Earlier in 2012, I had my first memoir/humor book published called “PregMANcy: A Dad, A Little Dude and a Due Date,” published by Chalice Press. The book follows my wife second pregnancy with our daughter, Zoe (now 3 years old) from conception (more or less) to birth. Suffice it to say I was less than enthralled by the idea of getting pregnant again, so this book was my way of dealing with my own neuroses.
At one point, my wife, Amy, asked me what my biggest fears were about having another kid. So, like any good writer, I compiled an entire list of worries. Below is the first half of the list, with the final five and the conclusion to the chapter coming tomorrow.
Don’t ever kill me, OK? Killing me is not safe.
—Mattias, 3 years, 0 months
“What’s your greatest fear about having another baby?”
I don’t think Amy was just goading me when she asked me this back in the early stages of impending double fatherhood, but she knows we’re both pretty good worriers (though I’d argue she’s better at it than I am, and since I’m the one writing this book, we’ll assume she’d agree with me).
Talk about an open invitation to worry! I don’t spend a lot of energy worrying about day-to-day matters; I’m more of a saver. But when something comes along that’s really worth worrying about, you can bet I’ll draw down that worry account a bit.
After Amy asked me the fateful question, I started compiling a mental list. I figure I’ll lay out at least my top ten here for your edification, or at least for simple amusement:
#10. We could have twins: I can’t base this on any real facts, but it seems I’ve read or heard or seen somewhere the older people are, the greater chance they have of multiple births. I suppose I could go look this up and settle it in my own mind one way or the other, but it’s a lot more fun to worry about it. Twins don’t run in the bloodlines on either side of the family, but that’s all the more reason to worry about it, right? Aren’t we probably due?
Imagining a baby in each arm is just about enough to make me pass out. And that doesn’t even begin to touch the effect it would have on my wife, who plans to breastfeed as long as she can. Hell, I’d never see those puppies again. I’ll be lucky if they don’t fall off, right on to the floor, by the time the twin suckers are done with them.
#9. He/she could end up like me: All things considered, I think I have an amazing life, but it hasn’t been all wine and roses getting to this point. I may tell you more about the summer I spent in lockdown at a psychiatric hospital, and the years I mixed my anti-anxiety meds with beer and weed, but suffice it to say, for the sake of my worry list, there are significant parts of myself that I have no interest in passing on to my progeny.
It’s really too early to know if Mattias will struggle with some of the same problems that I had—that I still have—but I am pretty sure that if he does, I can cover therapy for one kid.
Add another one to the mix and, considering my history, it seems a little bit like playing psychological Russian roulette.
#8. He/she could end up like any number of our relatives: I know I run the risk of bruising some egos with this statement, but most people in my family, or Amy’s family, will readily admit that we have a plenitude of addicts, going back many generations. My dad and I haven’t spoken in more than two years due to problems revolving around addiction and related issues. His father started most mornings with a cocktail, and he found his mother—my great-grandmother—in the garage of their house after she had shot herself.
My grandmother on my mom’s side has been known to rely heavily on an exotic combination of prescription pain meds and muscle relaxers and was prone to washing them down with some white zinfandel, at least back before she and my grandfather moved into my mom’s house. I’ll leave Amy to spill her own beans, but more than a handful of her immediate relatives have gratefully found a new life in recovery, while others arguably still actively practice self-destructive behavior.
I don’t want to sound like I’m knocking addicts; on the contrary, Amy and I tend to love them. In fact, those who have struggled with addiction and lived to tell about it often are the most charming, funny, and interesting people I know. On the other hand, that addiction is always there, just under the surface, and is most likely to rear its head when ignored or minimized.
We go to great lengths to teach Mattias solid judgment, self-care, moderation, and recognizing the difference between needs and wants. But every now and then, I see these obsessive little glimmers in his personality that make me wonder if he has that same unscratchable itch. To witness a child succumb to the ravages of addiction is about the worst fate I can imagine, and not unlike the whole depression-anxiety I have, it seems a bit like we’re tempting fate with another one.
#7. We can’t afford it: I know, who ever has room in their budget for another kid? Of course, when priorities present themselves like this you find a way, but the financial stress can be a killer. Maybe we ought to move, sell a car, or donate plasma. If being a sperm donor was a cash cow industry, I might go that route since I’m obviously not planning to use any of my man-juice for my own purposes anymore.
This doesn’t even begin to take care of birth-related expenses. With both of us being self-employed, we have crappy insurance, to put it mildly. We have a $5,000 annual deductible and, oh, did I mention maternity isn’t covered? Brilliant.
#6. Birth defects: If I’m going to put my worries out there, I can’t leave this one out. I’m going to be thirty-seven years old, after all, by the time this baby arrives, and Amy will be thirty four. Though we’re not technically considered to fall in the highest-risk age brackets yet, we’re not that far from it. And it doesn’t help that, a few months ago, some close friends of ours gave birth to a daughter with Downs Syndrome. Like them, we would love the kid no matter what and, also like them, we’d find the good in the unexpected. But for now, before we know any better, all I end up doing is worrying about it.
I know that part of this concern comes from my career before I started working with nonprofits, back when I worked in clinics for kids with learning disabilities. I saw kids with everything from mild dyslexia to autism, cerebral palsy, and worse. There was one family in particular that I remember who had three of the sweetest kids I’d ever met in my life. The thing is, all three had an incredibly rare disease that not only affected their development but also was expected to prove fatal for all of them before they graduated high school.
Nevertheless, the parents insisted on trying to provide every opportunity to help their children’s lives be as normal as possible, and I felt blessed to be a part of those hopeful moments. But every day they didn’t make it to the clinic because the buildup of fluid in their brains caused migraines or made them lose feelings in their limbs, it tore me up inside.
It was all I could do to hold it together for those three little guys, and they weren’t even my kids. What the hell will I do if I have one of my own?
(Part two of this two-part article will be published tomorrow, October 25th, 2012. For more about the memoir, PregMANcy, click the link on the title.)