For many of my friends, today is the first day of school for their children. Needless to say, my social media timelines have been filled with posts like this:
“I can’t believe it’s my baby’s first day of Kindergarten. My mama heart isn’t ready for this.”
“My babies are growing up way too fast!”
“I wish I could freeze time. I want them to stay little.”
“Please don’t grow up on me.”
Actually, if I’m being honest, I see these kinds of posts on social media every single day. There’s probably just a higher concentration of them today because of the back to school business. In any case, every time I read these posts, I feel a little pang in my heart, a little voice in my head saying “Why don’t you feel this way? How come you aren’t sad that your baby is growing up? Why don’t you want her to stay little like everyone else? WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU?!”
If you have talked to me in real life, or even just online, any time in the past two years or so, you probably know that I’ve been struggling with the question of whether or not have another child for quite some time now. If you know my back story, you know that for many years I confidently declared that I was never going to have children, though if I’m being 100% honest, even then I knew there was a good chance I’d change my mind someday. And change my mind I did. Once I got pregnant (100% planned), I initially thought “Ok, we’ll have two kids, two or three years apart, & while it might be hard at first, it will be easier in the long run.” Then our daughter came along & she was jaundiced & somewhat prone to colic. I struggled with breastfeeding & PPD & suddenly I realized “Yeah, I won’t be having another baby any time soon.” Well, five & half years have gone by & I STILL don’t feel ready to face all of that stuff again.
To be clear it’s not pregnancy itself that’s holding me back. While I definitely wasn’t one of those “glowing” pregnant women, I didn’t hate being pregnant either. But neither did I absolutely love it like some women do. Nor is it childbirth holding me back. As painful as that was, if that were the only thing I was hesitant about, I’d be able to get over that in a heartbeat. But no, it’s not any of that that’s holding me back. It’s everything that comes afterward. It’s the long, lonely, sleepless nights. The feelings of helplessness when you can’t soothe your baby any way other than breastfeeding but you’re so touched out that you just want to scream (& sometimes do). It’s the PPD that has colored all of my memories from my daughter’s early months/years. It’s the constant feeling of “I have no idea what I’m doing & I don’t feel naturally suited for this one bit.”
You see, I’m the kind of mom who enjoys her kid more the older she gets, who truly doesn’t miss the baby stage. I’m the kind of mom who hates lots of noise & chaos. I’m the kind of mom who can’t stand crying babies & toddler tantrums but loves teaching her child how to read & write & do math. I find it quite natural to handle my daughter’s emotions when she’s upset about something now that she can verbalize what is bothering her. Even when she’s crying or frustrated, I am good at walking her through those emotions & validating them while also teaching her that she does have to find useful ways to act on those emotions. Because of this I truly believe I won’t struggle that much during her teenage years. (Go ahead & laugh. Everyone always told me I’d regret wanting to grow up but you know what? I don’t. I love being an adult. So there!) As a nurse I know how to handle difficult conversations about mortality & death. I know how to hold the hand of the dying & not be afraid. So talking to my child about difficult subjects? Yeah, I’ve got that covered. No problem.
But dealing with a fussy baby or completely irrational toddlers? Nope, that’s a whole other ball game to which I do not feel at all qualified. Now obviously I survived it once & therefore it would probably be “easier” to repeat the experience, because almost everything is easier the second time, but the fact remains that I just don’t WANT to do it again. And frankly that’s all that really matters, isn’t it? Isn’t it more important that my husband & I maintain our own mental health so that we can successfully raise the child we already have rather than sacrificing that just to have another? Whatever anyone else may think, I certainly think the answer is yes.
At times do I feel like I’m depriving my child of the blessing of having a sibling? Or my parents the blessing of having another grandchild? Yes, absolutely. And those are no doubt reasons why I’ve felt like I “should” have a second baby. And, of course, like everyone, I also suffer from FOMO (fear of missing out)- worries like “Will I regret this someday in the future?” And naturally there is always the feeling of “Well, everyone else has had a second (or third or fourth) kid. Why haven’t you? If they can all handle more than one kid, why can’t you?” Trust me, those thoughts run through my mind more than I’d like to admit.
