Why I Said ‘Yes’ to Kids

Today’s guest post is from Ana June, a mother, wife, writer, photographer and jewelry artist living in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Tattoo (photo credit Christopher Riedel)

Tattoo (photo credit Christopher Riedel)

In the spring of 2008, I sat down late one night to write the first installment for a newspaper column I called Planet Mom. While my youngest son slept on the couch next to me, I stared out at the night sky and tried to conjure my muse. By midnight, I had it–a relatively clear, concise, and honest introduction to the life I live as a mother to four. (Full installment is here.) In it, I wrote the following:

“This act of mothering is life in the raw. There are moments that threaten to unhinge me, followed closely by those that offer a glimpse of enlightenment.”

Nearly 3 years later, the truth in this statement still holds. Being a mother, especially to a brood the size of mine, is absolutely dichotomous. It’s unhinging and enlightening, sometimes all at once!

Choosing to become a mother was, for me, a no-brainer. I always knew I would have children…. Furthermore, I always knew I wanted to have children. This desire must have been hardwired or something–I can’t explain it much better than that. Having children gave me so very much–the opportunity to lose myself and find myself… the thrill of finding and dancing on the very edge of my every possibility. Being a mother has made me more human, more frazzled, more fully alive, more tired, more fully in love, and more humble than anything else I have ever done.

That said, motherhood doesn’t define me entirely, and it shouldn’t. I am also a photographer, a writer, a graphic designer, and a jeweler, though not necessarily in that order at any given time. I own my own business, set my own hours, and have been turning a profit for several years now. Today, Wednesday, I am a writer and a jewelry maker. I am both writing this and babysitting my jewelry kiln as it sinters tin and copper into bronze (making two sets of custom wine charms!). Next to me, dull gray pendants that will soon metamorphose into fine silver await their turn in the fire. I am an alchemist.

I am also a traveler. I returned from a whirlwind trip to New York several days ago, where I was photographing a friend’s wedding. I was blissfully childfree for this journey, and it was awesome. It was awesome as well to come home and see my family again. A few years ago, I had the amazing opportunity to travel with my husband, kidfree, to Baja to shoot the Baja 1000 with and for a group of firefighters who ride for The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (the prelude to that story is here. I apparently never posted the actual story). In a nutshell, that adventure was awe-inspiring, remarkable, incredible…. fill in the blanks. But again, it was also awesome to come home and see my family again.

Family is the absolute ultimate for me, and of course that is defined in large part by my children. Because of this, I simply don’t see parenting as duty-driven more than I see it as motivated by a deep and abiding love. It is not a job, it is my heart.

I can’t and won’t sell it to anyone, however. It is not something to do unless you feel that undeniable drive within you to create a child. It is never something to take lightly. It should never be a should. It was absolutely never a should in my own life–in fact, quite the opposite, since I was very young when I got pregnant with my son. I chose to have my children when I did–Soren, who is now 17, was born three weeks after I turned 22. I birthed him at home, with a midwife, and when I looked into his little face for the very first time I saw God. This agnostic borderline-atheist truly and absolutely saw God. You see, God isn’t some big judgmental guy lurking about the heavens waiting to smite sinners or whatnot. No… God was the design of my son’s newborn face. God was his first cry.

And I can’t expect anybody else, not even my son’s father, to understand that moment like I did. That was my moment as a mother, and I was fortunate to have three more like it in the years that followed.

It was for moments like this that I became a mother. My decision to do so had very little to do with economics or leisure or opportunity for myself. It had everything to do with feeling and expressing a love that eludes definition. It wasn’t happy happy happy, but it wasn’t sad sad sad either. It ultimately isn’t any one thing. As I recently wrote in another post on my blog (full post here):

“…motherhood is the end-all-be-all of a woman’s existence…except when it isn’t. Motherhood will thresh your very soul and lift you to heights of joy you never thought possible… except when it doesn’t. Motherhood will sweep you up to the pinnacle of beauty…. except when it’s anything but beautiful. When you have shit on your hands because the baby decided to do gymnastics after you removed the stinky diaper and the phone is ringing and the dog is barking and the older kid is whining about cookies or some such… and the diaper pail is full and the room smells like digested green beans and you haven’t showered in two days and your breasts start leaking and then the baby pees all over the changing table and all the while you suspect, in a grim sort of way, that your mortgage check will bounce this month….

Nope, that’s not beautiful at all. Motherhood isn’t always anything except raw, demanding life. Base and beautiful humanity.”

And though it is a commitment, that sometimes makes you feel like you should be committed, it can be–should be?–one gleaming facet in a multifaceted life.

