It takes a reliable, steadfast, and trustworthy fellow human to create a new life with, doesn’t it?
If the person we share our life with doesn’t possess those vital attributes, why would we even consider having a baby together? Come to think of it, why are we even together?
And if there’s no one to share your life with, why would we curtail the unconditional love and acceptance our flesh and blood needs to survive and thrive before they’re even born?
Whether we give them life or not, another person should never be treated as a lifestyle accessory; fellow humans aren’t here to serve us or boost our ego, they aren’t some item on a bucket list.
A baby isn’t a human pet whose sole purpose in life is to deliver unconditional love because we feel lonely and unlovable. Even when they’re only as long as a croissant and weigh as much as a large piece of fruit, a baby is our equal, a person whose life is as valuable as our own.
And during the first 18 years of their life, they need our protection, guidance, and unconditional devotion. Unless we’ve developed the ability to set ourselves aside and prioritize another’s needs above our own, we do not have the makings of a good parent.
We don’t even have the makings of a good partner.
Whatever descriptor we may apply to our relationship is probably not as honest as it could be, were we blunter and less individualistic.
And yet, taking a transactional approach to building a family of our own is a widespread practice in the age of disconnectedness and capitalism. Many of us feel under such pressure to meet societal expectations that we fail to consider the impact this unquestioning conformity may have on our child.
Who wants to come into the world as someone else’s indulgence, as an obligation, as a box with a check mark?
Without unconditional love and acceptance from the moment we are born, how do we even know how to make our own way into the world?
Without parental role models who embody what love is and how it works, we don’t always know how to give it anymore than we know how to receive it.
And yet, many humans start life as a bargaining chip, an inconvenience, a crisis, or as an unintended side effect. For every child who is combined hope and love made manifest, there’s another who is at least one person’s burden, when not their very own living nightmare. In some cases, the child’s existence is a constant threat to their mother’s mental health; birth yanked away the grenade’s safety clip.
While chronic and postpartum depression are now well documented and dealt with as serious conditions that warrant treatment, they weren’t back when I was born. As a result, my birth not only blighted my mother’s life but she was never to recover from being thrust into a role every cell in her being rejected. My birth put my parents’ marriage on life support and soon resulted in an acrimonious divorce.
To this day, motherhood remains a source of intense stress, guilt, and self-loathing for my genitor.
A child needs reliable, steadfast, and trustworthy role models.
In this case, more is more; plural rather than singular.
While most mothers never set out to be single moms, some certainly don’t make it easy for fathers to continue being a father after parents part ways.
Among those of us who grew up in a single parent household, many started out at a disadvantage; we could only access half the emotional resources and data we needed to thrive.
But when the single parent who had custody of us happened to suffer from mental illness, chances are the resources and data we had at our disposal were corrupt and occasionally unusable. For example, when their parent’s love language is domestic abuse, a child might internalize the belief that love hurts.
When we enter adulthood, we may subconsciously seek out relationships that replicate these familiar power dynamics. Our sense of self-worth will erode a little more with each new romantic disaster and we may even enter into unsuitable marriages in good faith.
And panic pregnancies.
Adults who were abused as kids are often reluctant to have children of their own, so terrified are we of history repeating itself. If we’ve never been in a relationship that wasn’t dysfunctional, we may still equate love with suffering and abandonment.
I’ve spent my whole life to date doubting I had a biological clock or indeed anything resembling maternal instinct. The urge to reproduce was something I never experienced as no fellow human ever triggered it. This says as much about the quality of my romantic entanglements as it does about how childhood trauma tends to follow us forever.
When contraception failed and I fell pregnant shortly after getting married to my first husband, I had an abortion. I refused to bring a child into our abusive marriage; I refused to raise it alone; my husband didn’t care either way.
Because it was within my power to protect an innocent from what I went through as a kid, I did what I had to do; to this day, I have no regret.
How can a depressive mom raise a carefree child?
As I seem to have inherited my mother’s genes and lost five years of my life to major depressive disorder upon immigrating to the US, this is a relevant question.
And yet, even with a chronic condition, none of us is a diagnosis. Chronic depressives just have that little extra parasite in our brain our partner needs to be able and willing to deal with on those days when we can’t go it alone. If that’s not the case, how can we expect our partner will manage when we’re distraught and with a baby in arms? With a recalcitrant toddler? With a shy grade schooler? With a rebellious teenager?
How can parents who do not already share mutual and unconditional love and acceptance ever share those with their child?
How can we keep our child safe from an illness that keeps trying to kill you? How will we preserve the blank canvas of their childhood? How will we prevent our anxieties, insecurities, and shortcomings from affecting them?
Is any of us truly capable of such extreme selflessness that we would suffer in silence to shield our child from harm?
If my own experience growing up is anything to go by, I don’t believe it’s humanly possible or healthy to occult vulnerability. My mother was vulnerable and had little help, she tried to conceal her struggle but it frequently got the better of her. That’s when she typically took her frustrations out on me and yet I have no doubt she did the best she could.
So how can parenting not turn into a potential health hazard both for a depressive and for their child?
It takes a partner who has our back. When parenting is a two-person job, we’re no longer the whole ecosystem our child grows up in but half of it. As a result, creating and maintaining a balanced, carefree, and safe environment for them to flourish in becomes a lot easier.
Unconditional love and acceptance beget more of the same, and a child should never have to be dependent on just the one human unless the situation is accidental; it’s too much to give for the lone parent, too little to receive for the child.
Why do that to yourself, much less to another human being?
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor living out of a suitcase in transit between North America and Europe. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.