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Q: We’re thinking of having a child. I say kids cost a lot. My partner says it’s almost nothing. Who’s right?
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10. Baby Fever
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Baby Fever! Rebecca Osler has it in a big, bad way…so much so that her salivary glands go into overdrive whenever she sees a stroller. But, as she explains, soothers and blankies don’t appear to be in the cards just yet.

Photograph of rows upon rows of strollers.

“Rebecca…We want to play with you!”

That is what I am hearing as I try to write this story. Some writers get distracted from their oeuvre because of a snack attack, a numb posterior or the world wide web. My temptation is the two little boys next door, who are leaning out of a window begging me to emerge. Resistance is futile. I give them the thumbs-up sign even though I’m dangerously close to deadline.

You see, I’m one of those young women whose salivary glands go into overdrive whenever a stroller approaches. I always play it cool, casually glancing at the cargo as I pass by. But if you could record the inner workings of my body, as they do on those biology shows, I’m positive you would witness a wicked pyrotechnics display.

Here is a transcript of my brain as I walk along the street: Is that a rock in my shoe? Christ, not again. Hey! Is that a carriage coming? Oh look, a bayyybee! Oh, you are too cute. Aww…look at those smooth cheeks. Oookie-pookie, widdle baby. I want one! I need one! Gimme one right NOW!!!

These feelings are not just relegated to neighbourhood encounters with the rattle pack. Some days, my thoughts look like an Anne Geddes calendar: those sneaky babies crawling into every nook and cranny. In other words, I have a smokin’ case of “baby fever.”

Remember the days shortly after puberty when you’d look into your future and make what turned out to be embarrassingly inaccurate predictions? It may have been: “My rack will be riding in a D cup by next year,” or “I know in my heart that Matt will dump Amy and marry me.” For me, it wasn’t just the Matt part that I got all wrong. Always the child lover, I figured I’d have popped out at least one bundle of joy by 25.

Alas, here I am at 26 with a womb as empty as that hollow let-down of a chocolate bunny I got each Easter. Motivation clearly isn’t the issue. Nothing about a sweet babe turns me off—labour, crying, spit-up, sleep deprivation. Even a diaper loaded up with pea-soup-hued baby poop makes me turn green with envy.

So what is the problem? Let’s take a look at the “conception checklist”: Willingness to eat for two. Check. Husband. Check. Sperm. Check. Free-range egg. Check. Insane biological urge. Check. $417,730 (US). Che…say what?!!

Yes, according to the “cost of raising a child calculator” at babycenter.com, that is the heart-stopping amount you’ll spend raising one child nowadays. Maybe it’s a tad inflated—I mean, come on, are we cleaning soiled little rumps with baby wipes woven from gold filigree? Still, the financial quagmire of parenthood has baby enthusiasts, like me, thinking twice about arranging an in utero date with the husband’s swimming team.

Student-loan debt alone is enough to hinder would-­be twentysomething parents, with the average university graduate from 2000 (my graduating year) owing $20,000—that’s 76 percent more than the class of 1990 was saddled with. And according to the Canadian Federation of Students, by 2009 that number will have reached a whopping $32,000, based on current borrowing trends for a four-year degree. Personally, I’m still in the hole a good $23,000 and, frankly, I might as well be trying to displace the Sahara one grain at a time.

The result is endless frustration, ghastly fights with my husband over money, and occasional tears. I know I should step up to the plate in a power suit like a good modern woman and get my finances straight. At the same time, I just want to throw on a maternity sack and wait for the first kick.

“Our society makes it very tough on young people who want to have children, and it’s reflected in the birth rate, which is dropping steadily in Canada,” says Marjorie Griffin Cohen, chair of Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University. Having a child is expensive, she explains, and even with existing child benefits, child-care laws and programs are, unfortunately, poor.

So even though I’m physically at an ideal stage to bear a child, I feel compelled to hit the snooze button on the ol’ reproductive clock. But let’s not forget that many snooze alarms make loud, annoying noises every nine minutes.

And so do I.

I know better than to bring up the capital “B” word with my husband. Really, I do. But like hiccups, the sound eventually breaks through. Outbursts of “Let’s make mini us!” come in the obnoxious whiny voice that no coworker or friend should or will ever hear. The hubby’s response:-----. (Yes, that is the sound of complete avoidance.)

The fact of the matter is that most men will never experience baby fever. Some behold a baby with the same mixture of horror and befuddlement as they would a tampon. And let’s face it: If they’re not buying into a scheme that involves limitless sex, they’re really scared. For a woman with baby fever, dealing with a partner who is at the other end of the thermometer can create more than just a tepid relationship.

It’s not wise to endlessly postpone motherhood if that’s what you truly want, says Jerilynn Prior, a professor of endocrinology at the University of British Columbia and an expert on women’s hormonal health. “If that’s a strong desire, it’s one of their ideas about themselves that they should be a mother, I think putting it off indefinitely would likely lead to depression,” she says, describing the guilt that she’s found many women feel after delaying pregnancy and then not being able to conceive.

At times the future does look bleak. For example, if my hubby suggests backpacking through South America in two years, I jump to: “So, no baby by then? How dare you say that!” If I really want to wallow in self-pity, I’ll wail: “What if I’m infertile by 30?!” In this version of the future, we’ve sacrificed our healthy childbearing days to groove to some panpipes in Peru.

The question: Can I make like a coal-walker and numb myself to the heat? Is it all merely a figment of my imagination? Prior says that, in some cases, the sensation of baby fever is a combination of culture and neurotransmitters. Interestingly, she says holding someone else’s baby may trigger an emotional response through smell (pheromones).

Perhaps this is what infiltrated Hannah Stringer’s subconscious when she started nannying a baby six years ago. A recent encounter with a former classmate stirred up intense jealousy. “I ran into her and she’s pregnant, and I almost cried,” says the 27-year-old.

Stringer, who is in a serious relationship, has a Chihuahua named Buddy who is serving as the test-run—she has even swaddled him in a blanket and cradled him. She’s also a regular browser at stores like Baby Gap and Old Navy, and has purchased a couple of items there for her nonexistent offspring.

Failing the swaddled dog, there are other ways to cope with relentless daydreams of motherhood. UBC’s Prior recommends setting a timeline for the pregnancy so that you can be more productive in the meantime. And there is another prescription for the fever (are you listening, dear husband?): “Have a baby now! It’s the best thing that ever happened to me,” says SFU’s Cohen.

Oh no. Here it comes!

Those delicate hands, those trusting eyes...what could be more natural than a bayyybee? This oven’s been preheating too long, I’m ready for a bun! Goo-goo ga-ga! I waaaant one!!

Wait. I hear a noise at the door.

Please, let it be the neighbours’ kids coming to play, with their bright smiles—not the collection agency with another unpaid bill.