The Possible Side Effects of Parenthood

Current Berkman People and Projects 2013-03-27

A friend of mine is pregnant, and she’s having a rough go of it so far, with lots of nausea and vomiting. “You people who have had babies don’t say anything about this stuff,” she’s been saying. “You make it sound so easy. It’s a conspiracy.”

I don’t think it’s a conspiracy. I think we just tend to talk about the good stuff instead. But it got me thinking about those TV commercials for drugs, how while we watch lovely videos of happy people there is a voice in the background reading off a list of what might happen if you take the medication. My friend has a point: we should alert people to the possible side effects of parenthood.

There are different side effects for each stage of parenthood, of course. Here is what the voice in the background might say about pregnancy:

You will experience weight gain, which may be significant and difficult to reverse, as well as exhaustion. Nausea and vomiting are possible, as are dizziness, bloating, high blood pressure, frequent urination, kidney problems, bleeding, cramping and varicose veins. Dietary and other restrictions are necessary. Anxiety is likely. You will have to endure the advice and comments of everyone you encounter. Extreme pain may be experienced right before it ends. Call your doctor if any of this gets particularly difficult. You may call your doctor often.

And here’s what the parents of infants should be informed:

You will experience exhaustion, and will be exposed to stool and bodily fluids, which may be unpleasant. You will likely feel overwhelmed and completely incompetent, which may be worsened by the advice and comments of everyone you encounter. Anxiety is also likely, and depression may occur. Weight gain, or at least difficulty losing weight, is common, as is excessive laundry, social isolation and the loss of vocabulary from lack of use. Call your doctor if you begin to think you are losing your mind.

Things do improve after infancy. But the possible side effects continue when you have toddlers and preschoolers:

You will likely experience tantrums (your child will too). Frustration and tedium are common, especially when doing laundry, having repetitive conversations with your child or watching “Dora the Explorer.” During potty training, you will be exposed to stool and bodily fluids in new ways. Anxiety and feelings of incompetence persist. Your diet may be limited to Cheerios and chicken nuggets (weight gain may continue), and you may lose your ability to have an intelligent conversation. Call your doctor if you start watching Dora even when your child is napping.

You may think that you’re in the clear once they start school. But you’re not:

You may experience stress, excessive driving and hemorrhaging of your bank account due to your child’s sports and other activities. The limited diet may continue, with the addition of arguments over vegetables; arguments in general are common, including with (and between) your children. Exhaustion is also common.  Anxiety and feelings of incompetence continue and now include concerns about school; these may be worsened by conversations with other parents at the sidelines of long and sometimes tedious sporting events. Call your doctor if you are persistently working on dioramas after your child has gone to bed.

And everyone knows that parenting a teen isn’t easy:

You will experience frustration, anger and stress. Screaming—and being screamed at—is likely. Exhaustion is common from staying up to be sure they come home safely. Excessive driving and bank account hemorrhage continue; the latter may be significant due to saving for or paying school tuition. Anxiety and feelings of incompetence are inevitable, especially when your child experiences driver education, standardized testing and dating. There will be moments when you don’t recognize your child, and moments when you don’t like them very much. Call your doctor if you begin to feel homicidal.

And yet, somehow, it’s worth it, even if every last one of these side effects happens. Which is what I keep trying to explain to my friend. I guess you can sum it up in this last side effect of parenthood:

There is a 100 percent chance that your child will steal your heart.