Follow-up on my last post

I meant to spend a little time responding, in my last post, from the former magazine editor in me. I was annoyed by two things: a) the “Growing Movement” part of the MC article headline, and b) the pictures of empty cribs, swimming pools, and (especially) the abandoned teddy bear on the floor…

Having been at many a headline-writing meeting, I have witnessed those moments when the splashiest words and phrases are chosen for headlines, for the obvious reason that they attract readers. So I am always a little bit skeptical of them, and often annoyed by the stigma and fear they can unnecessarily create.

Is there really a “growing movement”? The writer claims: “The movement got its (arguable) start nearly 10 years ago when Corinne Maier, a French psychoanalyst, writer, and mother of two in Brussels, wrote candidly about her own regret inNo Kids: 40 Reasons Not to Have Children.” I like that she says “arguable.” That’s laudable. Is there really a movement? Or are there just more outlets for people to express their thoughts and feelings publicly (as evidenced by the Facebook page the article references)? Perhaps it’s one and the same, but I guess it rubs me the wrong way when a conversation about a topic as sensitive as this is undermined by a somewhat exploitative headline.

(I might be more testy lately, however, because of recent headlines and news coverage of “3-Parent IVF,” which makes me see red. But that’s another story.)

The photos only underscore the headline. They are laughably over-the-top. They look like scenes from kidnappings. Again—caricature undermining exploration.

But just to contradict myself a little, I do think that although the article rightly focuses on the mothers’ point of view, it is important to remember the point-of-view of the children, as well, in an exploration of this topic. It would have been good to hear more about what happens to children, emotionally and psychologically, in these situations—and not just through staged photographs.

But perhaps that is an article for another sort of magazine, like Psychology. 

I used to write a lot of short stories about children with unavailable parents, or parents who behave like children. People who knew my parents were bewildered by the sheer volume of stories I wrote including parent-characters such as these. “But your parents are so nice!” they would say. And for a long time, I didn’t understand it, either. Why was I so obsessed with this kind of parent? I knew plenty of people who had dealt with parental situations that, from the outside, seemed far more damaging. Where was my obsession coming from?

It took me years to understand that although my parents were, by any standards, invested and loving parents, they were often very self-involved, and I was often left to parent myself when it came to difficult issues. They knew how to handle parenting at a certain level, but once things became more complicated—in short, as I grew into a young adult—they really didn’t, and still don’t. (Case in point: when my mom was vocally really, really upset that the hotel hair dryer wasn’t working, on the morning that the embryo that became S was scheduled to be transferred into my uterus. She couldn’t stop complaining about it and how her hair looked. Even on such an important day for me, she was worried about her hair. On the other hand, she was there.) I have forgiven all of the crazy things that have happened over the years, and accepted that my role was and is that of leader, problem-solver, parent to myself and to them (although I now absent myself from most involvement in their life decisions).

These were, are, good parents. They did the best they could. I know that now. And they loved me and did not regret becoming parents (at least I don’t think they did!) at any point. They saw being mother and father as their primary roles in life.

If someone like me can be so deeply affected by her parents’ shortcomings—parents who were affectionate and wanted to be parents—I can only imagine what happens to the child whose parents regret having her altogether, or who have to force themselves to love her.

It is said that we fetishize children in our culture, and we fetishize childhood. Fair enough. But as adults we are right to protect children as much as we can from unnecessary psychological pain and suffering. We call them innocent because they are. We call them pure because they are. I make no excuses for my views on this. I witness it every day in my son and in his friends.

Wordsworth’s “Intimations of Immortality”–I fell in love with that poem in college. I think I fell in love with it at that time because I was only nineteen years away from whence I came, so to speak. As you probably know, it is a poem about being born out of immortality into mortality, and how, the closer you are to that birth, the more able you are to see the world as beautiful, bathed in “celestial light.”

“Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:/ The Soul the rises with us, our life’s Star,/ Hath had elsewhere its setting,/ And cometh from afar…(Read the whole poem here.)”

