A new podcast has answers.
My wife, Jo, and I have been sitting in the car outside our apartment for the last 45 minutes. I feel tense and there’s a tightness in my chest. I find myself saying, “I have to chase my dreams.” She thinks it over and responds thoughtfully, “Why do you think that has to change?”
We’re having a very real and very adult conversation about having children.
We’ve just had dinner with friends and their 3-month-old baby, so it makes sense that we’re now trying to nail down our own timeline. Jo mentions that if we want to have more than one kid, we’ll have to start trying in the next year and a half. Naturally I am having a minor panic attack. This is my privilege as a man: I get to be surprised by this conversation. Women, on the other hand, live with one ear tuned to the ticking of their biological clocks.
I’m not panicking because I don’t want to have kids, and this isn’t the first time Jo and I have had this conversation. But I just turned 30. For the first time, I can hear the clock ticking?—?and my heart pounding. And by God, I am trying to trade my own selfishness for empathy. (Of course, I recognize some people don’t have the luxury of choice and I by no means aim to trivialize their experience.)
But that doesn’t stop me from worrying about everything at once. Do we have enough money? Will I be able to continue pursuing my career? What if I have to get a 9–5 and work in an office like a big boy? What will happen to our relationship? Will we ever get to travel again? If we want to move to LA or New York, will that be possible with a baby? Do we have to move to the suburbs? Will I even be a good dad?
When I think of myself as a parent, I don’t just think about the poop I’ll have to clean up and the soccer games I’ll have to sit through. I think about how much I like to cuddle with my wife on the couch. I worry if I’ll get to keep my spot?—?and I don’t just mean that literally. Will Jo have enough room in her heart to give me the love my needy ass requires while loving our kids, too?
Thankfully, I’m not the only spouse struggling with these questions. Detroit radio and podcast producer Zak Rosen has been having this discussion for the last year and a half with his wife, Shira Heisler. Zak and Shira decided to document their journey through a podcast they’ve just released, “Pregnant Pause.” Shira served as associate producer for the podcast, which seeks to answer the questions: Should they have kids? And why is Zak so afraid of making this decision?
Zak and Shira begin the podcast in different places. Zak is reluctant to give up the freedom that comes with being childless, while Shira believes that having children will enhance their lives. The first episode drops you immediately into their world: Shira and Zak are on a hike, just the two of them, making up songs and having a ball. Right from the start, you find yourself relating to this charming couple. A story that has the potential to be quite navel-gazey instead draws you in. Before you know it, you find yourself caring about the fate of Shira and Zak.
Three’s a crowd
“Pregnant Pause” is more than just its two stars having well-thought-out discussions in which they weigh the pros and cons of having children. Over the course of eight episodes, they interview parents, friends who chose to not have kids, philosophers, climate scientists, writers and poets.
Clearly, Shira and Zak had done the legwork. So who better to talk to about my own ambivalence?
During my conversation with the couple, Zak explains that on the camping trip featured in episode 1, he and Shira overheard some children from another campsite. His first, immediate thought was, “Wow, if we’re ever going to have kids, we are never going to get this feeling back. This feeling of just the two of us, under the stars, intimate, no cares in the world, no responsibilities.”
And Zak’s right. Kids change things?—?and not just your day-to-day routine. They require lots of your time and money, sure?—?but they also have the potential to alter the dynamic you share with your partner.
When I was a kid, anytime my parents showed affection for each other, my siblings and I would groan and yell, “Gross!” How DARE those sickos show me an example of a healthy and beautiful relationship! Why couldn’t they treat each other with disdain? I was just trying to eat my Cookie Crisp, not watch two oldies smooch!
I don’t want to deal with the karma I definitely have coming. I want to kiss my wife in my own house without an 8-year-old losing their damn mind. Jo and I have a great thing going; why would we want to shake things up? Plus, we’ve only been together for four years. I deserve more time alone with her.
Shira, by contrast, doesn’t see parenthood as a sacrifice. “I may not be able to go to this [hypothetical] get-together [with friends]…I’m okay giving up those things,” she told me. “That’s when I knew I felt ready. And I just want to be a mom.”
