Last week a colleague called me into her office to go over some numbers, and when I saw a smiling, gap-toothed girl beaming from a frame on her desk, I said, “Wow, your daughter looks just like you! She’s adorable!” My co-worker—let’s call her Bernice—said, “Thanks! When are you going to have one?”
This, of course, wasn’t my first time being asked about having kids by someone I didn’t know well, so I provided my default answer to this question: “I’m not sure; too bad you can’t order babies on Amazon Prime, am I right?” Usually, this gently lets the Bernices of the world know I’m not interested in giving them any more details about my family planning, but she continued.
“So how old are you … you’re 31?! Oh, you know it gets really hard after 33. You should get going. What’s the holdup?” At this point, my mind was running through several possible retorts:
- “No shit, Sherlock. Thanks for the reminder that my eggs are aging. No one’s ever told me until now.”
- “How do you even know I want kids? It seems motherhood has made you annoying, and I’m not interested.”
- “Ever heard of an icon named Janet Jackson? She just had a kid and she’s 50. AND she’s on tour now. Booyah!”
But instead I awkwardly replied, “Yeah, my husband and I are figuring it out.” This only seemed to energize her. “Oh, so you’re married? Yeah, you should really get this show on the road. You don’t want to be an old parent.”
I pivoted to the original purpose of our meeting (which wasn’t my uterus), but in the back of my mind there was a nagging question. A few days later, I asked my husband the question I couldn’t shake: “Do people ever ask you when we’re going to have kids?”
“Nah, not really. Just my mom.”
My suspicions were confirmed. The pressure for young married folks to have children is primarily focused on the prospective mother, which is only the beginning of her imbalanced burden in parenting. Some may argue that this makes sense, since the woman is the one carrying the child, and the decision should be up to her; however, in my opinion, this is exactly why she should be left alone.
I am excited to be a mother one day, and I’m excited to see my husband as a father; sometimes I can hardly wait. However, I’ve lived long enough to know that babies don’t always magically appear when you’re ready, and that when they do arrive, children represent a dramatic and permanent shift for a woman’s lifestyle, career and priorities.
If and when we are blessed with a child, not much will change for my husband careerwise. He’ll have a few weeks of paternal leave to take advantage of, but he doesn’t have to worry that a child may affect his career’s upward trajectory or his colleagues’ perception of his ability to take on more work or challenging projects. He won’t have to duck out of meetings to deal with morning sickness and wonder when he can finally reveal to his office that he’s having a baby.
When he does let them know that his wife is expecting, he doesn’t have to worry that human resources is calculating the odds that his impending parenthood negatively affects company profit margins. No one asks him when he’s having a baby, and no one changes their expectations of him when he does; they just celebrate his parenthood when it happens. This makes me jealous.
In addition to the adjustments a pregnancy (and eventually a child) will force on my career, there’s the added layer of what it’s like to be a pregnant black woman. A dear friend of mine explained that even though she felt her husband wasn’t always needed at her prenatal appointments, she had him come along because without him, medical staff often assumed that she was single and poor. Once she delivered her son, a new nurse checking in on her gave her a WIC brochure so she could “give her child the nourishment he needed.”
Also, as a black person considering parenthood, 45’s early-morning tweets, coupled with his administration’s barrage of attacks on his fellow citizens, particularly those of color, don’t exactly give me the warm fuzzies about bringing a child into the world.
Of course, one could see having a black child in America, a country built without our interests and livelihood in mind, as an act of resistance. That’s beautiful, but on a day-to-day basis, what does that look like for black and brown parents? What additional decisions do we have to make in advance of having our babies?* Do we need therapy to deal with the microaggressions we may have experienced before we can bring a child into it? When Bernice and others of her ilk are pressing me and other young women to “get on with it” and have kids, does she realize that there are countless reasons it could be prudent to pause and gather ourselves first?
If none of those factors make Bernice’s question problematic, consider that as a married woman in my 30s, I’m old enough to have other women friends who have struggled with fertility. I have friends who were desperate but simply unable to conceive, at least not without expensive and strenuous fertility treatments.
By now, I know women who’ve dealt with the double whammy of infertility and constant pressure to conceive from family, friends and strangers who see them and their husbands at the mall and think they’d make an adorable baby. By now, I’ve grieved for women like Gabrielle Union, who, while attempting to grieve for her eight or nine miscarriages privately, have thousands, even millions of eyes trained on their midsection checking for a baby bump. And yes, by now, Bernice’s seemingly innocent question offends me for reasons that may not even apply to me.
Listen—it’s 2017, and our society has come a long way. My employer offers both men and women a fully paid 12-week parental leave, and stay-at-home dads are becoming a thing. But for now, it seems that women still get to keep the responsibility of carrying the babies as well as the brunt of the pressure to have them and to answer for why we don’t have them yet. It doesn’t have to be that way, though. Let’s all not be Bernice. Let’s all celebrate the miracle that babies are without expecting them of anyone.
*My friends who are parents love to remind me that no one is ever ready to have a baby; you just do it and figure it out. I believe that, although that statement produces equal parts anxiety and comfort.