I have thought of this poem often, since S’s birth. We call him our Starman, and we tell stories of his coming from afar, from the stars, and we do the “Starman Handshake,” pressing our fingertips to one another’s, forming a circle, and going, “Neeeee, yay!” before we eat. When I forget to do it, S reminds me, sticking out his index finger. He knows what we’re doing. He more than any of us understands this form of prayer, of grace, because he is pure being, a present-moment master. His eye catches on this and that throughout dinner—what we call distraction—because of his innate unfettered fascination and ability to see beauty. There is innocence in this ability.

I think all children are born Starpeople. They will learn soon enough what the messed-up deal is, here on Earth.

Maybe some year down the road a child can learn about and handle the regret their parents had after she was born.  But not while she is young.

It is important for the regretful parents to find a place to be honest about their feelings and process them, but they do not need to crush their kids while doing so. Thanks, commenters, for making such a point of being vocal on this front!

Process, yes, try to heal and maybe even move on, yes, but don’t do so at the expense of your children’s sense of love and security. Therapy is a good place for processing. Public pronouncements that your children can easily find are not a good idea.

This post became much longer than I expected! Speaking of headlines, I’m going to delete “Quick” from before the word “Follow-up” in my own headline now.

 

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4 Comments

  1. Love this follow up. Especially that you point out it’s likely not necessarily a “growing movement”. I’m sure many women have felt this throughout centuries. DH’s grandmother lived to be 93. She gave birth to 15 children. She was a very devoted mother and took very good care of all of her children. I doubt that any of them ever felt unloved. However, once dementia set in, it slipped one day that she “never wanted (kids), I just got them”…… I’m not really sure what my point was. I guess just that back then people weren’t so publicly vocal about every little thing. And also that, if this woman could show affection and care towards all those kids, surely these women will survive their one or two children. I know I sound heartless in saying that. It’s the infertile in me I suppose.

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  2. I’m so glad you wrote this. I grew up knowing my mother never wanted me (she told me countless times she wanted to abort me), but even before ever hearing her say it out loud, I always felt it. Yes, she took care of me, did what she had to do. But I always felt unwanted, a burden, and took me many years to figure out that no amount of ‘achievements’ and praises from others would change how my mom felt about me. This still deeply affect me, even as a 34 year old woman with an almost ‘perfect’ life from the outside (career, marriage, financial stability – not the baby part, though).
    So, from my personal experience, those children know. Even if their parents never say the words to them, even if they’re not conscious about it, they feel it. It’s unavoidable.
    Just to be clear, I know my mom loves me (her own way), but it’s just not the same. I do (rationally) understand her perspective, though. But it doesn’t make it hurt less. And it still deeply impacted my self-steam, self value and confidence.
    I’d also like to say how I love reading your posts about your life with S. They’re my dream scenarios of a perfect mother-child relationship. Everything you describe touches me so deeply because they’re all those small moments that really matter and how I always hoped and pictured to have with my own child one day. Longing for such a deep connection (that I never had with my parents) is what makes it so hard for me to let go and accept childlessness. Your writing is beautiful and touching and your love and care for S. is so inspiring. Sorry I don’t comment more often, it’s sometimes hard for me, but I always enjoy reading your blog.

    Reply
    • Every once in a while I can hear—really hear—a person’s voice clearly on here, and that is what happened when I read your comment. I teared up and felt the unfairness—what you’ve gone through as a daughter, what you fight for as a mother (of four, right? Four that you lost. I’m so sorry). Thank you for reading my story and having the courage to comment. I know how hard that can be. I wasn’t really able to read stories like mine much when I was miscarrying. I hope with every fiber of my being that you find your happy ending and your healing. I want so much for you to be able to enter this next stage and experience the little moments you yearn for. Thinking of you warmly and following your story.

      Reply
  3. Totally.
    Snd the woman I referenced said on behalf of all these women who wish to be childfree “We love our children and care for them”. But I wonder if they even know what love is? Is it love that drives these women to play the role of mother to children they wish they didn’t have? And how can they be “good mothers” when they are simply going through the motions in order to raise their child(ren)? Won’t their indifference to their child’s existence show through the cracks of their parenting? Children are smart. They will know there is something off about a person even if they cannot articulate it. And it will hurt them to feel their mother’s indifference/resentment/regret/sadness/etc. XOXO

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