In the months after we brought home our first baby, I wore the crown of new motherhood with pride, self-righteousness even. I had accepted my calling as a mother, and I had a wonderful baby who was going to receive the benefits of my undivided attention as a stay-at-home mom. I was going to apply all the educational and disciplinary philosophies I’d learned in graduate school to make this child well-mannered, bright and creative. I was an attachment parent who jumped to attention every time my baby whimpered, day or night. She was my tabula rasa, and I just knew, deep down, that I was a master sculptor.
I imagined myself being so talented at this motherhood thing that I’d do it again and again. That was around the time that I started reading blogs written by other moms, my favorites being the ones authored by women who parented five or six well-adjusted kids, ran creative businesses of their own, and still had time to style their hair. I was inspired by them and imagined my own home full of loving little ones, eager to please mama. I could be that woman, I assumed. After all, I’d achieved everything else I’d set out to do in my previous 26 years.
But there was something I hadn’t factored in: Kids will break you.
My baby didn’t turn out to be one of those “good babies” who sleeps through the night, adapts easily to new people and environments, and shows a natural inclination to please her parents. Instead, I got a spirited, “high-needs” baby who was still waking me up six to eight times a night until I finally broke down and “Ferberized” her at 15 months (so much for attachment parenting!). And that baby turned into a toddler who decided she was not going to clean up her toys no matter what reasonable requests or unreasonable threats I made.
So what did I do? I went and had another baby—another high-needs baby, I might add (not surprising given that my husband and I are pretty high-needs adults). I certainly wasn’t “trying again,” so to speak, to see if I might have better luck forcing a second baby to comply with my vision of the type of child my inspired parenting should produce. It had just never occurred to me to stop at one. In fact, I was convinced I’d have at least three children right up until my second baby’s first birthday, around the time when her personality started to shine through and we realized there were no “good babies” in the cards for us.
But now, at 32, raising two young girls in Texas where large families are the norm, I’m often asked, “When will you have another?”
How does one politely say that they love their children desperately but don’t want more?
Motherhood was supposed to be this all-encompassing but endlessly rewarding endeavor. When I left my career as an educator, I was prepared to give myself fully to the process, and I was certain that it would provide every ounce of fulfillment I could possibly require. Isn’t that the myth of motherhood?
For me, becoming a mother meant putting aside my own identity: no more Tuesday night ballet classes, no more Friday nights at the bar, no more reading for pleasure, no more long Sunday brunches with girlfriends, no more vacations in Paris. Everything just ground to a halt.
And for a while, I was OK with that. I was devoted to getting this motherhood thing right, and I believed wholeheartedly that the best way to achieve that was to make my children’s happiness and well-being my sole priority. I’ve spent the last five years in what can only be described as a “haze” of motherhood, feeling like I was just hanging onto my wits by a thread. But I can see the fog is lifting, and slowly, I’m starting to feel myself springing back to life as my children become more independent. Call me selfish, but I’m not ready to head back into the fog again with a newborn.
Plus, there’s the degree of chaos another child brings. I’m someone whose brain feels scattered when her house is a wreck. I’m coming to recognize that I’m just not cut out for the heaps of toys and mountains of laundry and dishes that come with a gaggle of kids. I’m not the type of woman who can easily ignore the chaos to sit down and play a board game with her kids instead.
And there you have it: I don’t want any more kids because I’m selfish and uptight, at least that’s how it feels. Mothers are supposed to be able to somehow suppress their own needs, desires and preferences for a lifetime of enjoyment derived by virtue of their being parents. But it’s not all fun and games. It’s a lot of sleepless nights and foggy days—a lot of time on the back burner of your own life.
What really scares me is that I believe, someday, I’ll look back on these years and understand that they were the most precious of my life: having little ones at home to love and care for with very little outside influence. Maybe what’s to come is even more challenging. Or maybe I’ll look back and wish I hadn’t been so selfish—that I’d had that third baby, another person in my life to love. It’s a struggle, especially knowing that the clock is ticking.
So I ask myself: Does knowing my limits make me a bad mother? Do I love my babies less if I admit to not wanting six of them, or am I a happier, more loving one? I know the answer, but it doesn’t stop me from feeling guilty saying, “We’re done.”