I never wanted kids. I told people it was because I had no maternal instinct—not even a giggly Gerber baby could tug at my strings—and that was partly true. But in hindsight, my lack of emotional connection to even the idea of parenthood was rooted in fear.
I was a late bloomer, not physically but mentally—the kind of girl who bragged about how self-aware she was when, in fact, the origin of all my feelings—and corresponding moods—eluded me. And I was completely incapable of properly caring for myself. I ate cereal and vodka shots for dinner, said inappropriate things at inappropriate times, and never remembered my parents’ birthdays—how could I ever nurture another human being, never mind carry one in my womb with a pack-a-day Parliament Light habit?
"In hindsight, my lack of emotional connection to even the idea of parenthood was rooted in fear."
Yet, to make a very long story short, I cleaned up my shit. I got humbled, worked out some demons, fell in love with a man who always texted me back, and together we decided that we were actually strong and compassionate enough to create a person who would maybe-possibly turn out better than us. Today, I have a 16-month-old son who brings me the type of joy that draws tears. I’d never known those types of tears before him.
But with this once incomprehensible joy, there has emerged an entirely new kind of fear—one that I’m told by other mothers, including my own, that I will never shake. The great blessing and curse of the millennium—social media—serves to compound this fear every day.
There are videos of three-legged cats dancing to “Jingle Bell Rock” and stories about Kylie Jenner’s something-or-other at the top of my Facebook news feed right now. And sandwiched in between those posts are countless reports from outlets ranging from CNN to Cosmopolitan.com about yesterday’s mass shooting during a holiday party at a social services center in San Bernardino, California. It was the second shooting of the day and 355th of the year, according to the Mass Shooting Tracker website, which defines mass shootings as incidents in which four or more people, including the gunman, are killed or injured by gunfire. That’s an average of more than one mass shooting per day.
"The great blessing and curse of the millennium—social media—serves to compound this fear every day."
There is also some follow-up coverage on the gunman who murdered three people at a Planned Parenthood center in Colorado Springs on Black Friday. And so many stories of dead babies. The headlines always have the word “heartbreaking” in them, but they are more than just that—they are soul-crushing. And these stories—no, these real events—feel like a thousand pieces of shattered glass in my throat when I’m staring at my son at the end of a long workday as he tries to rip a Kraft American cheese wrapper apart or chews on his sock. I’m panicked as I attempt to freeze these simple moments in time because, really, how many will I be allowed? What if one day our lives are personally affected by one of these hundreds of tragedies and there’s nothing I can do about it? What if this joy is permanently stolen from me?
These thoughts penetrate my moments of contentment, yet I can’t bring myself to actually voice the fears aloud, for fear they’ll come true. So much fear.
Fear is often not very rational. Still, considering the shootings statistics, it is not unwarranted. My husband and I tend to keep our anxieties under wraps—we tried a few times before to discuss what our son’s future will look like in a world that simultaneously exhibits both incredible promise and hopelessness, and it only made us more anxious.
"What if one day our lives are personally affected by one of these hundreds of tragedies and there’s nothing I can do about it?"
As Nicholas Kristof reports in a New York Times essay today, New Harvard research suggests that about 40 percent of guns in America are acquired without a background check. “Astonishingly, it’s perfectly legal even for people on the terrorism watch list to buy guns in the United States,” he writes. Kristof also reports that even 85 percent of gun owners approve of background checks. Why aren’t our politicians listening?
Meanwhile, our mental health-care system amounts to nothing and more and more children are becoming desensitized to violence. Five fifth graders in Clifton, New Jersey, one town over from where I live, were detained by police yesterday after allegedly plotting to set off an explosive device at the local high school. My first thought upon hearing the news: 'My son will be that age in nine years.'
I don’t just want better for my son; I want something radically different. Most parents do. And I only say “most” instead of “all” because the latest update to the San Bernardino rampage story is that the suspects in the shooting, killed by police during a shootout, were a young married couple with a 6-month-old daughter. Could someone please advise on how to wrap my head around that?
In the meantime, I'll be over here waiting for more three-legged cats and Kylie Jenner to fill up my Facebook feed. If I click on them enough times, perhaps I will be distracted enough to get through today.
Lisa Chudnofsky is the site director of WomensHealthMag.com