In the early years of our relationship, there was no discussion of kids. My partner Nick never brought it up until about four years ago. Every now and then he’d say, “We need to get a baby”. He might as well have said, “We need to get an elephant” because, I was convinced it was just a phase and never going to happen. But soon he was talking about it more and more, to the point where I had to respond with all the reasons we shouldn’t have a baby. First of all, where would it come from? And then the rest of my reasons, we can’t afford it, we have no room (we were living in a small condo at the time), the neighbors and people in general would be un-accepting (we lived in a conservative suburban area), my parents would disown me, we both work full time, and finally, I just don’t see any benefit for myself in raising a child.
Much of my response was logical and probably typical of what most gay men would think when their partner suddenly brings up children. It was just crazy talk to me and an idea that had never entered my mind. Why couldn’t we just be happy where we were at in our relationship and continue down the same, easy road? For the next two or three years, every time he brought up babies, my heart skipped a beat and I cringed.
Every now and then we’d get into a heated argument over obtaining a baby. I’d leave the argument with some sort of open-ended statement that left my opinion ambiguous just to get past it and move to more peaceful waters. Nick later changed his mantra to, “Once we get a house, then we’ll get a baby”. Fine. We lived on the West Coast in an extremely expensive real estate market and there was no way we could afford a house.
So went the baby game for what seems like several years. He’d bring it up, I’d change the subject and then block it all from my mind. Then big changes came to our lives. Three yeas ago I found out I was being laid off from my job. I’d worked there for eight years and was initially devastated, scared, and pissed off. I had several months notice, but even so, life sucked. Soon after the layoff notice, Nick called me at work and asked if I’d be willing to move to another city. He wanted to apply for a promotion within his company that would require a major move. Without putting much thought into it, I agreed to the move.
Planning the move and realizing that we were able to afford a nice, new construction house in the new city took my mind off the misery of my final weeks at my job. I was looking forward to a new job and all the changes to come. There was still plenty to worry about, but overall, things went about as smoothly as they could. The housing market was strong and we had multiple offers on the condo above asking price within 48 hours of listing it. The new house wouldn’t be finished for a couple months, so I left with the dog and stayed in a hotel in the new city until the house was ready. In this time, I found a new job that I started right after moving into our new home.
At some point during the turmoil of this move, I stopped worrying. I usually consider myself an agnostic, but all of this change seemed to be orchestrated by a higher power. I can’t really explain where this feeling came from, but I just went with the flow, accepting my new job and finally settling into the new house. It all seemed like it was just meant to be.
Soon after moving into our new neighborhood, we began making friends with our neighbors. It’s a new urbanism development and very gay friendly with many gay couples and plenty of gay-friendly straight couples. This was so refreshing after dealing with nutty neighbors for years in our old condo complex. It’s a very social place where spontaneous happy hours occur on front porches, and walking the dog around the block can take an hour by the time you stop to talk to neighbors and friends along the way. And then there are all the babies. I’ve never been around so many babies in my life. In the past two years, 7 babies have been born just on our block. Twins are common too, probably due to all the “30-somethings” requiring fertility treatments. I saw men in my age group at backyard parties enjoying themselves, their babies strapped into a Baby Bjorn and a beer in one hand, giving their wives a break.
Having children was never an option I considered possible, so I never really thought about it deeply. But for the first time in my life, I saw friends go from childless, to pregnant, to first-time parents. I grew up in a small family with only one brother, so I never experienced seeing someone go through this process. Just seeing the big smile on a friend’s face when she showed me her pregnancy-confirming ultrasound picture after attempting to get pregnant for over a year piqued my interest. Why was she so happy? Why was I happy for her? Why did I find myself fighting back tears of joy at a baby shower for a couple who traveled a long and bumpy road to get pregnant?
All of this got me thinking about babies and life. Looking at my relationship with Nick, it was comfortable and had come to a plateau some time ago. So what else is there to experience in life? I’ve traveled the world, found a life partner, moved to a nice home, eat out at nice restaurants, have wonderful friends, and basically do what I want. But is that it? Do I just set my life on cruise control for its second half? All these people having babies say the same thing. “It changes your life forever!” And they mean it in a good way.
When I saw the joy in the eyes of new parents when they looked at their babies, I saw a joy I’ve never experienced. There had to be something to this parenting thing. I hadn’t heard anyone say they thought having a baby was a mistake that made their life miserable. I heard over and over, “It’s the hardest job you’ll ever have, but the most rewarding”.
I suppose I did have one reference in my life that gave me a little hint of what it’s like to love a child and all the work involved - our dog. Years ago Nick took me to a pet shop to see some puppy he liked. I had never had a dog and never considered getting one. The puppy was cute, but I told him to forget about it. Two days later, the puppy was in our apartment, an apartment that didn’t allow dogs. We were nearly evicted for having the dog, but that prompted us to look into buying the condo, which turned out to be a great move financially.
But back to the dog - the first time I took her out on her leash, I was grossed out when I had to watch her poop. We were up in the middle of the night taking her out to do her business, spent evenings potty training her, playing with her, took her to obedience school, and soon I fell in love. Some parental instinct kicked in and this dog became my child.
At age one when she had to have a $2000 operation, I was terrified. My stomach still fills with knots every time she has any medical issue. I buy her toys, food, health insurance and take her to PetSmart just to see how happy it makes her to ride in the car and run around the store. I walk her four times a day, give her baths, and tend to her happiness. She’s still the center of attention in our home to this day and I know her life will have seemed too short someday when she’s gone. For all the work and money we put into this dog, I’d never go back in time and not have her. The happiness she brings to my life far exceeds the work involved. Based on this experience, I know I have a paternal or parental instinct built into me. The unknown scares me, and I worry about new experiences, but now I know that raising these babies will bring even more joy than the dog. It’ll be like the same experience, only bigger! I’m going to realize strengths that I never knew I possessed, and the work will be a hundred times greater. But I predict the return will be a hundred times greater too.
Now we had the house, an open and accepting neighborhood, support of friends and good schools. I found myself open to the idea of having a child, but scared nonetheless. When it comes to big change, I’m usually conservative. But Nick’s personality balances me out as he generally does what he wants to based on his gut feelings. The feeling of that higher power taking control is back, and things are happening for a reason. Life is changing forever.