As a female-owned and operated company, the decision to have (or – just as significant – not to have) children is a hot topic. The choice is a personal one, and as more and more women are choosing to have children later and life, or not at all, the dialogue around the subject continues to shift. Here, Deenie Hartzog-Mislock offers up her own contemplations of motherhood.
Crowdsourcing My Way to Motherhood
By Deenie Hartzog-Mislock
When my nephew was born, I had one very important question for my sister-in-law. “Did you poop?” I asked, as she lay in her hospital bed, still hazy under the influence of the drugs.
“Look,” she said already with the casualness of a wine-drunk mother, “if you can squeeze hard enough to take a poop, you can have a baby.”
I’d never heard my sister-in-law, 6 years my senior, say the word “poop” before, but I was pretty sure I was going to like the woman she was becoming, which is good because she never answered my question.
I was 25 when my nephew was born, and the desire to squeeze a baby from a hole in my body had already come and gone. At the time, I was waiting tables at a kitschy southern-themed bar/restaurant in New York City, which is code for dancing on bars in denim shorts made for toddlers, throwing up in cabs, sleeping until 2pm, then ordering Dominos and eating it in the dark. If anything, 25 began my reverse mommy stage. By getting a job in a bar, I’d ceremoniously kicked off a seven-year period in which I grew utterly repulsed by the small fleshy sacks that people called babies and everything that came along with having them, except the part where you make them.
But after my nephew was born, the wheels began to turn. Did your vagina rip? How bloody is the bloody show? When your water broke, was it like a gush, or a trickle?
I needed to know everything there was to know about the birthing process, in case this disease were ever stricken upon me and I were forced to eject a baby from an orifice I consider private property.
I continued to contemplate the miracle of life — and how I never wanted it to happen to me — even as I cared for my nephew. I’d stay the weekend with my brother and his wife, taking the night shifts to let them sleep. I changed his miniature diapers and sang him old gospel songs about rivers and Satan and praying while I rocked him in my arms. While I loved him immediately, I happily passed him off to anyone with hands when the going got tough.
The summer my nephew turned seven months old, I moved in with my brother and his family. He was getting his PhD and they needed free childcare, so I lived with them in exchange for my nanny services: 9 a.m.–5 p.m while my sister-in-law worked to support their new tribe.
It was miserable, strolling a teething baby to Barnes and Noble in the damp North Carolina heat where he would grind his four teeth so loudly it could have drowned out the Frappuccino machine. I had no friends and I spent every hour of my day sucked into a Twilight Zone where the main character lives on a loop of the worst parts of motherhood: Exhaustion, dancing around like a monkey, and getting pooped on by a screaming sack of flesh. Sometimes I’d chase that screaming sack of flesh down the hallway, both of us on all fours, unleashing our conflicting battle cries.
Occasionally, most often in the morning when the baby had forgotten that I’d let him cry it out for 45 minutes the night before, I would look at the sack of flesh with total amazement. His cupid’s bow formed a perfect dip above a set of cherubic lips, his imploring brown eyes looked up to me with anticipation. “I wonder at what time I’ll poop on you today?” they asked. And even still, in these moments I thought, “If anyone ever hurts you, or lays an unloving finger on you, I will knock out their teeth with my fist as I shove my hand down their throat, grip their heart, rip it from their chest, and watch them die.”
I was frightened by the love I felt for the sack, one I didn’t even grow in my own body.
I couldn’t begin to fathom the kind of intensity I might one day feel for my own tub of meaty flesh. This was the first time I understood the vigilance, the evolutionary instinct of women centuries before me, and the built-in ferocity of what it means to be a mother.
At the close of summer I happily returned to my young-people’s life in New York and resumed my eye-rolling at screaming babies on the subway while I tried to live my life by doing things like listening to a very important new Indie Rock Band, stupid screaming baby! or trying to read my book in peace, gah! Finally, I was back to taking long showers that involved much self care, paying $30 for spin classes, and dining at fancy restaurants where parents dare not bring their slimy rug rats.
Then friends of mine in New York began having babies. Some on purpose, some not. It was terrifying, like The Plague. One of my best friends, who lived across the country, missed my wedding because she had a baby, only six weeks old at the time of our nuptials. I was angry. I wanted my best friend at my wedding.