But at the end of the day, my parents, nor my daughter, would be raising any additional child we should have. My husband & I would be. And if we truly don’t feel like having another one, none of the above reasons matters, not one single bit. Furthermore, when I’ve really examined my reasons for wanting a second child, what I’ve found is that most of them are more along the lines of “Well, you’re SUPPOSED to want another kid” rather than an active desire for one. And frankly that is nowhere near good enough of a reason to bring another life into this crazy world.
So how have I finally started to come to peace with this decision? Well, that’s a big question. One thing I’ve realized is that a lot of moms base their identity on being moms. This is probably one reason that “Mama” T shirts are such a big item these days. And by no means am I saying this is wrong or unhealthy, although I do think there are times when some women expect too much from their kids because of failed relationships. But that’s a whole other blog post right there. The point is, as much as being a mom is my most important role, & as much as it’s the fulcrum on which I make almost every life decision these days, it is not how I identify as a person. Or at least it’s only one of many ways, if that makes any sense. The sense I get is that a lot of women find their value in being needed by their children. For better or worse, I’m just not like that. I find value more in what I can teach my child, just like as a nurse I find my value more in what I can teach my patients & in helping them make informed choices about their health rather than purely in “taking care” of people. What it boils down to is I already felt like a valuable human being before becoming a mom. I already felt like I had a purpose. So being a mom didn’t “save me” the way it does for a lot of women. And again, there is nothing wrong with those who do feel that way. In many ways, I am jealous of such women because I figure they can handle the trials of motherhood better, knowing how much it has also transformed their lives. I mean, if I found a lot of value in my child needing me, I’d probably have handled breastfeeding & colic a lot better. Just saying…
Having said all that, I am finding peace with this decision to be a “one & doner” largely from realizing what I already knew before becoming a mom: I have other uses in this world. Being a mom is a wonderful thing, no doubt, & my child is my greatest & most important “project,” no questions asked. But there are still a lot of other useful roles I can serve in our society that aren’t centered around producing progeny. A lot of this is wrapped up in my career as a nurse of course. But there are other things I do that I think are useful, like donating blood regularly & even writing this blog. And as arrogant or obnoxious as it may sound, I think one of my greatest “callings” in life is simply being a person who encourages people to ask questions, to think about things in new & different ways, to question the “accepted norms” of society, & to be more empathetic, even to those who might seem unworthy. That’s largely what I’m trying to accomplish with this blog- that & just trying to maintain my own sanity of course.
Now obviously most women who have more than one child fulfill many of the same functions in society I just mentioned (& many other functions too). But the fact remains that I don’t think I could do all of these things nearly as well if my sanity were stretched any thinner by having a second child. If other women can (& do) handle multiple kids & work & volunteering, etc, that’s fantastic. But I know my limits & that’s all there is to it.
Lastly, I’m not ruling out the possibility of changing my mind on this. Anything is possible. But I think it’s unlikely at this point. As proof, last week I gave away some of my daughter’s baby clothes to a family in an adjoining neighborhood who are about to become foster parents. That’s something that I have struggled with so much over the years, but finally I was able to do it & not feel super conflicted about it. To be clear, are there moments when I feel sad knowing I’ll likely never use some of her cute baby outfits again? Absolutely. But like all hard decisions, it’s not “black & white.” It’s ok to feel some sadness but also know you’ve made the right choice (same as leaving a job where you like your coworkers but the role has become toxic for whatever reason).
So, if you’re reading this, & you only have one child & really don’t want another one, no matter how much you love the one you have, just know you are not alone. You are not crazy. You are not doing your current child, your parents, your spouse, or the world a disservice by being a “one & doner.” And you can vent to me any time you like about anyone who tries to make you feel bad about your decisions.