The most selfish thing I have done is choosing to be a parent.
When I got married 14 years ago, I had no intention of ever being a mom.
Two years into our marriage, the questions began. And as we approached our fifth anniversary, the pressure from our families took on a new level of intensity. Our visits with parents amounted to just one topic being discussed over and over and over again.
Not a single conversation could take place without a snide remark to outright accusations and suggestions for medical interventions. No one was ready to accept that we had chosen to not have kids. They couldn’t have raised us to be that selfish. It must be a medical issue, they concluded. Not just that, my uterus must be to blame.
To make things worse for us, two of our close friends delivered babies three days apart. One of them also happened to be our neighbor—she was a harried new parent, I a willing helper—and soon I found myself playing peekaboo or rocking the baby to sleep every evening after work.
Despite the fun I had watching that kid for an hour daily, I knew that was about all I could take. Becoming a parent just wasn’t in the cards for me. I didn’t get any maternal pangs. Nor did it feel like the life I wanted. I was happy with my career and the spontaneity that came with a child-free life. We could just take off for the weekend or plan a trip to South Africa without a thought. While these friends were embroiled in the challenges of sleep training and diaper changes, we were watching movies, going to late-night dinners, continuing our travels all over the world. It was the perfect life.
There were times when the neighbor’s toddler would accidentally call me “mummy” and my heart would do a flip. But I figured, eh. And the feeling usually passed the next minute. My husband had started enjoying the increased interactivity that toddlerhood brought, but his limit with anyone under 3-feet was an hour. As soon as there was a tantrum or meltdown, he would be done.
Neither of us felt inadequate or incomplete. We didn’t hate kids—we just didn’t want any of our own. We babysat our friends’ infants and toddlers, and we enjoyed all the goofiness and reverberating belly laughs, but we always felt a sense of relief when the parents came to take their kids back.
We got a lot of comments:
You’ll make such great parents!
You’re naturals at this!
Aww! Look at her—she’s aching for a baby!
Stop being so selfish!
They couldn’t know what kind of parents we would be. We were just having fun (while making sure no one got hurt under our watch). My uterus was just fine. And that last one just got to me! I always wanted to yell, “You are the ones being selfish! We’re doing this planet some selfless good!”
A child-free life suited us. We talked about it at length, over a gap of every few years. The little itty-bitty feet tap-tapping on our hardwood floors didn’t enchant us. The fat rolls and chubby cheeks failed to enamor us. For 12 years, we arrived at the same conclusion: Parenthood was not for us.
And then something changed. The kids were growing up. The more we spent time with them, the more we realized we wanted this “thing” for our own—this feeling of being loved unconditionally, of creating someone to nurture, of calling someone our own. Interestingly enough, it wasn’t my ticking time bomb of a uterus that initiated the conversation. It was my husband.
At a layover from a memorable trip to Hawaii, while standing in a Starbucks line, he said, “I didn’t sleep at all last night. I want us to have a child of our own.”
Just like that. No drama. No prefacing with anything. Just out of the blue.
Next words I hear: “I can help the next customer in line.”
I was in a daze. I just ran from there to the restroom and must have uttered “shit” 500 times with tears streaming down my face. I didn’t know why I was reacting this way. I just knew that it felt so right and so wrong at the same time. It meant the end of us as we knew it. I was lamenting that. It meant a whole new beginning: One where a child wouldn’t accidentally call me “mom.” I was rejoicing over that.
Lessons—we learn so many of them every day. Some that last with us for a long time, others that we forget as soon as they are learned. Now we would have the responsibility to pass them on. To be role models. To do “the right thing.” It’s daunting to be responsible for another life. But it’s also selfish to pass on one’s DNA. To have someone who looks up to you. To feel the pride and joy that comes with the pain and tears.
Some say that parenthood is the most selfless of “loves” one experiences in one’s life. In our case, it wasn’t selflessness that drove us to the decision. We chose parenthood because we wanted something out of it.
As a mother, I have laughed way more in the past year than in the last 36 put together. I revel in that feeling of pure contentment when my child comes and snuggles with me. I love it when she chooses me over and over again to comfort her. I wrote down when I got the first sloppy kiss, the first hug.
She has become our world, and she is everything we had imagined our child would be. We put her first but really what we’re doing is putting our happiness first.
Sacrifice isn’t part of our vocabulary. Selflessness isn’t either. We do everything because we want to. Because we derive happiness out of it. Because we love to feel loved.
Yes, we were selfish then, and we are selfish now. But we wouldn’t have it any other way.
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