Intellectualizing the Baby Decision

5 years ago

I’ve spent the last few weeks contemplating why this having-kids-or-not decision is so much harder than any other I’ve had to make – and more importantly, why it’s taking so damn long. It got me wondering…

Where Did My Gut Go?

No, I don’t mean that spare twelve pounds I picked up at Purdue freshman year. That’s still with me (many thanks, Natty Light). I mean the gut that whispers in your ear that something about this feels wrong, or right. The gut that says “Hey, you should do this!”, even in the complete and utter absence of any good reason why.

My gut has been good to me over the past few decades. It’s sent me across the country, got me out of an industry that wasn’t making me happy, told me to marry Drew even when I felt too young (to be clear, I was no spring chicken at 28 – it just felt that way).  It’s spurred me to action. It’s eventually stepped in to smash all the doubts and what-if’s and analysis paralysis to smithereens. It’s kept my life moving forward, for better or worse.

So where the hell did it go on this baby issue? Because sometimes I feel like I’m staring at one of those Magic Eye pictures, waiting for the answer to appear. Straining my vision, squinting and unsquinting. Wondering what I’m doing wrong, why I can’t see something that everyone else so easily can. And all the while, my gut is silent.

Maybe it can’t get a word in edgewise in the midst of all this dialogue and scrutiny of every tiny little issue here on the blog. Maybe constantly having it top of mind and analyzing some new angle every week is doing more harm than good. Something about this line of thinking sounded familiar and I recalled from my days in mental health counseling (providing, not receiving, believe it or not) that there’s a term for this: intellectualization. It’s defined as:

a defense mechanism in which reasoning and taking a pseudo-objective viewpoint is used as a means of avoiding a confrontation with an unconscious conflict and the emotional stress associated with it

One of the most common examples is someone who’s diagnosed with a terminal disease focusing on learning everything they can about their objective chances with treatment so they can keep their emotional distance from the reality of the situation.

Though I never thought of myself as someone who actively avoids emotions, I’ve done this pseudo-objective thing my entire life. Any major decisions I’ve had to make (moving, choosing careers, ending relationships, etc.) have been thoroughly hemmed and hawed and pros and cons’ed and generally thought and talked to death. By the time I was done with those decisions, the bone of the issue had been picked clean, the very marrow of the conflict sucked dry. No doubt was left unturned, no “what if” too small to be thoroughly vetted. And while it may have been a thoroughly exhausting way to go about it, intellectualizing the issue eventually worked. There was a final moment where I said, “I quit!” or “It’s over!” or “I do!” and walked away or walked towards something. My gut always played a role in placing the final nail, but I felt better having pursued every option to the fullest before making my decision.

So why is the baby thing so different? What’s so paralyzing about it? Is it because it’s arguably the most life-altering decision I’ll ever make? Or that there’s no going back if I do have a baby? Or is it the opposite – that I DON’T really want a baby, but there’s no ACTION that then takes place in a satisfying, no-going-back-now sort of way, so I’m just left to hem and haw into the eternity of my assumed fertility?

Ahh, but there is some such action. In fact, after one simple and relatively painless procedure for either me or Drew, the decision would be entirely finalized. Yet taking that action scares me most of all. Slamming doors and burning bridges has never been my bag. Maybe that’s because when you make decisions using rational thinking instead of your gut, the subject is always up for re-evalutation. Circumstances change, and something that was in the negatives column may get ticked off the list. The boss you hated may quit or get fired and suddenly your old job sounds slightly more appealing. The slackass boyfriend you dumped got an uncannily responsible job and you start to remember the good ole days with a little more affection. These decisions you made, and many others, are often reversible. You can inquire about your old job, send that old boyfriend a text, call the waiter back to change your order. You can even exit a bad marriage (though not without considerable collateral damage).

But one thing you cannot do is hit the do-over button on a baby you created, or decide at age 49 you simply must see your genes passed on. In cases like these, you need your gut to push you over the edge after you’ve analyzed every angle, because some decisions simply can’t be arrived at objectively. But just when I need my gut the most, it’s eerily silent. And unfortunately, there’s not much that can be done to force it. I’ll continue to hem and haw, because that’s what I do best, but at the end of the day, I’m going to have to wait for that one overwhelming moment (which will either be holding a friend’s angelic new baby, or witnessing a spectacular temper tantrum at Target) where I can say with absolute clarity, “I know what I want.”

Well there. Predictably, I’ve intellectualized the intellectualization process here. I’ve tried to objectively reason my way into figuring out why I have to objectively reason with everything in some kind of circular reference nightmare. And I’m pretty sure I just had a stroke. This can’t be good for my gut.

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