Listen now (61 mins) | A very personal check-in.
As someone who grappled with these decisions 20 years ago (I’m 57) I remember how impossible these choices seemed at the time. While I always wanted children, the decision to stop at two was incredibly difficult. I had always envisioned a bigger family (I’m one of 4 kids and a twin to boot) but my husband very much wanted to stop at two. When I came to truly understand his reasons, I made peace with our decision. Still, there was a time when I never thought I would stop mourning the child (or children) I didn’t have. Now I can’t imagine our family any other way. I’m here from the future to tell you that no matter what you decide, there is no wrong answer.
I highly recommend the Dear Sugar column called The Ghost Ship that Didn’t Carry Us. Cheryl Strayed gets it. Every time.
I wish there had been such a smart, nuanced, and empathetic conversation for me to listen to way back when. I know your listeners facing similar decisions will thank you for affirming their feelings.
Thank you both for this nuanced and compassionate conversation. @Emma, thank you for sharing your complicated thoughts and feelings as you grapple with the choice of becoming a parent (or not). I am in a very similar place and felt so seen. I have been in that place for a while, and the nugget where you both discuss that some people have an innate pull to be a parent (likely for evolutionary reasons) really struck me. Of course I knew this, but hearing it said explicitly in this conversation brought me a surprising amount of clarity. I’m in my early 30s and have never felt that pull. Maybe I will in the future, but it brings me a little peace to know that I am not wrong in my current choice to be child-free in this moment.
I’m lucky enough to have grown up with my mom’s best friend as our child-free “auntie” and have wonderful memories of her visiting every Thursday night. An Auntie Karen visit meant we got to have breakfast for dinner and sit on the kitchen floor eating Cheezits! For now I look forward to being that auntie to the children in my life. Grateful to you both and your vulnerability with this community.
This was a lovely episode. I have one son (also named Max!) and while I haven't yet experienced a second pregnancy as you're describing @Claire, it felt like listening in to my future, I was pre-relating to all of those complicated feelings. Thanks for your openness.
TW: pregnancy loss
Thank you both so much for this episode and for really delving into the complications of both our decisions and our inability to actually be in control. I always thought I wanted two kids, got pregnant pretty easily then spiraled while pregnant about all I was going to lose in becoming a parent while also being so excited to start my family. I also hated being pregnant so started to consider being one and done. Then I lost my daughter at 36 weeks. I was devastated and couldn’t think about anything but getting pregnant again while also being furious about having to be pregnant again when I felt like I’d already done “all the work” so to speak. Now 8 months later I’m pregnant again - we started trying right away again because I am 36 and feel that time pressure - and again still feel this pull towards two kids while also still harboring a lot of resenting about potentially having to be pregnant a third time (or more if I have another loss.) plus I now have a lot of additional anxiety to deal with about experiencing another loss on top of my original general concerns about parenthood. All this to say is I wish we all talked more openly about how complicated and messy and difficult all of this is, and I felt very seen, despite my situation being pretty different from y’all’s, by so much of this conversation.
This episode really struck a chord with me and I really appreciated you both sharing. I have a son very similar in age to Claire's son, I believe (he is 3.5). I always thought I would have two kids and am now grappling with the fact that I may only have one. Even though it's not definitive yet- I'm going to get a fertility consult soon- I've really been struggling a lot with it lately. Wishing I had appreciated the baby days and the feeling of being pregnant more. I wish I would've known then that he might be my only baby. And also, I related to Claire because I always pictured myself as a girl mom so letting go of that idea too has been hard even though it seems really silly. I appreciate the space to even have these conversations and hear people talk about all of the nuance and complicated feelings that go in to all of this.
