Someone once gave me a book with this title. It was published over three decades ago and featured questions on the back such as “Is it safe to have a baby after thirty?” and “What psychological problems do ‘older parents’ face?” I put it on a shelf somewhere and forgot about it until after the birth of my son, when I got a laugh out of reading the back cover.
I was much more intrigued by a report on NPR that coincided with the year I turned thirty. Rather than raising questions about safety, it raised questions about adjusting to the lifestyle of a new parent after age thirty. Several parents were interviewed, some saying that they wished they had had children in their twenties. Giving up dinners out, going to the movies - in short, being able to do more or less what they wanted during their free time would have been easier if they had never had the opportunity to get accustomed to that way of life in the first place. Their voices sounded weary and a little disappointed, as if they’d expected parenting to be less difficult, or maybe that they would magically not miss the things they used to be able to do.
This report actually gave me pause at the time. I could see myself feeling that way. After all, I valued my free time, the ability to socialize, travel, etc. Even now I can see the reasoning behind this line of thinking: How can you miss something if you never experienced it? That said, part of my becoming ready for parenthood was the realization that I was okay with drastically changing my lifestyle. Instead of feeling liberating, my pre-pregnancy lifestyle seemed to stretch before me, endlessly repeating itself in the same patterns of how I typically spent my time, how I interacted with friends and family. If my life were a swimming pool, having a child would be like airlifting and dropping an elephant seal in the middle of it, and a part of me was looking forward to sitting poolside and watching the splash.
I do miss my old freedom, but not often and not intensely. Sometimes I feel nostalgia for the time when I was able to just spend a day organizing my papers or spontaneously hop in the car and go somewhere. Realistically, I wasn’t usually that adventurous. Usually when I feel that way, I remind myself of the feeling I had just before getting pregnant, like my life was a colorful painting with an odd, blank spot somewhere in the middle.
I am glad I waited until my thirties to have a child, if only to get to the point of feeling that void. Sometimes when I have made big decisions, I have later tormented myself by questioning whether I did the right thing or not, indulging in a little regret of what I gave up and wondering if life would have been better had I chosen another path, even wondering if I should reverse the decision. I recall a few months into pregnancy feeling a little frisson of surprise and awe that this was a decision that could not be simply reversed, with life going right back as though it had never happened. There was a delicious sense of finality to it. I didn’t need to question it, because there was no looking backward, only forward. That, to me, was liberating.
J LeBlanc is a former high school teacher who resides in Lebanon, N.H. She is currently taking a break from teaching to stay home with her 8-month-old son.
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