My Childbearing Fears

I promised to explain why I’m terrified of having children, so here is the promised post.

I’m not afraid of the expense because I know that if I really want something, I’ll find money for that.

I don’t fear that it will impact my career. For one, mine isn’t the kind of a career that requires putting in endless hours at work. I’m not a lawyer or a doctor. I also have really supportive people at work. Last year, a colleague had a baby, and everybody just rallied around her and helped her out. And my female role model at my department has 4 kids, two of whom she raised as  a single mother. So I have no professional fears either.

I’m not afraid that I will find it impossible to publish with a kid around. My autistic brain thrives in an environment where there is noise, interruption, and distractions. I write with a TV on and switch constantly between writing and blogging because writing doesn’t happen otherwise. Place me in a quiet environment with no distractions, and writing stops. Put me in a rowdy sports bar, and I become insanely productive.

I’m not afraid that motherhood will spoil my figure because I’m not an idiot.

I’m not afraid that it will prevent me from going out as much as I want because I’m long past my bar-hopping days anyways.

I’m not afraid that I will not enjoy parenthood because I know for a fact that I will.

I’m not afraid that it will be a drain on my time because I can see very well what I can gladly and easily sacrifice to make quite a lot of time for parenting. (It isn;t blogging, so don’t you worry. 🙂 )

I’m not afraid of sleepless nights because I don’t need a whole lot of sleep anyways.

What I am afraid of is the following, beautifully articulated by Elisabeth Badinter in her book The Conflict:

A child can turn the parents’ connection completely upside down. There is no greater antithesis to the couple as lovers than the couple as parents. Even of they do not sleep with their child, it is hard to switch from one role to the other. . . The woman-as-mother may well obliterate the woman-as-lover and endanger the couple.

I’m not an unhinged freakazoid, so it would never occur to me to sleep with a child instead of in the arms of an adult sexual partner. But the issue remains. I’ve seen the phenomenon that Badinter describes happen too many times. And a person who fulfills all of her or his tactile needs through a relationship with the child is a horrible parent anyways. So what’s the point of sacrificing one’s sex life to become a lousy parent?

I mean just on a very basic practical level, how do you combine being an intensely romantic couple with having a  child around? If you don’t understand my question, then it is possible you were never a very sexual couple to begin with, so disregard the post.

I wish I saw couples who managed to do preserve their intense sexual connection while being parents. Observing how people actually do it would help enormously. Or, at least, reading about them. Or hearing some urban mythology on the subject. Or seeing them in a dream.

It took me a week to write this post because I’m afraid of getting comments that will say, “Yes, sex life diminishes when a child is born but that is all worth it because you get the happiness of being a parent in return.” Such comments send my blood pressure through the roof, people. It might be worth it for you but, for me, who is not you but a completely separate person, there is absolutely nothing in the world worth sacrificing my existence as a sexual woman in a sexual relationship. This is who I am and this is my system of priorities to which I am as entitled as you are to yours. Which is why I don’t find it helpful to hear how people with a completely different value system don’t find my fears to be justified. So I send you to the title of this post that says specifically “MY fears.” Not yours and your uncle’s but mine.

Would it be helpful if I told you that your fears that you won’t make partner in your law firm if you decide to have children are stupid because I chose not to be a lawyer and feel very happy about that decision? Not very much, I’d guess.

Of course, if there are people who have successfully combined the roles of a parent and a lover, I will be eternally grateful for even the tiniest comment from you. Even if you only say, “Yes, we exist.” That already will be hugely helpful.

Do you exist?

I don’t want this to be a one-sided discussion, however, so people who can confirm my fears (without condemning them as stupid) are also welcome to comment.

39 thoughts on “My Childbearing Fears”

  1. Can’t help much here, I pretty much agree with you though on the fear about the romance dying if children come, it is why I am terrified of having children as well. I must say though, that, as a person who also resides on the autistic spectrum, you and I are TOTAL opposites regarding noise. Put me into a rowdy bar, and I can’t concentrate! Put me into a quiet room and I can concentrate very well 🙂

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    1. It’s like I have 2 channels in my brain and both need to be occupied. If one is unoccupied, then the other one doesn’t function well and gets distracted.

      I know it sounds weird but that’s my brain for ya.

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  2. I can’t speak from my own experience, but I know that what my mother has told me is that the romance in her marriage did take a backseat as long as there were small children around, though it didn’t disappear entirely. My parents would still go out as a couple, leaving us at home with a sitter or, once I was older, with me watching the younger ones. My father would bring home flower arrangements from the local farmer’s market. These were small things but small things that counted for a lot–which meant that as my youngest sibling got older and the romance could move to the forefront again, there was still a relationship there.

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    1. Thank you for sharing this story, Elizabeth. It isn’t the going out part (we’d hire a nanny anyways) that bothers me. It’s the way people interact on a day to day basis. And inside their home, more than anywhere else.

