How we decided to have a child
A little bit of this, a little bit of that
This is Part 2 of the Becoming Parents series. See Part 1.
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In the previous post, I shared some of the main reasons we came up with for NOT having children and becoming parents. Thinking of reasons not to have children was much more natural because we didn't have a strong desire to become parents. But in that post, I also revealed that I had always had a vague desire to care wholeheartedly for someone younger than me. So at some point, Charlane and I started to seriously consider reasons to HAVE children - this post is about that.
If you haven't already read the previous post, I recommend it before reading this as it gives context to our mindset at the earliest stages of pre-parenthood. You can find part 1 here:
Once we started to seriously consider having a child, we went looking for reasons to do so. Turns out, we managed to find a few but they were mostly based on fear. Let's start there...
Fear-based reasons to have a child
Would we be able to conceive? I didn't need to look up the stats to know that animal fertility goes down over time. It's not just natural deterioration that's at play either; living in the Anthropocene (the epoch where human activity significantly affects everything on our planet), I was sure that the food we eat, the air we breathe, and the materials we use daily to shower, cook, drink, launder, etc. were in some small way toxic to us. That spelt one thing: the longer we have lived, the more we have bioaccumulated, and the greater the chance of our bodies being incapable of fertilising or hosting a new life. I looked around me and I kept seeing evidence that the probability of conception decreases a lot with age. When we crossed the 30-year-old mark, I think we just adopted the mentality that "it's now or never."
Possible birth defects and pregnancy risks. I had to look up the stats to be sure about this one. For context, at the time we were seriously considering having a child, my partner was 30. Here's the chart showing the risk of Down syndrome with maternal age that shook us:
I remember showing this chart to Charlane and her reaction being, "Oh shit, I'm starting to climb up the curve."
And then there's this statistic about miscarriages from WebMD: "With age, your risk of early miscarriage goes up. At age 35, the chance is about 20%. By age 45, your chance is 80%." Seriously, a 20% chance of a miscarriage is already too high for my appetite.
The thing about these risks is that they can be detected by prenatal screening. Okay, good... I guess? (The prenatal period is the period of pregnancy before birth.) But what happens if we find out that our child has a disability during this period? We wouldn't have many options then, and among those, all would be painful.
So this was another fear-based motivation. It's now, with lower risks, or later, with much higher risks.
(Not) having the energy. A topic that my partner and I bring up a lot is how our energy levels have dropped since we hit 25 and now 30. (We have a long history together, so we have a rich shared dataset of anecdotal energy levels to draw from and compare.) We knew that if we were to have a change of heart in the future, eventually wanting to have a child when we're older than now, we would have trouble keeping up with the messy demands of raising a child. Perhaps we should have a child now while we're still somewhat energetic.
Resentment. I mentioned in the previous post that the one big reason we had for wanting to have a kid and become parents was my weird desire to care for someone younger. This created a dynamic where Charlane feared that I would resent her in the future had we decided against having a child, especially if we didn't even try to conceive.
I can't say for sure that I would or would not resent her as she imagined, but I guess that I would probably bring it up at least once when we're older and witness a picture-perfect moment of one of our peers with children around them. I don't like admitting this because I think I'm a bigger person than that, but honestly, I think it would come up and it would be very hurtful.
I was, however, very careful about this. I was clear with Charlane that I would rather be resentful (and try on my part to nurse it away over time) than be a spiritually single parent who needed to constantly convince her that our future child is worth our sacrifices.
To sum up, we feared that the window of opportunity to have a normal healthy child, or any child at all, was gradually closing on us, and even if we did manage that, we might have a dreadful time raising him/her simply because we wouldn't be able to keep up with his/her demands.
But... I have to say this: it's not impossible. I've met a few parents who were in their 40s when they first became parents and have completely normal and healthy kids and who seem not to be one gust of wind away from falling apart. We're all different. These were just our fears, steeped in our understanding of ourselves.
Positive and opportunistic reasons to have a child
Those are the fear-based reasons we came up with to have a child (and to try for one soon) rather than wait longer.
Had those been the only reasons, I believe I would have vetoed to not having a child, because I don't like making decisions based entirely on fear of missing out.
FOMO is a symptom of a mind that is made for, rather than by, you. Chasing things that society tells you to chase, as far as I can tell, is the most insidious way in which we make ourselves miserable. (I'm thinking about the overturning of Roe v Wade and the imposition of Christian values of no-abortion on the entire population, including non-Christians, of the United States, which I know is more about having a choice rather than making a choice under subliminal influence, but one is saying you don't get to choose, while the other is pretending like you're choosing based on free will.)
