There is a video going around the Internet of a man finding out he is about to become a father. But instead of expressing pure joy or even the shock of fear, his response is bummed, surprised, and despondent, all mixed together. Some commenters feel putting this out there is a bad idea. I disagree.
Here is the video:
A guy in a hoodie opens the fridge, notes that his girlfriend/wife/ladyfriend is holding a camera. Then he looks into the fridge and sees something curious in there unbeknownst to the viewer, which prompts him to ask:
What is this?
[woman’s nervous laughter]
…Are you for real?
Over at Time, the write up declares his “crestfallen reaction” a “little too real,” adding:
The father-to-be clarified on Youtube, “This was unexpected and came as quite the shock, but I am very excited about this!”
Still, this definitely isn’t one for the grandkids.
Au contraire, Time. This is exactly one for the grandkids. Show it to the grandkids. Show it to the kids! Show it to everyone!
This reaction isn’t too real; it’s perfectly normal. Having a kid is fucking crazy! Especially given that half of all pregnancies are unintended, and given that the world is exactly as it is, and (last I checked) given that is still a terrifying place to imagine bringing anyone for coffee, much less an entire life. It’s the other reactions—the ones where everyone is over the moon with Pinteresty joy or bursts into tears out of cinematically induced fear—that are too fake, too binary, too sentimentalized. And we need to talk about this more openly.
A commenter on the video got it right:
Exactly! You can be excited but also scared as hell. Tattoo it on the mountainside.
There are any number of perfectly valid reactions to finding out you’re going to have a baby: happiness, shock, awe, spontaneous combustion. Huh wut?! is also one of them. It’s complicated. Your instantaneous feelings don’t always align exactly with your stated position. The comments on the video are full of people lamenting how sad it is that this guy clearly doesn’t want a baby, and how is life is ruined. But while certainly plenty of people become pregnant and don’t want to continue the pregnancy, being shocked or weirded out does not necessarily mean you’re one of them.
Give it a minute! (Life motto.) It all depends on where you’re at, mentally. It can be different for men than women. It can be different whether it was planned or not. It can be different depending on where you’re at in your life. If there is one thing we know to be true it is that having babies is a curveball whether you mean to have them or not.
Some people are thrilled to find out they are with child. Some people are terrified. And some people are in the middle: Don’t know what the fuck to do, aren’t sure they can deal, and need every second of that nine months to get up to speed. That feeling can morph and grow into plenty of other feelings—the joy becomes worry, the worry becomes joy, the shock becomes appropriately channeled enthusiasm.
The point is, first we should welcome all these possibilities as valid, because they are all part of the rich fabric of procreation. Having a less-than-stellar response to the news of impending parenthood doesn’t mean you aren’t going to step up and parent the shit out of a kid or even be really good at it, or that you don’t love your kid you haven’t even met yet. (Nor does being appropriately ecstatic mean you’re going to do a great job, either. Lots of women think they want kids and then change their minds.)
Second, it is high time we destigmatized the concept of “the mistake.” I know, I know. Some kids really are mistakes, but only if that is how their parents think of them. It’s a sad fact of existence that some people never should have gotten married or procreated. Some parents are also terrible garbage monsters who would tell their children they were unwanted. But that hellish idea of honesty has nothing to do with whether or not you planned your pregnancy, or being frank about the fact that not all pregnancies are Norman Rockwell paintings.
And the best way to destigmatize “the mistake” is to talk about it—in a way that is age appropriate, of course! Kids happen. For a lot of people, that is just life. Kids can understand that there is more nuance than advertised in most of life’s biggest milestones. Like “happy tears,” a kid can understand a “happy accident.”
Oh look, your father just shit a brick here in this video because he was only making $6.15 an hour when we found out we were pregnant and I’d just been laid off. Plus, we were living right above a dildo factory.
Fine, I’ll strike the part about the dildo.
The main thing that matters for a child is that you love her, and you got this. If your kid knows that, the story is just background noise, details. The thrill of her story is really that when she came into the world, you were enriched by that, and so was the world. The story doesn’t have to be perfect. Honestly does not have to be brutal. There just has to be love. And even that can be a little imperfect, too.
Not only is it an important part of understanding the circumstances into which children enter the world, it’s also a testament to the weight of what it really means to parent. It requires certain sacrifices. Children should not be sheltered from that. Of course there is a way to convey that that can make a kid feel unwanted as shit, and there is a way to do it to make a kid feel absolutely loved to pieces while still imparting some raw truth.
I had a kid unexpectedly. I wrote a book about it. I tell my daughter all the time in conversations about her birth that I didn’t think I wanted kids, that she was a surprise. Yes, I do. I tell her. It goes something like this, depending:
Her: Mommy, tell me again about when you found out you were going to have me?
Me: Ok, well the thing is, mommy wasn’t even sure she wanted kids when she got pregnant! Isn’t that crazy?
Her: Why not?
Me: Well, I just wasn’t sure! I didn’t think I could get pregnant, and I didn’t know if I would be good at it, anyway. I didn’t know what kind of baby I would get. Or what kind of mom I would be. I just wasn’t sure and we were so scared, but we decided to go for it.
Her: And what kind of baby did you get!?
Me: I got the best kind of baby there could possibly be—you! A very sweet, lovely, kind baby I love more than anything. And mommy and daddy were happier than they could have ever been. And the second I met you I was flooded with all the love in the entire world.
Here’s what I don’t say: Soooo one weekend I was day-drinking a shit-ton at the lake, bouncing on a jet ski, smoking a bunch of cigs, and got super tired but in this way that was different than the normal way smoking and drinking made me tired, so I took a prego test and when it was positive I was like, “oh shit,” in large part because I only had $90 at the time and your dad was in a band that was actually based on a video game?
But you know what? I’m absolutely going to tell her that story later, when she is a teenager. Because it’s true, too, and frankly, awesome. Life can get real dicey sometimes; I think your job is to help your kid understand this and that they have choices. Not to smooth over every rough edge and portray the world as some kind of series of inevitable milestones we sail through effortlessly.
Also, I want to explain that there is another option beyond the weird, sad stigma of dealing with the hand you don’t always mean to deal yourself: Beautiful things can happen when you roll with it sometimes. Great things can come out of less-than-great circumstances. You can rise to the occasion and see things you’d never have seen with all the planning in the world.
And please: That’s not a secret hideous pro-life message or anything. I will also do everything I can to make sure she doesn’t have an unplanned pregnancy. To explain to her that I had a choice to make about that pregnancy and why I chose to roll with it, at the age I was, in the relationship I was in, feeling the way I felt, and reasons why I or others might not have, and the real ways in which it was difficult.
But that, too, is a conversation for later. For now, there is something perfectly great and true: the reassuring idea that even though the world can be a crazy place, that you can be loved the moment you enter it, no matter how crazy. Nothing mistaken about that.
Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Illustration by Tara Jacoby