5 Important Things You Should Know Before You Decide To Have Children

They don’t ask to be born and it’s your responsibility to be mentally prepared for them.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

After having my first child, I went into a terrible depression. I was completely overwhelmed and in a state of emotional shock. I sincerely believed my life was ruined.

It’s hard to admit even 45 years later that I was so sad and hopeless when I brought my baby daughter home. I thought there was something badly wrong with me. I had wanted a baby forever and I had a beautiful baby as well as a husband who was ecstatic. I should be happy, I told myself, and was ashamed of my constant tears.

I eventually got treatment and the depression resolved quickly. Initially, I didn’t even know treatment existed. However, even after treatment with an antidepressant I was still overwhelmed by the tidal wave of changing emotions and lifestyle.

The hopelessness I felt is still indescribable. I kept wondering how it was possible no one ever told me it could be like this or how I never realized the crippling weight of responsibility one feels for their child. It turned out I had postpartum depression, and my feelings weren’t altogether grounded in reality. My experience was not atypical, however, and many women experience unexpected depression after childbirth. It is horrible.

It was something we didn’t talk about back then — and still don’t much today. I seldom hear about expectant mothers being warned that they could get home with a new baby and find themselves miserable. That’s dangerous because I know, while I wasn’t exactly suicidal, I didn’t care if I lived or not. It’s this kind of depression, a combination of hormones, brain juice and drastic and overwhelming changes in one’s life that has resulted in many tragic outcomes.

So I’ve decided to talk about it, mostly because babies deserve mothers who aren’t devastated. Some of these reasons may not true in every experience, but no one should be shocked if any or all of these nightmares come up. Physically having a baby is only the first step. Sometimes going home is nothing like we imagined it would be.

1. You may feel at first as though you’ve forever ruined your life.

If you’re talking about the life you led before you had a baby, it’s true life is not going to continue as it has, although you hope it will be even better.

Your life as you knew it is gone. You’ll never be as carefree as you were before that baby was born. You may be blissfully happy about that — or horribly depressed.

No one really knows how it will feel to be a parent until they go home with a new person.

It’s scary as hell and you quite suddenly realize you left as two and came back as three, assuming both partners are there. It sounds so simplistic, even to me as I write it. Of course there’s now three, you had your baby. But you will come to know in the days, weeks, and years ahead that it’s not simple — it’s deeply profound. It is not a cutesy pootsie baby shower or a fun gender reveal. Nope. There’s a new tenant living in your house, maybe forever or maybe just 18 to 20 years, but you can’t cancel the lease and get rid of them, or change your mind.

When the excitement dies down and everybody goes home you start to realize that your tiny new housemate is completely helpless and can’t clean up after themself, screams all the time, and frequently even stinks of poop and sour milk.

You may still be happy about bringing your little bundle of joy into your life and home or you may be — as I was — asking yourself how the hell did you not know how this was really going to feel.

What have I done, I asked myself? I was overwhelmed with all the instructions, care requirements, etc., and sure I was going to somehow break my baby or poison her, or something horrible. Looking at how tiny and helpless she was I was in despair thinking that I couldn’t possibly take care of her. I guess I had believed the know-how and confidence came with the baby

You thought you knew what it felt like to be tired, but now you will

The second thing new parents need to be told to expect is that you will get more tired than you imagined possible. How could something as small as a new puppy cause so much work? You will feel — whether you are happy or sad, adjusting well or not — that your legs will no longer support you (since they’re obviously made of soft rubber). You’ll find you really must make a nest when you sit down so the baby won’t fall off your chest or breast when you nod off and loosen your hold. You’ll find the adorable and traditional wooden rocker requires too much effort and is dangerous in the middle of the night. The baby could fall over the wooden arms if you fell asleep. You learn the corner of the sofa or a big cushy recliner works better and is safer when you doubt your ability to stay alert.

You will sometimes cry because you’re so tired. Maybe because the baby won’t stop crying no matter what you do. Or because the baby just pooped and you are so exhausted that getting up to change the diaper seems equivalent to climbing Mt. Everest. Both are impossible. You. Just. Can’t.

If your friend, mother, father, in-laws etc., come by and comment how sweet it is that you are sleeping with the baby in your arms or on your chest, your thoughts turn murderous.

You can’t help but think back nostalgically about the days when you could sleep whenever you wanted, even in your own bed, for periods longer than a couple of hours.

You might get lucky and have a baby who sleeps through the night early on and allows you some sleep, too. My second baby did. My firstborn, oh HELL no. So don’t count on it.

