This morning, I awoke at seven a.m. to feed my hungry five-month-old, Clara. Soon after my husband left for work, her brothers Owen, three, and William, five, joined her on my bed and promptly began bickering – their most favorite pastime these days besides nurturing their ever-growing collection of Pokemon cards. A while later, my older two sons Jacob, eleven, and Isaac, nine, emerged bleary-eyed from their room, where they’d stayed up too late murmuring in the dark from their bunk bed.
Then my day really began: breakfast to make, diapers to change, dishes to clear, toys to step over, toys to step on. At one point I had spit-up in my hair and a mixture of sand (residue from yesterday’s trip to the beach) and Cheerios stuck to my feet. It’s noon, and I’m just now putting those sticky feet up to try to get a little work done to the tune of a foam sword fight. I won’t stop until I fall into bed tonight after the kids are asleep, sipping a glass of wine while I watch reruns of The Golden Girls.
Bumpaholism? Oh yes, it’s a real disorder. It’s my life, and while it can be exhausting and sometimes frustrating, I love it. I love the noise and the laughter. I love the friendships I see growing between my boys, and the way they dote on their baby sister. I always knew I’d like to have a big family, and though I’m pretty sure we’re done at five and I look forward to re-claiming some of my independence, there’s a bit of me that’ll be sad to move on from this stage of my life.
Apparently, that puts me in danger of being a “bumpaholic.”
Bumpaholism? Oh yes, it’s a real disorder. At least, according to a recent Women’s Health article and Today Show story, claiming that a large number of women want lots of kids for all the wrong reasons.
It’s just one more example of a recent media-driven onslaught against bigger-than-average families, fueled by freak-show-esque examples like OctoMom and Jon & Kate, and inspiring creative phrase-coining, like “competitive birthing” (Thanks, NPR!) and “compulsive motherhood” (Good one, ABCNews!).
“Having babies isn’t addictive in the way that alcohol and narcotics can be. But bumpaholics feel compelled to procreate for many of the same reasons that substance abusers turn to booze or drugs,” reads Women’s Health. In this article, experts speculate about the reason women have more than a couple of babies: to get attention. To get waited on hand and foot by our spouses (that, I’m told, is far from a universal experience). To avoid returning to work or having to figure out what to do with our lives next. To get unsolicited comments and belly rubs from strangers. (Oh yeah, ask any pregnant woman; we just LOVE that).
It’s not news that human beings sometimes turn to compulsive behavior to fill a psychological void. Some fill that emptiness with money, puppies, designer clothes, long hours at work, meaningless sex, alcohol, or any of the myriad ways people find to self-medicate. But in this new crop of critiques, we’ve chosen to fix our collective criticism on that old throwback, the woman who wants kids.
I’ll be the first to admit that I find newborn babies awfully compelling. Their soft, wrinkly little heads, that baby smell, the scrunched-up hands, the first crooked smiles . . . all of those things seem to set off a dopamine flood in my brain. Looking at and holding a baby feels good. Didn’t nature intend it to be? Otherwise, we’d never make it through those sleepless first few months or overcome the urge to run away and join the circus.
But apparently we are no longer allowed to respond to our own natural impulses, even when we apply a healthy dose of reality and intellect to the equation. It’s people who stop at one or two children, the article says, who use their “higher brain functions to keep those instincts in check.” I guess the rest of us are little more than primates, reproducing willy-nilly to keep those hormones flooding in.
In the world of tell-all mommy blogs and reality shows featuring hassled, harried, and unhappy mothers, it’s become suspicious even to admit that we like kids, much less that we could be reasonably happy raising them (unless we’re mentally imbalanced, that is). According to the cultural mythology, moms hide their depression and feelings of emptiness behind domesticity and child-rearing. The implication? Having kids isn’t “real life”, it’s just a way to escape from it for a while.
Why do we question the motives surrounding the decision to have children (or not) with so much more cynicism than we do other decisions? If someone volunteers for a nonprofit or has a large circle of friends, no armchair psychologist would bother to question whether she was trying to “fill a void” with meaningful activity or companionship. It would instead be accepted that creating relationships with other human beings is a normal, natural and human desire.
What about the idea that a large family can be intentionally and intelligently chosen? When did it become weird to like children, to want them . . . even more than two?