Here’s a statement that could get me in trouble; when someone tells me they are pregnant, my initial reaction isn’t usually one of joy. I feel bad just admitting it! But it’s true. I can’t even articulate what goes through my head–it’s a weird mix of maybe jealousy and sadness/fear. The jealousy I believe to be biologically entrenched (I think jealousy often is). To my primordial, lizard mind, every baby that some other woman is having is a baby that is going to be out there competing for resources with the children that carry my own DNA. It’s a knee-jerk dislike, I think it’s probably basic evolutionary biology, and I don’t worry too much about it. The feeling passes very quickly, which is why I think it’s the shadow of something from a deep past that possibly doesn’t apply to the life I live today.
The fear/sadness, however, I’m inclined to take more seriously. I think it comes from my appraisal of the human situation that these potential new souls will be joining–and when I’m being honest with myself, I feel like that situation is rather bleak. My concern over this situation haunted me through both of my own pregnancies, and hovered menacingly over my decision to have children at all. When one thinks about the damage we do as humans, being pregnant feels a bit like your are willfully incubating disaster. Accordingly, I often felt the desire to hide my condition–some weird puritanical feeling of shame, re-cast for the 21st century. While I will admit that this concern was largely in my head, I did have to attend several meetings for work where we were discussing how the ‘natural increase’ of the population in Southern California made our attempts at net greenhouse gas emissions reductions difficult if not futile, all the while feeling rather chagrined at my pregnant belly–my own culpability in this state of affairs. When I see pregnant women on the street, or when I talk to friends planning additional children, there’s some part of me that always wants to ask how they feel about this world we’re bringing our children into–we have a choice, we can choose not to. But, but, but…
And here is the most miraculous/rediculous thing about my preggophobia–it evaporates completely, in fact, it reverses, when I meet the babies themselves. I love babies, and I love toddlers more then babies, and I especially love elementary-aged kids, and teenagers crack me up, and adults are pretty great too, and then they have more of those adorable, absurdly wonderful babies. Once the idea of one more person stops being abstract, and becomes an actual person, there is no room to do anything but to love and to forgive us all. We are just animals, and we have gotten very lucky biologically that there are so many of us, and that, even with so many of us, lots of us get to live these wonderful, insanely rich lives. We don’t have much capacity to do more than grow up, find love, make love, make more of us, and die. We just don’t. And once I meet the babies, (my own incredibly absorbing, time consuming, messy and loud baby included) I get all tangled up in the laces of my love and their lives, and forgiveness flows easily.
2015 was a bumper year for babies. My friends and I are all in our mid-thirties, the 2008 financial crisis is a hazy memory and the stuff of Hollywood fiction, and the time was ripe. When I tallied it up, I realized that I have something like 10 friends that had babies this past year– add in my brother, myself, and a few acquaintances–2015 was a year of 16 babies! Each one dawned on my consciousness with that feeling of dread. But now, the world would feel incomplete if any one of them were not in it.
It would be disingenuous to say that in my happiness at seeing their baby pictures, meeting them, or hearing the joy in their parent’s voices, that my fears for their/our future vanish entirely. The same year that brought all these babies also brought a feeling of even greater precariousness to our human experiment than the years before– with refugees, so many of them only babies themselves, moving across the globe– and worrisome weather patterns threatening to dislodge even more people…
The challenge I feel is set for us is to keep both things in our sights at once–this very personal joy and challenge of parenthood, and at the same time, engagement with the broader world whose functionality we will one day have to trust in as we release our grip on our children’s lives. Some days the balance tilts too far one way or the other, but I tell myself that I owe it to the babies of 2015 to keep the balance.
Now that I’ve said all that profound stuff, what did I do with my last week? Yep, that’s right. I made gingerbread bear ornaments! I made ornaments out of baked cinnamon, glue and applesauce for each Baby of 2015 that I could get a picture of, and then I mailed them to all my friends. It actually took a fair amount of effort. It was Oliver’s idea at first. My Suegra had made a set of ornaments for us when Oliver was born, with pictures of us as young parents, and one of Oliver, his head glued on a little cookie bear shape. Honestly, when I first got them I thought they were pretty wacky. But six years later, something about seeing that 1 year old picture of Oliver’s face on a sparkly cinnamon bear melts my heart. When Oliver and I hung the originals on the tree this year, we agreed we needed to make one for Oran, so that we’d have everyone in the family represented. And, once we’d made one for Oran, we decided we needed to make one for my new nephew, and then one for my friend, and then it became a great winter break activity for Oliver…
It was a really silly activity. No telling if the ornaments will survive the trip in the mail to their designated recipients, or if the people who get them will think I’m crazy… But the act of doing it was good medicine. I shelved my worries, let go of concerns for the class of 2036-37, and lost myself in the joys of glue and glitter, and the happiness of thinking about all these adorable little people and their wonderful parents. I’ve been too busy this past year to do much to send cards or even emails to welcome this troupe of cherubs, and it felt really good to do something to mentally welcome them all. My aunt has knit a beautiful blanket for many of the new babies in our family , and she says that as stressful as it is to finish the blankets (especially in a year like 2015), that each one is stitched through with good intentions for the recipient, and that the act of making them is a joyful act. I thought of her, and my mother and her christmas stockings, and my grandmother and all the things she handmade for us as I worked on my little project.
20 miles northeast of where I worked, methane gas was seeping uncontrollably into our atmosphere from the leaking natural gas well at Aliso Canyon. As of Dec. 22, this one leak had emitted as much greenhouse gas as 330,000 passenger vehicles produce in a year–and it will take another 3-4 months to shut the flow of methane down. I like to hope that making 16 glittery christmas ornaments will somehow allow me to return to work in the morning, ready to face challenges like this one with something like hope. At the very least, it reminds me of who we are working for.
Happy Birthday and Welcome to all the Babies of 2015!