Sunday, August 20, 2017

Oops, I forgot to have kids

(This is cross-posted from Medium, where it's formatted better)
When I was in middle school, I realized one day how old my parents were compared to other people’s parents, and I decided then that I would have kids before 25 — I would break the cycle! Lots of other kids grew up with alive grandparents, I wanted to give my future kids a shot at getting to have grandparents.
When I was getting near the end of college, I gave up on the goal of kids by 25, but I made a promise with my best friend that if we weren’t both married by 28, we’d move in and adopt a kid to raise together. A strange plan for 2 straight women, but we figured we’d never have to execute on it. She got married soon after, so the plan never came to fruition.
Now I’m 33, and I don’t have kids yet. There’s maybe a 20% chance that my current partner will be ready for it any day now, but the days keep passing and my ovaries keep getting more wrinkly.
So what happened? Why am I now facing the prospect of being an old parent (like my own parents) or never being a parent at all?
I always prioritized work over relationships. I remember a specific point where I could have chosen to take a worse job in order to be in the same city as my long-time partner, and thinking to myself, “no! work over boys!” I believe I learned that from my workaholic dad, and misunderstanding his grievances from having made work-related decisions to please my mum. I’m only now at the point where I would be willing to prioritize starting a family vs starting the perfect job, after seeing where my priorities have landed me.
I rarely saw babies. For most of my years in the tech industry, my colleagues were either young or they were men, so it was rare to encounter babies or pregnancy at work. I didn’t have any friends at that stage in life yet, and I also have little contact with relatives (as they’re all overseas), so I’ve never met a baby I was related to. Actually, my dad did have a second daughter with a new wife, who would have been in her baby years while I was in my late 20s, but I was busy working at Google and I did not meet her until she was the ripe old age of 9 years old. In the olden times, I imagine it would have been hard for a woman to go through as many years of their 20’s without seeing lots of babies — so it’s kind of fascinating how I managed to!
So I forgot about babies and didn’t realize the years were ticking by.Adults were always a foreign species to me, and it took me a long time to identify as one. I always thought there’d be a day that I’d wake up and think “Aha! I’m an adult now!” and that’d be the day that I’d start tackling all the adult goals. How can a kid have a kid, after all? But then I saw the baby announcement of one of my old high school friends— someone who I didn’t think was “adult” yet — and realized that I’d probably confused cause and effect. I started to realize that there wasn’t actually a “kid/adult” toggle in my brain, and that I was indeed at the age where humans make other humans.
Around the age of 30, things changed. I started dating someone who liked the idea of one day having kids, and brought it up early in the relationship. That got my brain ticking on it again. I also started being around a lot more kids, thanks to Khan Academy employees being very babyful and bringing their babies to company events. I also had a surgery that was potentially risky for my future fertility, and that really brought the point home that my fertility wasn’t forever.
But I didn’t feel emotionally prepared. The mums in my family have a history of becoming excessively anxious once kids are in the picture (and that is an understatement), and I didn’t want the same thing to happen to me. I never wanted to take the time to work on my mental health though, because work always seemed more fun/pressing. In the last few years, I’ve become more mentally stable/confident, thanks to finally investing the time in various forms of therapy and a 4-month long Buddhist retreat. Only now do I feel okay with the idea of bringing kids into the world, as I’m no longer worried that my mental health will deteriorate to the point of inflicting suffering on them. Or at least, I know a lot more about ways I can get help if that does happen.
These days, I’m ready and willing to have kids. Sure, it still seems like the scariest thing in the world to me (especially the labor part and the worry-about-kid-dying-forever part) but scary in a worth it kind of way.
But I don’t know if it will happen for me in time. It’s easy for me to accomplish goals that involve only me, but it takes 2 to tango for 20 years, and that’s a goal that I don’t particularly know how to achieve.
I write this because I wonder if others find themselves in the same place, and I worry about accidentally encouraging others along my exact path, especially given how often I speak to girls and women about coding. Ideally, I’d like to inspire females to try out coding for themselves, but not set themselves up for a life where they work at the expense of everything else. Given that I haven’t succeeded in that yet, I don’t think I’m a particularly useful role model.
But maybe there are ways that the tech industry itself can be more encouraging of reproduction:
  • More family-friendly work events. My early years in tech were peppered with alcohol-fueled bonding events, rightly devoid of babies. These days, tech isn’t as into alcohol as a bonding tool (for obvious reasons), so we’re seeing more daytime family-friendly events. Yay, reproduction reminders!
  • Family planning education for 20-somethings. I remember going through Sex Ed in high school, and they did a great job of scaring me away from having kids then (thanks to a graphic film called “The Miracle of Life”). But then, I never got another class later on to un-scare me from having kids. I’m not sure whether such a thing would be offered by work or by health care providers, but it’d have to be an obvious enough option that I’d attend it, even if I wasn’t actively thinking about it. It would be a class for all genders, of course.
  • More career options that aren’t in expensive cities. I hear that SF has a low birth rate, and that could be related to couples not wanting to start a family in a place where they can’t have a proper house or even live without roommates. It could also related to city-dwellers being more into nighttime events than daytime family-friendly events. Either way, it seems possible that if more people worked for tech and didn’t live in costly cities, they’d be more likely to start a family.
  • Corporate policies like maternity/paternity leave. These become helpful once you’ve actually remembered to have kids and are going forward with the decision, to make sure that work doesn’t become a reason not to have kids. I don’t know much about them since I haven’t made it this far.
Having said all that: a caveat. Not every woman wants to have kids. I don’t believe in any approaches that’d impose such a desire upon others, or that would shame people for either wanting or not wanting kids.
I’m just sad that I forgot.

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