I was in an elevator when it happened. I fumbled through my suit jacket for my phone, as it buzzed with rapid-fire group texts: One of my BFFs from college was finally in labour. I tapped out a frenzy of exclamation points before stepping onto the top floor of Bergdorf's, for my high school best friend’s bridal luncheon — my heart racing to keep up with the weekend’s many milestones.
The next day, I went to the hospital to visit the first of my closest friends in New York to have a kid. In my more than 30 years as a human, her daughter was the first baby I’d ever actually held. (Who knew they made people so small?) I was equally in awe of her and surprised by my sudden capacity for shameless fawning.
Over the next year, like dominoes, one friend after another had a Big Announcement to make. I developed a sixth sense for detecting who was next. Passing on wine at dinner is a dead giveaway, but if anyone so much as called an impromptu group meal, I knew what was up. Eventually, as tends to happen when you reach a certain age, it seemed every update from near and far heralded a baby on board — work colleagues, former classmates, heck, even Beyoncé. I’m genuinely thrilled every time, but any hint of surprise is by now wholly feigned.
Most of the women in my life are cascading into motherhood all at once. None of them seemed 100% ready, even as their bellies grew and the months flew by, but they knew they wanted to take the plunge and pledged to figure everything out when the time came. As a single gay man, I knew our lives would only run parallel for so long before many of my female friends veered in this direction. We may be at a similar adult crossroads, but I feel nowhere near close to deciding whether I’ll ever become a parent.
When I came out to my family, the first thing my mother said, already in tears, was, “But it’s so lonely; you can’t have a family.”
I reassured both of us that I could, but I’m not even sure I bought it myself. This was 2006; marriage equality hadn’t yet gained momentum, and I was already pretty used to the idea of being a bachelor. I’d never been in a serious relationship, and had never once considered having kids. But I knew it was possible, and I needed my mother to know it, too.
When we won the right, first in New York and then nationwide, to form families under the law, I immediately joked, “So! What’s my excuse now?” I still think half the fun of being queer is living outside the conventions of what love, sex, and “family” are supposed to mean, but marriage equality meant we were no longer quite free from the same pressures to “settle down” as our hetero peers. At least theoretically. My straight older brother still bears the full weight of my parents’ expectations that he’ll one day give them grandkids. I’m sure they’d be both surprised and thrilled if I were to welcome kids of my own, but their idea of the sort of life I can have hardly seems to have changed since I came out, and the pressure is definitely off.
Which, for many years, was just as well. It’s not that I didn’t like kids when I was younger — I hated them, as soon as I could no longer be considered one myself. Any time I travelled, I’d look around the boarding area and grit my teeth, praying none of the wailing little monsters would be seated near me on the plane. I was as sure of anything that I’d never want them screaming and spitting up all over the life I was working so hard to build for myself.
Then I turned 30. Slowly I found myself inadvertently smiling into strollers on the subway, stopping just short of saying “Hi!” aloud (as I do to dogs of all kinds while ignoring their owners). Could it be my grinch heart was growing with age? Maybe. But it wasn’t until a recent visit to India, where my parents were born, that I really felt it swell in my chest. Brown children of all ages made me smile, even when they were maniacal in their zest for giving their parents hell.
I realised that I saw myself in them, and had rarely, if ever, thought about what my own kids would even look like. As a gay man, making a baby, accidentally or on purpose, has never entered my thoughts around sex. I can only imagine how many times my straight peers have thought about it for obvious reasons, and not just around pregnancy scares.
I know that the idea of having kids on my own, without a partner, shouldn’t feel like putting the cart before the horse. But for now, it does. I’m still juggling more dating apps than is probably helpful to the cause, and damn if it doesn’t feel like a full-time job swiping and messaging and scheduling dates — never mind whether the dude happens to want kids or not. I know several gay men who’ve become single parents, though they happened to have made that decision at an older age. Others have been donors for lesbian couples, a route I’ve considered more and more and have bantered about — only half in jest — with close lesbian friends.
In theory, I like the idea of leaving a legacy beyond just my own accomplishments, and I genuinely feel like a responsible adult. But I am still somewhere between confident I won’t kill my houseplants and unprepared to get the dog I’ve wanted for years. If I were a woman, my body would be forcing me to decide whether I wanted to have kids naturally within the next five years. I’m grateful for the privilege of having more time, but I’m also known to feel adrift without a deadline (just ask my editor). I’m not sure to what extent time is really going to help.
I imagined, when they began announcing their pregnancies one after another, that my friends’ having kids would drive us apart — they’d disappear into piles of nappies and breast pumps never to be heard from again. But so far, the only change is that they can’t keep me away from their offspring. In some cases, we actually schedule time to see each other more often than we did before; they bring the baby out to dinner, so we can coo and catch up simultaneously, or I drop by their apartments to hang out for an afternoon. They’re eager to hear about mine and other friends’ lives, to feel their whole identities haven’t been subsumed, even while their sleep schedules and resources have.
Older friends have told me from experience that my friendships with the mums in my life will change as their kids grow older, drawing on their energy in a different way, or when they decide to have a second or third. Of course, I know they’re right.
But I also know these women are my family. When my college BFF — the one whom friends called my wife, and me her husband — gave birth to a son this spring, I teared up when I saw the first picture she sent, which came through on my morning commute. I beamed at strangers on the subway; I showed his picture to my coworkers, my friends, people I don’t even know all that well. The affection I feel for these moms extends to their kids — I love them as a matter of course. Whether I choose to have my own some day or not, I know that’s never going to change. So I'm not deciding whether or not to start a family — I already have one, and it's growing.