It’s happening. In the last year, what were once just thoughts and talk and made-up timelines have now become real: Five friends. Five newborns. One unavoidable question, “Do you want to hold my baby?” and one awkward answer, “I will if you want me to.”
I’ve written plenty about Rush’s and my decision to not try for biological children. It’s a choice that most people in our circle have come to accept, even if it seemed a hypothetical one when we were in our twenties and surrounded by friends who had similar ideas about how they’d never sell-out to the suburbs or never eat bargain chicken. Never is a precarious promise. But now that our ideas about where we’d live and who we’d love and how we’d make a life were beginning to shake out, there was a new choice I hadn’t anticipated. How did I want to relate to other people’s children?
It’s a shame other people’s children have to start out as babies and not something more furry and sure-footed. Even my mother who makes a living as a baby nurse once said that tiny humans didn’t do much for her. They seemed to do a whole lot for my friends who were birthing them. “It’s like no love I’ve ever known,” one cooed. Another, “I just can’t stop staring.” Even though I didn’t really want to hold anyone’s baby, preferring instead to hear about the high-drama details of her labor or the mid-level hum of their marriage, I typically agreed when asked if only because everyone else was doing it.
“What am I supposed to say?” I asked one of my favorite pair of new parents. “Is it rude to say no? I mean, I’ll do it if someone needs to run to the bathroom or something but I don’t have to do it. I don’t really care one way or the other.”
Juli sat across from me on her teal vinyl couch, the baby monitor in her sight line, a margarita in her hand. “Erin, I think you can be honest. I only ask people because I assume they want to. You should see some of them when I offer. They lean right into it.”
Corey put his hand on her thigh and squeezed. “Juli has a knack for reading people. But she’d never be offended if someone said no. Your friends should understand.”
I thought about their comments driving home that night, the taste of lime and salt still lingering on my tongue. My friends should understand that babies aren’t my thing. My friends should understand me. But perhaps I should understand them, too. If I wanted to love my friends well, perhaps I should learn to love what they loved.
I considered for a moment my dog, Amelia. And how I loved people who loved Amelia. A friend who came to stay for a night and admitted, “I’m just not a dog person,” became, all of a sudden, a friend who I worried wasn’t “my kind of person.” A friend who slept over and requested that Amelia share her bed? Now that was a friend who had my heart.
After all, isn’t this how we learn to love God, too, by loving the things God loves? And Scripture is uneiquivocal about God’s love for the innocent, the newborns, the children among us.
Out of the mouths of babes and infants you have founded a bulwark because of your foes, to silence the enemy and the avenger. (Psalm 8:2)
Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it. (Luke 18:17)
God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong. (1 Corinthians 1:27)
The greater risk then is not doing something that doesn’t move me. The greater risk is living underwhelmed by that which moves God.
In the last year, as five friends have given birth to five newborns, I have held five babies, and not just hypothetical “babies”once dreamed of but babies named Arden, Novella, Hank, Hazel, and Grady. I suppose I could say no the next time one of their parents asks, “Do you want to hold my baby?” I could say no because I might get drool on my shoulder or nails across my chest. But I could also say yes. Instead of mumbling, “I will if you want me to,” I could say, “I would love to hold your baby.”
I could even mean it.