To Parent or Not to Parent, summer 2017

Photo by Matthew Hamon

Photo by Matthew Hamon

I delayed motherhood until my 40s because teaching and artmaking left me feeling like I was taking on too much. I suspected that adding kids to the mix would really kill my light.  I was right - I have taken on too much, and my light is a dull flame with occasional flare-ups. It's not pretty nor is it ideal, and it's completely exhausting. Bone-deep exhausting.  But the seasons of parenting are short, and while I'm engulfed in raising an infant and toddler, and before I know it they will be gone. And I will be heartbroken.

For now, it's worth it. Honestly, I want each of these three identities: mother, teacher, and artist, in my daily existence - I deeply love them all. Teaching offers the opportunity to interact with people and the world. It offers a platform to cultivate social justice, and to explore the ways in which people learn. It allows me to experience the zeitgeist and to touch the fervor of youth. Teaching offers a platform for healing the rough K12 experience I had, as I know some of what I teach will reach other students who struggle in school. 

Studio time allows me to recenter and sometimes enter what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi terms as "flow," which is the timeless zone of total involvement in a task. When studio time works, it energizes my entire being. There's nothing quite like it. Some of my highest highs have been alone in my studio, or alone in the woods, making connections between projects. It is where I recover from living. 

And motherhood, well it just about takes the cake. There's a grounding I've never before felt, both to my family and to the trajectory of humankind. For me, having children later in life allowed for years of self-reflection, experience in the classroom, and love of making, to converge. Children fuse education and art - and watching your own in the creative state brings a great joy. They tickle the heart like nothing prior.

At the end of an academic semester, or just before an exhibition, I'm beat. I am reminded that I have taken on too much, and it's incredibly difficult. At these points I want to quit something, just to make my life slow down.  Then I get through it, and I'm grateful for all of these aspects of my life.  I'm hanging on, and each of these practices: teaching, making, and mothering, has become fuller and more meaningful. This page offers some guidance to folks considering this path.

 

Conversations to Consider Having with Your Partner Before Having Kids   

If you are dedicated to your careers (teaching and artmaking) and want to have children, I recommend taking a look at these questions and having a discussion with your partner. This list is from Anne Marie Slaughter's 2015 book, Unfinished Business: Women, Men, Work, Family, on pages 202 - 205.

 "Are you willing to make tradeoffs in your career so that I can advance in mine?” That is the question that often does not get asked. The flipside has to be “And will you let me be fully equal or primary at home?” I think men/partners should ask that. They should say, “If I want to raise the kids differently…are you going to accept me as a fully equal parent?” If we really want to talk about equality you must be able to imagine that you’re going to make those tradeoffs in both directions. When your partner is running the family, can you let go of control?

Are you willing to move so I can advance my career even if that means taking a step down or sideways in your career? When we move, are you willing to to reweave the fabric of our children's lives while I try to get a handle on my new job? 

If I take a job that requires travel, will you be the available parent for everything from teacher conferences to snow and sick days, not to mention after-school activities requiring parent involvement? 

Are you comfortable hiring a great deal of outside help to raise our children? 

Can you handle it if I earn more money than you do and have a more conventionally successful career? 

 

Readings

Alcorn, K. (2013). Maxed out : American moms on the brink. Berkeley, California : Seal Press. 

Bennetts, L. (2007). The feminine mistake : Are we giving up too much? (1st ed.. ed.). New York : Voice/Hyperion.

Crittenden, A. (2002). The price of motherhood : Why the most important job in the world is still the least valued (1st Owl Books ed.. ed.). New York : H. Holt & Co.

Daum, M. (2015). Selfish, shallow, and self- absorbed: Sixteen writers on the decision not to have kids (First edition.. ed.) New York : Picadour. 

Dunn, J. (2017). How not to hate your husband after kids (First edition.. ed.) New York : Little, Brown and Company.