Anyway, Charlane and I did manage to find some positive reasons to have children, too...
Confidence in earning enough to get by. I was not earning a fistful of cash but I was earning enough to support us and had some disposable income after savings. I was earning a software engineer's keep, which is great by my measure. This gave us confidence that if we had a baby coming, we would be able to pay for their food, clothes, education, and those sorts of things.
Germany - an incredible place to have a child and be a parent. Being in Germany was a big reason for us to even consider becoming parents. We moved here having spent almost 30 years in Singapore where people are competitive, things are expensive, and fathers do not get much help from the government to be good dads beyond lip service.
Pay nothing for pregnancy and birthing because public health insurance covers them entirely.
Fathers are guaranteed by the government up to 14 months of parental leave. By contrast, fathers are guaranteed only up to 2 weeks of parental leave.
Strong thrift and reuse culture in Berlin (can't speak for other cities in Germany yet) where people handed down free or low-cost stuff all the time, including baby clothes, chairs, toys, as well as grownup day-to-day stuff. This meant we could live more cost-effectively and be more environmentally sustainable.
Childcare is free and good (albeit tedious to obtain a spot). Education at later stages is also free.
Get peace of mind knowing the government provides strong employee protection in the form of unemployment insurance in case you are suddenly terminated from your job, giving you time to get back on your feet and continue providing for your family.
I'm sure this is not the full list we came up with, but this is most of it, and I must say it feels good just to look at it!
Slower pace of life in Germany (compared to Singapore). I made this its own point because I think it's subjective but feels true to us. It's perhaps the direct outcome of the social security infrastructure in Germany that I talked about in the previous point.
Life here is... slower. In a great way. For us. Read my first and second year living in Berlin reflections for a feel of the things I've been thinking about. The slowness feels more real than just the temporary side effect of freedom that comes from moving to a foreign country.
Charlane and I both believe that our child growing up amongst people who live slower and more deliberately is going to be a good thing. Every swim in the lake, walk in the park, hike in the mountains and road trip to a different city is an opportunity to pause and introspect, which in effect helps one recalibrate constantly. I believe if you want a good life, keep a journal, because you'll reveal to yourself what is important and what is not, and you will naturally calibrate accordingly.
Free time from one of us not working. Charlane wasn't working at the time we were considering having a baby, and we thought this was a good thing because it meant that between the two of us, we would have a bit more free time that could be dedicated to raising a child, should we end up having one.
And now, on to a special mention - perhaps the most important positive reason we chose to try for a child in the end...
A friend one step ahead. Charlane has a best friend in Singapore whom she's still very close with. Let's call her Nina for anonymity's sake. Before we'd moved to Berlin from Singapore, they were both married women who didn't have kids. Now they're both mothers. Who knew friends would influence each other?
But seriously, Nina was probably the biggest reason we felt it was OK for us to try for a baby. Nina and her partner had become parents before we did, and she shared a lot of the ups and downs of being a parent with Charlane. It was like discovering a crystal ball that helped us see warped visions of our future as parents! We suddenly knew the exact difficulties around breastfeeding and sleep training, when we might consider introducing solid foods, what has worked and did not work, how your baby makes you feel when they do X, Y, and Z, and much more.
Having a friend who recently became a parent share their direct experience with us constantly not only helped us picture our future better, it gave us a feeling of assurance that if we were to be stuck with a baby who didn't sleep or were in other ways driving us crazy or making us sad or worried, we'd have someone to turn to for immediate technical support. (The recency of becoming a parent is an important aspect of this dynamic because memories fade.)
As far as I know, Nina never explicitly offered to be our parental technical support, but I'll tell you now, she rendered it like a concierge and it turned out to be very, very helpful. Thanks, Nina!!
Okay, so those are the reasons. Now I think it's important to also mention one other reason that we didn't think about much but definitely played a role in us deciding to try for a baby...
Covid lockdown. Need I say more? We were in Berlin, itching our butts off wanting to experience the city and surrounding Europe, but we simply couldn't. To fill that void, we watched the free full streaming of The Phantom of the Opera, seasons of Blacklist and Somebody Feed Phil, attended online German language classes, and, well, thought up reasons for, and later the act of, procreation.
Once we decided to try for a child, we developed a strategy...
The strategy we used to conceive a baby
We had no idea how healthy we were for reproduction because we hadn't done any checks. I'm not sure if this is controversial, but it felt to me that the logical thing to do was to just do it. You know, have some glorious unprotected sex and see what happens?