Just know you are going to be tired. Expect almost unbearable exhaustion. Then if you do get a baby who spends the night screeching like a (night) owl, at least you won’t be surprised.

2. You’re going to hate your partner sometimes over a trivial matter.

We’re led to believe by our lying society that when we have a baby, our partner and helpmate is always going to be there for us. Well, some will be. Others may have to go back to work, or maybe you both got maternity leave and you feel like your partner is on vacation instead.

Nevermind the reason, at times you’re going to come to hate that sucker. Sometimes. Not forever and not on purpose, but you’ll hate each other at some point.

If you’re female and breastfeeding, whatever the non-feeding parent says when they plop the baby on you for feeding is going to piss you off. You want to scream, “Yeah? YOU feed it!” You could even scream that if your partner is male. You won’t care if it’s unreasonable. It may be impossible. You won’t give a damn — it’s just feels so unfair that they can hand you that baby and go merrily on their way. You know good and well they’ve been secretly hoping the baby would hurry up and get hungry so they could wake you up, get you to take the baby, and go back to playing video games or whatever.

You very well may decide bottle-feeding is in your baby’s near future. You also may feel like a milk cow in a stall — restrained from moving far, tied down, and milked. Sometimes on sore, cracked nipples. No one tells you about that, either, but it can happen and it’s excruciating.

Your partner and you will play stupid childish games with each other. Like when the baby wakes and starts crying, you both will pretend to be sound asleep, whether you are or not. You’ll try to outlast each other while the wails increase in volume. Finally, one of you will get up, but be grouchy about it. You were both awake, and you both know it, too.

You’ll do something similar about diapers, too. Who hasn’t hastily handed a baby with a hot mess in their diaper to a partner and hurried away? When your partner complains, you say it must have just happened, though you’ve known about it a while. Then you’ll breezily say you guess your partner needs to change the baby. Lawd help if you have a partner who doesn’t “do diapers.” That’s something else you don’t know about before you have a baby. The diaper change, the gagging, the trying to close your nose with a Bobbie pin. Clothespins hurt too much. Ask me how I know. Vicks Salve under the nose helps. I learned that when I used to do police photography. After that experience I never dreamed my sweet baby’s poo could gag me, but sometimes it did.

Also, if you’ve given birth through a cesarean section or just had a long difficult labor and delivery, your partner will probably give you a break the first day or two home. After that, you’ll be expected to assume full duty or at least full co-captain duty. Because, “y’all” had a baby. You begin to wonder what part of “having a baby” your partner performed. Oh, yeah. They breathed with you. Big deal, you may think, or even say, loudly.

I mean, they never tell you this, but after having a baby there will be times you won’t even like, never mind love, your chosen partner. There may be times when you wonder what the hell you saw in them. You may feel like crying about that, too.

3. You will feel trapped and think “game over”.

You realize suddenly that all this upheaval isn’t temporary. It’s not like when you and your partner babysat or took parenting classes. Those times end. This shit is permanent. This is your life. You can’t decide this isn’t working for you and walk away.

You find out it isn’t easy to go anywhere. You can’t just hop in the car with your phone and run to the store, and you won’t be able to do anything that spontaneous for years.

Speaking of your phone, the baby will drool on it, try teething on it, and most likely puke on it at some point. We didn’t have cell phones when I had children, but I’ve had a pierced earring yanked out of my ear. Ive also had chunks of my hair yanked out, my eye poked, ungodly things stuffed into my mouth, and good sunglasses roughly yanked off my head and broken.

Your baby will assault you and all you hold dear. They never tell you that, either. Babies don’t always just lie there and smile at you. Those little darlings have a good grip. After a while they start doing things. Sometimes they do horrible things like putting the cat’s hairy mouse toy in their mouth. Gah!

You will realize you’re not going to get to go to a movie for years. That’s bad. Then you realize you aren’t even going to get to watch a complete movie at home and that’s much worse. You may cry again.

You will come to know that you must time your potty breaks for the nanosecond the baby isnt hungry or has a dry diaper. Later, you will realize you’re not going to get to go to the bathroom by yourself anymore, but that’s a couple of years off. Right now, just know you are on call and you’d better get your business done anytime you can. Sometimes you’ll almost have an accident because you don’t want to risk standing up and waking the baby.

