When it came to having kids, the question for me was always whether or not I was going to have any at all, not how many. Growing up, men seemed to give so little and expect so much of the women in my family, and most of the adults with kids seemed on edge and cranky the majority of the time.
The whole thing seemed rather over-rated.
Then after graduating high school, my life took an unexpected and completely conventional turn. I met a man, we fell in love, and we moved in together. I married him at age twenty-one, and after a few years I decided that yes, I would be conventional after all. One baby please. We conceived immediately and my baby girl was born in 2011. I was twenty-four.
Everything really was perfect. I loved her more than I knew it was possible to love anything. Every cliché about becoming a mother came to fruition for me. I was elated. My husband was the antithesis of every other man I had grown up around. He changed diapers, made dinner occasionally, and was all around an outstanding father. We were happy. What more could you ask for?
A lot as it turns out.
I was not aware, but there is an unspoken rule that once you open the door to child bearing, attempting to close it after just one evokes a lot of strong opposition from friends, family, and most surprising of all, complete strangers.
The first comment came from an older lady selling Christmas bling at a store when my daughter was just six months old.
“When are we thinking about having a sibling for this little one?” She inquired, as if she were asking when the lease was up on our Kia.
The question took me by surprise — hadn’t I just had a baby? The thought of going through another pregnancy and labor so soon after coming through it had not even crossed my mind. I was still relishing in this perfect little person my husband and I had created together.
I stammered a response, “Oh, well, we haven’t even thought about it. We may just leave it at one I suppose.”
Her response was curt and immediate, “Oh, you can’t do that.”
I gave her a slightly withering look, and continued my shopping. In hindsight, the whole thing was rather hilarious. The audacity of some ornament hawking biddy telling me what I could and could not do with my genitals is pretty ridiculous, but it stuck with me and I began doubting my happiness.
Maybe I should be thinking about a second? Was there something wrong with me for only wanting one child? Would being an only child negatively impact my daughter as she grew up?
Questions began to nag at me, and I suddenly started feeling that perhaps my family was incomplete — that we needed another baby in order to be a more acceptable version of happy.
The comments came more and more frequently as our daughter grew older. Knowing looks and not-so-subtle allusions — “Aren’t you worried the age gap will be too large?” from well-meaning bystanders became commonplace during this time in our lives. My husband became an expert rebuffer, reminding overly excited propagators that children were not potato chips and, yes, you could just have one.
I started a mommy group and began having regular playdates with some of the local moms who had babies the same age. It was fantastic to finally meet some new friends and watch my daughter interact.
Inevitably, once the littles began rounding the corner of their first year of life, the bumps began appearing again. I was excited for my friends, but also genuinely horrified — my pregnancy had been so exhausting, I could not imagine doing it with a toddler to care for as well. I knew then that I certainly was not ready to follow my fertile friends down that particular road just yet. The prospect of another eight months of constant nausea, vomiting, and nose bleeds (I had hyperemesis) did not exactly fill me with tender-hearted nostalgia.
I told my friends, “Maybe another year; we’ll see.”
A few more years have passed since then, our daughter is turning five in three short months and I find myself still wrestling with the reality of raising an only child.
Am I selfish? Am I wrong?
I have two good friends who are currently pregnant with their third. THIRD. I am in awe of them and the strength they show with every mundane activity… even grocery shopping seems like a monumental task with two and a half little ones. They seem to take it all in stride, maybe a bit wild-eyed and quick to cry at life insurance commercials, but surviving.
I tip my hat to them with one hand, and raise the other in surrender. “Not for me!” my brain screams, but every now and then I wonder, well why not me? It’s obviously not as awful as it seems; if it were, why do so many people willingly have more than one?
I won’t lie — I have gotten used to my two-and-a-half hour long breaks while my four year old is in pre-school. It is amazing; I go for runs, I walk the dog, I drink amazing overpriced lattes all alone. I am not ashamed of reveling in this self-time.
I hate the days I feel too drained to be fully present, or the times I allow exasperation to creep into my voice and affect my interactions with her. Like all parents, whether they have one, three, or ten kids, we have some rough days; and it is these days when I think the hardest about what a second would really look like for us.
It’s those (thankfully, infrequent) times, when tears of frustration start collecting in the periphery of my vision, or the all-too familiar feelings of parental inadequacy begin slithering to the surface that I wonder; “Would I cope with a baby right now? Could I possibly be the best version of myself right now for two little ones?”
The truth is, probably not; because no one can really be the best version of themselves in all situations. We are human, and we make mistakes. Voices become raised, words are said in anger, and tears flow for all the wrong reasons — in every family.
I cannot simply look at my daughter and think of her as an “only” child. She is my child. Our child. She is absolutely perfect, and we are so happy in our life. Not even in an obligatory sort of way – my husband’s income allows for me to stay at home, she is attending a good private school in the fall, and there is even talk about a Disney trip in the near future. Many (if not all) of these things would change were we to have a second.
Would it be worth it?
I suppose the uncomfortable truth is — no one really knows. I doubt there are many parents who would openly admit to regretting having a second (or third).
Only one thing is certain; the decision is not so cut and dry.