All you brave Stand Up girls are my inspiration, these days. I love to read your letters and hear your stories, which are just amazing. It takes a lot of courage to keep your baby. Sometimes the decision flies in the face of everyone’s expectations, and they don’t understand you. Sometimes they attack you.
If you’ve had any opposition, whether from counselors, teachers, friends, parents, or strangers, then you know what I’m talking about. People seem to treat you like public property. Just being pregnant is an invitation for advice. If you are young and unwed, you receive gloomy predictions like “You won’t be able to do it.” “Your life will be over.” “You’ll never finish school.” They point to graphs and statistics. They hand you pamphlets. They tell you that your baby will never succeed in life. If you are married and have two babies close together, strangers come up and give you advice about contraception, as though you’ve never thought about sexuality before. “Thank you, I’ll discuss it with my husband,” I say.
Lately, I’ve been defending myself quite a lot, which is funny, because my baby is already six months old, and our life is reasonably happy.
My brother recently became engaged. His fiancée is a Finnish-Polish Swede who lives in Spain (which is a little confusing). She is a lovely girl, pure gold, and we are thrilled that my brother found someone just right for him. This week I had an opportunity to meet some of her extended family, who live in Canada. They wanted to meet my family, so we arranged to have a little party.
What an evening. Everyone stood around in tight little groups and whispered, wine-glasses in hand. Her family has lived around the world, and had careers in fashion design and journalism. Most of them retired young and live in an exclusive world where money and appearances are very, very important. They weren’t used to children, but they brought with them a poodle, which they referred to as “my baby.” It smelled like perfume and yapped at everyone. One lady, who was a little older than the rest, appeared to be the head of the family. “I don’t like your brother,” she told me, before we had even been introduced.
I can usually depend on my husband, at parties like this, to keep my sense of humor. But he was no help at all. He sat gloomily in a chair, bored out of his mind, and tried to ward off the poodle with his feet. I was left alone with the Family Head.
“So, that man is your husband?” she asked, indicating my husband as someone might indicate a dangerous animal.
“Yes. He’s really very charming, you should talk to him.”
“What does he do for a living?”
“Well,” I said, “He’s going to be a student.”
I was about to add that he also busks on the street with his violin, which makes a surprising amount of money, and that we both tutor when we can, which provides for us nicely, since our home is only the size of a shoe-box and we don’t buy coffee or go to movies. But I changed my mind.
She began to tell me about her nieces and nephews, all graduates of both Harvard and Yale, who write for Time and McLean’s.
“Except for one, who only graduated from Harvard.”
“Only Harvard?” I said, “What a disgrace.”
“What is your degree in?” she asked.
“I haven’t finished my degree. I had a baby instead.”
She looked with horror at my baby son, who was sitting politely on my lap.
“You had a baby? Instead of your degree? What about your career? What will you do with your time?”
“Actually, as a mother I’m very busy…”
“I never had any children,” she said, “Thank god.”
I was about to retaliate, glare at her, tell her coldly that my baby was so wonderful that I hoped to have a dozen more, ask her whether she wasn’t lonely in her nasty, selfish old age…
Suddenly, I remembered what someone had told me: the woman was dying of cancer. Although she worked hard to maintain an appearance of youth, she was being eaten away from the inside, and only had a few more years to live. I was struck with pity. How terrible to be alone in the final years of your life, with nobody to keep you company. Her career, her exclusive apartment, her money, and all the other things that filled her life, could not give her the most important things: care and love. She chose independence, but her life was empty.
Instead, I said, “That’s too bad.” And left it at that.
I can’t help but think of my own family. My mom and dad have six kids. They raised us on one, very small, income. It took a lot of courage to give the gift of life to so many, and to provide for us, and give us ongoing support and love. Now, as my parents age, they are surrounded by children (some are still at home) and grandchildren. We are all vying for the privilege of having our parents live with us when they are old and ready to retire.
You see, the gift of life is truly the gift that keeps on giving. Love breeds more love. It may be tough right now, but that is why I say you Stand Up girls are amazing. You’ve given the gift of life, and your gift will return to you with profit! So enjoy your baby. The quality of your life is not determined by the fanciness of your home, the size of your income, or your degree. It is determined by you, and the love you are giving at this very moment.