I understand, intellectually, that 2020 feels like the wrong year to think about having a kid. We are in the midst of a pandemic, climate change is bracingly real, American democracy is dangling over the edge of a cliff, and the future feels uncertain in a way that I’ve never experienced. In the moments when I can gather perspective, I can see how history will present this time, and it’s dark. And yet, 2020 is the year when my husband and I began to seriously talk about having a baby.
I’ve always known I want to be a mother—someday. Someday, when I feel like my career is in a solid place; someday, when I’ve paid off my student loans; someday, when I have great health insurance, a steady income, a house, a 401k, and maternity leave. I wanted a couple more years of spontaneity and selfishness; a few more years of grabbing drinks with friends on a Tuesday, or going out of town on a last-minute trip, a little more time to only worry about keeping my dog and cat and plants alive. Someday when my husband and I felt like successful adults, ready to do the most adult thing there is, be parents.
My mother was 34 when she had me, her only child. The way she tells it, she waited to have a baby until she knew that no matter what happened, she could take care of that baby on her own, without anyone’s help, not even her husband’s. While she and my father shared parenting duties, the philosophy made perfect sense. It was a line of thinking that many in her generation held and they passed it down to their children too: Stability would come if you studied hard, worked diligently, made smart choices, paid your dues. First comes education, then career, then house, then family.
But milestones for millennials have never been that straightforward. Our young adulthood began with 9/11 (I was in 9th grade) and is now being defined by isolation, anger, and uncertainty. As a generation, we are better educated than those before us, but we are saddled with overwhelming debt; we graduated from college into the Great Recession, which set us up to be the first generation to earn less than our parents; we don’t own homes and live in record numbers with our parents instead.
Before the pandemic, in part because of all this, the U.S. birthrate was the lowest it had been in 35 years. For many millennials without children, the insecurity and tumult and straight-up horror of 2020 has made them decide that kids just aren’t in the cards. In fact, some argue that the predicted baby boom will be a baby bust. A recent study showed that 17 percent of millennials without children are further delaying having them due to the pandemic, and 15 percent say they are less interested in ever having kids at all. (The study also showed that 7 percent of millennials are more interested in having kids now than they were before.)
When the pandemic hit. I was a 32-year-old newlywed completing an MFA in non-fiction writing. I was freelancing here and there and working part-time; my husband was working as a documentary filmmaker. My plan had been to finish my graduate program and then re-enter the workforce: I’d try to sell the book I’d been writing, I’d apply for a staff writer positions, and freelance in the interim. I imagined I’d work full-time as a writer for a few years, get my career going, and then have a baby. But the pandemic threw that plan, along with any hope of stability, into disarray. A career as a writer is never a sure-thing, but as I finished my graduate program via Zoom and witnessed tens of thousands of people in my chosen industry lose their jobs, even the perception of control vanished. In hindsight this was true before the pandemic, but the pandemic showed me, nearly instantly, that the path I had anticipated was not going to materialize. Not now, and potentially not ever.
And then friends started to get sick, and people I knew died, and everything became scary and very real. My husband and I stocked up on food and holed up in our Brooklyn apartment watching the news from our living room and listening to the sound of ambulances wailing through the empty streets. If we went outside to the grocery shop or to walk the dog, we’d peel off our clothes in the hallway when we got home. We tallied up how many weeks we could afford to stay in our apartment, assuming I couldn’t find a permanent job and his work as a filmmaker remained on-hold. We talked about moving in with our parents.
Something in me switched during those moments of uncertainty and fear—I realized that nothing was ever going to be the way we had imagined. I thought about how little control we have in the end. I thought about what I would want if I were to find myself lying in a hospital bed hooked up to a ventilator. I thought about children.
Before I wanted some semblance of “it all.” But faced with the prospect of having nothing, I decided to recalibrate. My husband and I are still in our apartment; we made it through the summer with cobbled together work and a lot of luck. I don’t know what our future looks like, or when the pandemic will end. I don’t know how much money we’ll be making a month from now or if we’ll one day move back home with our parents. I don’t know if my book will ever get published, if I’ll continue to be able to support myself as a freelancer, or if I’ll need to find a gig in an entirely different field. I might get pregnant quickly or perhaps I never will, and the only thing I have control over is when to try my luck. I want to be a mother someday; someday, which will likely look nothing like what I imagined it to. Someday, which may as well be now.