On The Cusp

The end is nigh. My days of carefree, unadulterated freedom are almost over. Or, at least, hopefully they are.

What on earth am I talking about? I’m talking about trying to have a baby, of course! My husband and I, after three years of unspoiled-by-a-baby wedded bliss, are officially trying for a baby. So my days of free time and sanity (so I’m told!) are almost over. So I say hopefully because I’ve never tried to make a baby before. It could take us years to conceive, if we ever do at all. Or I could be knocked up tomorrow. Who knows?!

Am I ready for a baby? Yes. Or well, I’m the least unready that I’ll ever be. I’ve been happily married for three years. My marriage has been put to the test thanks to (multiple) bouts of unemployment this past year. And we weathered it beautifully. It wasn’t all peaches and roses, of course, because getting laid off is pretty terrible – it happening twice in seven months is a special kind of hell. But my husband and I are a team. We are equal partners and we get shit done all while supporting each other, having fun and making sure we each get our needs met. If we can get through that, I’d say there’s a good chance (nothing is ever 100% certain right?) that we can get through anything.

Plus I’m in my mid-thirties now (yikes!). Which means my eggs are as dry as a raisin in the sun, which is pretty damn dry when you think about it. Okay my eggs are (hopefully) not dried up yet but it’s not like I’m 25 (thank goodness!) or 30, for that matter. If we’re going to do this, we have to do it sooner than later.

Because we want to do this. As a “seasoned” millennial, I used to feel like these still youthful millennials. But, as it does for many (though certainly not all), things changed for me. I started to want one of those adorable, poopy, causers of severe sleep deprivation bundles of joy. I never really liked babies til I was 26. I always liked kids, I just didn’t really understand them until they could walk, talk and independently use the toilet. Prior to that, I felt like, okay here’s this oddly proportioned, human-like little being. Then it happened. I was sitting with a woman one day and her baby and I felt adoration. Like, ohmygoodnesss look at this little adorable, cutie pie, gaga googoo (do all adults who love babies experience a regression to toddler vocabulary when faced with a particularly cute infant… or is it just me?). I didn’t want a baby at that point in time. And tbh I never had the desire to have a baby right this second until I was 31 and a newlywed. Even then, I thought, ‘let’s just let this marinate a bit and make sure this desire is legit.’ It is. Several years later, I still want one of my very own. As does my husband.

Do I want to be sleepless, without any free time and unable to go to the bathroom on my own? NOPE! But I want a baby and that’s all part of the package so I have to suck it up and just do it.

But if I’m completely honest, I’m scared. I mean, I love sleep. And I do very badly when I’m sleep deprived. I mean, does anyone actually do well when they’re sleep deprived? Some people claim to not need much sleep but I side-eye them and I also tend to imagine they do better when they sleep more, not less. And yet. I get the feeling that going without sleep – especially the anticipation of being sleepless – truly gets under my skin.

For even further honesty, I’m wondering just how difficult it will be for me. Oh don’t get me wrong. I know it will be incredibly and at times painfully hard. I’m a huge advocate for parents, especially moms. I think society is brutally disrespectful and unappreciative to parents, again especially mothers. So I want to encourage parents to speak up and explain all that they actually do and that it’s way more work than most jobs. Because most jobs are not 24/7 and most jobs don’t require you to dress, diaper change and feed (often from your own body) another human being. So yes, I expect it to be DAMN hard. I expect it to be harder than I can currently imagine.

And yet when I read articles like this or this and I sense, well… entitlement and privilege seeping through and I start to wonder where we draw the line. I’m sure some of it is said tongue-in-cheek and I again I really support moms putting their realities out there… it’s just that then, joke or not, these type of posts imply that parenting is the only tough life experience out there and no one else has the “right” to complain.

Parenting is not the only hard life experience. It’s not. As my friend of a toddler told me after her mother passed away, “Grief is the most exhausting experience. Yes I was tired after my son was born but there was an excitement and an adrenaline surge too. This sadness, it just takes everything out of me.” That she was parenting a toddler while grieving her mother probably made things way past overwhelming for her.

