Baby fever: it’s real, it’s weird, and it’s the reason I’m still awake.

Oh great - if you add a husband, 80 pounds and an MFA , and subtract a law degree, I'm Ally McBeal.

We’re not planning to have a family anytime soon. Kids have never been high on my priority list. Yet, recently,I’ve been dreaming of babies.

Remind you of anyone? Ally McBeal and her dancing baby, perhaps? If only my baby danced. Mine screams.

There’s always a crisis in these dreams. I either cannot clothe or feed the baby, or I’ve discovered that unbeknownst to me, I’ve had a child and have been keeping it in a suitcase for months. I’m always riddled with guilt in these dreams. I feel guilty that I had a child and didn’t know it. I feel guilty that I cannot feed it. I feel guilty because I was devastated when I learned that I had a child.

The payoff for these horrors comes every night, when I hold my hungry, unfeedable child and feel his or her warm weight in my arms, or against my ribs, or on my hip. I inhale the sweet, and sometimes, sour odors of the child’s body. I know it’s mine. And then I wake up, and – as upset as I was when I realized that I was a mother – I am just as disappointed that the child is gone.

It’s a hell of a roller coaster to ride every night.

Also, it’ s just weird. Having kids was never a part of my life goal. Writing a book was always my big ambition. Oh, sure, I thought maybe I’d have kids because hell, lots of people do, but I’m not one of those who always envisioned herself as a mother.

In fact, at the moment, I’m not all that interested in having children – life is good the way it is, and my husband and I don’t feel the need to add to our household. Despite this – I wrote about it a few years ago – after the age of 30, I started getting a strange irrational urge toward motherhood. It’s not a desire. It’s a biological urge, like hunger, or sex drive. It’s called Baby Lust, or Baby Fever. Or at least it’s called that according to this article which was published in Elle in 2011.

It’s one of the few articles that addresses my nightly adventures with the Dream Baby.

There is some literature out there about baby lust, but not much, and much of it is written by and for people who want, or have children. And those articles contain some interesting facts. For one thing, baby lust doesn’t affect only women who are child-free. Some women are hit with waves of desire for a child. They might have children in their early 20s only to re-experience baby lust 10 or 15 years later, when their children are teens.

There aren’t, however, a lot of articles about baby lust written about women who are ambivalent to child-bearing, and no wonder. According to the Elle article, this urge isn’t felt by all women. And until the second half of the last century, it probably wasn’t a noticeable phenomenon. Psychology was young, and women were expected to procreate or die trying.

Today, I suspect that many women who experience this brand of baby lust don’t really want to talk – or write – about this feeling.

First of all, it’s uncomfortable and sometimes emotionally painful.

Second of all, it’s likely to be misunderstood: I don’t know if men who don’t want kids get this baby fever thing, but based on an extremely unscientific survey (based on the facial expressions made by the men in my life when I try to explain this phenomenon to them) they don’t. Since baby lust is not universal among women, there isn’t a large group of people who might sympathize.

Thirdly, child-free women might not be talking about baby lust because they are ashamed of it. Based on my upbringing as an Irish Catholic, I can tell you that any strong urge that runs counter to a person’s values creates shame. Speaking for myself only, I can say that I’m ashamed of my baby dreams. I don’t want kids right now, but I think about babies like a starving person thinks about food. This makes me feel crazy. I spend my days thinking about my career, the next novel, and next week’s class. I spend my nights tossing from dream to bad dream to nightmare, all of them featuring the unclotheable, unsootheable, hungry baby.

I am ashamed of feeling crazy.

Shame, however, is no reason not to talk, or write, about anything.

Will I be forced to eat my words if we do procreate? No. Here’s the thing. If my husband and I do happen to stumble into parenthood, we will embrace it. If we don’t, both my husband and I are happy to be an enthusiastic uncle and aunt. I’m wondering if the Dream Baby is what happens when strong biological urges hijack ambivalence.

The important thing to remember is that, no matter what my body throws at me, we still have a choice. I can experience baby lust and not give in to it. We can make our childbearing choices based on what makes sense for us as a couple and it doesn’t have to be driven by my biological urges. We can use our brains to make that decision, not our bodies.

That’s a comfort to me, but you know what I’d like even more? I would like to get some sleep. It’s not fair to be routinely woken up by a baby when you don’t even have one. I mean, come on. What kind of mean trick is that?

16 thoughts on “Baby fever: it’s real, it’s weird, and it’s the reason I’m still awake.

  1. Sleeplessness and guilt? That sounds exactly like real parenthood! Seriously, though, I have a friend who is going through this and she is very anti-wife-and-mother. This might make her feel better. I myself am going through a premature grandma phase now that Teagan is 2, where I grab and snuggle everyone elses’ babies, then just as happily give them back.

    • While I am sad to hear that your friend is going through this as well, I am relieved to know that somebody else is experiencing it. I really thought that I was losing my mind.
      It’s probably more common than I’ve realized. I should make a baby fever tee shirt so all of us who have it can identify one another!

