Having a child is neither the hardest nor the most amazing thing I have ever done.
As my husband and I were deciding whether or not to have a child, I delved deep into the land of the Mommy Blogger looking for help deciding whether or not it was worthwhile to have children.
I heard, repetitively, permutations of the same answer: Having a child will be the biggest challenge in your life, and also the biggest joy. Or words to that effect.
At the time my decision-making was in a state of equipoise. I was equally certain both that I wanted children and that I would never have them.
I hated that sentiment. Consider: if, universally, having a child is the hardest and the most joyful thing a person (usually a woman, in the blogosphere -- very seldom did I hear this sentiment from a man) could ever do -- what does that say about people living without children?
Does that mean that their joy is less? That their challenges are less? I especially hated the common corollary statement: "you don't know what love is until you've had a child." Does that mean people without children don't understand love?
I found the statement nonsensical and offensive.
And then I had a baby.
I still find it nonsensical and offensive.
I love my child. He is a challenge, and he is a joy.
I love my child in a way that seems familiar to me. I love him with the intensity that I felt during my first high-school romance. I love him with the loyalty that I give to the rest of my family. I feel pride in his achievements just as I feel pride in my husband. I love and adore him absolutely. My love for him feels different than my love for anyone else in my life -- but with the possible exception of my two sisters, there are no two people in my life that I love in exactly the same way, either. I am certain that people without children love just as strongly and deeply.
Having a child is hard. It's a logistical pain in the ass at times. Suddenly I needed to account for another person when I schedule any event. It felt, at the time, almost exactly like moving in with my husband was, perhaps throwing a new puppy into the equation, and with a bit more sleep deprivation (but, frankly, less sleep deprivation than when I was working on either of my theses). It was not beyond comprehension.
Childbirth, especially the aftermath of it, was a struggle. Just two month before my child's birth, I supported my mother as she helped shepherd her father through the final days of his life. My week in the hospital after giving birth (there were complications) was harder, but the two events were easily within the same realm of emotional difficulty.
Having a child is a joy and brings me great happiness. Holding my newborn in my arms was sublime. I felt as if I was touching the shimmering edge of the Divine. I have felt a similar ecstasy holding hands with loved ones around the dinner table; listening to Beethoven's Ninth Symphony; on the tops of mountains after a long hike.
I find being a mother rewarding and fulfilling. I also find being a nurse rewarding and fulfilling, deeply so. I gain the same feelings of pride, satisfaction, and well-being from my writing and from my marriage.
I know there are women who truly do experience child-bearing and child-rearing to be the most/best/amazing/loving/hardest/remarkable/etc thing they have ever done. And I am happy that they feel that way.
But I can't tolerate listening to the ongoing repetition and especially the universalization of this trope -- the insistence that it applies to everyone -- because I truly believe it devalues women.
It most obviously devalues women who choose not to raise children. As I mentioned above, it's hard to get away from the implication that if raising a child is the best thing a woman does, then anything else a woman does is less valuable.
But it also elides the fullness of the lives of women who do choose to have children. (And again, I say women, because men's lives are almost never framed in this language -- have you ever, even once, heard it suggested that having children was the best thing Martin Luther King [just for instance] ever did?)
So I'll say it again: I love my son and find him to be both a challenge and a joy.
But raising him is neither the best nor the hardest nor the most joyful thing that I have ever or will ever do in my life. It is an accomplishment, a joy, and a challenge just as life itself is an accomplishment, a joy, and a challenge.