Childbearing future in question

My mother had her third daughter at 3:02 p.m. on Sunday, a beautiful girl named Lilah Margaret who weighed eight pounds, 10 ounces. Both mother and baby are doing well.

Since I’ve been giving this little recitation to friends and family this week, there’s been an interesting array of responses, from “”Mazel Tov!”” to “”What color is her hair?”” to “”How old is your Mom, again?”” But the biggest head-scratcher came from a friend in Seattle, who asked, “”So how does this make you feel about having kids?””

I was unaware that the experience was supposed to change my outlook on children. Lilah’s birth was not the first I’d attended. I was the videographer at the birth of my 2-year-old sister, Sadie, and got an eyeful of what the “”miracle of childbirth”” does to a 39-year-old woman’s lower half (it ain’t pretty). My mom trained to be a midwife when I was a kid, so I was knowledgeable about the process and had been present for a few deliveries.

There is always something arresting about being faced with the improbable but undeniable fact that where there was once one woman grunting and sweating on a bed surrounded by frantic nurses, there is now one sweaty woman, several frantic nurses and one tiny, perfect little creature with absolutely no idea what’s going on — no memory, no preconceptions, no desires (except for warmth and comfort), no history. Its journey is starting right there, and the inherent seduction comes from the knowledge that you can shape that journey.

I’ve been on the fence about having kids of my own for years. I adore my sisters, and playing with Sadie is supreme stress relief, even when she’s bouncing off the walls or throwing record tantrums. Holding Lilah this week, watching her struggle to open her dim eyes and feeling her absurdly small fingers wrap about my clumsy thumb is lovely. And the idea that someday, I might have a little person who belongs to me, whose journey I can shape however I want to, is a powerful draw.

But I’m pretty old-fashioned when it comes to how I want to raise my theoretical children. Though I never thought I’d agree with Dr. Laura Schlessinger on anything, I can’t see being happy with allowing my infant or toddler to be raised by nannies, daycares and babysitters; either my putative husband or I would have to stay at home with any children until they were nearly ready for school. And the likelihood of me pursuing a career that allows me to take several years off while my family is still financially solvent, or finding a co-parent (husband, best friend, whatever) who could and would do something similar, seems small.

Not to mention that the lifestyles that appeal to me now — little job security, high mobility, risk-taking, self-exploration — are hardly compatible with being responsible for a new person’s life. By the time I run that course, I could be well into the twilight of my childbearing years, and while my mom is living proof that pregnancy happens over 40, I don’t want to be trying to retire when my kids are off to college.

This is where feminism has left me: too committed to my own life goals to be able to raise a child the old-fashioned way, and too intent on being an involved parent to be up for the have-it-both-ways route taken by most working women these days.

I can’t help feeling societal forces pushing and pulling on my childbearing future, as well. On the one hand, the last thing our overpopulated world needs is another breeder popping out mouths to feed and pocketbooks to fill. On the other hand, as an educated and reasonably well-adjusted person, I almost feel an obligation to have children to make up for the crazies and idiots having kids like the government hands out checks for them (oh wait, it does). I’d like to think I’d make a positive contribution to the gene pool.

I’m only 20, and in no danger of getting knocked up any time soon. But this is the age my mom was when she became a mother. I have friends who are already engaged. I have two little girls that keep the thought of my own potential offspring firmly in my mind. And I have one mother who is “”not going through that again,”” and will be hounding me for grandkids once my diploma’s on the wall.