  2. Excellent piece. As a fellow child-free-by-choice woman, I appreciate it. I had my baby lust in my early/mid-twenties. It’s a really rough time to get through, especially if you are surrounded by babies. I am sure the birth of my niece triggered mine, and maybe Ava is triggering yours. But I can say it goes away. I no longer have the lust, and haven’t in years. Even my new nephew, as adorable as he was, didn’t make me want a baby. Sure, every once in a while, I get that “Sigh, wouldn’t it be nice…” and then the reality of the lack of sleep, constant crankiness and whining kicks in (and I’m just talking about me) and I realize that I am ok being childless.

    I still think the whole childless by choice is still an issue. Society expects married people to reproduce. And many do because it is what is expected. It’s heartening to see more people seriously consider why they would want a child before having one. And I say kudos to those who choose not to either because of a lack of desire or a realization (like me) that perhaps they aren’t the best parental material.

    I really think you should submit this article to some magazines. It’s really well done.

    • Thank you, for both the compliment and for telling me that baby lust does go away. At the moment it seems that it will never go away. It’s also good to know that other people have had similar experiences.
      I worried about writing this. I felt that people would confirm something that I feared – that baby lust is all in my head and I’ve been deluding myself for years about not wanting to be a mother. It’s been good to get some validation.
      As for submitting it, I have no idea where to submit. Any thoughts?

  3. I dream of being pregnant of having a baby all the time. And when I’m around a baby, there’s a split second where I think, this could be nice. But then I leave the baby, and I like being able to do that too haha

    • Being able to hold and play with and talk to an adorable child and then to be able to give that child back to his or her parents is one of the great joys of not having kids! By the way, your post yesterday inspired me to go ahead and write this.

  4. Interesting. FWIW, I have never figured that ‘baby lust’ was something people aren’t talking about. I was always under the impression that all females go through this at some point and it was a pretty universally known phenomenon.

    In my armchair psychological view, it’s the counterpoint to the male sex drive. Women can choose to not have sex easier than men can, and the baby lust is nature’s way of making sure you don’t get tooooo choosy, and you procreate.

    • Interesting thought about the sex drive thing. I found some related research during my reading last night. One of the articles I read quotes some research which stated that not all women get baby lust, but many instead experience regular lust instead. Some women experience an increased sex drive as they age and fertility decreases.

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  6. Baby lust has made me feel crazy for about 1 year now, it feels like its getting worse. I had experienced it before in tiny waves in my 20’s but brushed it off fairly easily but since I turned 30 it has been so full on. I think about it all day and dream about it as well. It feels more then just a general longing it feel deeper. I returned to study in my late 20’s so I’m not ready for babies yet as I want to set up some form of career. I’m so glad to read that I’m not alone and I’m not going crazy.

    • You are not going crazy and you’re definitely not alone. I think the dual state of mind created by baby fever (ie – my mind says “no” to babies, but my body says yes, please”) makes us feel like we’re going insane. It’s certainly difficult to describe to someone who hasn’t experienced it, and that also makes me feel crazy. But do not despair, there are many of us out there who suffer from baby fever.

      Thank you so much for reading and commenting.

  7. I feel like I could write an article on baby fever… It’s shockingly strong and entirely absurd. My husband and I JUST moved to a new town, I’m not working yet and he’s only working part time. We’re stable, happy and very emotionally connected people and I know we’ll be great parents, but just not yet… Yet the craving/yearning/desire to get knocked up is currently nearly unbearable.. Crazy, huh?

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  9. Hi A.J,

    Thank you so much for sharing your story with us. I agree that it is a very well written piece. I read that Elle article myself and stumbled across this while doing further research over this “baby fever” phenomenon. Thank you for also mentioning that not all women have this. I am on the side of the Elle article writer in the sense that I have never felt this urge. Like her, I am fascinated by it and perhaps jealous that I cannot experience something which could be so affirming to my decisions in life. Basically I’ve actually been waiting for something like this to come along and drag me down the garden path of procreation. I feel I need this sort of validation to take that step and its not happening. Like the writer in the magazine, I am left high, dry and level headed in a logical headlock with the idea of gestation and child rearing. Lets face it, logically- why would you do it? I became aware that this force was taking hold of my friends while giving me the cold shoulder. Said friends were getting pregnant and then telling me that they had had this “urge” for some time. My response would be “what urge?” I think that this knowledge is so powerful to share because I’ve often felt many people, friends included, assume that every woman has this biological feeling. Alas, not so. I am left looking at babies in the same way that a 19th century gay man must have looked at women, with “I know I’m supposed to want this but…” So there are us fever-less individuals that have a sense of jealousy over your current suffering.

  10. Honestly I’ve gone through waves of this since puberty. Me and my friends always talked about it very openly. When I was just a teen I knew that it was an irrational urge from my crazy screwy hormones. Now in my late 20’s I feel the same way. I want kids some day but right now its just not in the cards. Usually and hour in a room with a screaming baby makes it go away.

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