My hardest work experience to-date was graduate school. I have a masters in social work and the experience, for me, was grueling. I was pretty privileged and had money leftover from undergrad that I used for living expenses during grad school. That said, my income was very fixed. And I took out loans, for the first time in my life, for tuition – which even with scholarships, was quite costly. So I had very little money and virtually no time to work for pay. My time was spent in class, reading articles and writing papers, doing joyous tedious process recordings and going to internship. And no, my internship was not the go on coffee runs type. It was a little training and then doing the actual work. But I didn’t get paid, oh no – I paid to do it.

I’ve never regretted going to social work school but that doesn’t change the fact that I hated my life during grad school. My first year was particularly tough. All week, I spent my days in class or internship and then came home to read or write papers/process recordings. I rarely stopped even for dinner. I just ate my microwavable meal while reading an article on the complex trauma endured after surviving genocide. Then came Friday when I’d almost cry as my roommates got ready to go out and I… got ready to hit the books. I did the same thing on Saturday morning and maybe took a break on Saturday night for dinner and drinks – but not too many drinks lest I be hungover when it was time to start up again at 8 am on Sunday morning. I was 24 years old.

I desperately wanted to be like other 20-somethings. I wanted to spend exorbitant amounts of time on MySpace (this was the mid-2000s) and spend my small paycheck on cheap booze (oh to have ANY-sized paycheck!). And all my friends just thought I was in round 2 of college. It. Was. Not. College. It was hellish. I felt so alone. On my walk to the subway, I’d look at restaurant signs announcing their specials and I felt like the whole world was meant for everyone but me. It was meant for people who had free time and disposable income and where did I fit into that? Nowhere.

If this sounds dramatic, it might be a little. Sometimes I’m dramatic. But it is how I really felt. I also recognize that I still was really privileged (see my note on finances above) and sometimes I did go out. I also made friends with my classmates and they helped as we bonded over the perils of social work school. And then there’s the fact that some of my classmates did not find it all that difficult. A classmate sneered and told me, “It’s not rocket science.” This same classmate also once proudly told me that she never did the reading and when it came time to write a paper, she would pick a source at random from the course bibliography and insert it as needed. She cheated. Hell, she copied one of my papers and when I confronted her, she looked at me with wide eyes and said, “But that’s not a problem, is it?” But no, Social Work School isn’t that hard – if you’re like her.

Still. I know not everyone finds the experience of Social Work school as challenging as I did. I’m a perfectionist and that makes school particularly difficult for me. I also have massive anxiety and I was coming off a particularly difficult round of OCD when I started school. None of these things made the experience any easier for me.

So I wonder how I will find parenting to be after that experience, which is all too fresh in my mind. After all, my friends who are parents watch TV, I never did that when I was in grad school. Okay that’s a lie. I watched Grey’s Anatomy every Thursday during my second year of school.I would have loved to go on a play-date – being outside or someplace fun and being able to at least sort-of talk with another adult!

But I know I’m seeing all this through my non-parent eyes. There are a million things I don’t understand about parenting or play dates that I will never understand til I’m doing them myself. I also realize that when I was in grad school, I had vacations. I had winter break – four weeks in December-January with few obligations. I had summer when I was like a “normal” person again and went to work and earned MONEY and did nothing but whatever the freak I wanted at the end of the day! And the whole experience was over after two short years. There are no breaks in parenting and it lasts decades, not two years. I explained my concerns about parenting being like grad school all over again to a friend of mine who is a parent and who was also in a strenuous grad school program and she said, “Grad school is like a sprint whereas parenting is more of a slow burn.” Will I find it that way too? It’s different for everyone and I won’t know what it’s like for me until I’m in the experience myself.

My first job out of grad school was no walk in the park either. I did domestic violence work for almost a decade and my first post-grad school job was one in which I had to be on-call 24/7 one week per month. My on-call weeks varied, sometimes I only got one call from shelter staff, asking about where to find a broom. Sometimes I’d be up all night doing intakes for the shelter or covering the shelter for an awake, overnight shift when one of the hourly workers called out last minute. On a quieter week, I’d sit down to watch The Office, knowing I could be interrupted at any moment because of a crisis at the shelter. It was exhaustively overwhelming and I only lasted a little over a year at that job. Still. It was less difficult for me than grad school had been. And. The job ended. I wasn’t always on-call. There were breaks. There are no breaks in parenting.

