"I thought you didn't want kids!"

September 16 | Guest post by Phyllis Fletcher
Guess what? onsie from Etsy seller HangerSwag
Guess what? onsie from Etsy seller HangerSwag

My favorite comic book artist has a name for people whose wardrobe and habits scream "look at me!" Urban Attention Seekers. You know: the guy who rides a unicycle in a Speedo with a cobra around his neck.

I'm, like, the antithesis of that. Even among friends, I don't like to be the object of attention or scrutiny. Especially when I have something to share that's traditionally met with a great fuss, like engagement or pregnancy. If my friends like to make a fuss over those things, bless 'em. But I always hope the moment will pass quickly.

So I waited as long as possible to announce my pregnancy. My husband was ready to tell people at three months. So we told our parents, our bosses, and then everyone else. I told my oldest friends first. And the first reactions were:

"Congratulations?"

"Oh. Wow."

"How did that happen?"

"I thought you didn't want kids!"

My husband encouraged me to recognize my responsibility for these reactions. When we're out with friends, he pointed out, I'm the first to bristle at a stranger's kid's tantrum. I don't volunteer to hold babies. I've run out of excuses for missing kids' birthday parties. And the most significant reason for my friends' shock is that I've kept discussions with my husband about children private.

He has always wanted one. I had been uncertain for years. Obviously, we came to a decision, acted, and I was now ready to acknowledge it—-I wanted to announce it with my mouth rather than with my ever-enlarging abdomen.

Well, I thought the fact that we'd come to a decision would be obvious, now that I was saying it out loud. But friends whose first reaction was "I thought you didn't want kids" made it clear that they couldn't believe I had done this on purpose.

When I was met with one friend's shock, I just said "uh-huh," and I found that he could answer his own questions if he kept talking long enough; he finally said "I guess things change," and then moved on to his new assumption that I was now a celibate pregnant woman, which was surely taking a toll on my home life, right? Umm. . . riiiiiiight.

Another friend told me I had once said I didn't want kids because I had wanted to do other things. I'm fascinated that she retrieved this nugget within seconds of learning my news. I may have given that rationale before I'd had any professional accomplishments-—which I expect I'll have more of. But I've known her for 25 years, and in that time I've said lots things—-much of which I'm sure I wouldn't like to be reminded of. (I talk a lot of shit.)

An acquaintance joked that kids are so hard, I should "reconsider" (a.k.a. abort). A relative made it clear that he'd sooner believe I was divorced than pregnant. Friends who don't expect or want kids are deafeningly silent. Folks who stopped calling after I got married have now stopped returning calls.

Good thing I didn't want a fuss. Mofos was fussin', but in the wrong direction. As I saw the now familiar sight of my friends' faces sinking into their dinners, I told them we could change the subject. They didn't want to. They wanted to understand. Who had abducted their free-wheelin', shit-talkin', hard-workin', wine-lovin' friend and turned her into a teetotaling mom? The culprit sat before them. I felt pitied and resented.

I have painfully evaluated my reactions to some of the more surprising pregnancies among my friends. I cringe as I recall a charitable response to my not-as-tactful-as-I'd-thought question about the planning of the baby. (Hers was "unexpected joy," as I had assumed; I don't know why I had to ask.) I wondered if others had felt unsupported as I silently shirked baby showers—-but I sent gifts, so that made it OK, right? (Um, no.)

This was the price for having shrouded my thoughts and family discussions in privacy; for having shrugged off any recent questions about kids, rather than admit "we're talking about it." I take responsibility for the confusion; it's a big leap from "we don't know" to "we do."

What would have been different if I'd made that admission earlier? Say, once we were sure we wanted a child, but before we'd conceived one?

I would have faced many of the same questions (or declarations, really, since "I thought xyz" is not technically a question). I still would have been on the spot, and for longer. My friends still would have expected answers. And all that talk would have been moot if I'd been unable to conceive—-a fear that also held my tongue.

To any friends who happen upon this and recognize themselves in these descriptions: I'm sorry. I'm not calling you out! You weren't the only one to react the way you did; I got the same verbatim reactions from many people.

I'm sharing this for all the other ladies out there who finally decided to have a baby, and who've Googled "friends disappointment pregnancy" and found nothing else of value. Hopefully this showed up to let you know you're not alone.

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  1. Congratulations Phyllis! You have a new baby coming and you and your husband deserve joy and well wishes! It also means it is time to call up some of those bridal shower gift recipients and make peace. They've probably missed you and would probably love to have their free-wheelin’, shit-talkin’, hard-workin’ friend back as a momma ally. 🙂

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  2. I know what you mean… I didn't plan on getting married and when I did, that was all people brought up for awhile lol! And I am sure it will be the same reaction when I announce the kidlets. Oh well though, can't wait to read your "Getting It Out" story!

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  3. Wow, Phyllis. I didn't think I would find someone who I relate to on every level. From not wishing to be the center of attention (though I married into a family full of people like that) to the friends/family who kind of resented me for becoming pregnant. Especially the women who swore off children and I assume they felt the lost one of their comrades. It was tough. Suddenly the phone calls and the text msgs stopped. I felt like, maybe I shouldn't have said anything. I should have eased them into it. Still nothing was more difficult than having to contact these same people to inform them I had a miscarriage. As it was the hormones made me so weepy. I had the hardest time telling them without sobbing. Me, the tough girl who was unsure she could become a mom, actually became one, but not for long. It's been about 5 months. We are trying again. This time, I could care less what people think. This is where my life has brought me and I will have no regrets. Good luck!

