened by my own needs. The possibilities are endless.
But...would I regret not having kids? Knowing me, it would be a terrible, terrible sense of regret. As the shallow person I am, I imagined myself looking at other people's kids and thinking "Damn! I want one too!"
Yes, shallow and selfish, because frankly, I am not exactly a kid lover. You know the crazy kind of people who like kids? Like, the ones who are kindergarten teachers, nannies, and newborn nurses? The ones who see a kid on the street and smiles? I thought they were crazy to like kids. Now that I have my own, I still think they are crazy to like someone else's kids enough to take care of them.
On PTT, I am the type who does not come with "in-built motherly love". If I did, having babies would have been a no-brainer, right? Yet I both wanted and didn't want babies for selfish reasons.
Ultimately, I think what the conference talk did was put things in perspective.
Yes, I would be giving up a year or more of my body. Yes, I would have less money and time to travel. Yes, instead of just having 3 cats who are my responsibility for 10+ years, I am adding children who will consume more of my resources for 20+ years. Is it hard? Yeah, but so is biology. I don't have infinite time. I could decide to have babies when I'm 40 or 50 -- IVF or other methods may be even more advanced then, and there's always alternatives -- but is there anything that I really need to do for the next 10 years that I can't do with kids? Hmm, I can't think of one.
In fact, my life is pretty compatible with children. I work remotely half of the time already. I don't drink or go dancing. I love to cook and eat. My definition of an awesome marathon is one where I play Assassin's Creed on my PS3 for 2 days straight without sleep. And my biggest two passions right now: traveling and circus, are very, very kid-friendly (actually, in circus, we adults are the akward inflexible ones, and the kids rule...they're the ones who are flexible, strong, fearless, and got years ahead of them to get even better; I learned very quickly to not get jealous at a 10-year old who could do a pretzel with no training).
If I just think of this as another level in a game where things just get harder because I've leveled up...then yeah...it actually feels a bit fun, right?
Looking back now, what do I think of my naive self in March 2013? I think I thought about it correctly. I didn't need to be "ready" to be mom. I just needed to be willing to be pregnant. And once I was pregnant and passed the first trimester, I couldn't really go back anyway (just like your third year of PhD when you realize the only way out is a thesis, damn it). Motherly instincts is something that can be cultivated, and there's a whole nine months for me to get ready.
Interestingly, I also think that if I had made the choice not to have kids, I would have also been fine. I think both life choices have their own rewards and challenges. I don't think people are missing out if they don't have kids, just like people aren't losing self if they do have kids. Of course, I can't go back now to myself last year and say that. Bummer.
In the end, I made the choice. So even though I lament my loss of "me time" and lots of other annoyances a baby brings, I cannot complain. Because...I did ask for it! ARGGGGH.