Thursday, January 08, 2009

Maybe Baby - Edited by Lori Leibovich

To breed or not to breed, that is the question!

Okay, so it’s not a question for many. The majority does breed in a wanton and carefree (in certain cases too carefree) manner. Their genes, instincts, family and friends tell them to go ahead, and ahead they go with the dubious task of ensuring that the world is full to the brim with human beings. Am I giving myself away?

A small, small minority has known from childhood or teenagehood (not an actual word – yet) that parenting was not in the cards for them. For this group a few will fall along the way, victims of unplanned pregnancies, and whatdayaknow? Some learn to enjoy the hand fate dealt.

Ah but there is a most interesting, growing, sneaky group of people who manage to avoid stray bullets for most of their twenties and arrive at their late twenties, early thirties (and even early forties) with the nagging doubt: “should I or shouldn’t I?”.

Well the common sense answer would probably be “If you have to think that much about it, don’t”. Yes, but every new parent says it’s sooo great, the absolute best experience in life, the one thing that will finally give meaning, continuity, focus, altruism, happiness etc, etc, etc.

And here lies the conundrum – for the first time in history the last decades have freed women (and men) of developed countries from this particular biological destiny and yet never has western culture been so babycentric than these past ten to fifteen years. Just as the choice became widely available so did the pressure grow to join the baby camp.

“Maybe Baby – 28 writers tell the truth about skepticism, infertility, baby lust, childlessness, ambivalence and how they made the biggest decision of their lives” (phew!) explores under the headings “No”, “Maybe” and “Yes” how a few writers came to deal with this important decision.

There are many different life stories here, and if for nothing else “Maybe Baby” fosters respects for other people’s choices. I was just as awed by Lionel Shriver who first proclaimed she would never have children at 8 years of age, as by Amy Benfer who decided to raise the daughter she had at 16 and by Joan Gould who, already mother to two teenagers decided to have a third child in her forties.

Some thought they would have children somewhere along the line but it never happened, some never thought much about it and embraced parenthood as it unexpectedly appeared, some felt an urgent, sudden need to be mommy or daddy just as it became too late and everybody just tried to make the best of it, none more so than Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez whose child was erroneously diagnosed with autism.

My favorite tale is “One is enough” by Neal Pollack who tells of his wife and his decision to stop at one child and how that unexpectedly brought them under criticism (really folks? Haven’t they given enough to the cause?). On the other hand Lauren Slater who had always meant to have only one child, came to the conclusion that a second one was indeed very needed in her family.

“Maybe Baby” is probably aimed at those ambivalent or seeking support for their choices - (which would be all of us then, wouldn’t it?) even if the “Yes” tales far outnumber the “Nos” and “Maybes”- a lot of parents could probably learn something here. I recommend Amy Reiter’s “Mama don’t preach”.

And I really, really like this Joseph Campbell quote found in Larry Smith’s “The daddy dilemma”:

“We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”

Like all the best quotations, there are several ways to interpret it, and any of them could be right – for each of us.

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