n the other side of 25, I’ve begun noticing that the frequent Facebook engagement announcements of my peers now come startlingly with sonogram photos. I suppose it shouldn’t come as much of a shock. Yet instead of cheering at my laptop and wishing them well, my first reaction is similar to when you hold something that’s gone bad under your nose.
I feel ashamed admitting this. Isn’t a baby supposed to bring joy and new beginnings? Why and when did I become so anti-baby? After all, I was the sixth grader with a long list of both boy and girl names for my future brood — I even hoped for twins I’d name Brandi and Bridget. In playing the board game “LIFE” I’d gleefully jam the little blue and pink pegs into the backseat of my minivan game piece, hoping it was some omen for the future.
Flipping through my middle school diary, amidst my musings on unrequited love for Martin Vivier and hatred for gym class, was a timeline of my life as I hoped it would unfold.
“20, marriage,” I’d written; “22, first baby. Preferably girl.” My young self would’ve been horrified to discover I didn’t have my first boyfriend until 21.
My first group of friends to have children harks back to my ballet days. There was Crystal who had Xiomara, and Meghan who had Aislinn (and two more girls in quick succession). Katie became mom to a baby girl, Ashley who is currently pregnant with a boy, and Sarah who plans for them in the next year. Sometimes, I wonder if there is any correlation between Tchaikovsky, pink satin toe shoes, and my friends’ eagerness to become mothers. I’ve watched their bellies expand and become round so that they have to buy elastic bands to wear around their jeans. They compare the size of their babies to fruits or candies, progressing from blueberries to grapes, to plums, to cantaloupes. “I read she’s about the size of a pack of Skittles,” an expectant friend announced to me yesterday. Next month, she’ll reach King-size Nestle Crunch bar.
I imagine briefly the dark cavernous space of my friend’s stomach, bags of Halloween candy nestling inside. I listen to their birth plans (natural homebirth vs. hospital), their opinions on breastfeeding, on determining gender, on the meaning of amniocentesis tests. I’ve learned that babies do well with skin-to-skin contact, that stem cells are found in breast milk, and that cloth diapers are cheaper than Pampers. Pregnant women are advised not to eat sushi and soft cheeses or cured meats. Even vegetables and fruit must be carefully washed before consuming, and eating too fast or too much can cause discomfort.
My pregnant friends have also their confided some of worries about pregnancy. Some guiltily admit they are disappointed their baby is a boy and not a girl, or vice versa. “Is it bad I want the baby to come a little earlier so it’s not that painful when it comes out?” my friend Meghan asked, wide-eyed.
So what’s with my unease about all this baby stuff? I suppose a part of it is that in an era where it’s all, delightfully, “about me,” I just can’t imagine trading in my twenties. Italy these days tends to see moms in their late 30s and early 40s, a trend that certainly has its cons, but also, I admit, is tempting. I enjoy the fact that waking up at nine is early for me, and that I can eat a pizza, quietly, alone, in front of “Top Chef” whenever I wish. I don’t want to share my bagel, or eat the broken cookie, or take the burnt toast. I like my showers to last until the hot water runs out. I like to vacation when and where I want to. Last month, an acquaintance visiting Rome from Germany had to cancel our dinner plans. Her daughter had a fever, and they were confined to their hotel room. “Let’s meet tomorrow night instead,” she texted. The trip was cut short when they decided to fly back home so the baby could see her pediatrician. I couldn’t help but remember when she and her husband were last in Rome, baby-less.
But beyond the superficial concerns of life being mine to share with a child when I decide to, lies and another more primitive worry. What if something happened to my child? What if the child were bullied, or made fun of, or seriously ill, or injured, or worse? It’s this vulnerability that scares me the most. With a child, I know my well-being will be permanently tied to someone else’s. It’s what makes me stare at my pregnant childhood friends with confusion and yes, awe too.
My dad was in Rome this past week, on one of his bi-annual visits. He’s a wonderful father and I marvel at our close bond. He sat across from me on the metro, wedged into one of the orange plastic seats. We have the same smile and forehead, I think.
“Is there anything annoying about having kids?” I asked. “Any regrets?”
“Not one,” he said with a shrug.
I believe him. But for now, I’m going to keep that bagel all for myself.