I Want A Second Baby, But I’m Terrified
Having my first baby in a pandemic left me scarred.
I want to have another child, I do. But after having our first during the pandemic, I’m seriously questioning whether I have it in me.
Our baby is approaching her first birthday, and we’re already getting the inevitable questions about whether we’ll have a second. I feel the pressure to make a decision slowly mounting, like a tide coming in. I’m not that young in the grand scheme of parenting, and I know that the window for making that decision is small. But how can I decide when there are so many good reasons to have another kid – and yet the thought of raising one fills me with dread?
It’s not that I can’t see how having another child would benefit our family. Now that our baby is more mobile, she plays by herself a lot. When I look at her in her pen, picking up the same toys she sees every day, moving them around with some kind of private logic, the image strikes me as a little lonely. I picture a smaller version of herself sitting in there, smiling up at her, inviting a secret sort of communication.
But then my mind’s eye sees the younger one suddenly erupting in tears, needing to be picked up, needing to be fed, needing so much. And I think back to the first months of my daughter’s life, which began in a sunny fall but faded into a long, dark stretch of winter when the first Omicron surge hit New York. We didn’t have anyone over for weeks out of fear of exposing her, meaning that we had no help and, more painfully, no sense of community since the parent friends I’d made were just as nervous as I was to meet indoors. I was painfully sleep-deprived; disagreements over how cautious we should all be felt like an awkward, edgy wedge between my spouse and I, or between us and others.
When I contemplate having another baby, I’m reminded of how surreal and exquisite those very first days were with a newborn. My hands remember the weight of a tiny body – bare, warm, round, as if molded to whatever body part of mine she laid against. It went by so fast that I feel like it got away from me, and I want to chase that high like a drug. That feeling of clarity, peace, like for once in this frenetic, multi-tasking life, nothing else mattered.
But then I recall the constant background stress of trying to protect her fragile, unformed immune system from getting sick. How even our own mothers, flying in from other states to meet their first grandchild, took multiple home tests and wore masks for days before tentatively revealing their faces to her. Or how we’d tense up when we handed her over to a friend or relative, worrying afterwards that their masks were too loose, or too thin. I think of how a stranger’s small cough at the grocery sent a little shot of fear through our spines.
While I’ve never been one of those people with a hyper-specific image of what my family should be like, I have always vaguely defaulted to the idea of having two kids. I was one of two. My mom was one of two. “Party of four” is such a nice, square number – one face at each corner of the table.
But then every day I read headlines about a potentially looming recession and the thought of financially supporting an additional dependent for two decades seems wildly optimistic at best, deeply ill-advised at worst. I think about how oppressive it was to spend so much time at home in an apartment with a baby after already having spent a year and a half cooped up trying to be responsible citizens. How it felt like all of this was kind of a giant joke when, just before she turned nine-months-old, she finally got COVID anyway despite the fact that we still hadn’t been eating at restaurants inside. I give thanks for the fact that she didn’t have a terrible case, but curse the fact that we apparently still can’t let our guards down because reinfections are now shown to be equally bad or worse (!).
For now, I’m putting the decision aside and just trying to take things one day at a time. I know that this time will fly by, and I want to be present for every shaky step and slurred syllable, without letting worry about a hypothetical future bog me down. If the past few years have taught me anything, it’s that life is unpredictable, and maybe (hopefully) there’ll come a day when someone asks me what we’ll do, and Future Me will just know.
Annie Midori Atherton is a writer and mom based in Seattle, WA. Her writing focuses on parenting, culture, and any question that seeks to explain why we are the way we are. In past lives she's been COO of The Financial Diet, fundraiser at a nonprofit serving seniors, barista, solo backpacker, and chronic forgetter of personal possessions, all of which have involved valuable lessons. Get in touch at email@example.com.