Thomm Quackenbush, author

An Accounting of Best Friends, Past and Present | 2017 | I Will Miss You

01.25.17

Writing books is the closest men ever come to childbearing.  

-Norman Mailer



Childfree Anxiety

This is for me, to, I hope, look at when I feel the tendrils of anxiety mounting. If you are not me and get something from it, that's great. If you want to convince me I am wrong, trust that I have already thought it through enough to cause chronic physical discomfort and save your breath.

Also, in editing this, I realized that I was prescribed too large a dose of a medicine that makes me anxious and obsessive. Once I detoxed a bit, once I got through withdrawal, none of this seems quite so dire (though still extant). If I am feeling catastrophic about this, I should make sure I am properly medicated, not sick, not hungry, not sleepless to allow my rationality some chance to break through.

You Don't Have to Listen to Childfree Cultists

In your research, you found that too many child-free people seemed like raging assholes. This is not a quality inherent in choosing not to have children, it is one of people who have been forced to justify themselves once too often and so react with more vehemence than the statement required. In the mix of those self-selected voices were plenty of people who just said, "Kids are great, but they are not for me." Also, quite a lot of people of any demographic are raging assholes and the jerks tend to be much louder than the reasonable ones.

Genetic Destiny

Let us look at your selfish genes, no doubt a small factor in your anxiety. Yes, a child of yours would have half your genes and those would filter out into the world through successive generations (unless he or she decided not to have children, which seems like a good idea to you). However, your niblings have 25% of your genes and there are four biological ones. The math checks out. The world has a sufficient number of your genes to be satisfied. You even have a nephew your family teases you is actually your clone. Your nieces and nephews are being raised well, by two people who have ample resources and - remarkably given their work - time.

As for Amber's genes, Rebecca seems more inclined to have a child, no matter who she is with or what her situation. Your mother-in-law sees no real reason for you to have kids. You're sure she is not alone in this.

You don't even know for certain that you can have biological children. You've certainly had enough ill-advised and unprotected sex with long-term partners without even a pregnancy scare to suggest that something might not be quite working there. Since you also have or thought you had low-testosterone, this might all be worry over nothing. You would consider it a blessing and message from on high if you happened to be infertile. Who could argue with your lack of children then? It would be the best of all worlds.

This Is Just Chemicals

There is something of the season in this. When winter hits, all your neurochemicals get out of whack. When spring comes, you feel much more balanced. What does this tell you? Do you really think these racing thoughts, this crying in front of the refrigerator to a cover of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," this panic about your waning hours at thirty-six, are close to an objective reality? That doesn't make a bit of sense. If anyone else told you this, you would tell them they were being irrational and definitely don't need to have children, so why don't you listen to that same advice? You are on two different prescribed medications to help you balance yourself. Shouldn't that be a pretty clear message that all is not right in your head?

This will all fade into the back of your mind in a few months, a few weeks. Last year, you wrote something similar. That's a pretty obvious message. None of this is real, just a curious agony your brain perpetrates upon you because it needs a better hobby.

You Are Not Alone

You feel as though you can talk to no one about this, that the world thinks you are wrong, but that's not the case. Many sensible people do not have children and are fulfilled. Many have children and are not, only they are stuck caring for the child for the rest of their lives. The higher one's education level, the longer one waits to have children, if one does it at all.

In 2014, a whopping 47.6 percent of women between age 15 and 44 had never had children. This number is up since 2012. You are in vast company, so why feel alone? You think society disagrees with you, but nearly half of all women are on your side. You know overpopulation is one of the worst factors on the earth. You know that the world needs aunts and uncles, teachers, mentors to make sure the next generation turns out right. It takes a village, as they say, and the anthropological archeology (inasmuch as it can be trusted) backs this up. You can raise children for an hour, for a day, for six months at your job, then send them back to their birth parents. You have six amazing and diverse niblings who love Amber and you.

You do not have to have children. You think that society gives you tons of pressure and, yes, it is a trick that lazy screenwriters use to advance plots. That doesn't make it true. Spending many seasons watching a woman develop as a character to, at the last moment say, "Oh, and she matured finally because she consented to getting impregnated" is insulting at best and triggers in you disgust and anxiety.

(Anxiety will be a word overused in my chastising and consoling you. Get used to it.)

You know a lot of amazing people, your age and older, who have never had children. You do not outright know that they never chose to have children or never got around to it, but they do not seem to regret this at all. Look to them for your steadiness. Do not let Hollywood dictate how you feel about yourself. Do not let a recently pregnant celebrity, a villain's monologue, a forced pregnancy subplot dictate how your mind works. They are not relevant to your life, however much your anxiety wants to compare your life against theirs.

