Time is running out for my friend. While we are sitting at lunch she casually mentions she and her husband are thinking of starting a family. “We’re taking a survey,”she says, half-joking. “Do you think I should have a baby?”
“It will change your life,” I say, carefully keeping my tone neutral. “I know,”she says, “no more sleeping in on weekends, no more spontaneous holidays…”
But that’s not what I mean at all. I look at my friend, trying to decide what to tell her. I want her to know what she will never learn in childbirth classes. I want to tell her that the physical wounds of child bearing will heal, but becoming a mother will leave her with an emotional wound so raw that she will be vulnerable forever.
I consider warning her that she will never again read a newspaper without thinking: “What if that had been MY child?” That every plane crash, every house fire will haunt her. That when she sees pictures of starving children, she will wonder if anything could be worse than watching your child die. I look at her carefully manicured nails and stylish suit and think that no matter how sophisticated she is, becoming a mother will reduce her to the primitive level of a bear protecting her cub.
I feel I should warn her that no matter how many years she has invested in her career, she will be professionally derailed by motherhood. She might arrange for child care, but one day she will be going into an important business meeting, and she will think her baby’s sweet smell. She will have to use every ounce of discipline to keep from running home, just to make sure her child is all right.
I want my friend to know that every decision will no longer be routine. That a five-year-old boy’s desire to go to the men’s room rather than the women’s at a restaurant will become a major dilemma. The issues of independence and gender identity will be weighed against the prospect that a child molester may be lurking in the lavatory. However decisive she may be at the office, she will second-guess herself constantly as a mother.
Looking at my attractive friend, I want to assure her that eventually she will shed the added weight of pregnancy, but she will never feel the same about herself. That her own life, now so important, will be of less value to her once she has a child. She would give it up in a moment to save her offspring, but will also begin to hope for more years—not to accomplish her own dreams—but to watch her children accomplish theirs.
I want to describe to my friend the exhilaration of seeing your child learn to hit a ball. I want to capture for her the belly laugh of a baby who is touching the soft fur of a dog for the first time. I want her to taste the joy that is so real it hurts.
My friend’s look makes me realize that tears have formed in my eyes. “You’ll never regret it,” I say finally. Then, squeezing my friend’s hand, I offer a prayer for her and me and all of the mere mortal women who stumble their way into this holiest of callings.