I’ve been reading through the archives of one of my favorite guilty pleasure blogs, Expat Hell, which is written by a foreigner who is married to a Korean woman in Seoul. They have no children, and the guy generally has nothing good to say about them, ever.
Envy: A certain contingent of Koreans look at my situation [not having children] through envious eyes. Usually they are people who have recently had kids and are suffering sleepless nights with lots of baby crying and diaper changing. It was cute and neat and fun and cool for the first few weeks, but now they’re exhausted and stressing out realizing that a baby isn’t like a product you buy at the department store; you can’t return it when you get tired of it.
This jives, this dovetails, somewhat with my Weltanschauung or Babyanschauung or Kinderanschauung from that brief burst of freedom which came in my life before my soon-to-be wife and I accidentally conceived a child together. I was horrified for the first few hours after the revelation-via-pregnancy-test and believed that my life had ended. But my then-girlfriend had decided that if she ever got pregnant she would have the baby, while I had decided a long time ago that if I ever accidentally got a girl pregnant I would stick with her, and we were (and are still) in love, so, thinking What the hell?, we did it.
On that first day of my new life I transformed myself. As I said, at first I was horrified, but even within that horror there was this kernel of excitement and bliss, the suspicion that this was not really so bad, this could be interesting—and gradually that feeling grew over the following days and months. I was nervous about the late nights and the diaper-changing and the screaming, which is what I suspect most childless people focus on when they think about having babies, but I also believed that the baby would turn me into something new and something better—not into the dreary, sleepy, enslaved, depressed, weary, exhausted, bored, dull, fading, pointless, worthless, useless fathers we see wandering through the dim kitchens in our nightmares, but someone who has invested more of himself into the world, someone who has more interest in the things around him, someone who sees more than what he did before.
In that post, Expat Hell writes about a married Korean couple he knows that goes on all kinds of vacations and has tons of cash lying around because they don’t have any children. All the power to them. For a brief time I lived a life that was possibly similar to theirs—I traveled, I explored, I had an incredible time, but honestly at the end of it all I found myself wondering—this is it? This is really the most desirable thing? To have the freedom and the money to travel by yourself through exotic countries? It may sound ridiculous to you, but it does get old after awhile, and one desires something deeper. The four month-old baby we have now is that depth. A purpose to existence, a certain biological truth.
Ah, how terrible, how horrifying! Expat Hell is so wrong when he writes that the first few weeks are the easiest or the best—I think parents all over the world would be unanimous in saying that the first two or three months of raising a child test one’s tolerance to the limits, and our baby was a screamer who needed to be fed every two hours (day and night) from the very first moment of his life. My wife did, and still does, most of the work, but even when I took over to give her a break I found myself feeling exhausted almost immediately.
We were lucky. He seems to be a healthy, smart, good-looking kid. Over the months he has matured into something beautiful and wonderful; changing diapers is almost effortless compared to holding his bottle for him while he screams at you as he tries to fight off his exhaustion at nine or ten in the evening, but even in the worst of it, even in those moments that would horrify and disgust the author of Expat Hell, the love and the beauty of our existence together survives, and grows stronger. As a result I’ve come to know a happiness that I never knew while wandering the wilds and ruins of Turkey and Cambodia. I can stand his shrieks. It used to feel as if someone were twisting a knife in my stomach when my son exploded; now the knife has become a mosquito sting.
The hours whirl by. I can see the hands of the clocks blurring before my eyes, as I take care of him—but I love to do so. I prefer it to whatever I loved to do before.
I don’t know what else to say except that I do not envy childless people for their childlessness; the thought never even occurred to me, until now.