It should follow the sentiment I have tattooed on my upper left arm:

I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough
Gleams that untravelled world, whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.
(Alfred Lord Tennyson)

No matter what we choose in this life–parenthood or not–there will forever be more to explore, more to learn, more to love. Or at least, there should be. And that is the only should that I, personally, understand.

Postscript: For anybody who is still unsure about having a child, ask yourself this: if you attempted to place your coffee mug in the cup holder of your car, one frenetic morning, and found that the space was already occupied by a large piece of dusty, hairy, dessicated bacon left therein by one of your children (one of your teens, in fact!), how would you feel? Your answer to this may help clarify your child-bearing decision…. at least a little bit. 🙂

You can follow Ana June on her blog, Non Compos Mentis Mama, or visit her professional site, Ana June Creative.

Sire of All Crises

"The Blue Marble" is a famous photog...

Our world’s travails and torments (Image via Wikipedia)

Today’s guest post is from John Davis, a wilderness explorer and writer, former Wild Earth editor, and Fellow of The Rewilding Institute. John’s previous post, “Why Five Cats?“, took a lighthearted look at the merits of nulliparity and cat ownership. Today’s post is excerpted from an essay that will appear in a forthcoming population anthology, Apply the Breaks! Environmentalists Confront Population Growth, edited by Eileen Crist and Philip Cafaro, University of Georgia Press. We’re hoping to review the anthology on Why No Kids? when it is published.

Virtually every major problem in the world today is caused or exacerbated by human overpopulation.  From famine and disease to war and extinction (the overarching crisis of our time), the main driving force is the exploding human population.  Planet Earth is being wrecked by too many people consuming too much of the natural world through technologies too harmful.

The litany of overpopulation’s problems is the list of the world’s travails and torments: habitat fragmentation and destruction, species extirpation and extinction; air, land, and water pollution; global climate chaos, extreme storm damage, killing droughts; unemployment, declines in social services, poverty, starvation, disease, epidemic; degradation of natural and cultural amenities, such as trails, parks, and gardens; loss of individual meaning, influence, and opportunity; ennui, angst, and mental disorders; congestion, noise, traffic, road rage, crime; exploitation, imperialism, war …   If our civilization is to have a prayer of persistence, we must face the huge challenge of humanely, peacefully reducing our numbers – probably several orders of magnitude, over many decades – to within biological carrying capacity, to a level compatible with the long-term well-being of all our fellow denizens on this sensitive planet.

With good reason, the hot topic of the day is just that – global overheating.  Obviously, the problem is not just that we drive gas guzzlers, overheat our poorly insulated houses, and waste too much paper.  The problem is also that too many people are driving; too many people are heating their homes with fossil fuels; and too many people are consuming natural resources and supplanting natural, carbon-storing habitats with crops, cows, lawns, and houses.

In the United States at least, demographic and economic trends of recent years strongly, if surprisingly, suggest that fertility is more amenable to reconsideration than is consumption:  People will apparently more easily accept a smaller family than they will a smaller energy budget.  Americans would rather have fewer children than stop driving their cars and running their air conditioners.  So, while we must also confront the problems of excessive consumption and harmful technologies, we will likely make the greatest strides toward saving the world from disaster by instituting educational, financial, and cultural incentives for lower birth rates.

A central tenet of sensible population planning is the education and empowerment (social, political, and financial) of women.  From my recent experiences out exploring North America’s endangered but not lost wildways, often guided by great naturalists, let me humbly suggest a complementary strategy, one already being promoted well but not widely enough by environmental educators: immersion of young people in wild Nature.  Get kids out roaming the woods, paddling the creeks, snorkeling the ponds, looking at birds and flowers and trees and frogs and butterflies …  Help them see how wondrous and exciting and beautiful our wild neighbors are and help them understand the connections between land and wildlife, between land and people, and between the actions we take as people and the consequences to the land and wildlife.  Go forth and don’t multiply, young people!

The Inconvenient Truth of human-caused planetary overheating may best be met with the more convenient truth that by peacefully and voluntarily reducing our numbers, we not only help stabilize the climate and abate the extinction crisis, we also treat virtually every ecological, social, and cultural ill in the world today.  Then, rather than our many descendants cursing us for condemning them to a world of poverty, pestilence, and war, our small number of offspring would thank us for recognizing just in time the moral imperative of ending humanity’s march against the natural world, for rejoining the biotic community and celebrating our connections with land and wildlife.

John Davis is a wilderness explorer and writer, former Wild Earth editor, and Fellow of The Rewilding Institute. A longer version of this essay will appear in a population anthology, Apply the Breaks! Environmentalists Confront Population Growth, edited by Eileen Crist and Philip Cafaro, University of Georgia Press.