This morning the man from the charity came to pick up the huge suitcase of baby clothes that we've been holding on to for several years. They were mostly newborn sizes – just the kind that make even the non-baby people swoon. I'll admit that before letting the suitcase go, I removed a few choice items, including socks no bigger than my thumb. I stuffed them in a drawer, though I have no idea why.
Ever since my husband and I met, the idea of a one-day child has danced in our background: a child sometimes clear and precious, other times shadowy and hard to imagine. But we’ve never been able to let go of using protection. Protection against what? Against our quiet evenings being disrupted, against our long, peaceful weekend walks being cut short, against our book translations being left undone?
We often make two mental lists, my husband and I, as we chop vegetables in the kitchen, or as we stroll through medieval towns in our corner of Europe. On one list, there are countless advantages to staying child-free, to living a life focused on other things. On the other list, there is only one item: The JOY of having a child. And the problem is that this one item is immeasurable. Right, parents, right? But we don’t truly know it; we cannot feel it. We can’t find the tiny space where this feeling hides inside of us. And so we hold on to our protection.
If you tend to only imagine the “bad” parts of parenthood, as I often do, perhaps you shouldn’t become a parent. And so we hold on to our protection. But I know more than I’d like to admit about the “good” parts; so I only let myself think about them in the small corners of the day, in places with privacy and tissues. I know the way a baby meshes so perfectly with the arms of a mother. I have felt the limp body of a sleeping toddler on my shoulder, covering me with a calming peace that simply has to last until that shoulder nap is over.
The subconscious thoughts come like an instinct: It will be amazingly cool to have bilingual children…I'll pass on my grandmother's embroidered handkerchiefs to my daughter one day…I wonder if they’ll get my husband’s curls. The thoughts prick me. But this was our choice, I remind myself. Deep down, I think I know that these imagined shadow children are best off where they are: non-existent. I think it’s right to finally throw away the list of baby names I've been compiling since I was a little girl. I think it’s right to stop counting my just-in-case daily milligrams of folic acid.
I think I know. And so we hold on to our protection.