Be my, be my baby

The possibility of devoting an issue of the Bulletin to having and rearing children first came up during the magazine's Contributing Writers Group retreat, held last summer in Gambier. The idea was greeted with enthusiasm, and, because it was my brain child, I was "volunteered" to be guest editor for the issue--something I readily agreed to do.

Setting up interviews with alumni was in itself instructive. We arranged to talk when it was likely toddlers would be napping or when children would be at school or in bed for the night. When we did speak, alumni were uniformly generous and enthusiastic in sharing their experiences of becoming and being parents. Whether they were demonstrating the everyday fortitude required to raise children successfully, or the extraordinary courage that is called for when a child is seriously ill, I was impressed with their honesty and humor.

In this issue, you will read about alumni who chose not to have children, others who found that they could not, and still others whose decision to have a family was complicated by their sexual identity. For some, adoption or advances in reproductive technology ended years of infertility. Along the road to parenthood, a few had to cope with the pain and sadness of miscarriages.

Most of those I spoke with had their children in their late twenties and thirties, but one alumnus waited until he was nearly sixty to start his family. Some pregnancies were planned and others were not; most were uneventful, a few were difficult. When it came to deciding how to balance work and family, each alumna or alumnus had her or his own variation on this challenging theme: from staying home full time to working full time--and every permutation in between.

Those interviewed are not intended to be a representative group, nor to provide "typical" profiles of Kenyon graduates as parents. Each story is unique. Nonetheless, there are points of commonality. All of the alumni I talked with were doing their best to juggle their personal, professional, and familial responsibilities. Whatever their other accomplishments and occupations, all placed a high priority on being good, if not perfect, parents.

My own story is not the one I would have imagined telling someday. When my daughter, Anna Bronwyn Pensky, was born on June 14, 1996, it was the happy end to six often-painful years of unsuccessfully attempting to have a baby. By the time she was conceived, through in vitro fertilization (IVF), my husband, Max Pensky '83, and I had accepted the fact that we would probably never have children. Our journey to an IVF clinic in Boston, Massachusetts, was our last hurrah, and we certainly didn't expect our one-shot deal to work. Maybe it did, in part, because I was no longer riding the emotional roller-coaster that is so familiar to those coping with infertility.

When the first test-tube baby was born in England in 1979, during my sophomore year at Kenyon, I remember thinking it was both bizarre and wonderful. It never occurred to me then that I, too, would someday have a baby as a result of IVF. But then I never seriously considered the possibility that my fertility would become an issue as I headed into my thirties.

Although mine was not always an easy pregnancy, I made the most of it. Sewing maternity clothes, taking a special aerobics class for expectant mothers, and having a baby shower were happy confirmations of my new, hard-won status. I was thrilled by both the first faint flutters of new life and the more vigorous in utero kicks that followed. Toward the end of my labor, I lay on a large bean bag watching sailboats tack on Cayuga Lake while I waited for Anna to turn and face forward, which she obligingly did. I remember thinking that both the most ordinary and most extraordinary thing was happening.

When we brought Anna home from the hospital, Max and I both took care of her. Trying to do everything in tandem was not always easy--or possible. I learned that, at least as a mother, I had hidden reserves of patience and that Max, predictably, was a wonderful father, although he did not do well without sleep. We were lucky: I was able to take a six-week leave from my job and then go back to work on a half-time basis. As an academic, Max had the summers off and a flexible schedule year round. (I now consult about ten hours a week, and our daughter goes to a home-based day-care center while I'm at work.)

Perhaps because we came so close to not being parents, we take nothing about the experience for granted. Which is not to say that we don't wish we had more time for ourselves and each other, or that there aren't moments when we find having a toddler trying. But for us, bringing up our baby has been a great blessing--and a surpassing joy.

Kat Anderson lives in Ithaca, New York, where she works part time as a fundraising consultant. A poem she wrote about infertility, "Annunciation," appeared in the December 1996 issue of Poetry.

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