sober questioning

‘I’m 90 Days Sober — Am I Ready for a Baby Yet?’

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Dear Ana,

I have been trying this for years, in and out of all the treatment centers. Never managed sobriety more than nine months. I’ll have 90 days tomorrow and I’m feeling strong. I keep coming back.

Lately I’ve been thinking about becoming a single mother by choice, in sobriety: What does that look like? A question that requires the soberest of thinking. 

How do you juggle the demands of a child versus “putting your own oxygen mask on first”? Can I do what it takes to break the cycle of addiction in families?

My first child was not raised sober from day one; he’s now 6 and recording memories. Now I want (I feel like I need) a second. I’ve been on sperm-donation websites for years. I’m 37, and I have to pull the trigger soon. 

Clear Eyes, Full Heart 

Dear Clear Eyes, Full Heart

I’m not going to tell you I think a second child in early sobriety, by choice, is a good idea. But I’m also not going to tell you it’s a tragically bad one, and why put yourself on a road to relapse and ruin? A lot of “old-timers” and rehab programs would warn you away from the idea with life-or-death certainty. I spoke to a friend of mine who spent years as a chemical-dependency counselor about your question; the first response was a wide-eyed shaking of the head, before I even finished describing the situation.

Of course, as a person who isn’t a parent, I can’t say I understand completely where you are — but I do think I’ve been caught up in a spiritual parallel. In early sobriety, I didn’t want a child, but I did want to be in love. I had met someone, also in recovery, and was in the middle of breaking that most-cited and most-often-disregarded rule: No new relationships in your first year of sobriety.

At the time, I talked to an old-timer who didn’t just scold me and doomsay. (“It’s not like we alcoholics are good at listening to advice, anyway.”) She understood, she told me. When we are newly sober, she said, we are cracking open a heart — maybe for the first time, maybe the 20th, but the feeling is the same. We have a chance to love big and without restrictions. Of course we want to use it. All that love in our wounded hearts has been just sitting there, waiting for the right time to emerge. Who wants to contain that? Who can?

My own experience didn’t end great, but I also didn’t go back to using. That “rule” about relationships is conventional wisdom, not a sentence. So I don’t want to tell you that becoming a single mother a second time over in early sobriety — or doing any of things we’re not “supposed” to do — will lead you to inevitable relapse. What’s more, I have an inkling of how powerful the upside would be.

You could get pregnant on day 91 and figure out how to do all the hard things you have to do to stay sober and remain a good parent to two kids. You’d bring life and joy and love into the world, however messy the situation and whatever darkness shadows you. That could totally happen.

Or not. I don’t think I need to describe what could go wrong. There’s a lot. You’re clearly aware.

Then again, after my counselor friend  — who is also a parent in recovery — and I started talking about the fullness of sober love, the vehemence of that first negative reaction faded into a bit of a rapture about the joy of having children. I got asked if I was really sure about my own choice not to have them, even. (I am.)

None of this makes me feel like I’m being very helpful. I have an honest, practical suggestion, too, though it might feel prosaic in light of the enormity of the emotions and the decision: make a pro-and-con list. And then, if the cons outweigh the pros but you still want to do it, wait a couple of days and make another one. Keep doing that until making the list feels pointless because you’ve already made your decision. The certainty might emerge without you realizing it.

One of my favorite recovery koans is “When in doubt, don’t do anything,” and that’s what I’ll invoke here, along with its corollary, “When you need to know, you’ll know.”

Actually, my friend may have put it better: “I wouldn’t ever want to tell someone NOT to become a parent. But if it’s a good idea today, won’t it still be a good idea tomorrow?”

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‘I’m 90 Days Sober — Am I Ready for a Baby Yet?’