I was devastated that she’d never be able to share with me one of the most important memories of my life. “We have to remember that the reason I can’t be there is because of a good thing,” she’d say. But babies weren’t good things. They were needy parasites that took my friends away from me and got in the way of life.
But even as I ran farther away from motherhood, I continued to ask questions about the intimate details of childbirth and early-year parenting to my friends. Why would anyone willfully make this decision?
My brother and his wife had another child, one who prompts me to warn my ovaries against the exhaustive woes of raising little girls. I met my best friend’s baby, the one who derailed her mommy’s participation in my wedding. “Oh My God You Made That!” I squealed when I met her. Just the day before I’d stood in Baby Zara contemplating which summer dress would best suit her 9-month-old fashion preferences. This time I didn’t have to be the full-time nanny to know — if any person were to hurt these babies, I would go Liam Neeson Taken on their ass. I still didn’t want my own baby, but warming to friends’ and families’ babies made me feel as though I were maturing, learning how to share the world with the friend-snatching species.
But then, like clockwork, it happened. I started to think that — maybe — I wanted to make my own.
I’d had the gut-wrenching feeling, off and on, for about a year. The unexplainable warmth that washes over you when you see the giggling, cooing, kicking sacks of flesh, with their bright eyes and gummy smiles. “Awwww…” I’d say with love in my eyes and estrogen surging through my fallopian tubes. Then without a moment’s notice, as quickly as the warmth had come upon me, it would turn to ash and fall away. Reality would strike, reminding me that I was actually kind of like that baby, thinking only of how often I might eat and sleep that day. When you’re more like the baby than the mommy, this poses a fundamental problem.
Even in the midst of these hot flashes of parental desire, I continued to be convinced that I was far from ready to be the real deal. For example, when I tried to negotiate the potty with my 3-year-old niece. She refused to go, moments after rushing herself to the restroom. I couldn’t wrap my head around it. No, I was not ready to be a mother. I couldn’t possibly understand these small creatures. And I do not like things that I can’t understand, like math and baking.
So I kept asking questions, trying to make sense of my conflicting feelings and secretly hoping someone would pull the veil on mommyhood. When did you know you wanted to be a mother? How bad is it, really? Do you ever want to punch your kid in the face, and if so, what do you punch instead? When it comes to major decisions like marriage and child rearing, I like to assume worst-case scenarios, so hopefully reality will surprise me.
“Is it really worth it?” I’d finally ask. And after they told me about how they first thought they’d destroyed their marriages, how they hadn’t slept in years, and the various war stories pertaining to their most intimate body parts, they would almost always reply with what I expected them to say, “Yes, it’s a good thing.”
For years I have felt not only that I was incapable of being a mother, but also that I just didn’t want to be one. I like sleeping. Writing is my #1 priority. I’m selfish and lazy.
My worse fear: What if I hate being a mom? It’s not like you can return them.
But this feeling — this pesky internal clock — won’t leave me be. I’m not fully convinced, but somewhere between collecting data like a mad baby scientist, and turning 32, I began to change my tune. My years of crowdsourcing proved to me that, almost always, the outcome of making a baby was a positive experience. I mean, women have been doing this since the beginning of time, so it can’t be that bad, right? Or else we’ve been concealing our stupidity magnificently.
My husband and I have been spending a lot of time talking about what’s next, and it’s going to be a lot—maybe a new town, which means new jobs and new friends, and yeah, maybe a new addition.
“I want that next level of intensity with you,” I said. “You know, bewilderment and shit on our hands and years of sobbing and the kind of fear that makes you actually clutch your chest. Things you can only achieve by making a baby together.” He agreed that he would like that, too.
I feel a great fear in my belly when I think about bringing a small sack of flesh into this world. It’s going to be ugly at times. And I will prepare to cry many tears and to not frequent a nice restaurant for a very long time.
But deep down I think I know that, yes, it will be a good thing.
Deenie Hartzog-Mislock is a writer and advertising copy director. She blogs at BourbonandGloss.com.
*This essay has been adapted from its original version posted on Medium.com.