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How do I stop hating human babies so much?
You know what I hear whenever someone adamantly voices contempt for babies or kids? I hear a profound disillusionment that probably began with their own childhood (possibly a childhood where they themselves felt unwelcome). I also hear myself, as I was before.
It’s important to stress that we’re not talking about a desire not to have kids — we’re talking about actually hating babies — the most blameless and the least defended of the human species. From the tiny seashells of their hands to their softness to their diminutive size, nature has designed them to be loved, because without love and protection they flounder and die.
How on earth does a person actually hate babies?
I’ve been there myself, and had to put in the time and the thirsty work of unpacking this issue the hard way. This is a difficult story to recount — difficult because I’m ashamed of it. But if it resonates with anyone, it’s worth telling.
Ever since the age of probably 6, I derided the tradition of marriage as a miserable thing, and vociferously denounced babies and kids. Adults found that amusing, kind of precocious. I never wanted to be considered a kid and worked very hard for those “Wow, you are an old soul,” or “Oh my god, what is she, 40?” comments. I was disdainful of kids, and wanted nothing to do with them.
It would be years — and $1000 of therapy — before, in one singular, watershed moment, I realized that that contempt — not just an aversion! — was a bitter disappointment with my own childhood (my parents divorced when I was 5, and both the divorce and the subsequent pairings-up were neither smooth nor happy).
I spent my young adult life militantly practicing birth control, and would often say to men very early into the dating process that if their life plan involved parenting, they should keep moving. Since I was sort of “embedded” in the Latino scene (I was a salsa singer), this strangely vehement proclamation (I will never be a mother!) raised many eyebrows. Culturally, Latinos relish family. For the most part, it’s somewhat taken for granted that they will one day, eventually, have kids.
Years later, I would find myself with a rocky engagement I was already calling off… and unexpectedly pregnant. To say I was terrified is to understate the horror. I remember saying at the time, “I’d rather have cancer.” It causes me almost physical pain now to recall this foolishness — I still have residual guilt about it, too — as I’m prone to magical thinking, and worry that these emotions might have impacted this wonderful child who would eventually unlock the sad, fearful clench I had over my own heart.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. All I knew was that my life was over. I always assumed that should I find myself in this position, I’d have an abortion, but somehow when I confronted the reality of it, I was wholly unable to contemplate that possibility. So I was a hostage, every day, to my body’s new condition. Constantly bone-tired and nauseous, I despised pregnancy, and unsurprisingly, my body itself began to fight the condition like an infection. I am searingly ashamed to say that I looked upon my growing baby as a kind of parasite. I determined that I would carry the baby to term and give it up for adoption.
Miserable, I sought counseling, lighting down with a woman named, I think, Elaine Mowry in San Francisco, I spent 8 or 9 sessions discussing my mother (following her lead). It began to feel like a humorous — but extremely expensive — cliche. I was still terrified, certain I did not want to be a mother, and was looking into adoption.
On the tenth session I announced I’d be quitting. She said she understood. She asked me to recap my reasons for not wanting to be a mother, and I listed them. There were many: I’m too selfish, I don’t like kids, I’m impatient, I was happy with my life — very happy! Everything would change; I’d be miserable — maybe even suicidal.
She listened and made notes. Then after a moment she said nodded once and said slowly, “With all due respect, I don’t think any of those are the real reason.” I looked at her defensively, surely suppressing an eye-roll. “Oh really,” I thought acidly. “By all means, tell me how I feel, Dr. Mowry.”
“I think that deep down,” she said, “you think there is no such thing as a happy family.”
I actually opened my mouth to argue here, but the sobs came too suddenly and intensely — in a rush, an outpour. I could not stop sobbing. It was like a full body monsoon; it was like vomiting.
Throughout, she said “There is no prescription for that. I can’t change what has happened. And I can’t change your mind. But you have fiercely determined to see the world in a certain way. And even when you’ve seen evidence to the contrary you refuse to see it because it does not fit what you remember. You have got to start seeing, now — that there are happy children, happy parents, that parents revel in the love of their children. That having kids makes their lives better.” She also said that as a shrink there was little more she could say to help, but as a woman she could tell me: You will love it. It will become you. None of this will matter.
“I wish I could make you believe this just by knowing it to be true,” she said.
I was a mess. That evening I found myself sitting disconsolately in my car in the Safeway parking lot, still seizing intermittently with sobs, when out of the store came a small Latino family. The man had a tiny kid on his shoulders and was singing loudly in a warbly vibrato. His wife, roly-poly in stretchy tights, swatted him, laughing, telling him to “stop, por favor!” Together they swung their other kid in the air between them as they made their way to their car, and I realized everything Dr. Mowry had said was dead-on. I’d built a reality whose shaky foundation was a kind of resilient sadness. It was not an empirical truth — quite the contrary, in fact. It was a fortress built upon my own ancient, calcified regrets.
She was also right about me loving my baby. So much, in fact, that it was almost debilitating. If you think of the highest peak of romantic love, then imagine that one-hundredfold, you might get a glimpse. If you imagine that mortality stops, rather suddenly, becoming an academic concept, and becomes something felt in the gut, then you’re getting closer: the knowledge that you and this person will one day part. That you might involuntarily have to disappear on them when they still look to you. That they could, unthinkably, become somehow lost to you. The love and the imagined precipices of loss become intertwined; it was as religious an experience as I have ever had — nothing has ever approached its intensity.
Nowadays, long on the other side of that divide between the person I was and the person I am, I almost don’t even recognize myself, except with sympathy. She was telling the truth, too, after all — one version of it.
I have run across others who sound like I did then. Like you sound. And I often ask about their parents and their childhood. Maybe one day my assumptions will be wrong, but so far there is a trend to it: an often humorous or dismissive summary of dysfunction or divorce, some remoteness in the parenting here or there. Somehow we get the idea that we’re a real pain in the ass. Or maybe our parents were great to us — but they themselves seemed hollowed-out, only parents: nothing more dimensional or complete. Maybe they make parenthood look like a kind of death of the self. Often, I think what we hate in kids is what we felt hated for as kids. Maybe you don’t see yourself in this, and maybe you do. But it is worth a hard look.
Note that I do not think everyone needs kids to be happy. Most definitely not everyone needs (and some don’t deserve) kids. But my hopes for you have more to do with making peace with yourself, than with your future choices. I wish you the best moving forward.
Necia Dallas writes about perfume, relationships, and parenting. You can read more from Quora below:
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