I think comparing my kind/level of joyfulness to another person's, whether with kids, or without, is like comparing apples and oranges. There's so many factors that make people and situations different. I might have similarities with another individual in terms of personality, infertility diagnosis, family makeup, children's development, relationship, politics ...but really, there's always more differences. We build community by looking for common ground (in the case of ALI community, experiences with infertility and loss) and that's excellent, but it's quite a stretch to expect that individuals or families will have similarities beyond that. Before we were affected by infertility, we were all individuals on our own path. (But I do think it is more heartening and comforting to focus on similarities, not differences.)
On the other hand, No Kidding's post got me thinking about whether I would say I'm more "joyful" after having a child. I think there is more grounds for comparison when I focus only on my life. I found it an provoking question to ponder.
First I thought it was interesting that NK used the word "joy" rather than "happiness." They might seem similar, but I feel they have very different meanings. "Happiness" to me is a state of general contentedness with one's lot, while "joy" is an intense appreciation of a moment in time.
So, more joyful with child or without?
I could make a pretty good argument that I was more joyful before kids, if I exclude the joyful moments with AJ. I think before I had a child I was actually more skillful at enjoying other things in life, including but not limited to:
- music (playing in a community band)
- dance and fitness
- yarn crafts
- creating deep and meaningful relationships with friends
- readiness for transformative experiences. This one is nebulous, but I could describe it as the constant feeling that an amazing experience or opportunity could change my life for the better. This belief required alertness to what life was bringing my way, a willingness to treat each opportunity as a treasure.
Friendships: I do maintain some but I don't see my friends often. Evenings and weekends seem like just enough time to spend with AJ and Mr. Turtle, or with my mom or local in-laws. If we squeeze in some of the errands and chores we need to do, even less time. Some friendships seem to easily survive these dry spells; in some other cases I've definitely grown somewhat apart from people.
Readiness for transformative experiences: Because I am not seeking a transformative experience, I am generally less excitable, and you could argue, less joyful. It's not that I don't want to have fun experiences or enjoy myself, but I'm not always looking for something to rock my world. The obvious reason is that I have already found it: my family. My world rocked and rollicked about and now it's settled into its new rhythm. Family life brings me profound happiness and contentment, but a side effect of that contentment is that I am a little out of practice at getting really excited about life. I like (and need) the security I feel, but sometimes I am nostalgic for the past days when I knew that my life could take a completely different direction in the next month, or year, and that was totally OK.
Despite the nostalgia, do I regret for an instant that I have a child? No. But I recognize that motherhood has changed me and the change is not quite as simple as adding an extra helping of joy. Sometimes days it feels that simple, not going to lie. AJ is joy; in fact that is her middle name. Holding her sleepy heavy body in at night and first thing in the morning. Hearing her laugh of delight as she masters a new skill or piece of knowledge. Watching her with Mr. Turtle and feeling the love between us grow exponentially. It is easy to feel that anything else in life is by comparison a mere shadow on a wall.
We are also lucky in that so far we have a pretty easy child. But even if she was a huge challenge, or becomes one later, I can't see myself ever regretting parenthood. I see life as a progression, a taking on of challenges, and I'm sure I'd rather have a challenge than no progression at all. I've had stagnant periods in my life and I hated them more than anything. I would choose to live over the worst struggle in my life rather than the times when I felt I was accomplishing nothing and getting nowhere.
And yet. There are questions in my mind. If I'm spending less time and energy on the things that gave my life meaning, is my life becoming less meaningful? Am I missing out on chances to change myself for the better? Am I becoming more anxious, more pessimistic because I am focusing on the things that could take away what I have, rather than what would improve it?
I don't have quick answers to those questions, but I think they are important to raise. At least sometimes; the rest of the time I'm quite happy to play with my baby and appreciate what I have in this fleeting present. And last, best not to make assumptions about other people's lives, or even your own, come to think of it.