This Is The Second Child Conundrum
I’ve made several attempts in the past year or two to get rid of my old maternity clothes. The most I’ve done is shove them deeper in the back of the bottom drawer with a pair of genie pants and a skirt I never wear but can’t part with because it has pockets.
Cleaning out my 4-year-old son’s closet is even worse. Each of those attempts has been met with crying, followed by a pity party – my favorite kind of party because it can be done in PJs – where I drink wine, watch The Office, and order a ukulele that will never see the light of day.
It’s strange. I don’t particularly like babies. I’m not the woman drooling over an infant at parties, waiting for my turn at a whiff of that “newborn smell.” I will never ask to hold a baby. It won’t even occur to me. If someone offers, I will panic on the inside as I politely reach out for the little bundle as if it’s an expertly swaddled bomb that can detonate any minute.
And yet, like a true masochist, I’ve spent the last couple of years mourning the fact that I won’t have any more children.
I make elaborate calculations in my head like a mad scientist trying to figure out whether a second child is something I really want or something I’ve been conditioned to believe I want or need. Whether the stress, the juggle of life, reviving my career (or starting over), my marriage, and the ridiculous cost of raising a kid in Los Angeles is worth it. I still don’t know.
It’s a constant battle between profound relief and deep, aching regret. While my heart is in pieces, my brain is like, “Bitch, are you crazy? We can finally day drink and hang out with adults who don’t berate us for flushing their poop because they weren’t done looking at it.”
Yet there is something so sacred and irreplaceable about growing up with siblings who understand your journey and all the baggage that comes along with it. And I’m afraid I’ve deprived my son of that.
Every milestone, every celebration or obstacle, my siblings have been by my side, either consoling me, giving me brutally honest advice or forcing me to listen an Oprah podcast. My relationship with them — with my sister’s kids (and eventually my brother’s) whom I’ve voluntarily held and love unconditionally like my own son — has been my built-in support system.
My father passed away two years ago. Looking back I wonder if I could have stood at that hospital bed, watching him pass away and bore the grief alone, without them by my side.
Coming to terms with the decision to raise an only child is a journey and a quiet heartbreak I’m going through alone because my husband and I are not on the same page. We’re practically on different books (or in his case, still working on a 1998 issue of The New Yorker). He’s made his peace with one child and has left me to make mine.
And sometimes I feel that I have. Just when I’ve thought I’ve pushed away the remorse, bitterness and – if you will – major FOMO, along come family, friends, acquaintances whose names I’ve long forgotten, and my neighbor’s nanny violently being pulled by her employer’s golden retriever as usual, reminding me “how sad” it is that my son will be alone, how “selfish” I am. (If I had a dollar for every time someone casually called me selfish, as if they’ve just told me the weather forecast, I could finally pay off my student loans and easily afford another child).
I was recently at a baby naming party, drinking my mimosa, having small talk with someone’s mother when the topic of having another child came up, as it always does at these things (hence the mimosa). “He will resent you when he grows up,” this relative stranger wags her finger at me, as if my life choices will directly affect her. “He will never forgive you.”
On a very rational level, I don’t believe her. I know she’s out of line. But here’s how people like this fuck with you when you’re already vulnerable; you end up lying awake wondering, what if she’s right. What if he ends up becoming a murderer and when a Netflix documentary about him inevitably airs he will say ”this wouldn’t have happened if I wasn’t an only child”?
I know people who are an only child, and while they never admit that “oh yeah, I loved playing Monopoly by myself. I always won,” they are also not crazy, sad, lonely psychopaths. (And if they are, it’s for totally difference reasons).
Fortunately for all the obliviously tactless people advising me to “trick” my husband, or indirectly asking if there’s something wrong with me (“so strange that a man doesn’t want more kids”), there’s been many women who either are going through the same struggle or have in the past and very frankly and graciously share their own personal stories without pretending they have the answers.
“Do whatever the fuck you want” is what they inevitably tell me, advising me to turn off the noise, or not take my husband’s aloofness about the matter to heart, that men in general just don’t bare the brunt of many domestic challenges like we do. They reassure me that no matter what my son will be fine. And I believe them. I really do because I know having one child is not a tragedy. I’m grateful for the beautiful, healthy, smart, poop-obsessed little boy I get to cuddle with every day.
I owe it to him to stop mourning for someone who never existed and instead cherish these days with him before he turns into a mobile teenager with a car.
My job is to put my energy into creating an environment for him where he can make and cultivate meaningful relationships with friends, cousins and like-minded colleagues along the way who will be by his side in happy and difficult times, advising him, loving him, inviting him for the holidays and sending him unsolicited podcast recommendations.
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