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When I was 17, I told anyone who would listen that I was never ever planning to get married or, God forbid, have kids.
“Kids hold you back,” I said with the total self-righteousness of someone who believes she’s the first person in the history of the world to make this observation. “They stop you from having adventures. I could never settle down like that. I want to see the world! Plus, I’ve heard that giving birth, like, totally sucks.”
I don’t know why I felt so convinced that everyone in the world needed to hear my insight on this crucial matter, but I said it a lot. To a lot of people. My friends, my family members, and even my beloved high school creative writing teacher, who rolled her eyes and pointed out that “Babies are transportable.”
I ignored everyone’s well-meaning suggestions about how to incorporate parenthood into a free-wheeling lifestyle, along with the less good-hearted, vaguely condescending remarks that I would change my mind someday. No one understood my dreams. I was going to be a constantly traveling artist, a nomadic poet with no ties or commitments and lots of flowy bohemian skirts I bought at thrift stores. I’d never lock myself up in some kind of patriarchal cage and devote my life to a partner or a child. I had things to do.
The year I graduated from college, I set out to do some of those things. My friend Doc and I embarked on a two-month poetry tour, performing in bars and coffeeshops as we couch surfed up and down the east coast and throughout the Midwest. We ate gas station food, rarely slept in the same place twice, met a ton of fascinating people, and watched a spectacular fireworks show from a roof on Martha’s Vineyard. We were living what had always been my dream – footloose and fancy free, with nothing to do except write poems, perform poems, and explore new cities.
And…it sucked. It was exhausting. Most of what we saw of new cities were people’s couches (or, if the gods were truly kind, guest bedrooms) and whatever terrible fast food outlet was closest to the highway. I never had a second to be alone with my thoughts or masturbate. I got so, so bored with my own poetry, and with the sound of my own voice.
Every person we stayed with was fantastic and warm and fun and an overall delight, except for the one terrifying hoarder house with a bicycle in the shower and stacks of plates on every square inch of the couch, but by the end of two month I was desperate to wake up in my own bed, put on clothing that didn’t smell like suitcase, walk into my own kitchen and make food from ingredients I purchased myself. I wanted a resting place, a refuge, a home. I didn’t want to be rootless anymore.
When I got home to Tucson, I knew I had to re-imagine what my life might be like. I no longer wanted to be an unmoored traveling artist, but what did I want to be instead? I wasn’t sure, so I settled into a kind of holding pattern, while I waited to see if something better would come along.
The something better appeared in the form of a hot, gourmet-vegetarian-cooking, motorcycle-riding butch named Charlie. I was 22, and for the first time in my life I was interested in something more than temporary. Just as I was looking around for the stability I’d never dreamed of before, I found someone who felt like the ground under my feet, if the ground under my feet was also hilarious and had a killer dimple.
I won’t take up a lot of your time explaining how I went from “Why would anyone ever get married” to “I do.” Falling in love is always a glorious and unique and irreplaceably wonderful experience, except if you’re not the person actually doing it, in which case it’s painfully boring.
Although I changed my mind about marriage, I made it clear early in our relationship that kids weren’t on the table. Yes, I was committing myself to a life with another human being, but at least it was a full-grown human being capable of feeding itself. I loved my nannying job, but I also really loved being able to leave it at the end of the day, come home, and not have to wipe snot off another human being’s face for the next 12 hours.
But somehow, the more I adjusted to the idea of spending the rest of my life with Charlie, of being a family, the more the idea of babies kept popping up. At first we talked about it in hypotheticals. “Of course, we’re not going to have kids,” we’d say, “but if we did, we could read them all the books we loved when we were younger! And teach them to garden! Wouldn’t that be adorable? If we wanted kids. Which we don’t.”
Little by little, it started to sound doable. We’d be good parents, I thought. We’re smart, we’re caring, and we know how to play peek-a-boo – what else do you really need? Sure, it would cut down on our traveling, but it’s not like we go on tons of vacations these days. Sometimes, when I took the baby I nannied out in his stroller and people thought I was his mom, I’d feel a little pang, a little “maybe someday.”
And somewhere along the way, “not that we’re ever going to have kids” shifted into “if we have kids” and then “when we have kids.” Now, 10 years after I made my initial no-babies-ever-under-any-circumstances declaration, I’m perusing baby name books and painting my guest bedroom a shade of pastel periwinkle that I’ve decided is gender-neutral because I like it. I’m actively preparing my house and my life for the children Charlie and I have decided are in our near future – like, hopefully in the next year or two.
I don’t think that changing my mind about having kids was always inevitable, or a matter of my “biological clock” (oh, how I loathe that phrase) kicking in. I can envision lots of alternate paths my life might have taken that wouldn’t involve parenthood.
For instance, there’s a good chance I never would have thought about becoming a mom if I were still single, or if I were partnered with a cis man. One thing that hasn’t changed is my feeling about pregnancy: I have deep respect and admiration for anyone who chooses to go through it, but absolutely zero interest in experiencing it myself. If I hadn’t married someone who is not only able but excited to give birth, I would almost definitely not be contemplating parenthood.
I probably wouldn’t want kids if I were in a relationship that feels less solid than this one, or if we hadn’t moved back to Colorado where I’m surrounded by supportive friends and family. Becoming a mom is certainly not for everyone, but the life that I’ve ended up with feels like just the right combination of stable and exciting that I think having a baby will make it even better.
I know we might still face hardships on the path to parenthood, or we might never make it at all. But it’s good to know that I’m capable of growing and changing as a person, and revising my earlier decision as my feelings and circumstances shift. I’m not stuck with the life choices I made as a teenager. Thank God, because I don’t think anyone would take me seriously today if I were still rocking a Chelsea haircut and red vinyl pants from Hot Topic.
While I still think telling someone “You’ll change your mind about having kids someday!” is the height of condescending douchery, I find it liberating to realize that I usually have more options than I can see, that the limitations I perceive may not be around forever, that something I used to find inconceivable could turn out to be the thing I want most.
I didn’t change my mind because of my “biological clock,” or because I need a child in order to fulfill my role as a woman, but because I realized that I could have the family I want with the person I love. That’s why I’m writing this; not to tell childfree women “you’ll grow out of it,” but to encourage you, whoever you are, to go after the thing that will bring you joy. Just because you said you’d never have kids, it doesn’t mean you can’t have them if you want them. Just because you said you were going to be a doctor, it doesn’t mean you can’t decide to coach basketball instead.
People may give you some grief for changing your mind -- I’ve definitely endured some “told you so's" after disclosing that I now want kids -- but their opinion matters so much less than your happiness. You can change your mind about your family, your love life, your career, and the place you live. Your decisions are not set in stone.
The life I expected to have by this age turned out not to be the life I wanted. The life I have, though -- it’s awesome, and I think it would be even more awesome with a baby. I love the choices I’ve made all the more because I don’t feel stuck with them.
Seventeen-year-old Lindsay might think I’ve lost my mind, but she can’t even imagine how good things are going to get once she lets go of the illusion that she can plan everything. The moment you leave the path is the moment things really start to get good.