I had dinner with a friend a couple of weeks ago. She has a highly successful career, a great relationship with her husband and, in the 13 years in which I’ve known her, has vehemently denied any interest in having children. Now 37, she finds herself suddenly on the fence on this issue. She knows that if she and her husband do, in fact, decide to take that never-going-back plunge into parenthood, they can’t wait much longer. But she’s not sure whether they should. She quipped, “No one who has children will ever tell you they made a mistake.” True, that.
To Parent or Not to Parent. Obviously, their choice, not mine. I was not about to weigh in on what would likely be the biggest decision of their lives. There is no “right” answer. It’s what feels right to them that matters.
So I had no answers for her. But this made me think about the choice of becoming a parent. For those of us who had children later than when our biology may have liked us to, this is usually a conscious act. I had my daughter at 33 — like early November foliage in the Hudson Valley, a little past peak (which, if you went by the egg donor ads Sony Theaters used to run, is 18 to 32.) I took the leap after losing my job and deciding to become a freelancer. The time seemed right, the dog wasn’t quite cutting it anymore, and I felt ready — or as ready as I ever would be. My heart told me what I needed to know: I wanted to be a mother.
Split screen now to younger parents. I often wonder if they feel the need to soul search as much as those of us who waited longer. Does it feel like quite the same leap to a 23-year-old mom as it does to a 37-year-old one? Does age add complexity to what could just be seen as a natural next step, after finding a suitable mating partner? My hunch is that with younger parents, there is more action, less thought. Which makes sense: They haven’t had all of those years as adults without children, so there’s not the same basis for comparison: Life Before vs. Life After.
And when I think about my friends who took the plunge later, as I did, it brings me back to my journey with my daughter, as she fights her way back to good health. When I’ve relayed the story to fellow parents, many times they respond, “I can’t even imagine what that must be like.” Except here’s the thing: I think they can. When you’ve taken that conscious leap into parenting, having a child who gets sick — life-threateningly sick — is a scenario you’ve played. It stays in the back of your mind, in the “But what if?” part. You keep it back there for good reason — it would consume you if you brought it to the fore. We all have these fears, either the moment we choose to become parents or later, after our children are born.
And here’s the answer to that “What If?”: If that happened, you would do everything you could to make your child healthy again. Would that make you heroic? Brave? Not especially. It would make you what you already are — a parent. No matter what, I feel grateful and fortunate to have taken this plunge. My life has never been the same, and I mean that in the best possible way.