Senior, J. (2014). All joy and no fun : The paradox of modern parenthood (First edition.. ed.) New York : Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

Schulte, B., & Schulte, B. (2015, -05-07). Once the baby comes, moms do more, dads do less around the house. The Washington Post Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/parenting/wp/2015/05/07/once-the-baby-comes-moms-do-more-dads-do-less-around-the-house/?utm_term=.66978299ff36

Slaughter, A. (2015). Unfinished business : Women, men, work, family (First edition.. ed.) New York : Random House.

 

Website: Mater Mea     http://www.matermea.com/

Headquartered in New York City, mater mea is a website that tells the stories of women of color at the intersection of motherhood and career. The site was launched in 2012 by founder and editor-in-chief Anthonia Akitunde and founder emeritus Deborah Choi. By presenting a more realistic narrative of black motherhood, mater mea opens the ongoing “Can women have it all?” conversation to women of color.

With compelling photo-driven features on women such as poet Staceyann Chin and artist Wangechi Mutu, and helpful articles addressing career, beauty and style, parenting, wellness, home, travel, and culture, mater mea reflects today’s black woman as she really is: savvy, complex, and inspirational.

 

Podcast: The Longest Shortest Time      http://longestshortesttime.com/

The Longest Shortest Time is a bold, daring podcast about parenthood in all of its forms. But you don’t need to be a parent to listen. The podcast tells stories about the surprises and absurdities of raising other humans—and being raised by them. The show was named one of the 50 Best Podcasts by The Atlantic in 2015—and our signature event, Speed Dating for Mom Friends, has been featured in The New Yorker. THE LONGEST SHORTEST TIME has won awards from New York Festival’s World’s Best Radio, The Academy of Podcasters, and the Third Coast International Festival. The Bump honored Hillary in its inaugural Moms: Movers & Makers awards, created to “recognize women who, through the lens of motherhood, are truly making a difference in the lives of others.”

 

The Biological Clock

I didn't study ovulation reserve charts until I couldn't get pregnant. I chose to live in that comfortable, fuzzy zone of denial.  But somewhere in that haze I set a deadline of age 40, assuming that I would get what I wanted (a baby) when I wanted it (at 40). Luckily - and this is extremely rare - I became pregnant on our first try, just one month shy of my 40th birthday. But when we tried for baby number two just twelve months later, I couldn't get pregnant. My reserve was tapped out, and I was infertile. I considered adoption and fostering, but was attached to having another experience of pregnancy and breastfeeding. We resorted to IVF with a donor egg when I was 44, after three tireless years of trying and IUIs.  The route of IVF is not possible on a teacher's salary, and it is only covered by insurance in thirteen states (http://www.ncsl.org/research/health/insurance-coverage-for-infertility-laws.aspx).  Note, too, that issues of infertility are vast, with ovarian reserve just one aspect of infertility. 

So when is the right time to have a family? There's the career to consider, the option of doing it as a single mother, and whether or not you have a partner with whom you would consider raising kids. It's never, never an optimal time. New jobs, being in school, and carving out studio time make the decision of when to start a tough one.  All I can offer is to suggest that you do it earlier than I did unless you expect a sum of money to come your way. 

First, though, it's important to understand ovarian reserve. This website gives a great description: https://www.ovulationcalculator.com/ovulation/

"All of your follicles (eggs) were formed in your ovaries before your were born, during about the 4th month of your fetal life. At birth you have about 400,000 follicles per ovary. Each follicle has the potential to release an egg during ovulation, but only about 400 will actually reach this stage in your lifetime. The rest are lost (die) in a process called atresia.The total number of follicles remaining at any given time is known as the ovarian reserve and it slowly declines at a steady rate up until the age of about 37, or when the ovarian reserve has reduced to having only 25,000 follicles. After this, the rate of decline doubles until only about 1,000 remain at menopause.  In a 2007 study, researchers counted the ovarian reserve of 122 women aged between 0 and 51. See the graph below for a visual representation of the average ovarian reserve by age group."

Druce, P. (2016). You will ovulate 400 times in your life - understanding ovulation. Retrieved from https://www.ovulationcalculator.com/ovulation/

Druce, P. (2016). You will ovulate 400 times in your life - understanding ovulation. Retrieved from https://www.ovulationcalculator.com/ovulation/