I always knew I wanted to be a mother. After struggling to find my path in this life, endlessly searching for what would make me happy, the only thing I was ever certain of was that I wanted to have children. Unfortunately, it didn’t come easy for us. In fact, it nearly bankrupted us just to have our first daughter.
I was at Cornell when my body went haywire, and we discovered it may take some time for me to get pregnant. I’m grateful we got started when we did, because I almost ended up with a hysterectomy and no children at the age of 33. Adding fertility treatments to the already hectic schedule of waiting tables full time and going to school full time was too much. I was also unimpressed by the program there, so I left school and began my three year journey to get pregnant. My husband was getting his MFA at the time, a light at the end of the tunnel that has never quite panned out for us either. The economy tanked when he graduated and teaching jobs were more competitive than ever. Seven years later, he is a carpenter and I will no doubt remain in the service industry for now.
Life never seems to go the way you expect it to, and we have had to do our fair share of rolling with the punches. Fertility treatments, complications, surgeries, time off work… all of it has left us struggling financially. We had a strategy to get back on our feet after it all, and then I finally managed to sustain a pregnancy and have a child. “Best laid plans” as they say, but I know with great certainty that neither of us would trade the challenges we faced (and continue to face) if it meant not having our daughter in this world.
Regardless of how we feel about where life has led us, it has come to my attention that there are some out there who disapprove, to put it mildly, of people having children when they are not financially stable. Women, in particular, may be harshly criticized for choosing to start a family before completing college and getting settled into a career. Lately I’ve witnessed numerous discussions regarding family planning, and it seems to me that the driving factors behind it boil down to two main things: love or money.
There are some who may actually want another child, but feel that it is unacceptable to even consider because they would not be able to maintain their 401K’s, college funds and current lifestyles. Others follow their hearts and grow their family regardless of the size of their bank accounts, because the quality of life they seek has little to do with material possessions, vacations or nest eggs. I am not implying that those who put finances first don’t love their children. I’m simply stating that financial security is their priority when it comes to family planning.
I would like to assume that most fall in between these two polarized approaches, but based on what I’ve seen and heard it seems to be pretty starkly divided, with a remaining few who fit neither category and are primarily concerned with overpopulation. Unfortunately, there was something that became evident from these conversations that did not sit well with me. There is a small faction within the financial planners who are adamantly opposed to anyone having children when they can’t “afford” it. Often their comments would be littered with words like “selfish, irresponsible and careless.” The discourse would generally deteriorate to lumping anyone who either has a lot of kids or who doesn’t have money into the same category as the favorite, derogatory characterization of the welfare mom with ten kids in tow.
I don’t mind being compared to those grossly misrepresented women, many of which are probably strong as hell. What I am disturbed by is the overwhelming sense of disgust and hatred for anyone and everyone who has a lot of kids or no money or both. As usual, it is typically the most passionate who voice their opinions, so I am by no means suggesting that everybody who plans their family based on money is thinking these same things. However, every discussion had at least a few speaking out with an intense fury on the subject. I couldn’t help but feel as though there were others who may not have been so overwhelmingly incensed by it, but deep down they agreed as well.
This logic confuses me. Apparently, only those who can contribute to college funds and 401K’s should be permitted to have children. Putting financial prerequisites on childbearing not only reduces the percentage who would qualify in the US to a very small minority, but if you extend those standards worldwide, almost nobody “should” have children. What surprises me even more is that I have heard these sentiments from liberal women – the same women who defend reproductive freedom when it comes to terminating a baby or using birth control, but take a very different stance when that same choice is applied to having one. The idea that a woman should wait until she has attained a degree and some significant success in her subsequent career before starting a family is a notion that can often be a blurred line in feminism. Is it not equally empowering to make the choice to forgo all of that and have a family if that is what a woman truly wants? In a time when paths have already been forged and women have the ability to have it all and do it all, isn’t the perception of the college educated career woman as the feminist icon a bit antiquated?
I grew up the youngest of four, wore nothing but hand-me-downs and while we lived comfortably, there was no college fund waiting for me. I have never looked back on my childhood and felt as though I was deprived of anything. I went to a state school which I paid for with scholarships and student loans, completed my core courses and transferred to Cornell on nearly a full scholarship. There are ways it can be done. Would I love to be able to give my daughter any education she wants or send her around the world and never have a serious care about money? Of course I would, and I don’t know many who wouldn’t.
The fact that I will most likely never be able to provide that for her does not make me a bad parent, or a bad person. The fact that we still continue to try for a second child while we tread water from the financial aftermath of having our first does not make us irresponsible and careless. We may not have money, but our home is brimming with an abundance of love. We have a child who radiates this and brings joy to every person she encounters – even strangers. She is happy and content with her life, and so are we.
To the people out there who cast a judgmental eye on any parent they see with 4, 5 or 7 kids, and who don’t think it’s appropriate for my husband and I to have children, I would like to say that it’s none of your business. If you want your lives to be dictated by a sense of financial stability that is probably unattainable for most, then that is absolutely your choice, just as it is our choice to believe that we have everything we need. We will get through whatever life throws our way, because we always do. If we haven’t been broken by three years of fertility treatments, being forced to sell our home or losing a baby in the second trimester, it’s going to take a lot more than a lack of money to keep us down. We look into those beautiful eyes and realize we are the richest people we know.
Amy Serotkin is dedicated to sustainable living and finding ways to eliminate toxins in her home. She is an avid organic gardener and cook, and is always looking for more ways to challenge herself to lessen her family's ecological imprint.
Her website, The Mindful Home, shares with consumers the information she's found on toxins and eco friendly products that help eliminate disposables or toxin exposure. She also hopes to highlight smaller retailers, crafters and manufacturers.