Dear Dana is a bi-weekly advice column for humans who engage in romantic relationships. Please send your dilemmas, issues, conundrums, assumptions, conflicts, anxieties, worriments, obstacles, complications, predicaments, queries, questions, and any other synonyms for “problems” to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I think I would like to have a kid someday soonish with my husband, but when I think about it I do not feel very encouraged. I am scared it will kill my creative ambition forever. I guess I hate the idea that if you have a kid, you give up on any individuality or dreams, like This Is All You Do Now.
I have not always wanted kids — this is a relatively recent development — and I have never been super maternal or sentimental about the idea. My life feels pretty full — this isn’t something I’m doing because I can’t figure out what’s next. I feel like I have come to a good place in terms of figuring myself out, and now I am going to give it away. I also know that women get the short end of the stick a lot, doing most of the childcare and cleaning no matter how progressive their partnerships appear. Why would I sign on for that?
On the flip side, I think we would be good parents, and I will be more sad if we never have a family than all the possible ways it could go wrong. In short, I am scared. How do you have kids and not lose yourself?
Dear Feelings Barf,
So you’re scared about having kids. To quote Yoda, “You should be.” Because going from zero kids to one kid is one of the biggest whole-life-upheavals an adult can opt into.
I’m a writer, a creative type, and I have two kids. I’m currently sitting in a rocker in my 7-week-old newborn daughter’s room, writing on a laptop I negotiated away from my husband in order to get an hour to work on this column. I can hear my daughter downstairs, crying while my husband swaddles her in hopes of convincing her to take a nap. As I type, two plastic flanges attached to my boobs suck my nipples in to them in an attempt to extract milk. The breast pump to my right hums away, “Whoo – whoo. Whoo – whoo.” In the next room my 4-½ year old is growling and crashing around his bedroom, pretending to be a tiger and probably doing something I wouldn’t approve of because he’s smart enough to wait until I’m tethered to the breast pump to make his move. I haven’t slept for more than three hours at a stretch in the past seven weeks and I’m so tired that the other day I realized, at the end of the day, that I had been wearing my pants inside-out. I am, scientifically speaking, in the shit. Right in the hot, gooey center of the chaos and turmoil of having a newborn. So, all of this sounds like a “don’t have kids just keep being creative,” answer, but it isn’t. Because this is the second time I’ve opted in to this situation.
You know that experiment they do in some classes where they fill a glass with rocks and ask if its full and then the pour in pebbles and ask if its full and then they pour in sand and ask if its full and then they pour in water? You think that your glass is full now, but you’d be shocked at how much more can fit inside of it.
Six years ago, I remember standing in the hallway of my Chicago apartment and crying to my husband. We had just started trying to have a child and suddenly I was all shaky and panicky because I couldn’t understand how I was going to cram a kid into my already overly-full schedule. I was sobbing, “I’m going to have to pick. My job, my writing, my performing, and kids — I won’t be able to do them all. I’m going to have to give something up when we have kids.”
And here we are, six years later, with two kids. I’m still at my job. I’m still writing. And I’m still performing. Granted, I’m not able to do two shows a week and stay out afterward drinking and chatting with the other performers. I’m more thoughtful about which gigs I take, which opportunities I say yes to, measuring the amount of time they require against the amount of time I’m willing to be away from my family and the burden my absence will place on them. But I didn’t give anything up.
You don’t have to give anything up.
Before I had kids, I would think about writing and think about writing and put it off and feel bad about putting it off and put it off again. Now that I have kids I the only way I can write is to carve out dedicated time to write, to put it on the calendar, schedule it with my husband, let my 4-year-old know that mommy is not to be disturbed, so when the time finally comes I don’t fucking waste it. I don’t write as much as I used to, but what I write is far more usable because when I write I FUCKING WRITE. I write like someone is chasing me. I write without worrying if it’s good enough because who has time this is a limited window of opportunity and the window is closing just write woman WRITE LIKE YOU’RE ON FIRE.
As for the gendered work load — that’s a valid concern, but you’re not helpless in the face of it. There is work that cannot be shared — carrying the baby, birthing the baby, and, if you choose to, breastfeeding the baby. Add in the fact that men don’t get any sort of paternity leave and six weeks into your new baby’s life you’ve created a pattern that you could stick to for the rest of your lives: the woman takes care of the baby and the house, the man “helps.” Or, you can consciously decide to push back and re-examine that shit. If you don’t want to live that gendered stereotype life, then don’t live that gendered stereotype life.
For me, as a creative person, having kids narrowed some aspects of life, but within those narrow parameters I found a new depth. I have whole new set of life experiences to draw from and I’m able to focus on my work with a precision that was previously unavailable to me. Now, someone without kids with that same focus would definitely have a much greater creative output, but I’m OK with having less time. Because, and here’s the thing I didn’t think about very much before I had kids, it’s all so temporary. The newborn stage is only three months, and then the baby sleeps more, eats less frequently, things settle into a new normal, and you surge forward.
Now, was I crying to my husband last night that it’s all too much and I can’t get half of the shit done that I want to get done every day and I’m so tired and so ready for this part to be over? FUCK YEAH I WAS. Because the newborn stage is bootcamp and everyone breaks down during bootcamp.
Here’s the truth: When you have kids, you do lose yourself. You lose all of yourself in quick newness of this completely helpless little person. And you’re both glad to do it, lost in love, and you’re also upset about it, resentful, wishing you could just. Fucking. Sleep.
Here’s the other truth: When you have kids, you lose yourself, but then you get yourself back. It’s a slightly new you, the way it always is when you change everything all at once, but it’s still you. And as for the things you want to do, the things you care about that you need, you find a way to bring them back, too. I promise that you can have children and also have creative ambitions. Don’t pick, have both.
Dana Norris once went on 71 internet dates, many of which you may read about here. She is the founder of Story Club and editor-in-chief of Story Club Magazine. She has been featured in McSweeney’s, Role Reboot, The Rumpus, and Tampa Review and she teaches at StoryStudio Chicago. You may find her on Twitter at @dananorris.