Okay, I can get on board with that. I don’t envy anything about youth. I like being at home and staying in. Going through a new experience with Jo, my best friend, sounds like it could be pretty fun. And maybe it’s okay if our dynamic morphs. We’ll still be mushy as hell.
Maybe this one’s a point for Shira.
We’re living in dark times
One of Zak’s chief concerns is not just the micro, but the macro. The world has become a scary place.
“Now we have a president who is thinking about withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement,” says Rosen. “That decision, along with much of his other climate and energy policy, doesn’t bode well for our planet, and thus, our hypothetical offspring. Like I say in our episode [three] that touches on climate change, the people that are going to be most impacted by the effects of climate change haven’t been born yet.”
He has a point. Is it responsible to bring a child into this world? Our future is so uncertain?—?why subject an innocent child to the horrors of this unforgiving political, social and environmental climate? If we can prevent the suffering of another individual, why wouldn’t we?
Shira agrees with Zak, but she draws a more optimistic conclusion. “I still struggle with the idea that the world is a pretty painful place that is filled with a lot of hate and sadness and scariness,” she says. She points to Trump’s rise and the persistent threat of terrorism.
“It’s hard for me to think that I’m choosing to bring a kid into that,” she says. “But just the hope of them making it better on even a super small scale is what makes it okay.”
To think that you could raise a child to affect positive change in the world is a pretty powerful idea. The opportunity to nurture a child’s values, work ethic and priorities makes the concept of parenting pretty awe-inspiring. Once again, Shira might be changing my mind.
Is parenting a drag?
We’ve all been at a restaurant when a kid has lost their shit and is straight-up not having it anymore. If you aren’t an asshole, you feel bad for the parents, who were just trying to have a nice night out. They thought their kid could handle it; they were wrong and they need the check now. Like, right now.
I don’t envy that experience?—?and neither does Zak. “I see my sister and brother-in-law taking care of my niece and nephew and it’s so much energy and attention that goes into raising a kid,” he says. “The day-in and day-out just looks so exhausting, to the point where it looks unappealing a lot of the time.”
Parenting is hard work, and that can be intimidating. What if I hate it? What if I find myself feeling like it’s so unfun? It’s a permanent decision, one that comes without a delete button.
Complicating matters is the fact that many of us equate our own parents with superheroes, capable of valiant feats of sacrifice and selflessness, smarter and stronger than any of us. We want to live up to the mental image we’ve created, but we’re afraid we’ll fall short.
Shira isn’t oblivious to the challenges but has drawn a more sanguine conclusion. After speaking with various sets of parents, Shira says her worries were quelled. “Parents saying that sometimes it sucks was a relief,” she says. “Hearing people I respect admit that was freeing for me. I felt liberated hearing that not all of it’s fun. And you won’t enjoy all of it and it doesn’t mean you are a bad parent. It takes off a lot of the pressure.”
Hearing that I don’t have to live up to unreasonable expectations, or take delight in moments that are objectively a drag, alleviates some of my worry. I didn’t know you could admit that your kids suck sometimes! I love to complain!
This dad thing’s starting to sound like a breeze.
In the end, you have do what’s right for you and your partner. And Shira and Zak say that the key to deciding whether to have children or not is open and direct communication.
Through the podcast, this wonderful couple’s relatability acts like a mirror reflecting your own thoughts and deep questions on the matter. At least that’s what it did for me.
And so, I’m happy to announce that as of the publication of this article, Jo and I are 17 weeks pregnant and expecting a beautiful baby girl.
…Jk, jk. That’s not true. We still have some growing to do, but we’re excited about the journey ahead. I know I’ll be ready to be a dad when the time comes, because we will have had the tough conversations and done our due diligence to ensure we are making the right decision for us.
“Pregnant Pause” is a touching journey with unexpected twists and turns and a natural story arc that will keep you on the edge of your seat, waiting for the revelation of what this couple’s future holds. No matter what side of the argument you fall on, “Pregnant Pause” will lead you to a more thoughtful and serious discussion on child-rearing. You won’t regret listening.