Babies: the ultimate answer to FOMO.
One of the main things people with kids tell you when you are pregnant is that when the baby comes, Your Priorities Will Change. Upon laying eyes on the wrinkled Churchillian face of your own creation, you will feel a love so strong, so unconditionally true, actual cartoon hearts may shoot out of your eyeballs. And after that, they add, giving you a meaningful look, things will never be the same.
If you press them at all on what you should be bracing yourself for, they may talk about the sleeplessness and the crying and the endless worrying (“It never stops, you know,” said my mother-in-law, with the long-suffering air of a Turkish prisoner). The total subjugation of self to the needs of another. But it’s great, they’ll say, forcing a smile as their eyes land on your belly.
During my own pregnancy, this happened with such frequency, I came to regard the person I was gestating as having the qualities of a bomb that, once detonated, would destroy life as I knew it. And I admit, this didn’t sit entirely well with me. I loved my life, which was happily over-scheduled and full of stuff: work, and travel, and cool parties where I could, if I stood in this one place, see a sliver of Kanye West’s ear from across the room.
I loved being crazy-busy all the time, and staying too late at work, and then going out and drinking too much rosé with my friends. I loved knowing what was going on in the news, and what the Internet meme of the moment was, and the difference between flax and chia. And in a time when women are made to feel that we have as many hours in a day as Beyoncé and should use them accordingly—then document them on an ever-changing array of social media—I worried that having a baby would take me out of some kind of important loop. And, more worrisome, that without all that stuff, I wouldn’t be me anymore.
But. I also loved the baby. Already, despite what he’d done to my feet, I could tell he was a good soul. So I resigned myself to the fact that my old life was over, and attempted to come to terms with the fact that, from now on, the only fun I’d see would be on my friends’ Instagram feeds, which I’d scroll enviously through while wiping spit-up from my shoulder. I spent the last few months of pregnancy getting my affairs in order, frantically trying to cram in as many work projects and social engagements as possible. “This is probably the last time we’ll see each other,” I’d say, mordantly, as I hefted myself off a restaurant stool.
And I was right. The baby was indeed like a small bomb. It’s true what they say about priorities, I thought, once the blood had been mopped up and the doctors had dispersed to help the howling victims elsewhere on the hospital floor. But what they don’t tell you, I realized, is how great that is. How totally epically freeing it is to think about nothing other than this creature who you find adorable and who, you’ll only admit months later, resembled a hairless cat. How nice it is to not feel like you have to care what’s going on in the news, or back at work, or what cool parties you are missing, because, sorry, right now? You are seriously concentrating on reading the Poop Chart and trying to master the swaddle. Babies, it turns out, are the ultimate answer to FOMO. Oh, really? I thought, idly scrolling through Instagram while the baby snoozed. You ate a macaroon? I made eyeballs inside my body. Pre-baby, I’d spent holidays and birthdays holed up to make work deadlines; now, I did not give a darn tootin’ liggety knuckle.It will get done eventually, I found myself thinking uncharacteristically. It’s only work.
Much to my surprise, once the drugs and hormones wore off and I was back in the office, this undercurrent of Zen remained. There’s a famous hedge fund manager who once claimed, jerkily, that having children tended to sap women of their ambition. This wasn’t true for me at all. If anything, I was more driven, now that I had The Priority, as I’ll call my son. But where I’d previously had trouble creating boundaries—see above re: missing birthdays and holidays—The Priority forced me to create them, and my work was much better as a result.
As it turns out, it’s not good to stare at your computer for untold hours hoping a solution will come to you. A brisk diaper change and several readings of There’s a Wocket in My Pocket are actually a great way to clear your brain for fresh ideas! Plus, my new normal work pace meant I didn’t have to blow off steam as much, which meant I was hung over quite a bit less, which meant I ended up with a lot more functional workdays.
And on those nights when it felt like everyone was out doing something really cool, I was relieved to find that I wasn’t as jealous as I thought I’d be. I’d always disliked the part of myself that was envious, and the way social media exacerbated that. But now that I am physically barred from certain lifestyle competitions by the toddler sleeping fitfully on my lap, hearing about what other people are doing out in the world is fun. The other night I saw a post from a friend who was standing close enough to smell Beyoncé, at the exact moment said toddler ripped a cascade of farts down my leg. “That’s AMAZING,” I texted her, with genuine excitement, because it was, and I didn’t feel like I was missing out at all.
Jessica Pressler is a contributing editor at New York magazine.