Tina Fey has always been pretty popular with mothers. But her article in the New Yorker, “Confessions of A Juggler”, kicked her a few notches closer to sainthood. In that piece, excerpted from her just-released book, Bossypants, Fey articulated the agonizing struggle between our jobs as women with careers and our priorities as mothers of children. She did it with spot-on clarity. And a lot of really good jokes. For weeks, it seemed like every mother I know was talking about that story, and feeling grateful to Tina Fey for finally getting her agony, and ours, out there on the page.
Last night, news broke that Tina Fey is pregnant. So does that mean the agony is over?
In the sense that laboring over a difficult decision is often tougher than the consequences of any decision you make, probably. Tina talks about how her OB responded to her anxiety about whether to have another baby. “Either way, everything will be fine.” I wasn’t surprised to hear about Fey’s pregnancy. To me, it seemed like the article was a way of working through her fears about getting pregnant again…in a way that someone who knows they want to get pregnant again might.
The decision to have a second kid is often harder than the choice to have the first. When you’re childless, you’re hungry for the experience, but you have no idea what the experience is. Even if you’ve seen other people dealing with their children in a way that makes it seem difficult, something in you thinks you could be spared. They’re just doing it wrong. They got a bum one. We’ll be different. Ours will be better. But once you have your own baby, you can’t pretend you don’t know what you’re getting into. Parenting is hard. Babies are a lot of work. Some more than others, sure. But they all keep you up at night sometimes, and they all interfere, to put it mildly, with your career.
Fey’s position as a big star with a sitcom on her back may have made the decision harder for her (And kudos to her for taking those 200 people’s jobs seriously, though 30 Rock is reportedly ending next season). But the choice of whether to expand a family is agonizing for all kinds of parents: the unfulfilled, who worry whether they’ll ever achieve their personal dreams with another child to distract them. The unemployed, who worry about meeting basic needs. You don’t have to be running a TV show to feel the weight of responsibility, whether it’s to your business, your employer, or the financial well being of your family. And mothers who don’t work outside the home can feel worried about dividing their resources between the new child and the old one.
These competing pressures can make parents question whether it’s worth the sacrifice, or even why they want to have another child in the first place. Maybe that’s why so many parents point to the needs of their older child as a reason for having another. Having two babies for yourself seems greedy. But framing it as a gift to your eldest—or even a necessary part of the way you think a child’s life should be—lets parents stop thinking about how their own needs fit into the picture.
The news about Tina’s pregnancy reminds me a little of that thing people say about how mothers never regret the children they have, only the ones they didn’t. I think that’s true in general. But in real life (not on TV, movies, or fiction) regrets don’t seem to swell up in enormous conclusive tsunamis. They are twinges we feel throughout our lives, as often about tiny moments as monumental decisions. Will Tina ever regret having this child? Almost definitely not. But she might regret some of the ships that pass her by because of it.
Photo: PR photos