Last week, a coworker sent out a group email announcing the birth of their second child. I had no idea him and his wife were expecting another baby, but was glad to hear that all was well with mom and baby. He attached a photo of their new little girl and when I opened the picture, I fell over. She's perfection. Sometimes when I'm feeling stressed or anxious, I find myself opening that picture to stare at her sweet, sleeping face and feel my ovaries cramp up. Not long after his announcement, another couple I work with who recently had twins had their babies up in the office. They are about sixish months old now and rolly polly and drooling and adorable. The mom handed one of them over to me so I could smell her head and then we all marveled at the evolutionary design of babies.
At birth, babies secrete a hormone that makes everybody in the room love them. They also look like their fathers. This ensures their survival or at least it keeps the dad from eating the young. The father sees this delicate tiny version of himself and is hit with that love hormone, thus sealing the bond between baby and Father. Even the helplessness of babies is part of evolutionary design. In a paper released in Proceeding of National Academy of Science in 2016, Steven Piantadosi and Celeste Kidd present an evolutionary model of a positive feedback loop where humans are born early to accommodate larger brains. This in turn gives rise to helpless newborns and caring for these children requires more intelligence and thus larger brains. This is how we evolved to our current level of human intelligence. Large brains means helpless babies who need parents with large brains to care for them. I think, in this case, the word 'intelligence' refers to a relative intelligence. Like knowing that fire is hot or that stepping on the sharp end of something is going to hurt. Because we all know that person who flunked out of high school and now has seven children.
You know, I thought all these years that the main reason I didn't want children was because I didn't have what it takes to raise a good human being. Now I'm wondering if it's really because I didn't think I was smart enough to have a child. I've always lacked confidence in my intelligence.
In the past few years, the sight of babies has stirred feelings in me that were not normally present when I was younger and in childbearing years. I have uncontrollable urges just to hold a baby and talk in a ridiculous baby babble with them. I think about finding ways to bottle that new baby smell so that I can spritz the room with it. I see baby clothes in shop windows and want to buy them, thinking that maybe I could get Josephine to wear them. My body twinges at the sight of their gummy infectious smiles. I try to distract myself by looking at puppies but this inevitably leads to me looking at the adoptable dogs on Petfinder. There may be room in my heart for another dog, but there is not room in our house for another dog. There might be room in both places for a goat. We do have a big backyard.
I was talking about all of these new babies to Michael and he looked at me sideways and asked "Do you want a baby?!?" I did not hesitate in my answer. I said "Of course I don't want a baby. I'm FORTY TWO YEARS OLD!" I mean, even if I managed to give birth to a healthy baby without genetic abnormalities, what on Earth would I do with it? That new baby smell transforms from something lovely to something very funky in no time. Every time I smell soured milk, I think of my nephew Thomas who was a terribly cute but stinky baby. Also, I am going to retire at a normal retirement age. I cannot afford to retire and put a kid through college all at the same time. So, at least I am smart enough to know that the baby ship has left the docks and is probably sinking somewhere in the Atlantic. And I am really truly okay with that.
Those stirred up feelings are my body's last ditch effort to remind me of the choices I have made. They are coming at a time when I am also experiencing other symptoms related to perimenopause. My body is taunting me in a way that makes me doubt my decisions even while I mentally stand by those choices. I still come from a generation of women who were taught that having babies defines us as women. Ovaries and eggs. These are the things that make us female. At least, biologically speaking. What are we then when our ovaries are no longer working? There was a time when the older a woman became, the more invisible she became. I don't want to be in the limelight, but I certainly do not want to become invisible because of my age.
I am lucky enough to be moving into this transition during a time in history where there has been a shift in how we view older women. Or that we view older women at all. The forty and over woman is represented in fashion ads and media, not as homely grandmothers baking cookies, but as strong, beautiful and running the business. I'm not saying that cookie baking grandmothers is a bad thing. It's just an unrealistic image for someone like me. The women I know who are my age and older are running businesses. They are strong and beautiful. I was just in a yoga workshop filled with women my age and older who were doing the most intense and demanding yoga poses without blinking an eye or breaking a sweat. We have finally, FINALLY, reached a point in time where ovaries and eggs are not our most defining feature.
I still might buy that baby sweater I saw the other day and convert it into a dog sweater for Josephine.