Anyway, that's what we did, and we gave ourselves a deadline (I guess I can safely call it that now that our child has been born). We told each other that we'd give ourselves one year to try for a baby, and if that year transpires and we still haven't managed to get pregnant, then we'd call it fate and move on knowing that we'd tried.
I can't say what we would have done if, say, we tried for months and saw no positive test strips - would we have gone to the fertility clinic and perhaps try for an assisted pregnancy? It would be disingenuous of me to say anything but "I don't know!" here since we didn't face that problem. But if you asked me to venture a guess, I'd say that we probably would. Perhaps at the sixth month if we hadn't conceived by then.
Right, so, I did mention a strategy earlier. Here's the strategy we adopted: instead of shooting a Gatlin gun from a helicopter like a madman, we would track Charlane's ovulation and then shoot like a sniper, as in, do the deed, you know, bring up the heat, sow the seed? Yeah? Okay. But in reality, that strategy fell through real quick because even writing it out feels infinitely sexier than it felt when we did it that way. Turns out, my strategy for job hunting didn't quite work for baby-making.
I don't know how you'd feel, but for me, knowing that we were having targeted sex killed the vibes. Call it stage fright, performance anxiety, or whatever you want - it's a cliché, I know, but it was what it was.
In the end, we ditched the tracking. I said to Charlane, "Let's just do it on any night that we feel like it. No counting, okay? We'll just... behave more like bunnies for a while and do it more often."
That was the "strategy" that worked for us. You're welcome for my honesty.
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How we reacted when we realised we were pregnant
Charlane helped me to trace the pictures taken and WhatsApp messages sent that morning to furnish me with the facts to retell this part of the story. The morning that we found out went like this...
Charlane woke up at 6am that morning because she dreamed that she was pregnant. (I'm not making this up.) Conscious but still lying in bed, she felt discomfort in her breasts, which gave her an unsettling feeling, so she got out of bed and went to pee. Because of said unsettling feeling, she decided to pee on a pregnancy test kit. She then walked our toilet in circles waiting for the result.
The result eventually came. She saw two lines and felt relieved that it was negative. But before she went back to bed she decided to double-check the result against the thick roll of paper in the test kit box that was the instructions manual. Two lines meant POSITIVE. The confusion came from the fact that we had bought different test kits because we were testing regularly and had gotten negatives up to that point. Maybe Brand A isn't sensitive enough. Let's try Brand B. When the confusion fog lifted, she knew that this positive was likely truly positive. We also only had that one test kit left, so she didn't test again and took it to be the truth.
Then, she panicked.
Then, she felt blank, like, "Uhh... is this real?" In retrospect, she said she was actually in disbelief.
Then came surprise, because we'd only just started trying to conceive not long ago.
Then she was scared because Oh my god how to deal with pregnancy?!
And then, she was excited. Because this was the start of something new for us and it's the good news we'd been quietly awaiting.
At this point, Charlane felt like she needed to tell somebody else in this world about the newfound secret foetus growing inside her. I wasn't that person. Yep, I wasn't the first to know the news. Remember Nina her best friend? Yeah, Charlane texted her from Berlin to Singapore.
Slightly more than an hour transpires, and I wake up. It was 7:25am when I put my hand on our bedroom door handle, twisted it, and pushed it open. And this is when I tell you that I, too, felt that Charlane was pregnant. How? Simple - she fidgeted a lot before she eventually got out of bed to go to the toilet that morning and she hadn't been back for over an hour.
When the door swung open, I saw Charlane sitting on the couch, legs folded, looking directly at me with a worried smile. I knew then that I was going to be a dad. But I wanted confirmation, so I came next to her and as I bent a knee to sit down, I saw a white plastic stick poorly hidden under her thigh.
"What's this?" I asked, smiling. "Is it a positive?"
"I think so," she said, letting out a nervous laugh.
"What? Really?" I replied. This time it was me that was in disbelief.
I remember being very happy and worried at the same time. I'm going to be a dad! SWEET! Oh wait, I'm going to be someone's dad. Holy shit! What do I need to do now?
Our arduous multi-year journey had led us to that moment - the beginning of our lives as constantly-worrying parents.
I do not remember feeling a tinge of regret at all.
What about now?
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In part 3, I'll share how we feel now and what life is like as a parent of a now 9-month-old baby. Do we have a life? Are we miserable or happy? Do we regret it in any way? I'll cover those and more in the next post.