I really enjoyed listening to this episode...I had my one and only child at 35, after a lifetime of not even knowing if I wanted to be a mom / never having had that "pull." Though my husband and I consciously brought our human into the world, I never really came to love the whole "being the mom of a baby" thing. I think I viewed babyhood as a difficult time I had to get through before things got easier (our kid was super colicky and tricky), and I struggled with holding onto all of me (my work / my multi-passionate self) in those early years. I also assumed we'd have more than one (because "everyone needs a sibling?"), but two years into parenting an intense little one, I realized I couldn't start over again. I sometimes wish I could have a do-over for those first few years and be more present, but much of it just felt difficult and chaotic. It didn't really get easier as my child got older, but I was able to fully lean into the experience and find peace and joy in the messy, beautiful journey. Over the years, we learned that our lovely human (now 18) is neurodivergent and gender noncomforming, and I'm grateful we completed our family with one child. It's allowed my husband and I to feel perhaps freer to make choices that best support who our child is, and I've been able to prioritize their well-being (I don't know if I would have had the capacity to add another child in and still maintain my own sense of self and identity). Anyway....I love that you started this conversation and appreciate the comments below. Thanks for the thoughtful, nuanced dialogue, as always!
As a 32-year-old childless New Yorker who’s been with my partner for a decade, I’m thinking about all of these topics so often, and this felt like the most supportive phone call with friends. Thank you!! Looking forward to more.
Feeling like a young mom in a major city at 31 has been such a weird mental trip for me. I feel like I really focused on my career, took my time getting married, traveled, moved, etc. but I’m getting a lot of “already?” looks from people. You putting words to the conservative life choice piece of it really hit home.
I guess the answer, as always as women, is that you can’t win so you have to prioritize yourself. I’m somehow too young for my peer group but anyone past their mid thirties is too old (I DONT ACTUALLY THINK THIS - just social narrative wise), and this is all for something we have way less control over than people would like us to believe.
This conversation was beautiful, nuanced and smart! As a newish mom in my late 30’s I identify with so many of the perspectives both of you shared. Particularly ambivalence/indecision on whether I wanted to become a parent, and discomfort with the parenthood branding that has overarching political implications (exclaimed “oh my god” when you guys were talking about parenting potentially being perceived as a conservative life choice). I am here for future conversations on being a parent (or not) in our generation! On the instagrammification/consumption of parenthood topic, I can’t wait to read Sara Peterson’s Momfluenced- love to dig more into that perspective on mommy branding and the trad wife trappings it entails.
There is so much I want to say! But the main thing is that I think the conversations about motherhood, whether you are a mom, want to be a mom, don’t want to be a mom, and all of the other iterations, has changed so much since I started parenting. Listening to you and the kindness and generosity with which you met each other was truly beautiful. These are important conversations to have about the complexity of modern life, and I am here for it. Thank you so much for sharing such vulnerable things with us, we don’t deserve you.
I really love these conversations: these episodes are always the closest mirror to my own conversations with my friends about this stuff, and I’m so grateful that you invite us in!
I’m in my late twenties and definitely kicking this can down the road. I’m single and pretty clear at this point in my life that I don’t want to embark on parenthood without a partner. I am noticing at this stage that my friends’ orientations to wanting to have children is starting to shift how we date, and I’m curious, Emma, about your experience of this question while you were single vs now in your current relationship. Particularly since as I’m getting older, I’m noticing that potential partners are starting to be more and more up front about children they already have or wanting kids.
I also think in most of the narratives I received about straight couples growing up, men were always presented as being more reluctant about having kids, and so I find it funny but also a little vulnerable that I’m a straight woman who is more reluctant/ambiguous who may have partners that are much more enthusiastic. And our cultural narratives really didn’t prepare me for this!
Thank you both so much for this episode! this is a topic that is close to me, as a 34 y/o childfree woman who grapples with the choice and feeling indecisive. Emma, your experience and the things you’re grappling with made me feel so seen! And Claire, your vulnerable shares about things I never would have considered re: the maternity/motherhood experience were super thought-provoking. Really appreciate the space for this discussion of the prickly topics that don’t often get talked about for such a major, life changing decision.
I really loved this episode. I sent you guys an email once but when I was in the throes of PPA, Claire’s writing on the subject of motherhood to a newborn made me feel so seen and not alone. I relate so much to all these complicated feelings. I know these are heavy topics but I really love hearing you guys unpack everything and I appreciate you guys so much