I always knew I wanted to have a baby. So strong was my conviction that I broke up with a wonderful boyfriend who was equally certain he didn’t want one (to say nothing of two, three, or more) when I was only a few years out of college. I was sure I’d have a baby alone if I never met a partner. And I loved to hold other people’s babies.
Still, I was terrified when I actually got pregnant that the baby growing inside me was going to ruin my life.
If I felt that way I can only imagine what women who are less absolute about wanting children experience when they consider getting—or find themselves—pregnant.
Actually, I can imagine it because I’ve talked with a lot of my friends about the impact of having kids. Some of these friends are blissfully, permanently child-free and know they do not want kids. Others are contemplating getting pregnant but are legitimately unsure of what that will do to their lives. And others are already parents who have the unique perspective of how their lives have changed as a result of having kids.
Make no mistake. A baby will change your life—dramatically. But ruin it? Nope.
Here’s what having a baby will do for you (and please note that this is not necessarily a manifesto to have kids! If you don’t want ’em, don’t have ’em):
- Clarity. Sure, those first few months (ok, if I’m honest, that first year) will be a fugue of sleep deprivation and sore nipples, but having a baby is a visceral reminder of the fleeting nature of life. Only after I gave birth to Henry in 2010 did I find the clarity to realize I absolutely wanted to be an author of books and start writing my first one seriously. Now, four years later, I’ve got a finished manuscript and am on the hunt for an agent. That I managed to do this while becoming a mom, getting pregnant with Silas and giving birth again astounds me. It makes me wonder what the hell I was doing all those years between college and motherhood … I’m not sure, but I suspect I lacked clarity.
- Being present. Everyone has heard of the drudgery that can come with being home with a baby all day (if you don’t, just google “mom blog and boredom.” Fewer people extoll the way that babies have of capturing your attention in the moment and keeping it there. Some people achieve that in meditation. I’ve found it nursing, rocking a baby to sleep, and simply hanging out.
- Efficiency. Whether it’s completing a task at work, squeezing in a workout, or getting the kids out the door to daycare or school, parents are masters of efficiency. When you have more demands on your time (which you do with young kids who are dependent on you to feed, clothe, clean, and nurture them), time changes. What you can accomplish in an hour post-birth is totally different than what you could pre-kid.
- Strength. It doesn’t matter if you pushed your baby out the birth canal or a doctor excavated her from your stomach with a C-section (or tried to do the first and ended up with the second, which is my story), to grow and birth a baby requires endurance, strength, and power. Have a baby and you will understand your strength in an entirely new way.
- The physicality of it. Whenever I travel and spend time away from my family, it only takes a day before I realize how untouched I am. At home, by contrast, I am always touching someone or being touched. Whether it’s cuddling or scooping or rocking or consoling or diapering or wrestling or something else, I am the recipient of loving human touch multiple times every day. I love this.
- Playing. Before having kids, I rarely played. I was active, yes. I ran and biked and skied and called it playing in the Peter Pan way my generation does. But I didn’t hang from monkey bars or play hide and seek or spend hours painting or rolling out Play doh. I do now.
- Communicating. Pre-kids, I thought I was a kick-ass communicator. Now that I’ve had them, I think I probably perseverated about too many inconsequential dramas, was a little bossy, and might have had a tendency toward the passive aggressive. Now that I’ve got two kids and a husband, I’ve learned how to express myself clearly and efficiently and, perhaps most important, how to listen. I have become a kinder and more accepting person, thanks to these kids.
- New friends. The shared experience of being parents has brought some wonderful people into our lives who we never would have known otherwise.
- Prioritization of myself. This one might sound counter-intuitive, but the truth is that since having kids, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what I need to feel whole, supported and loving. The answer is a fair amount of alone time—to write and to exercise. Knowing that has made it easy for me to carve out time for myself and spend time away from my kids and from Jeff. Last year I spent two weeks at a writing residency in New Hampshire; I’ve gone on a slew of girl’s camping and skiing trips, and I exercise several mornings a week while Jeff is on kid duty. In our case, distance really does make the heart grow fonder.
- Joy. Sometimes when I’m reading to the boys or tucking them in or just sitting near them, my stomach flips and flutters, similar to how it felt when I fell in love with Jeff. I happen to think my boys are amazing. And I love watching them grow up and being surprised by the things they say and the ways they teach me.