You won’t be eating out much. Babies have an alarm that alerts them to being in a restaurant. Their reaction is to scream themselves red in the face, spit up, poop, or all of the above. Nobody told me I wouldn’t get to eat out anymore. Hey, I love eating out! But the baby does not, so I couldn’t go for years unless a parent decided to babysit. Both of ours were still working and busy so eating out became a trip to a drive up window after all that tugging, tucking and buckling one must do to put the baby in the car seat.

You won’t wear makeup and you’ll be lucky to wash your hair and brush your teeth; depending on how helpful your partner is or how cooperative your baby is. Maybe your partner or a friend or family member will gift you 30 minutes babysitting so you can take a long a shower. You will enjoy that luxurious shower as much as you ever enjoyed candlelight dinners, soft music, and sex.

What about sex?

Sex? Who cares about sex when there’s a baby in the house. If you make it to your bed you’re only going to want sleep in it. Nothing else. Some partners may whine about it, increasing your feelings of being both a wet nurse and a zombie mommy, and any demanding in this area raises the probability of violence in your home. You will probably think of other things said partner could do (and suggest them loudly) instead of making love if you happen to be one of those exhausted and depressed moms love like I was. You may also spend the first months bleeding, feeling stitches pull, tired, shocked, and nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs.

Someday you’re going to be done with the bottles or breastfeeding, but then a whole new set of responsibilities appear. There’s school to be gotten to and from. Almost every day. There’s laundry. You can’t let your baby be the one sent to school in dirty clothes.

Then there’s the house. Remember when you could clean it whenever you wanted and the only messes you had to clean up were your own? Your baby, once it starts doing something other than crying, eliminating waste, and eating, will start to play havoc with your sleek and clean minimalist home. Barf shows up terribly on white. You will end up having to forget about beautiful white upholstery and rugs for the next 20 years or so. Maybe it will come back in style someday. But then your babies will probably bring their babies to your house. So, hold up on the white.

Your baby will eventually want and need pets. There will be numerous pets over the years and that will ensure your house is never really clean, and always has a bit of cat or dog fur circulating or forming large dust bunnies in the corners. There will be hairballs. Get them up before the toddler finds them, for crying out loud. Your older babies will tramp in and out of the house approximately a million times a day, bringing dirt, mud, snow, dog poop, and maybe even flu or stomach virus. Kids are walking germ carriers.

You probably hadn’t thought of that when you imagined having kids, did you? I sure didn’t. I had a little OCD about germs before I had kids. I had to give up and try not to think about it. Little toddling kids put their mouths on doorknobs and floors. Yes. They do. No one told me about how I’d gag and wince trying to get something gawdawful out of my kid’s mouth.

You will completely forget the cool chick you used to be. She’s gone. She is not coming back. She’s been replaced by the decidedly uncool mom with the fragrance of soured milk on her clothes and hairy legs hid under her sweatpants. You’ve traded being a cool chick for the being mom. It hurts more than you think it will.

When your baby gets old enough to get their heart broken, yours will break, too. Every time. Then your baby will casually break your heart, too. Maybe many times.

That doesn’t feel cool. It’s wretched and you deny you ever signed up for that.

You feel as if nothing will ever be the same, which brings me to the next thing they never tell you.

4. Nothing will ever be the same.

It will be different, and that may be okay with it, despite everything. Just know that once you have a child your life can never be the same. Surely you know that. But knowing abstractly that a child changes one’s life isn’t really knowing at all. It is one of those things that must be must be experienced. Nevertheless, one should read and pay attention to the caution signs.

Your freedom is gone. In its place is a huge responsibility. It doesn’t get easier.

If you are a normal parent you will put someone else’s well-being above your own. For about the next 18 to 20 years — or maybe 30 in today’s crazy world, you’ll be most concerned about someone else’s health, wellness, and happiness. You will be absorbed in deep worry about your child’s life, but you will eventually lose any control of the outcomes.

If you’re like me, like most parents, that habit of thinking of your children first is permanent. Loving parents sometimes go to their graves still worrying about their child or children. I’ll probably be one of them.

You will over the years become a semi-automatic mom robot who is programmed to say certain things at appropriate times. “Brush your teeth. Bring me your hairbrush. Eat the vegetables. No, you can’t have soda for breakfast. Get in the bathtub right now! Get in bed right now.”

In fact, your conversations will usually be be punctuated with offside commands and questions if your child is present.

Later on the commands and questions will change but you’ll keep saying them, as if you think anyone actually hears you. “What time will you be home? Who is going? Wear your seatbelt. Why does he have to spend the night here? Who is that? Where are you? Get your butt home.”