The world needs you. For 45 to ninety minutes a day (or 60 to 70 hours a week when you worked at a boarding school), you foster and help children in ways their parents could not. That does not imply that you want to take them home. As point of fact, you have always drawn a thick line between what you do for money and what you want in your personal life. Whenever that blurred, like at the boarding school, you were the most miserable you had ever been.

Enjoy the adventure of your life. Do not bemoan the facts of someone else's.

Amber

Amber quips that you shouldn't worry, that it will either happen or won't be able to happen anymore. She means that she goes through menopause, but you cannot take the joke. The idea that you could feel this way for decades brings you the closest you have been to suicidal in almost ten years.

Amber isn't going to love you any less if you do not give her a child. She isn't going to resent you. She isn't going to leave as other's have left. Amber has sworn she won't be upset or disappointed if you do not give her a child, because you give her so much more. She isn't one to keep her thoughts to herself with it concerns you and she has, to your knowledge, never lied to you, especially about something important. She is fully committed to you and this life you're built together, child or no child. So long as you occasionally get her a pet to love and for whom she can assemble cages, you should be fine. You are much more important to her than an imaginary baby and she has said as much. Believe her.

She is your family, and a great one, whether or not you ever breed.

Your stated goals when you married were loving one another and focusing on your respective arts. You've been doing a great job at this.

Yes, people are unfortunately trying to proselytize to Amber for the Church of Parenthood. Yes, she has spoken to a couple of people about your disinclination toward raising a child. That doesn't mean that she is going to be swayed into forcing the issue. Given how much you have been freaking out about this recently, it is very likely she understands your anxious counterpoint to anything they might say. These proselytizers are not important to her, not like you are. She has never seemed likely to conform to societal expectations.

Abandonment

Part of this could definitely be that you are feeling abandoned. Daniel is leaving and that is a psychological blow. In your head, he was a member of your family.

Amber made a remark about how maybe you would want a kid now that Daniel was leaving, since Daniel was so disinterested in children that he had a vasectomy over a decade ago to ensure that this never happened to him. You found this observation unsettling, because your decision not to have a child occurred well before Daniel and he never influenced it but by example.

Even as a child, you preferred to be around adults. Since adulthood, you have always wanted to make your family out of people your age.

The Anxiety

When Amber first approached you with the idea that she might want children, it was because her birth control was making her hormones go crazy. You, for some reason, took her polite question as to how much you might want children as some fatal wedge being forced into your relationship. When your neurochemicals are wonky, you definitely do not want everything you say taken as gospel, but you let this carve a chasm in you, into which anxiety flows readily.

Intermixed with the statements from variously decent people was one woman - it is always women interviewed for these sorts of projects, since men are just supposed to accept what happens reproductively - who said that deciding not to have children was not something that she did once. Rather, she has repeatedly decided that she does not want children. You do not think you could survive this decision being revisited so frequently. Already, the anxiety of this (or the anxiety that occupies this) is the worst thing in your otherwise joyful life. You do not want to prolong it. You want the decision well and truly made so you never again have to think about it.

You cannot let the anxiety win, and you let it do this when you lose sleep and obsess over decisions you have already made. They will happen or they will not and it is not worth worrying about otherwise. You are not forced by time and culture to decide to have children. You are too important to the world, to yourself, to Amber to let this be something that defines and affects you.

You can't write because this self-imposed punishment plagues you. This is a fatal compromise, because writing is your art and discipline. This is one of the ways you are useful to the world and you put it off over useless worry over something you have never wanted.

It isn't healthy that people talking about how wonderful pregnancy is and how women are only complete when they repeatedly give birth sets your chest to fearful fluttering. It is horrible that it genuinely sets you off into a panic attack that can require a week to abate, that you cannot even think about it without fearing you will set it off again. You cannot have a phobia about parenthood in this society, not if you want to survive much longer. You never did before because your earnest decision was never before questioned by someone you love.

All this is assuming that your anxiety can be talked down by logic, which it cannot. It wouldn't be anxiety - racing, repeating thoughts that pester you when you wake up to pee - if it could be rationalized away. You can try purging, tears or writing, to relieve the pressure, to get your chemicals balanced or feel you are reaching out to someone who may agree with your perspective. (You dread those who would blithely set you on a week of torture just so they could coo over how much they don't see a point in living if you don't have a brood.)

This issue is fairly settled. You know what your plans are and they do not involve children. Amber will finish her Associate's degree to be a vet tech, get a job and/or continue to work to get her Bachelor's. With the added income, you will get a house, maybe an Italian greyhound, Portuguese water dog, or hypoallergenic mutt. You will have a roost of chickens, in all likelihood. This is the life in front of you, one that will make you happy, as your life now makes you happy, absent your anxiety attaching to this. Amber wants this life with you and you are both working toward it.

