My cousin just had her baby shower, and it's made me realize my very deep-seated fears about parenthood. This cousin is really more like my younger sister. We're very different, and we didn't always get along. She came to America when she was 12 years old; I was 4 when I arrived. She remembers enough of life on the island to not fully love life in America, whereas I was raised here and don't really know anything else. That's how we ended up clashing heads in the beginning. I learned from observing the may immigrants in my family that it's really easy to get caught up in the cycle of dead end job after dead end job because what they get here is more that would ever have in Cuba. So, there's a tendency to settle, especially if you're older and haven't learned enough English yet to believe education a possible route. So when she got to us, I was trying to lead her down a different path; she was young enough that I thought she could learn enough English to finish high school and get some kind of an education. She did learn to speak English, but college was not a path she was that interested in. This is just one of the many ways we're very different from one another.
My sister is confident in her own skin, incredibly social and something of a party animal, and fearless when it comes to saying what's on her mind and expressing exactly how she feels. I struggle with my self-image most days, my idea of a party is a potluck with 10 of my closet friends, and I have a terrible fear of confrontation. I think we grew to admire each other's differences and strengths rather than be jealous and competitive. So, despite these differences and despite a rough start, she and I grew close. We bonded over how disrespected we felt because we wanted different things that what our family wanted for us. We bonded over how much we both simply wanted to be our own person. After some time had passed and some maturing on both our parts, we became closer than sisters and learned to rely on each other and we learned to support each other no matter what.
When she became pregnant, I faced my greatest challenge as her sister. I knew exactly how I would have handled that situation because I was in her shoes once. But remember: we're very different people. She wanted to be a mom so badly; it had come up often during our many conversations. I wanted to shake her and tell her she was being ridiculous, that she was too young to be a mom, that I wasn't sure the father was someone she would want to be with for the rest of her life. I thought of all the reasons that stopped me from becoming a mom myself when I was even younger than my sister is today.
But I didn't. I simply told her to consider all her options carefully, but that at the end of the day it's her life, her choice, and I would support her no matter what. It wasn't, after all, my call to make, and my sister never needed anyone to tell her what she wants.
I have spent the better part of the past decade feeling conflicted about ever having children of my own. It's not that I don't like children; I'm a teacher and interact with them constantly. They're the best part of my job; sometimes, they're the best part of my week! And I find babies absolutely precious. No, my reasons range from practical to feminist rhetoric.
For a long time, my number two reason for not wanting children (number one being the cost of raising a child on top of the cost of living compared to our stagnating salaries) was the light it shed on how society at large—and more specifically, my family—views motherhood. It's the single greatest thing a woman could do with her life. It seemed to me that it didn't matter what I accomplished for myself; my family would never show me any proper respect until I had a baby.
And I know this because I distinctly remember visiting another cousin of mine while my mother was in town. We were all in my cousin's living room; my mom, my aunt, my grandmother, my cousin, and me. I can't remember what my mother was talking about, but she had them all very interested in what she had to say. They were quiet, rapt with attention, rarely stopped to ask questions. And I just remember thinking, "Damn, what do I have to do to get them to listen to me like that?"
And it hit me; they're all bonded by their shared experiences as mothers. They listen to my mom because they respect her, because she's a mom like they are. It's a reality they can all empathize with, something I lack. I am very much a black sheep: I'm more American than I am Cuban, I speak near perfect English, I like things like video games and horror movies (style considered a very "male" interest), I'm twice college-educated, and at almost 30 years old, I am neither married nor a mother. These are not experiences that most of the women in my immediate family can relate to.
Ever since, I have actively rejected motherhood. The entire process of pregnancy and labor terrifies me (and I've heard some horror stories, both from people I know and on the news), but the societal pressure to be a mother is something I also reject. However, I realized that I also carry so much anxiety when it comes to raising a child.
What if I'm not ready?
What if there's something medically or neurologically wrong with my child; will I be able to rise to the occasion and be the mother that child deserve?
What if I have a daughter and she inherits my PCOS?
What if I'm a bad mom? What if I fuck it up and my kid hates me?
Worse still: what if I fall in love with my child only to lose them tragically? This is the one that stops me cold every time. I think that would break me, and my heart goes out to any parent who has ever had to deal with the unimaginable loss of their child.
I know it's silly and somewhat macabre to be afraid of something that hasn't happened yet, but that is the very definition of anxiety. I am forever thinking of worst-case scenarios, as a defense mechanism so I can prepare for them.
But how does one prepare to raise a neuro-divergent child? How does one prepare to continuously mold themselves to be whatever that child needs from moment to moment? How does one prepare to carry the weight of the sacrifices they will make for their child for the rest of their lives?
There is no preparing for that, and I am terrified of completely failing as a mother. Failure has always been my greatest fear, but at least my failures today only affect me (for the most part). As a mother, every failure puts my child at risk, and that's a risk I am so unprepared to take.
Not yet, anyway.