The kids are alright

A friend and his wife are the happy parents of two brand spanking new twin boys, born premature (but otherwise healthy, it seems) this week. Their quest for parenthood was taken up despite some very long odds, and it brought with it a great deal of effort, expense, risk and loss along the way.

These are not what I would call very close friends, but I am friendly enough to be engaged in their lives and care about what happens to them. I’ve had several friends who’ve had kids against very tough odds. This time was different, though. I found myself experiencing a rush of relief and happiness upon hearing the news that the boys had made it safely into the world. I honestly hadn’t expected this well of emotion on their behalf, having not felt it for other people to whom I’m a lot closer. I can only think that as I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned how to be a better friend, meaning being happy for my friends on their terms, not my own.

I don’t have kids, and have never wanted them. That’s an odd stance to take (if the absence of an action can even be considered a “stance”) for a woman in any western culture, but America’s baby-crazed culture in particular. Nor am I married, or eager to be, which is another socio-cultural kettle of fish. Since 44 is mere weeks away, this “decision” (or lack thereof) to not reproduce is irrevocable. More irrevocable than the numerous other decisions I’ve failed to make, such as becoming a lawyer, learning Spanish, or taking up carpentry.

While it’s not quite accurate to say that I’ve struggled with this (I really haven’t), the disconnect between how I want to live my life and how my friends (and the majority of women in this country) want to live theirs has always been present, like quiet, if slightly irritating, background music. Sometimes my status pops up in conversations with friends or family, although I’m grateful to have family — both my own and my partner’s — who’ve never expected or assumed that we would eventually become parents.

These conversations used to be awkward, marked by a combination of helpful eagerness on their parts and smiling defensiveness on mine. I never felt proselytized, just misunderstood. Sentiments like these…

“But you’d make such a great parent!”

“I was worried about what it would be like too, but now I love being a mom.”

“You really can’t know what love is until you’ve had the experience of loving your own child.”

…reflect a failure to grasp the fundamental position of someone who doesn’t want children. I should also add that I don’t dislike children, although I don’t particularly like them either. They are, after all, people and my misanthropy does not age discriminate.

These days, the conversations (when they come up, which is now rare) aren’t awkward anymore. Having turned the corner on 40, my eggs are close to expiring, and any attempts at procreation would likely require scientific intervention. If I haven’t bothered to pursue parenthood the old fashioned way, when it was easy and fun, how likely am I to go the difficult, dreary route? So no one asks anymore. And if they did, I wouldn’t feel weird about it as I used to, having to answer for some implied failure of femininity or maturational development or any other assortment of biases and baggage. In the past few years, I’ve become remarkably unconcerned about what people think — something a few other women I know in this age range have also reported.

It’s hard to capture the experience of being contentedly childfree among the masses of the childed. I like this essay, especially the enumeration of “bingo” questions the childfree are forced to endure from parents. And this one is also particularly good. The author uses arguments for or against horse ownership as a way of framing the subject. Were I to write such an essay, the natural comparitive for me would be marathon racing. There is a particular kind of gratification achieved in training for and racing the marathon well that can’t be fathomed by someone who hasn’t experienced it for themselves. Yet, engaging in this pursuit requires a lot of time, effort, sacrifice and pain while at the same time offering the potential for numerous forms of pleasure, discovery and — yes, pride — along the way. Sort of like having kids. But I wouldn’t try to convince anyone to run a marathon if it wasn’t their cup of tea.

Anyway, I’m just musing as warm thoughts go out to the two new kids on the block, where they are clearing their last hurdles in an infant ICU. How fortunate they are to be so loved and so wanted by two good people.