Thursday, August 20, 2009

Unplanned Children & Guilt

"My doctor told me there is nothing you will ever regret about having the baby, but he was like, 'You may regret not having the baby.'"
I am the product of an unplanned, unexpected, and - in the beginning - unwanted pregnancy.

I've known this for, oh, more or less forever. I've also had the suspicion, though not confirmed, that an abortion talk happened somewhere in that early period when my mother was still freaking out and desperately wanting her sporty two door convertible. My parents are both ardently pro-choice, so it would be strange if there weren't the barest minimum of a conversation about it.

This hasn't had much of an impact on my life. At least, not the negative kind. Because even though I am the product of an unplanned, unexpected, and initially unwanted pregnancy, I was (and am) a beloved child. I am also a wanted child, and it has always been easy for me to recognize that the two issues - unwanted pregnancy versus wanted and valued child - are separate and very different.

That doesn't mean, however, that my parents don't have regrets, regrets directly relating to me, and my being born. My mother, for instance, still can't get over her loss of the sporty two door. My impending birth was also the reason she missed the funeral of her favorite aunt, and then I didn't even have the common decency to be born that day. No, I waited until my due date, because I'm generally punctual but not excessively early. I'm pretty sure they regretted having me that time I got a D in English and then burned my report card in an effort to destroy the evidence. I'm also fairly certain the time I didn't come home or call was another one of those "regret ever having her" times in my parents' lives. There were other moments of regret. Trips they couldn't take, money they didn't have, time they no longer had to work on their relationship. And although I know I'm not the center of the universe and that my parents would have in all probability found other things to fight passionately about if I didn't exist, I'm sure there were many times when they were fighting about me one or both of them wondered if their lives - their (potentially not legal) marriage - would have been better off if instead of having sex they just watched some television that fateful night.

This isn't to say that my parents don't take a certain amount of pleasure in being parents. They do. They revel in it. And because my parents weren't ready to be parents, our relationship has a weird, slightly dysfunctional, side to it where we are and have been friends as much as I'm their daughter for most of my life. As a side note, this whole side to my relationship with them is one of the reasons I never rebelled.

So, even though I have a ridiculously good - if dysfunctional - relationship with my parents, even though (Ds in English aside), I have (generally) been a rather low stress venture for both of my parents in terms of parenting, even though my parents love me and respect me and, almost more importantly, really like me, they have still had regrets. Some big, and some small. Some more long term, and some that were more like flashes. Because part of life is regretting the path(s) not taken.

This is why I find the response Kourtney Kardashian recounted her doctor as saying, the one at the top of the post, as being so entirely disingenuous. Because it simplifies life. It makes it seems as though children never cause regret, and as though abortion always does. That isn't true. Children, even wanted, planned for children, come with frustrations and pains and - yes - regret. As much as children bring light and life and joy and love and wonderment and fulfillment, they bring a lot of the negative stuff as well.

More than pushing birth, though, claiming that going through a pregnancy will result in no regrets is harmful because it creates an environment where the women who do experience regret are shamed for that completely natural feeling. It creates an environment where women keep those feelings bottled up, don't talk about it because it is so unnatural, because to talk about it is to be a bad mother. And that is the last thing a doctor should be pressing upon any woman. Because it contributes to a view that motherhood is an inherently pleasurable act, an act all women gain fulfillment from and enjoy doing. An act that in no way at times makes them want to rip their hair out or wonder when they get to go shopping for their own clothing, when they get to take care of themselves and get their two door in the midst of bottles and surly teenagers and mini vans.

We need to recognize that most decisions carry with them a bittersweet realization of the path unchosen. And if that bittersweetness comes when we order a chocolate-mint chocolate chip ice cream cone and then lust after the vanilla-mint chocolate chip ice cream in a cup, then it comes in conjunction with more important decisions. We need to fully recognize the effects of parenthood. We need to talk about them, air out those particular facets of life, and still remain positive that for a lot of people - most people - children are well worth any of the regret they bring. That is an adult conversation. The other one is stuff of fairy tales.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I was told I could never have children and yes it ruined my first marriage. Then in another relationship all of a sudden the ex-psycho had a breakdown and I found myself suddenly an overnight parent. I was the one that did all the homework and chore help, the majority of the cooking and cleaning, and our sex life came to a screeching halt while he started cheating on me with other women because he didn't want to get caught by his daughter. I went into debt over the kid to provide her with her own bedroom. I ended up leaving the man for his cheating and I can honestly say I still miss her even though I could care less about her father. Even though I do believe her coming into our lives is what killed the relationship in the first place. I became peaceful with not being able to have children after her though. I was just as angry at working longer hours than her father, making more money, and being the insurance provider and then overnight having to be practically the only one to do childcare, housework, errands, and not having a damn moment to myself was a shock...and for the first time in my life I understood why so many men don't want children ever as well as why women divorce men twice as fast as they divorce us. I went into my next relationship wanting a child-free for life lifestyle after being depressed for years about not being able to have children. I went on birth control after years of not being on it to make sure I wouldn't have a child. My husband has serious prostate problems and supposedly couldn't have kids too. Guess what I got pregnant? I didn't find out until I was 4 1/2 months along. I spend my entire pregnancy secretly very upset. My first marriage dissolved over my lack of motherhood. Second relationship wrecked by basically step-motherhood...I was happy and excited yes finally after I had given up all hope but I was wiser now-children can destroy relationships and dreams by just being alive...I was damned scared. We love our son and he is the joy of our lives. Yet most of our marriage pains do directly tie in to parenthood and at this stage of my life-what life outside of motherhood. Do i regret it-often. Would I undo it-never. I love my son.