When we started trying to get pregnant almost 18 months ago, I of course hoped we'd succeed immediately, but I also recognized that getting pregnant that March wouldn't be "perfect." Giving birth in the middle of the academic year--in the middle of my first year teaching, and before I officially finished coursework--would be less than ideal. Plus, December would have been absolute dead last on my list of desired birthday months for my future child-- the same month in which the baby's father, cousin and aunt all have birthdays. But I wanted a baby (and I wanted one right then) more than I wanted things to be perfect, so I still hoped.
Seven months later, when I did get pregnant, it felt like I was being compensated for the frustrations of waiting with a "perfectly" timed pregnancy. We planned to tell our families at Thanksgiving. Perfect! We planned to announce to our friends and on Facebook on Lawyer Guy's birthday. Perfect! I was set to give birth in June-- during my summer break; a month without any other family birthdays; wonderful early summer. Oh so very very perfect!
I don't dream about perfect anymore. I don't care what month the baby is due in or how much time I have to take off. I don't imagine announcing the pregnancy to anyone other than Lawyer Guy. I don't picture strolling with my newborn under a winter sky or a summer sun. When I envision the end of this particular voyage, I picture a hospital room and a baby on my chest, warm and alive. That's all. That's perfect.
I recently read the New York Magazine article on parental dissatisfaction--the same story that took Adele by surprise when it appeared in her mailbox last week. As others have mentioned, it was less disturbing than I feared it would be, though it didn't address many of the questions I have on this subject: Do those who suffered loss or infertility feel happier as parents? Do those long-thwarted desires raise expectations of parenthood that foster disappointment? I don't know if anyone has studied the issue from that angle so I don't know if my instinct--that sadness and loss and longing create grateful and enthusiastic parents--can be supported.
The article did make me think, however, about the expectations we bring to parenting--or any great change in life, really. A few sentences of Senior's in particular stood out:
"This is another brutal reality about children: They expose the gulf between our fantasies about family and its spikier realities."
"This is especially true in middle- and upper-income families, which are far more apt than their working-class counterparts to see their children as projects to be perfected."
I'm certainly as guilty of having unrealistic dreams and fantasies of myself as a mother, of Lawyer Guy as a father, and of my place in our family once we have children. And I'm sure I'm no more immune to the quest for perfect progeny than any other over-educated modern mama. But the hard work that Senior and her sources suggest new parents must perform--the work of remaking expectations to fit realities, of hammering out newer, less brilliant visions of what it tenable or right in family life--I feel like that has been my task these past 16 months.
I'm not going to get "perfect." I don't even want it anymore. I just want a child. If I can remember that and remember these months--or years, however long it takes--of struggling to let go of my fantasies, then I know my future family, however imperfect, will be perfectly suited for me.