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I am a writer, a mom, and a friend. In this blog, I explore all of that. Please join me in this conversation by leaving a comment on anything you've read. Or follow me on Facebook @ Beth von Behren (author).

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Please Don't Ask Me to Hold Your Baby

I hate babies. Okay, don't get me wrong. I don't actually hate babies. I just don't always love them. I love them in theory. I think they are adorable. Mostly. You gotta admit there are a few ugly ones. But mostly they are cute and cuddly and we ooh and ahh over them, and everybody wants one or two. Except me. I never wanted any and could be heard saying, for years and years, I am NEVER having children.

Of course, I did have kids, and I love them beyond words. Beyond sanity even. I have done and would do anything for them, including throw myself in front of a moving train to protect them or pick up their moldy dishes and disgusting socks. And if early results are any indication (they are 17 and 21), I did a pretty good job at this whole mothering thing.

But other than my own adorable offspring, I have really never loved babies. I am quite unusual in that regard in my family. Nobody waited as long as I did to have kids. My second child was born when I was 35, and my cousin, who is just seven months older than me, became a grandmother a few months later. In my family, I am the black sheep of motherhood.

When I was a teenager and forced to go to those family events that I now force my kids to attend, and the babies were rolled out, I oohed and ahhed and gushed with the best of them. I believe there even exists a photo someplace of me, at 17, holding one of these babies. I remember it fondly because it was a really good photo of me, unusual in those days and, well, ever since, but I couldn't tell you who the baby was. That's because I did the gushing and holding out of a sense of duty and to save my mother embarrassment. Not because I liked babies.

From a very early age, I can remember my mom expressing great concern and worry that I would never propagate the species. She had good reason to worry. I never played with dolls, which frustrated my mother, who believed that all girls loved dolls. She LOVED to play with dolls, so every birthday and every Christmas, I got new dolls, black ones, white ones, Indian ones, big ones, little ones, soft ones, rubber ones - dozens and dozens of dolls over the years, in the hope, I assume, that they would look adorable and cuddly and I would throw aside all toys to play with them. I was a great disappointment to her.

Then, as a teenager,I did my best to devise clever excuses for not being available when asked to babysit. This was partly about the money. I understand the going rate today actually exceeds minimum wage in some areas, but in the 1970s, that was not the case. My first job, at 15, involved washing dishes in a nursing home, for ten cents over minimum wage. So it made no sense to me to agree to change some kid's disgusting diapers, listen to him scream at me when it was time for bed, or eat those really awful TV Dinners his parents left for me, for HALF the money I could make in a real job. Of course, it wasn't just the bad pay. It was also because I, well, I really just hated babies. I had absolutely no interest.

My niece will hate me for telling this story, but when she was about a year old, and my mother was babysitting her during one of my visits, my mother asked me to change my niece's poopy diaper. Now, I dearly love my niece, and she is the most beautiful young woman today, but at 12 months old, she could fill a diaper with the most foul-smelling excrement. Seriously foul. Reader, I tried. I really tried. And I gagged. I got about halfway through the diaper change before I ran from the room with my hand over my mouth, gagging, and screaming that I would never have kids. My mother finished up. And she told me something that I have never forgotten and that has turned out to be completely true: It's different when it's your own child. What she really meant was, when it's your own baby, well, their s@#t doesn't stink.

She was right. I don't know if it's because we share the same DNA, or if it's because I carried them inside my own body for nine months, but truly, my children's poop has never made me gag.

Not only did I change their diapers with joy and a certain degree of, um, eagerness, I did a couple of other things that surprised my entire family, and we are talking jaw-dropping surprise here. I breastfed both kids until they were ready to take their SATs (well, actually only 2.5 and 3 years, respectively), and I quit working to stay home with them. I was the quintessential SAHM (that's stay-at-home-mom for you neophytes). I baked bread with them, built houses out of blocks, and made valentines from scratch. We had a playgroup and I joined La Leche League. The whole nine yards. Devout feminist that I am, I could actually be heard, during those years, criticizing daycare kids and working moms (i.e., wage-earning moms). Sad but true. I guess my college professor was right: The reformed types are the worst.

I remember my brother, who has for years told anyone who would listen that I am the educated one but he is the smart one, saying to me one day that he always thought I would do more with myself, that I would do great things. I tried to explain that staying home to raise my kids was the greatest calling I could think of, but I could see that he didn't get it. This is the same brother who caught me in the kitchen at my mom's house when I was seven months pregnant, shoeless, and scrounging for food in the fridge, and said to me: I finally get to tell you that you are barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen. Yes, some things never change.

Including my inability to love babies. As my kids got older and I went back to work, I began to realize that once again, I had absolutely no interest in holding babies or taking care of them or being anywhere near them. I could and do admire them from a distance. Babies are beautiful. I love taking pictures of babies. I even love hearing their squeals of delight (you never get over loving that sound). But do I want to hold your precious baby? No I do not. Please don't take offense.

There likely is a very good reason for this. I am menopausal. This means I no longer have those mother-baby-feel-good-let's-nurture-everybody-in-sight hormones flowing freely through my blood stream. I am, in some ways, back to being pre-pubescent. The human body is an amazing thing.

My daughter, who loved to play with dolls as a child, much to her grandmother's delight, has picked up my mantra. I AM NEVER HAVING KIDS. She cites lots of reasons. "They stink. They scream. They are selfish and time-consuming and we don't have enough resources on the planet for more babies. It's the selfish thing to do. I may adopt. No, I won't adopt because babies are hard. And they stink."

And what do I say to her in response? You know what I say.

It's different when it's your own child.

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