I was not naturally a “baby person.” I’ve never loved looking at Anne Geddes calendars— in fact I’d often rather look at pictures of cute animals. But I have a baby. And, obviously, I’m in love with him.
In our culture we seem to have this idea that that in order to have a baby you must be a “baby person.” You must have grown up with them, babysat them— you must feel particularly maternal and you must love holding them, feeding them, looking at them, and talking about them. It’s as if parenting is a career choice or some sort of unique hobby. And if you don’t feel giddy about it then you’re not cut out for it. If you don’t love the smell of spit up (yes— some women do,) then you can’t possibly be a good mother.
Biologically, this is ridiculous. Biologically, having babies is much more akin to eating or drinking or falling in love than it is to being a firefighter or an artist. Human beings were predisposed to be able to make more human beings. Some people may feel more drawn to different aspects of that predisposition than others, just as some people have bigger appetites than other people. But most of us, I believe, probably possess, or could develop, the intuitions and abilities necessary to have and to raise a baby.
Now, I am not at all saying that every single person should be a parent. Just because someone is able to do something doesn’t mean that they need to or that they should. But I do think that many people who are meant to be parents are afraid to be simply because they think that the parenting litmus test consists of a checklist of feelings.
But the feelings are merely one aspect of something much bigger. Just as you don’t have to be a hopeless romantic to have a happy marriage, you don’t have to be obsessed with babies to have a baby and love that baby. Children are not another species. While it is certainly a difficult one, loving and raising them does not have to be some sort of exotic skill. Loving a child is much like loving a spouse— it is definitely more demanding and often less immediately rewarding— but the difference is more in degree than it is in kind. It is a daily choice, a daily practice, and a daily habit of sacrificing your time and energy and heart for another person who will be your responsibility for the rest of your life. Whether or not you’re meant/ready for it has much less to do with feelings than it does with whether or not you’re willing and able (due to so many different legitimate reasons like lifestyle, values, age, finances, etc.) to make that choice.
And if you do make that choice you may find that the feelings follow. It has been in having a baby that I have actually become so much more of a “baby person.” I still don’t love the smell of spit-up. But I sure do love the smell of babies. I understand them more and appreciate them more. I find myself actually wanting to hold random newborns. Why? Because I have loved one, myself. And as G.K. Chesterton puts it so well, “a thing must be loved before it is lovable.”
Now, it’s great if you find a baby lovable just because you think those faces are so cute. I’m getting to be more like that but I wasn’t naturally. And I think that’s okay. Because love is bigger than cute faces. In fact, it has to be bigger. If all you’re relying on to get through a lifetime of parenting is giddy feelings and cuteness than you’re going to have a very difficult time. Because babies don’t stay babies. (Everyone will tell you that when you have one.) Babies are people. And people are hard to love. But that’s also okay— because there is nothing in the world more worthwhile than love.