It intrigues me that the word ‘selfish’ has such a negative connotation. Really? Maybe not. Literally the word is defined as the examination / consideration of oneself - not necessarily to abnormal or adverse excess. If you are in fact a kind, compassionate, intelligent, and socially responsible person, then wouldn’t it be entirely appropriate for you to wish there were more people like you in this world? I would! In fact I will vote for you for president! Ah, but let’s not get into politics. We’re talking becoming a parent, which makes politics seem like child’s play. (Politics? Child’s play? Ok, I can hear the snickers out there). In my line of work in the fertility business, although some patients come to me already having become parents, the vast majority of new patients are just embarking upon this maiden voyage in the quest for parenthood. And those are the patients (men and women) who really astound me in their steadfast, dedicated pursuit of fertility treatments to accomplish their goal of perpetuating their own genetics into their own progeny, no matter how meek or soft-spoken their personalities may be. From even the most humble soul, herein lies the intrepid fulfillment of ‘selfishness’ -the desire to recreate yourself, to create a legacy of your own genetic makeup for the future generation to carry on beyond your own life - yes, this is selfishness, and it’s ok.
I think of the ‘Golden Rule’ - to love one another as you love yourself. Certainly a noble aspiration for us all in guiding the management of our day to day lives. But what is the underlying provision there? You begin with the love for self. You can’t get much further until and unless you have that to start with. You have to think enough of yourself, that you desire to hopefully endow your own offspring with elements of yourself worthy of carrying forward as a contribution to our species. Again, I can hear the snickers out there. Yes, of course I wish all fellow Homo sapiens of reproductive capacity would consider such thoughts before contributing to the census. But for those who do, yes, this is selfishness, and it’s ok. My eldest child just had her 12th birthday the other day, and so that’s how long it’s been since I entered the ring of parenthood. As all other parents out there know all too well, there is simply no journey more daunting. Period. Twelve years of intrepid study in higher education, four years of mind-numbing fact memorization in med school, seven more years of sleep walking through nights on call in residency and fellowship, and then four years of delivering babies for the indigent inner-city population at one of the most notorious hospitals in the country all did nothing to prepare me for the oceans of joy as well as anxiety you experience in raising a child. The range of emotions from ecstasy to fright, from hope to sorrow, can all occur even within such a narrow time span that you can feel like a bob-o-link in a hurricane. I have two children, and I can absolutely disavow that common saying ‘it get’s easier after the first one’. No, it doesn’t. It’s twice the number of diapers, twice the tuition, twice the play-dates with friends, and another 50% reduction in sleep, already 50% reduced starting at the birth of child number one. I am reminded of a ‘Family Circle’ cartoon I saw years ago. The mother was in a grocery store with her multiple children climbing all about the grocery cart and running through the aisles. A nearby woman (hopefully with kind intention) remarked to her - “With so many children how do you divide your time for them?” To which the mother replies - “I don't divide my time, I multiply it.”
I can’t remember how old I was when I saw that, but it was definitely in the B.C. era (’Before Children’). But I do remember thinking at the time that I just could not fathom what the mother was saying. You can’t multiply time - that’s impossible! - said the young single, twenty-something year old self. But that’s what we parents do. The mountain of responsibility for keeping those replicates of yourself safe, and well fed, and well-clothed, and well-educated, and yes, hopefully even some occasions for love and laughter….that mountain is always there. And when your family is troubled, you keep climbing the mountain. And when your job is getting you down, you keep climbing the mountain. And when the world is falling apart, you keep climbing the mountain. And you do it day after day, and after quite awhile you realize you are multiplying time. You’re getting it done. And why? Because when you look into your child’s face, you see your own. Your own face, your own life. But they are not exactly you. They are the empty framework of you - ready to be filled in and completed all over again. Hopefully with the very best of what you have to offer. And yes, that is selfishness at its very best. And it’s ok. – J.G. Whelan III, MD