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  3. I think it is possible after a while, but I won’t lie to you and say it will be perfect from the day you bring your kid home. Let me outline my experience a bit (all of this may not apply to you). 1) Having a vaginal birth kills sex life for obvious physical reasons, and sometimes for longer than you’d expect. 2) If you choose to breastfeed, this poses problems in sexual relations. (I had a hard time feeling like a lover when my milk came in.) 3) The main romantic factor in my relationship is our ability to communicate effectively with each. A new needy creature in the family wore down our ability to communicate effectively (a lack of alone time, a lack of sleep, etc. were aggravating factors.)

    I must be honest, it felt like we were working very hard just to tread water in our relationship. However, after the baby learned to sleep, after we both caught up on our own sleep, we’ve both been able to connect with each other again. We had a series of hard discussions to mend the damage that had been done to the relationship by simple neglect. Now our romantic life is back to the same level it was before the child. It is different than before, but just as meaningful. For example, we can’t go out to dinner spontaneously, we need to find a babysitter in advance. If we plan too far in advance, life may cause one or the other of us not to be in the right frame of mind. So we do a lot of things in, instead of out. On the other hand, since neither of us are tied to labs, we use our flexibility to occasionally drop our son at day care and take the morning for ourselves.

    The exact solutions and the exact face of the relationship tensions will vary from person to person, of course. However, with a little creativity, and a lot more hard work, it can be overcome.

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    1. OK, thank you, this is a good informative comment.

      Now I have a question. You say, ” Now our romantic life is back to the same level it was before the child. It is different than before, but just as meaningful. For example, we can’t go out to dinner spontaneously, we need to find a babysitter in advance.”

      I was asking more about the relationship as at occurs inside the house, not outside. I have a feeling that when there is a child, one has to either hide with every expression of sexual or romantic feelings or leave the house. Effectively, that turns one into a teenager whose house was also always off-limits for his or her personal life. Do you see what I mean? This is the part that scares me because I SO didn’t enjoy being a teenager.

      I think I’m being very tongue-tied here. Right now, when N. and I go grocery shopping, for example, it’s a very intensely romantic experience because of how we talk to each other and what we discuss. We speak in Russian, so strangers have no idea what we discuss. With a child around that’s all got to go, right? Unless you engineer opportunities to be away from the child. So we’ll have to learn an entirely new language of speaking to each other, a language that is more like one between roommates than partners. And that scares me.

      Also, one would need to hide even to kiss or grab one’s partner, right? Again, like a teenager!

      I don’t know, this confuses me.

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      1. You might want to be careful on what you are saying to each other in Russian, as occassionally you may encounter a person who is also fluent in that language 😀

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        1. “You might want to be careful on what you are saying to each other in Russian, as occassionally you may encounter a person who is also fluent in that language”

          – Yes, that happened recently at a restaurant. It was hilarious. 🙂 🙂

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      2. Why would you hide for kissing your partner in fron of your child? I do not get that part. Is kissing indecent?

        We have to be more careful with what we say, for sure. But I have never felt like a teenager hiding because of that.

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      3. —You might want to be careful on what you are saying to each other in Russian, as occasionally you may encounter a person who is also fluent in that language

        Very true. 🙂 We once made a mistake of discussing oral sex in Amsterdam airport… 🙂 🙂

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        1. “Very true. We once made a mistake of discussing oral sex in Amsterdam airport…”

          – Actually, oral sex sounds pretty much the same in all languages I’m aware of anyway. 🙂

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  4. My parents were openly affectionate in the presence of their children. Mother sometimes sat on dad’s lap watching television; they hugged and kissed in our presence. I don’t know what their sex life was like, of course, but romantically and affectionately, they were not inhibited.

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    1. “My parents were openly affectionate in the presence of their children. Mother sometimes sat on dad’s lap watching television; they hugged and kissed in our presence. I don’t know what their sex life was like, of course, but romantically and affectionately, they were not inhibited.”

      – This is the most comforting thing I have heard so far. THANK YOU! So your parents did it, and you obviously turned out great. This is good news.

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      1. Yes – my parents were like this and it was also clear the relationship was romantic because of the flowers (for instance) and other romantic gifts like that.

        I’ve known quite a few couples with kids who were like this.

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  5. We have less sex than we did pre-children, but still once a week, which is better than a lot of my friends (even without kids). I felt like I had to make sex a priority after our first kid was born, and though I wasn’t into it much until after I stopped breast feeding (17 months!), our sex actually got better than ever after the kid was more independent — not attached through nursing. With the second kid, I had no trouble becoming sexual again, despite breast feeding for 10 months. You just don’t have the same ambivalence about sex after the second kid.

    All that said, I have zero sex drive. My hubby has to initiate sex and once we get into it, I’m very into it. But I never really actively feel like having sex until we’re already halfway there. TMI, I bet.

    And THAT said, I think my lack of sexual desire has much more to do with our pervasive relationship problems than it has to do with our kids. If you have a good relationship and lots of passion now, you can get it back after kids.