Yes, you will become her. Your mom. Words will fall out of your mouth you loathed hearing from her. “Why do you need that?” The fee is what? Get a job. Who said you could do that? Don’t say another word. Why did you do that? Where is your report card? Did you just sass me?Don’t talk to me in that tone of voice. Go to your room now.”

You are not going to be the same person. Never again will you just look out for yourself. Worry will etch itself across your smooth skin. An ambulance screaming down the street headed in the general direction of where your kid went makes you vaguely anxious. News about kids using drugs scares you senseless. Teenage pregnancies become one of your nightmares.

You pray. You will pray. No matter your religion or lack thereof, you will in some manner pray for your kid with all that’s in you. You will beg. In my case my constant refrain since my first baby drew breath has been “protect my kid, please, take care of my kids, keep them safe.”

It is by far my most continuous and desperate prayer.

Childhood fevers will unnerve you. Then later, teenage heartache will scare you more. You won’t be able to relax if your baby is sick or hurt even if your baby is a big, strapping six-foot athlete. A sick child will always be scary, just maybe not quite as much so as when you have a tiny baby with a high fever at 2 a.m and you’re alone. Stuff like that will happen. Think about it now, before you have children. Can you handle it?

5. You will never be as free as you were as a childless person.

You must accept responsibility for raising another human to adulthood while knowing full well that if you do a good enough job, your grown-up child will disconnect from you and make their own life. Your baby will someday walk away, no longer dependent, but you will remain forever connected and concerned about their welfare. Forever, having already sacrificed a big piece of your life to your child, you will still be always be connected.

Until you have a child, you don’t know how deep and wide love really is. Once you do, you will simply not be the same person. Sometimes the transition is joyful, but sometimes it’s terrifying and overwhelming as it first was for me. Thankfully, I had help and we made it through just fine.

The feeling one has made a catastrophic mistake that costs more than one can pay is truly awful. And you might feel that way for a long while.

You should not have a child unless you are willing to die if need be to save that child. Children are for real. They come to you completely helpless. Children are among the most helpless creatures at birth. Someone must be devoted to caring for them and protecting them all the time for as long as necessary.

Finally, before you decide to have a child, make sure you’re willing to take on the job. You will cease to be the most important person in your life if you bring a child into the world. It must be that way. All or nothing. No dabbling at being a parent. You’re either all in, or don’t even go there. One thing we do not need is more neglected children.

Where do all the neglected children come from? Could it be in large part because people didn’t fully realize what it means to be a 24-hour-a-day caretaker. It is NOT an easy job. It should not be attempted by people who like the idea of creating new life — but aren’t so much on giving up their own lives and lifestyle for the child’s benefit. It does require sacrifice. Your life is no longer your own once you birth a tiny person who needs you in order to live.

There are rewards. Oh, parenthood is amazing and wonderful. Life is enriched and enhanced in every way. But do not dwell on the reward when deciding whether to have kids. Consider instead the purely hard work, the sometimes crushing responsibility, and the long-term commitment involved. Despite all you can do, it may end up much harder than you expected. Children can become disabled, or sick with a life-threatening illness. Those things can happen when you decide to have a child. Can you do it? No one ever talked to me like I’m talking to you, but they should have. Consider all possibilities carefully before you ditch the birth control pills.

Everything, and I mean every single thing, must become less important than one’s child. If you’re worrying about career or still highly invested in being a star at whatever you’re doing, don’t have a baby.

Don’t bring a baby into your life and into the world who wont have fully engaged, trustworthy, dependable, and most of all, loving parents. We’ve all seen people have babies who are not even able to make a full commitment to a partner or a pet. Pity their poor children.

Not everyone can be or should be a parent. Don’t decide lightly.

It is not easy and it’s not temporary. It is both the most difficult and most rewarding undertaking of our lives. Don’t try it if you aren’t sure. Please. Just don’t. Children deserve better.

(I’m now a 68-year-old grandmother who has mostly raised a 16-year-old grandson in addition to my own children and been closely involved in the lives of three other grandchildren who live nearby. As a police officer, I’ve taken children out of homes where they were not safe. I’ve seen more than my share of neglected children brought into the world by immature and/or selfish people who are in no way capable parents. I’ve seen tragic outcomes when someone who should never have had a child has one anyway. I know what I’m talking about.)

by Carol Burt

Former print journalist, former mayor, retired law enforcement officer. Writing about politics and government along with random personal essays.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store