You Are Not a Father

Children are demanding of your time, money, and resources. You cannot leave them with extra kibble when you want to take a trip. When you have a child, your life is about them from then on. You will have to take shitty jobs or stay in worse situations, because you are no longer important. Your spouse, whom you erstwhile loved completely, is no longer important. That starving, screaming stranger is the only important one. This is just not the life you could ever want, which is all the more reason that you shouldn't have it.

You are many wonderful things, but you are no one's father and you do not mourn that. Other people are great fathers but it has never occurred to you to join their ranks or want that. You wanted to be an author, you wanted to be Amber's husband, you wanted to teach. Do those things to the hilt and do not fret about the rest.

You have never had any inclination toward fatherhood and so contemplating it now is about as valid as wondering what life would be like as a gay eunuch in Tanzania; not your life by a wide margin and not something you can imagine for yourself. You take what life throws at you, but torturing yourself over it has literally never helped your situation.

There are circumstances where you expect you would take care of a child, but none of them are permanent. None of them are things you want to happen. You are, absent this anxiety, pleased with how your life is going. Yes, some things could be better, but it is overall the best life you have yet had. Don't spoil it with worry.

You contribute massively to the world and you have provided Amber with the best life you can. You do not need to have a child to have made a mark in the world and the coming generation. It is baldly offensive to suggest otherwise.

Your mother has seemingly accepted your decision that grandchildren will not be coming from you if you have any say in the matter, instead joking about the goat kids Amber will one day raise, once you have a home in which to do it.

You are a fantastic husband to Amber. You are a remarkably adept English teacher. You are a fun uncle - if you were physically closer to your niblings, you would possibly be a better uncle, but that is just how the chips have fallen. You are as much a caretaker as you wish to be. Your utility is not in how you can raise a baby and it never has been.

What If You're Wrong?

A lot of your anxiety is terror of a future you cannot predict, who you will be then and what you will have wanted. It shouldn't take place right now, though it does. It is all about looking at yourself in a coffin - though you have no intention of dying - and wondering if you did all you needed to do.

You are aware that this is idiotic, but your anxiety does not occupy rational space.

Your only argument for wanting kids is built on guilt and fear, not at all a desire to raise and shape another human being for more than a few hours. It is simply that you worry that, on your deathbed, you might wish you had a kid. But, on the other hand, you might resent that you traded away your future for a stranger, mortgaging your relationship with Amber, hating that you felt restricted from everything you wanted to do in your life, burning for the dreams you gave up. Some corners of society imply (rather disgustingly) that anyone who chooses not to have children is selfish, but it does feel more selfish to bring another life onto this planet if you are not 100% invested. We live in an era of cheap and convenient birth control. Women need no longer breed just because it happens to them. They can choose. I don't see why you cannot.

Part of this anxiety is wanting to know you are making the right decision, but you can't ever know that no matter what you choose (though Amber supports your decision and that should be all that matters). You only have what happens on the path you end up taking and how you react to it. No matter what happens, you will find justification for what you chose and you will find misery imagining what could have been.

If you are wrong about this long term, you do not bring another person onto this earth. You won't say you will never feel what it is to be a parent, because you feel that in dozens of ways a day.

If you are wrong short term, you can reevaluate and decide if you really want a child or if you are just feeling pressured by societal expectations.

You would never want to have a child unless you enthusiastic about that decisions. You are not now. You have never been in the past. You do not know that this will change in the future. You cannot imagine a specific circumstance where you have a biological child - and would only want to care for a child for a maximum of a week or so.

You don't have to make a final decision today. As Amber said, "Children are not like trees. It isn't best that you planted them ten years ago." You've spend thirty-six years not wanting children - and you spent a lot of your life around a lot of children without that changing - and at least thirty-four not even considering that an option. Given that Mick Jagger, who is practically a mummy, just had a child, you will be fine biologically if you decide in a decade that you want a child more than you want the life you love. If not that, there are literally millions of kids on the earth in need of parents (though Amber has made plain that, if you had a child, she would only want one from her womb rather than one from a catalog - or however one picks out orphans these days).

So stop worrying! Tell that anxiety to fuck off. Be in this moment, not catastrophizing about an uncertain and unlikely future.

Soon in Xenology: Faces. Daniel leaving. New friends.

last watched: Supernatural
reading: Sleight of Hand
listening: Die Antwoord

An Accounting of Best Friends, Past and Present | 2017 | I Will Miss You

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.



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