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    • Cindy, I'm so sorry. I'm happy for you that you're trying again. I will think of you often. I would love to be on your list of people who get to find out your good news. 🙂 I hope you find a new rally of support from friends old and new, not to mention that exuberant extended family of yours!

      Not caring what people think: I bet that will help you a lot as you continue your adventure of mama-hood. I truly wish you the best and hope to see you again on here.

  4. Oh, I am so afraid this will happen to me. My honey and I aren't going to be trying for a baby for a while, but when it happens, anyone who's known me reasonably well will probably wonder what happened to the girl who wanted her tubes tied since she was four years old and who had a panic attack watching an utterly non-graphic educational video about epidurals, before they think of anything else.
    Good luck with your friends and congratulations!

  5. Congratulations! I really enjoyed and benefited from reading your post. I grew up with a single mom who did the very best she could, but even as a young child I could see what a struggle it was to raise me and my brother. I was certain I did not want that for myself. Then, I met a wonderful man who has been my partner for 2 years (and hopefully, soon, my husband) who has always wanted kids. With him, I have been able to envision raising a family with a supportive partner (the element that was missing when I was growing up and until very recently) and now I am actually excited about having kids someday. I am sure I will receive responses similar to what you received (which I resented, when I thought about it) but after reading your post I learned a way to react with grace Thank you for sharing your story. I hope you have a healthy pregnancy and a healthy and happy baby.

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  6. goodness….i didn't know people weren't allowed to change their minds on wanting kids! what about those who have kids and say "no more"….do people shame them?

    2 agree
    • Yes, yes they do. I'm chronically ill, and it took is a lot of debate, weighing of pros and cons, and preplanning, before we decided on our one. The pregnancy was hell, while worth it, and parenting is a challenge even with our large support network. We are never had having another one, and we've been called selfish, told we will change our minds, told we will regret it when we can't have anymore… the lost goes on.

      Basically, shame about reproductive choices happens to matter the choice, and people need to mind their own and be supportive.

  7. I think that any friend worth calling a friend would support you in your decision, after any initial (understandable) adverse or proverse (is that a word?) reaction! The fact that you are having a kid after much heart-felt reflection bodes well for the kid as well as you and your husband as parents, IMHO. It's not a small or light decision and it's only yours (with your partner, of course) to make. I wish you good health and much fortune!

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  8. A good many of our friends were definitely surprised. We didn't just avoid the topic, we had flat out told everyone that we were never having kids. Honestly we didn't want one, we were very happy with where our life was. And boy did I enjoy quelching that annoying question that always follows marriage, when are you having kids? But yes, things change. Life happens and you change your mind, making a decision that will change your life. There are friends who have slowly distanced themselves but in a lot of ways that's just because my group of friends have hit a strange stage in life where we're all seemingly going different directions. Much of that was my own doing and I'm trying to make an effort to connect with them more before having the baby, because I think they're great people. There are others who were cursory people in my life and I'm finding a new connection with them thanks to us having children. I just hope I can find more great offbeat mamas in the area to be friends with.

  9. It's great to read about someone else who has gone through decision changes like this, though I chose to make the decision & trying to conceive process public. I grew up not wanting kids, and when I got married, I warned my mother, family & friends that my foreseeable future did not include children. Now that my husband and I are actually trying–and not long after having declared the desire to be kid-free–I find myself grasping for explanations I can give people that will simultaneously express the sincerity of my old and new positions.

  10. This will so be me and Dh if we can make the decision to have kids – at the moment we are Child free, he is ambivalent but leaning towards yes, and I am no leaning towards ambivalent…

    I've spent a lot of time telling people that I dont think I want kids, so if / when we do announce our pregnancy, its going to be big drama…

  11. I'm sure I've confused the fuck out of my friends and family over the past five years between divorcing my ex-husband who made me decide that I really didn't want kids, to having a tubal, to meeting a man I DO want kids with, to researching tubal reversal and IVF, to being almost 40 while still deciding … At this point, they've pretty much met all my mind changes with "as long as you don't regret it".

    I'm more afraid of making the wrong decision than having to hear everyone whine about me upsetting their perception of me. Opinions are small change compared to bringing another Life into the world.

  12. Pretty sure we are going to get this if we every make the change from 2x ambivalent/thinking/scared – not really scared if you get my drift, but all those changes including do we really want to.

    We never said we didn't want kids, but i think we're at the point where everyone has given up on us having them.

  13. I relate to this article so much. Since I as preteen I would respond when asked by family that I didn't want kids. I maintained this into my 20s and began to change in my late 20s as my then fiancee started talking about our futures and compromise. I changed my mind. I didn't have a problem with people who were genuinely surprised but I did get annoyed at the "we told you so" and obnoxious responses from certain family members. I told them the truth, I don't WANT kids but I love someone who does and was willing to compromise on this very big issues, it wasn't an easy decision but I love the baby.

  14. I would really like to ask everyone who shared OP's feeling for suggestions on what to say when you are on the other side. I think of what I could do if my friends who are like this (always saying they don't want kids) because most probably the surprise/shock will show on my face, and I would like to acknowledge it with grace instead of trying to deny it. Could it be something along the lines of "This a surprise! I'm shocked but happily so, congratulations!!" It seems a little tricky to me because, at first, you don't have all the information and don't know if this is a pregnancy they want or planned (as they always say they didn't want kids), and I wouldn't want to say "congratulations" to what maybe is either not so good news or something a friend is still digesting. So… what could we say that is both supportive and doesn't deny the obvious (and I think understandable) shock and also doesn't sound like meddling/" I am entitled to know your private life" while not screwing up if I'm not sure it is entirely good news but just sharing a present situation before the bump makes it obvious?

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