Babies Aren’t Accessories

Marjorie Murphy Campbell

We like to sleep in, go on last-minute vacations, and pull all-nighters working on projects we care about. We’d rather spend the money we do have on dates, not diapers. ~Nona Willis Aronowitz, 27 years old.

Have babies become another in a checklist of cost items for young women?  Are they juggling the “baby option” with the “mortgage option,” the “cruise option” or the “new job option”?  Have contraception, egg-freezing, sperm-on-demand and other baby-timing technologies tricked our young women into thinking that having and nurturing a child is another “To Do,” to be scheduled amid the demands of their career?

Ms. Aronowitz – a 27-year-old journalist – seems to think so.  She recently wrote:

Deciding when to have children is a riddle of figuring out the right age when neither my ovaries nor my career prospects will wither.  Why shouldn’t we wait until we’re financially secure and emotionally mature to have children?

How many young women think that having and nurturing a child competes in purpose and satisfaction with a job promotion?  Did these young women miss Anne-Marie Slaughter’s recent “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” message that nothing else a woman does trumps the “maternal imperative” of nurturing children?  Slaughter’s explanation for giving up a high power government job is worth repeating.

Deep down, I wanted to go home.  I wanted to be able to spend time with my children in the last few years that they are likely to live at home, crucial years for their development into responsible, productive, happy, and caring adults.  But also irreplaceable years for me to enjoy the simple pleasures of parenting—baseball games, piano recitals, waffle breakfasts, family trips, and goofy rituals.

Breaking the comfortable routine young married professionals often find themselves enjoying – finally independent, with some disposable income, stably removed from the stress of dating and sport sexing – can be challenging.  It’s often a wonderful stage of life, as the caterpillar unfurls her first set of wings.  The baby you always thought you wanted – you always intend to have – can suddenly seem like an expensive, cloying threat.

Young people often don’t know that they will never really grow up, mature into the satisfactions of adulthood, until they have moved beyond themselves.  Most young women don’t know that having a baby will be the single most profound change of their lives; or as one author put it, “Making the decision to have a child . . . is to decide forever to have your heart go walking outside your body.”  This “maternal imperative” is the wisdom of women – the sort of folklore older women like Slaughter used to pass from generation to generation.

It’s hardly surprising that many young women like Ms. Aronowitz sincerely believe that having a child depends on the right combination of income, job security and government programs.  Progressive feminism has infused their youth with the illusion that a baby is another accessory and that women happen to be the humans stuck with gestating them.  These young women have heard very few professionals like Slaughter call the bluff as she did in her recent Atlantic piece – a piece Slaughter wrote because she could no longer hawk the illusion to the next generation of women.

Ms. Aronowitz’ circumstances suggest another reason that some young women miss the wisdom passed from mother to daughter, the female wisdom about what deepens a feminine life, what unveils feminine satisfaction and significance.  Ms. Aronowitz herself was a birth postponed by her parents until “late” – and she then lost her mother early at age 64.  As Ms. Aronowitz painfully shares, “Losing my mother in my formative years was gut-wrenching, and all of my grandparents had died by the time I turned 25.”   It’s hard to learn what older women know when there are no older women in your life.

“Babies, my dear Ms. Aronowitz,” I and other nurturing women would tell her, “are not accessories.  They cannot be tacked on last minute, as time is running out, like a beach cottage you always wanted.”  

Babies are not made manageable one day by the “free and ubiquitous” child care or the easier “job market” Ms. Aronowitz wishfully thinks will move “having a baby” up on her To Do list.   No, these will not preserve the “last minute vacations” and date money Aronowitz prefers.  They will not make balancing a career any easier.  Babies still wake up needing you for hours at night.  They throw up on you unexpectedly as you head out the door for a meeting.  They stare mournfully into your eyes through a 103° fever, limp in your arms.  Babies find ways to draw from your heart protective longings shockingly beyond imagination and appallingly beyond control.  One of my own babies – when all else failed to pry me from a dogged determination to litigate full time – learned to speed dial my office number by age 36 months and whisper, “Me misths yous mommy.  Come home peas.”

Our young women are entitled to the truth, not an illusion.   Having a child may well be something a woman decides not to do, but it’s not an item you can expect to juggle like a new job, mortgage or car, a function of timing, dollars and favorable government programs.  No, babies are not an accessory.  A baby will take your life away from you – and hand back something so unexpected and magnificent that you will tear up your youthful To Do with a laugh, infused with the stunning wisdom nurturing women share.

One thought on “Babies Aren’t Accessories