As I was leaving that job, I had a particularly negative experience with the executive director. In hindsight, I can see that she could be cruel and she made bad decisions. I sometimes think of writing a book about her and calling it, “The Devil Has A Social Work Degree.” But I won’t…. Anyways, I have past trauma and this situation with her triggered a lot for me. So I got to start a new job – a dream job, mind you – feeling completely triggered and insecure. Unlike my first bad bout of OCD, I couldn’t take time off and I had to prove that I was worthy of this DV job at an elite and prestigious institution in a major city. It was so draining. And I don’t feel like I’ve been well-rested once since starting it. Well maybe there have been two days when I felt well-rested. I started that job seven years ago.

These are all job experiences. My hardest life experience was my first serious round of OCD. There were significant stressors and some trauma leading up to my first experience with OCD. But none of my real-life drama compared to the hell of OCD. I remember the worst day being a Wednesday in August in the mid-2000’s. I got ready for work after being kept up most of the night with a different sort of nightmare. I ate breakfast and immediately got sick, the fear consuming me making it impossible to consume anything. I walked into the summer heat and went to my job. All the while, every step I took that day, I was terrified. I was scared a misstep would surely shatter me and out would pour all the ugliness and horror that my life had become, for all to see. It was dreadful.

I’ve recovered greatly. And while my OCD has returned, it’s never been so brutal. I cope better and I’m stronger. Still. It was an excruciatingly difficult time for me. Will parenting be that hard? When people talk about it being the hardest thing ever, I just think of all I’ve survived… and hope those experiences that ultimately made me stronger will pay off when it comes to future challenges. I think in many ways they already have…

Which brings me to the last point… so much of what the pop culture internet props up as evidence of parenting being so hard just reeks of privilege. I’ve been through some shit but I have never – and hopefully will never – go through what so many people go through. The people who talk about the hardships of parenting all seem to be coupled off (in hopefully healthy relationships – as Lord knows Domestic Violence makes for a nightmare all its own). Anyways they aren’t single parents working three jobs. They’re (mostly) white and educated people who mourn going out to nice dinners and sleeping in. And while I’ll miss those things, I know it is a privilege that I’ve gotten the past eight years since finishing social work school to have them. Furthermore, I already don’t have so much of what people talk about missing. Because of all my past personal and professional trauma, I rarely feel well-rested. I used to have nightmares so frequent and so bad I didn’t even want to go to sleep. Now I just wake up frequently through the night- my depression waking me or my overactive bladder – cuz I already have one of those. I also have stomach issues that make me easily spend 20+ minutes on a single bowel movement. So the 45 minute poop mentioned in this article doesn’t sound too unimaginable to me. I don’t eat gluten so I’m already planning all my meals, I never have the luxury of just grabbing something to eat. Plus I’ve been trying to lose weight for like ever so I hardly ever just go out spontaneously. Over the past seven years I can only remember making last minute plans to go out once, and it was thanks to the prompting of my colleague, who is, mind you, mom to a 2 and 4 year old.

That said, there are things I will miss. And there are reasons why I’ve procrastinated and waited several years after my biological clock started ticking at me. Case in point, it’s Sunday evening and I’m still in my pj’s after sleeping til noon today. I sleep in ridiculously late on weekends because of how badly I sleep during the week – oh, and because I don’t have children. I binge-watch like it’s my job and I read away my days off. Binge-watching and binge-reading are things I’ll have to give up – at least until after the kiddos are tucked in and even then there’s a good chance I’ll be interrupted.

So I say all this to say, I have no expectations for parenthood other than that I expect it to be harder than I imagine. Maybe someday I’ll read this post and think I was oh so naive – when I’m up to my elbows in diapers (wait, if I mean that literally that would be kinda gross because if I’m up to my elbows in diapers, I really shouldn’t be on my laptop too, haha). But that’s part of why I wanted to write it now, while I’m on the cusp of parenthood, about to take the plunge with no real insight. I’m curious how I’ll feel later on. And I really encourage parents, especially moms, to speak their realities so that society maybe starts giving some goddamn respect. But don’t be a jerk about it either. I would have loved to have ranted and raved as so many of you do when I was in grad school or in the middle of a particularly miserable on-call week. But people would have been pretty mad at me if I’d demanded they bring me expensive take-out or been condescending. And rightly so. So if I didn’t get a pass then, perhaps you don’t get one now either.

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