We are on minute 54 of screaming right now. Fifty-four minutes of screams of various pitches and modulations. Sometimes, there’s a rattling sound, when a bit of snot gets lodged in his nose. Otherwise, it mostly just sounds like shrieking. It’s the sound you hear when the baby is having a tantrum, an “I’m not getting what I want” total meltdown. And it’s been going on for fifty-four minutes.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about a Facebook conversation I had at the end of last year. An acquaintance posted an article she wrote for the Toronto Star about men’s access to vasectomies, and women’s runaround from their doctors on tubal ligations. The resulting comments ran the gamut from “doctors are effed” (true, sometimes), to “IUDs only last for ten years” (also true, not especially relevant?), but the one that stood out for me was “having kids is selfish.”

Selfish? Selfish! Having kids is selfish because of the following reasons: babies didn’t ask to be born; people have them because they’re more interested in the experience of pregnancy/childbirth than of parenting; having kids is nothing more than a chance to fix up all the bonehead moves your parents pulled with you; climate change; capitalism; people are curious as to how their kids would turn out.

To which I reply: siiiiigh. Let’s break it down for the new kids, shall we?

The reasons you have children might be selfish—to cement a relationship, to heal old wounds with your own parents, to fulfill an increasingly urgent biological need, and so on—but the actual practice of parenting is pretty much the definition of selflessness. I’m not saying this to shine my own buttons, but unless you’ve set an alarm for every two hours, for two weeks straight, so you can jam your nipple into a tiny incompetent person’s mouth and then have a hot flash, then maybe you don’t know what you’re talking about.

Because the selfish reasons for having kids fly right out the window in the face of your baby’s incessant needs. If you have money, you might outsource some parental responsiveness (hire a night nurse, say, or a postpartum doula), but most people don’t do that. They set the alarm, they figure out the breastfeeding (or the formula), they give up their beds, their bodies, their money. Babies are a whirling vortex of need, and if you try to hang on to selfishness in the face of their gaping maw, you will go nuts.

And the thing is, there’s no negotiating with kids and babies. There’s no moment when the two of you step back and the baby says, not quite meeting your eyes, “Hey, sorry about last night,” and then you kind of laugh about it together and the knot in the pit of your stomach loosens up a little bit. Instead, they’ll throw their sipping cup on the floor nine times in a row, crap a bowling ball in their dry-clean-only snowsuit, and then fall asleep on you with your cell phone just out of reach. They’ll casually tell you that they hate you when you, like a monster, do not buy them a Hatchimal or a Shopkin or whatever the fuck made-up toy trend is raging like a fever through their elementary school. They’ll steal your wallet (babies and teenagers alike), lie about wetting their pants, aggressively sleep through first period class every day for a year, cry over the multiplication tables, vomit in inconvenient places, put the most disgusting garbage in their mouths and then weep like you’ve shot Old Yeller when you take it out. Loving them in this horrible, challenging, filthy moments—hell, even interacting with them—is a graduate seminar in how not to be selfish.

Learning how to love someone truly unconditionally flexes muscles that we don’t usually use. Most of the time, adult love seems fairly balanced: I love you, you love me, we each show it in our own way, but we do show it. But baby-love is different, so subtle to be nearly invisible. It’s the tight grip of a baby’s arm around our shoulder when he sees something that scares him. It’s the gradually slowing breath when we sing her Baby Beluga for the fifth, and then fiftieth, time in a row. It’s getting up at 6:45 AM on a Saturday to register for swim classes. It’s teaching them how to say thank you because it’s not like the come out of the womb expressing gratitude, and then hearing them say it to someone else four months before it occurs to them to say it at home.

There is an argument to be made that having kids in this global setting is selfish. There are so many people in the world already, the world is getting hotter and emptier of food, the oceans are rising, and pop music is getting sadder. And I agree, to an extent. But, without getting too bogged down in the details, there are counterarguments. Overpopulation mostly affects developing countries (which, it should be noted, are also the places that are still using the dirtiest technology, which is a double-whammy). Climate change is happening, but that was unleashed by our parents and grandparents and their parents, so yeah, the summer is going to suck for the Class of 2032, but that horse left the barn a generation ago. There are alternatives, like adoption, but for the average person who doesn’t have a spare $50K to fly over a baby from elsewhere, having your own is the only viable alternative.

We will have to teach our kids to be brave and smart in the face of a changing world—you know, the way our parents taught us how to be brave and smart, and theirs did for them. But having kids in a changing world isn’t selfish. Showing up for someone else, even when they’re being a horrorshow, isn’t selfish. And having kids is showing up, over and over and over, until you kind of want to die a little, and then showing up again.

And then one more time.

Image by Anna Ogier-Bloomer

About the Author

Kaitlyn Kochany
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Kaitlyn Kochany is a Toronto-area freelance writer and editor. She had her son, NS, in January 2016, and has been trying to sleep and write since then.

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