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  6. Barefoot Doctoral synthesized my experience. A happy sex life is possible after having a child. One more thing: if you have a child like mine you will not be able to be as productive with your research than what you are picturing. Like you I do not mind the noise (in fact, it helps), but my son has never been able to play alone for more than 5 minutes. Between 1 and 12 months (perhaps more) he always wanted to have interactions with us. Always. And he slept very little. Forget about reading or writing while the baby is ‘playing alone’ because perhaps it will not play alone for a while. This experience alone is the reason why I have childbearing fears about a hypothetical second child.

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  7. “I really want something, I’ll find money for that”

    That’s exactly the kind of person I imagine you to be. I don’t understand why you can’t apply that model here as well. Not solving problems with money, of course, but the idea that if you want something really bad you’ll find a way to make it happen.

    What’s the opposing force here? What is the thing that is stopping you from being a sexual person once you have a kid? It isn’t ‘hormones’ because you don’t believe that your behaviour can be so intricately managed by chemical changes in your body (that’s pharma talk anyway!). So what is it? I think it’ll help you to *explicitly* define/name/confront the force that you think may stop you, maybe then you can deal with it adequately.

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    1. Oooh, this is profound! I’m liking this comment a lot.

      OK, let’s think about it. It definitely isn’t that I fear any hormonal changes or uncontrollable processes taking place in my body. As you said, I don’t even believe in them. 🙂 I know that my hormones will be just fine. 🙂 In my family, women tend to experience a huge surge in libido after childbirth anyway.

      As I’m thinking about it, the only answer that emerges is that I’m afraid of freaking the kid out and acting in a way that will make them feel either traumatized or excluded.

      I now need to think more about this.

      But what a good question, man. Thank you!

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        1. “I don´t think you will traumatize them.”

          – Really? I know I’d be traumatized if my parents started smooching right now but it’s probably because I’m very not used to that. If they’d done that from the start, maybe it would be different?

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      1. Many, perhaps most, children are brought up with either constantly fighting, stressed-out, unhappy, or poor parents. I think smooching parents are totally harmless. I have never read of anyone blaming their parents too affectionate and sexual relationship traumatizing them. 🙂
        Personally it would make me very happy to see my parents affectionately kissing, although I would certainly look away. It would take away some of the (unconscious) burden of ‘making my mother happy’ from me and would be a huge relief for me. I think parents are already doing a lot right if they make sure that they themselves are happy with their life….

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  8. My parents were/are openly affectionate in the way David describes (not R-rated, but definitely not something you’d engage in with a roommate) and my siblings and I were not traumatized. Actually we have agreed this is one of the best things about our parents because we saw romantic interest as something sustained over many years and events. They had regular dates without us (including overnight ones) and we always thought this was exciting as we got to spend the night with a friend or family member (an adventure!). So we never felt left out either. In fact, we all turned out great 😉

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    1. OK, I’m now really happy I started this thread. This is a very encouraging story.

      ” Actually we have agreed this is one of the best things about our parents because we saw romantic interest as something sustained over many years and events.”

      – This sounds very convincing. And very enviable.

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  9. Much of what you can do or say depends on the ages of the children. Are kids are older now and understand what we mean when we say were going to take a nap. 😉
    We share custody with our kids and one of the funny comments we use with them is this. “If you dont want to be surprised that we put the mattress in the living room then dont surprise us with an unannounced visit, that one works wonders for privacy.:)

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  10. It is easy if you have the right mindset and priorities. I have 3 kids under 10, and we have sex daily, if not more. There are no excuses – if you are home together sleeping, you can have sex. Yes, this occasionally means the door is locked, and one of them is banging on the door. They will live. That’s what quickies are foot. Skip one day the most (and double up to make up for it).

    Be openly affectionate in front of your children. Nothing R-rated of course, but show them you LIKE each other in a special way.

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      1. I don’t think it’s as important how often it happens as whether the environment of romantic sexual love, the sexual connection between the 2 people remains unbroken.

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    1. It is easy if you have the right mindset and priorities(off the cuff)

      For many people everyday is not a priority. Though it is nice to see a couple who has evenly matched priorities. 😉

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  11. Hmm. My stepbrother and his wife split up after they had a child. According to my stepbrother, he was annoyed because she spent all her time with the baby instead of him. That sounded silly to me, and both my dad and I thought that there must be more to it than that. I never considered the sexual side of things, probably because it’s not something I think much about. But that’s an excellent point. Perhaps that had something to do with their marriage dissolving?

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    1. Relationships often break down after the birth of a child. Men begin to feel useless and excluded. This is why male cheating peaks in the 3 years after the child is born.

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  12. I’m gathering from this topic and the comments that a downturn in sexual/romantic relationships post-childbirth are, for heterosexual couples, the equivalent of Lesbian Bed Death: It happens, but not as often as “experts” would have you believe, and only if you let it. 🙂

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  13. I think that if you love each other and like sex, your relationship wont change much. I think people use the presence of children as an excuse for why their relationship deteriorates. If there are problems, children will magnify them. After the first few weeks of recovery after childbirth, my relationship with my husband resumed. I think a lot depends on your attitude. We had some challenges – sex in the hotel bathroom on vacation, while the kids slept in the next room, for example, but that kind of made it more fun.

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