Tuesday, September 18, 2007

I want it anyway

Karen was telling me about a book she'd read recently called Stumbling on Happiness. (In her defense, I want to note that Karen is not a big reader of self-help or touchy-feely books. Apparently there was a copy of this book in the apartment she was until recently sharing with several other people.) One of the big themes in the book is that people are terrible judges of what will make them happy. People think "when I get a raise I will be happy", "when we buy a house I'll be happy", "When we have a baby I'll be happy." And then they are wrong. The raise itself doesn't change things in a person's daily life, the house comes with added responsibilities or means that money once spent on entertainment now goes to update, paint and furnish the home. And a child? Children are a lot of work. They are a pain in the ass. A joy, sure, but not really something that makes everyone happy in the day-to-day. (Karen mentioned that the surveys about how happy people think kids will make them correlates with how happy people remember being with kids, but not with how happy people with children actually report being.)

The thing is, I don't think that having another child will make me happy. When I think about what it will be like to have a second child, I imagine being tired, frustrated, stressed. Having Ada is in many ways fantastic, but on a day to day basis she is just as likely to drive me to frustrated tears as she is to make me weep with joy. A second child will be an additional set of difficulties and annoyances. (Ada can barely stand for me to be on the telephone, so I can only imagine her reaction to an infant sibling.) And then there is the new child, with the attendant joys of a child's first year of life. Even if we don't have another colicky infant, we'll be sleepless and overstretched. Taking time off work means being financially pressed as well. So no, I don't think having a baby will make me happy.

And yet, I still want to do it. It makes me wonder what is wrong with me. During Ada's nap I biked over to the plant store. Heading back to my bike with my packages of cover crop seeds, I started to cry. I have been so on edge lately, so stressed out by life in general that I am having a hard time taking joy in the numerous wonderful things about my life. I have been stressed enough that for the past several weeks I've had an eye twitch that won't go away.

I know that having a baby will add to my stress level, but I still want to do it. Not in a "I feel like I should do it" way; I really want to. I'm not normally a glutton for punishment. I can't think of another reason why I'd intentionally put myself into a situation I knew would make me unhappy. (Ok, that isn't entirely true. I have taken jobs I knew were going to drive me crazy, but for the most part I avoid doing things that I know will annoy me.)

By blog post convention, this is where I'm supposed to bust out with a revelation, a "but this is why I want to do it", some kind of beauty-of-life take away message. Except I don't have one of those.

I've got nothing other than an understanding of the strength of this desire. Always a bit chagrined to admit how much biological urges influence me, I have been thinking about this strong urge the past couple of days. A few days ago I read a post from the woman who runs found clothing. She posted an argument for remaining childless, on an environmental basis. While I see her point, I also wanted to write to her. I wanted to say: maybe you'll never feel what I've felt, but my desire to bear a child was so strong that I worried it could crush me when I thought we couldn't have a baby. I didn't always feel that way. In my 20s, I believed that IVF was a foolish thing. I remember saying that if people could not have children without intervention, they should adopt. It seemed really simple. IVF is expensive and there are lots of children who need good homes. But it isn't so simple now. What I want is not simple. There might not be a good reason for it, but I do want it. Lucky for me, Chris wants it too, and is willing to tough it out with me during the coming months and years, whether or not those years include a second child.


  1. I seem to recall that you a damn good at birth. Makes sense you would want to do it again. I hope that for you again.

    I know that you are a strong family. Rich and deep and a fertile place to grow... you could grow larger. You are taking that lead for all of you. Yes you are lucky for Chris. And for Ada. They are lucky for you.

    I hope.

    I can attest... you get over the phone thing. but the 'don't oppress me' scene from Life of Brian might spring to mind about 100 times a week and that sucks.

    On day when I don't have the words for it either.. let me muddle along with you.

  2. You're right -- that second one can be a real pain in the ass. It's a huge adjustment and sometimes feels like you added 10 more instead of 1. But a sibling relationship is special and watching it develop is really a joy.

  3. I am forecasting exactly as you are, but in my case I just got my 10-year IUD put in. Maybe it's a matter of how much faith you have in yourself and your ability to be a good mother and partner when stressed and tired and frustrated. I just, I think about it and I start to panic.

    There are definitely some issues with Gilbert's research on happiness and children, some of which I go into in my comment here (http://thesituationist.wordpress.com/2007/08/23/the-situation-of-happiness/). I would definitely say that the kidlet makes me happier than I was before. A second one is too scary for me. You are brave.

  4. I am glad there is no take-away message, designed to uplift or edify, in your post. Most of those are bullshit anyway.

    And two, two is like five. Five, I am told, is like three. So, what am I saying? Have quadruplets? I don't know what I am saying. More coffee.

  5. It's not about being happy. Having kids isn't, and life isn't. It's about having a life that is filled with the challenges and connections that help you be the human being you want to be.

    My kids don't (mostly) make me happy on a day to day basis, but they are a big part of my feeling satisfied with where I am in life (to the extent that I do).

  6. I think "satisfaction" is a great way to think about it Kathy. (by the way, one of these days will you send me your latest email address? I have an old one and blogger comments come to me anonymously.)

  7. There's more to life than being happy. It's hard to define what that "more" is, but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist.

  8. (un)relaxeddad9/20/2007 1:46 PM

    Well, it's enough of a reason for me. Ultimately, there's no logic to our decision either beyond the fact that we just want one

  9. True. It's been a pain and a joy.

    When I stop and think about why we're having a 2nd in a few weeks... I must say that it never really seemed like "an option" to either of us. We were just going to have that 2nd one. We never really even talked about it. It just... was.

    We're looking forward to adding to our family with some joy and shitload of fear. But, for us, it was pretty much set in stone. And I don't know why.

  10. this post made me cry.

    you're such a wonderful girl, N.

    really and truly.