ast week I went to the doctor for an IUD consultation (my last one came out but I really want them to shove another one up there regardless). Two days later, at a small gathering at their house, friends of mine who have been married for a year told us they were expecting a baby.
It was then I realized that my first reaction to this news is always sheer, unadulterated terror. Sympathetic terror, you understand – I feel terrified on their behalf, because somebody needs to, because they are just sitting there smiling like idiots when A TINY HUMAN is about to be completely, vulnerably, irreversibly in their care. WHY AREN’T YOU TERRIFIED I want to yell, which is not only socially inappropriate but also somewhat unfair. Firstly because they may in fact be terrified, but just have the common courtesy not to show it (and/or it is outweighed by happiness and other positive emotions), and secondly because really it’s none of my business.
Why does this news always lead to vicarious terror? Really I am happy for my friends – not just happy, but that perfectly pleasant place where your love for someone, and them having something they want that you don’t at all, intersect; no jealousy, just pure vicarious excitement. But I think of that tiny uncontrollable human that will soon be in their care; that little beast with its feelings, at the mercy of other, perhaps more terrible humans out there in the world.
On the way home my friends and I talked about what extra challenges the child might face, being mixed race. But we live in a big urban centre, in 2013 – it couldn’t be so bad, could it? We peered cautiously at the question from behind our whiteness. How bad is it? Certainly not bad enough that our beautiful, happy friends, with their own middle class backgrounds, strong support networks, and blossoming careers would even have second thoughts, right? But those terrifying conversations happen behind bedroom doors, and sometimes not even there. I thought of that same couple’s trip to visit a mutual friend attending school in the southern USA; the kinds of things they had to consider, as an interracial couple, would never have crossed my mind – but then, that’s my privilege, to not have to consider those kinds of things if I don’t want to.
What positive thing can come from my vicarious (maybe?) terror? A supportive ear, a cautious eye. I could be the clingiest babysitter there ever was. I want to follow my friends’ kids around and yell at people who give them a hard time; defend with my oversensitive heart the bodies they inhabit. I guess this is what happens when you and your friends get old enough to look out for yourselves; suddenly a new generation springs up and your loyalty and fear spreads out to encompass them. If I wanted to be a mother, I think I would be a terrible one. My child would never be allowed to take a risk; my poor heart wouldn’t allow it.
So I’m going to go ahead and get that IUD as soon as I can, but for me that’s only half of being childfree; the other half is offering my support, love, and absolute awe – and, if needed, a surplus of pure terror – to my beautiful friends and their upcoming tiny human on this next great adventure.