hurry up and wait

How Do You Know When It’s Baby Time?

The short answer: You don't.
The short answer: You don’t. Photo: Ghislain & Marie David de Lossy/Corbis

I’ve never been great at making decisions, whether they’re important and life-changing or extremely minor. My general decision-making process runs something like this: I avoid thinking about [insert topic here] until something happens which forces me into making a snap decision. The decision made, I feel proud of myself for no longer having to avoid thinking about it.

I’ve made mostly good decisions this way because, when pushed in the moment to decide, I go with my gut: “I’ll have the grilled cheese on rye, please” I say to the waiter. “Let’s go with the White Dove,” I blink, looking up from the paint chips. I am sure of myself in these moments of necessity. I am a decider, a powerful woman who can *snaps fingers* tell you what I want.

I save myself a lot of thinking this way, so in effect, it’s a symptom of laziness. I never had an opinion about whether or not I wanted to get married until I was asked, at the age of 28, by the only person who has ever asked me to get married. “Okay,” I decided, forced in the moment to choose. He was the smartest person I knew; he was funny. This could be a disaster, of course, but maybe it wouldn’t be. So we got married.

From very early on in my relationship with him, my (now) husband Josh was sure of himself: He wanted to have children. He wasn’t aggressive about it; he didn’t have a proposed time line or a hope chest filled with onesies. He didn’t have names picked out. He didn’t know how many children he wanted to have. It was just that, if asked, “Hey man, do you want to have children?” Josh was prepared with the answer: yes. That answer of his propped me up and inflated me with self-confidence: I too could say yes! “Yes, someday, of course!” I could sing out (that “someday,” it turned out, was a pretty telling and key addition). Children, someday! But inside, I felt unsure.

So I deferred. “We don’t have any money!” I said at the age of 31. And it was true: Neither of us wanted to leave New York City for somewhere cheaper, and the millions weren’t rolling in. Never mind, of course, that plenty of parents (my own included) made do with less than we had and still managed to have a family. I looked at our Chihuahua happily and considered the three of us enough, for now.

“We don’t have the space!” I yelled at the age of 33 from our small bedroom to the kitchen in our 800-square-foot loft apartment. Of course, many people were just fine with their families in cozy small spaces. “The floorboards here are dangerous!” “There’s no laundry!” “The industrial fans that blow outside are so loud they’d wake up a baby!” “Greenpoint is a Superfund site!”

These excuses largely worked, partly because there was a grain of truth to them and partly because my husband’s attention span is quite short. If he asked about a child, I could almost always change the subject and he wouldn’t bring it up again for months. Instinctively, I think, he knew not to press me.

And so, years passed. Suddenly, we were stable financially, sort of. We did have the space, even in Brooklyn, to have a baby, and then a toddler. We had a washing machine and a dryer. We had a tiny backyard. I had a job with some (not a lot, but some) paid maternity leave. I had some flexibility. I had just passed my 35th birthday, and it didn’t take much serious thought to realize I had stalled for one reason: terror.

I was afraid of pregnancy. I was afraid of my physical body belonging to another being, even if only for a short time. I was afraid of having to spend ten long months stressed out, and if that happened, having to worry that it would be bad for the baby, as well. I feared labor. I feared the possibility of a C-section. I feared that my genes were bad and that my child would inevitably inherit all of my worst features and traits. I feared never having time to read anymore. I feared never sleeping. I feared gaining weight that I’d never, ever lose. I was terrified of fucking up my career, right when it had gotten to a place I was happy with. I was afraid a baby would fuck up my already-volatile (we’re both loud and stubborn) relationship with my husband, who was, most days, the only friend I had in the world. What if my baby is an asshole?

I spent half a day, easy, writing these fears down, pacing the floor of my office, unable to even imagine what having a child was actually like, though I did try. It couldn’t be that hard though, right? I’d probably get through pregnancy just fine; the baby would be cute and healthy; there’s nothing to fear. I bet I could even work from home while taking care of that imaginary baby. Babies can’t be very much work! What am I even afraid of?

By the time I had talked myself down from many of my fears, my daughter was, if only in my head, much closer to existence. The hardest part was convincing myself to convert my fear into a challenge for myself. Once that was done, I was able to ask better questions of myself.

Many times, I’d said to Josh, “I could be happy, just you and me, forever.” That was still true: I couldn’t even envision the new person, so how could I say if life would be better or worse with the addition of him or her? I assumed life would just be … different. But one thing was clear to me, that day in 2013: I didn’t want to pass up the possibility of having a child. I knew I’d be okay with it if I couldn’t get pregnant. I knew that just me, Josh, and the dog were good enough. We had a full life. But I began to think, “What would she even look like?” “Would he or she be like us?” My general curiosity at life won out. I wasn’t too old. I still had energy. I couldn’t not know — we had to try.

My daughter, Zelda, was born on February 4, 2014, and so now, she’s almost two years old. I wasn’t absolutely sure that I wanted her until the day that I met her, but when that happened, when I spotted her little screaming face for the first time, I had never felt so much certainty about anything in my life: We had made the right decision.

Almost all of my pre-baby fears came true on some level. I hated being pregnant. My birth story was a bit of a disaster. I never have any time to read. I get up earlier than I ever have in my life, and I do it every single day. I am still struggling to lose weight that I gained during pregnancy. My career has suffered, as has, occasionally, my relationship with my husband.

And yet, that’s only one way of describing our reality. The other way is just as true: This is the best thing we’ve ever done, and the most fun we’ve ever had. We’re better people for having created this tiny little human, who is more impressive and smarter and funnier than either of us. She’s made us smarter and funnier and more likeable, too, I think. So now, there are four of us.

My answer to the question, “Do I want to have children?” was “no,” until it was “yes.” Why did I have a baby? I just had to see what she would be like. And she is far cooler than I ever could have imagined.

How Do You Know When It’s Baby Time?