I’ve been on the fence about motherhood for years. Will Trump put me off having a kid for good?
The first words my dad ever spoke to me the day I was born were these: “The world is a tough place, but maybe you can make it better.”
Change the world — got it. A rather tall order for a kid.
Born under Reagan and politicized under George W. Bush, I’d worn a pantsuit to the polls last November. Harboring no illusions that Clinton was the perfect candidate, I was misty about voting for our first woman president, brimming with the hope of all the women I knew who’d brought their daughters to the polls with them. One day later I wore black. I grieved for a dream that felt dead. But not all of them were.
Dwarfed by the daily tragedies and threats to safety, civil rights, democracy, peace, and the environment that have manifested since January, there’s one newly endangered dream that’s felt too self-indulgent to fully acknowledge. Once a more tangible future milestone, it’s a question mark, a far-off and vague-seeming possibility: whether I’ll become a parent.
I’m not the only one questioning what this new political reality means for parenting prospects. Since the inauguration, I’ve heard a lot of people wonder whether they wanted to parent in the time of Trump. One of my best friends, who’s been a democratic party activist as long as I’ve known her, told me one of the first things to cross her lips when she found out Trump was elected was, “Well, I guess I won’t be having a kid now.”
A former coworker remarked on Facebook, “We didn’t have kids because of this exact moment.” It’s a reasonable response rooted in fear for the future, in the seeming unfairness of bringing a kid into a world further marred by climate change denial, injustice, hatred, poverty, war. I struggle with how I can in good conscience subject a theoretical child to some dystopian future like the ones I’ve relished reading about in fiction…until recently.
But that’s not the only response. Other friends have gotten pregnant or had kids during this time, too. On that same Facebook thread, a second former colleague and father of two offered another perspective: “My kids are my only comfort right now.”
It reminded me of when my father called me at 7pm on election night, breathless. “We should think about a plan. We may not want to live here anymore if he wins.” Trying to sound brave, I reassured him, “Let’s not make any rash decisions. We’re not going anywhere. There are too many people who can’t leave.”
Kids can comfort, and parenting them can be such an all-consuming task that you’re forced to be present, and to get outside yourself and what’s happening on the grand scale, even if it’s only until bedtime.
I’ve felt my own fuzzy feelings around parenting swing like a pendulum between both ends of the parenthood philosophical spectrum. (While acknowledging that being able to ponder such thoughts is, in many ways, a privilege.) But my ambivalence didn’t start on November 8. I knew I didn’t want to have a kid in my 20s because I was busy traveling, establishing my career, dating. I doubted whether I ever wanted kids at all — facing the financial burden and struggles with anxiety, asthma, and eczema. There’s the massive carbon footprint of a whole new human, the ethics of bringing a life onto a possibly doomed planet. They say, “You’re really never ready to become a parent,” but I’ve struggled to know if it’s a good decision for me, my partner, and the world.
When 30 rolled around, and I got married, and family members asked questions — as delicately as they could — my refrain was “give it five years.” That window didn’t shorten as I closed in on 35.
But I feel a gut-level response whenever I meet a bright, bold toddler. Or see one who resembles my partner. Parenthood is a dream of his, an adventure. He wants to create an idyllic childhood for a kid, unlike the traumatic one he experienced. He’s felt more certain, like he did about our home, our dog, our marriage. He waited for me to come around. Eventually I proposed at 29, and it was around that time that I warmed to the idea of having a kid. One kid.
I was nervous about admitting to my friend, Rebecca* — a fellow Jewish feminist I look up to — that I was considering parenthood. I’’d had so many snarky conversations with friends who railed against kids with me. “You think it’s your time?” she’d said. Given my reservations, it was a fitting way of putting it.
You say it’s someone’s time when they die in their sleep of natural causes at an advanced age. For a long time I’d bought into the notion that motherhood would spell the death knell of parts of me I held dear. My writing, my creativity, adventures in travel and love. I felt this even though I know intellectually that feminism is all about self-determination and writing your own story, including having a family, or not.
I spent so long resisting the script. As a queer woman in an open marriage, we weren’t exactly conventional. Rejecting parenthood was a reaction to heteronormative conditioning, to offensive notions of parenthood being the pinnacle of womanly achievement.
I was surprised when Rebecca opened up about her desire to have a child, to experience pregnancy.
Hearing this was unexpectedly liberating.
In one of the best and certainly most vulnerable conversations we’d ever had, we talked about our fears, strength, and resilience. We talked about feelings of unworthiness around passing on our genes as internalized anti-semitism. Our relatives had fled persecution or were imprisoned. But they had lived and thrived, despite suffering. Self-replication seemed like a radical act of self love, of sedition and resistance in the face of history’s denial of our humanity. A legacy of survival worth passing on.
Speaking to Rebecca and other feminists in my life gave voice and permission to my conflicted feelings and new unspoken desires. My friend Sarah, a playwright and mother of three girls, wrote a raw and moving piece about pregnancy and motherhood. “Reproduction is the most unoriginal thing you could do. Maybe it’s the only miracle that happens all the time.”
Procreation: how pedestrian and transcendent. It could be a novel experience, a profoundly selfish and selfless act.
These connections have been lifesaving since the election. I shared with some old girlfriends from high school that Trump’s win made me consider giving up on having a kid for good.
My friend Sam pressed me, “No Heather, this is why you have to have a kid.” She meant to teach them. To raise another world-changer, like my dad had aspired to raise. I thought about passing my stories and values onto someone, about building a critical thinker, about that also being a radical act. Teaching them to play an instrument. To swim. To march. To embrace people not like them. “Raise your kids and teach them difference is fucking beautiful,” I heard called out over a megaphone at a post-election rally.
It’s that idea, bound up in my activist identity, of owning my bodily autonomy, of making an effort to raise a conscious, socially-aware human, that continues to be parenthood’s biggest draw for me after years of ambivalence. The idea of my own flesh and blood building community and resistance — things so needed in the next four years, and beyond.
The day after the election for me was bookended by mourning and marching. But the day after that, the sun did rise, as then-President Obama promised, and it was a crisp blue-skyed day in San Francisco. I ran on the hilltop in my neighborhood overlooking the city — the one that has stood for equality and inclusion, even as an influx of money and privilege threaten its free-spirited, artistic soul. Never having been much of a runner before, this hill climb has been an unexpected part of my morning routine for the past few months.
Maybe, I thought, I was unconsciously preparing my body for an even greater physical challenge: pregnancy and childbirth. That epiphany, a momentary rekindling of a tenuous dream, brought waves of joy, anger, and hopelessness.
Running downhill, lungs full, I knew my ankles were strong enough to hold me, and my footfalls sure — though the pavement was uneven. I felt myself gaining steam, building a sense of confidence that had been shaken in so many other ways. I’ve needed to draw on that energy many times in these past dark weeks and months. And since election night, my dad’s come to me for advice on how to get involved. We’ve attended a town hall meeting and strategized together over noisy family meals.
Maybe some day my kid will be who I call to feel connected in a time of crisis, to know the future’s in good hands, that the kids are alright. But for now, I’m focused on hitting my stride in this new world.
Heather Buchheim is a writer, activist, cellist, and nonprofit worker in San Francisco.
This originally appeared on The Establishment. Republished here with permission.