I have officially and firmly decided not to have any more children. I had been on the fence about this ever since the birth of my daughter, 16 months ago. One would think that I had time and wouldn’t need to worry about it all that much just yet but at 35, and with my husband and I both agreeing that if there was a second child they should be within two years of each other, the time for deciding was now.
We had sort of reluctantly decided to have a second baby, despite still reeling from the sleep deprivation of our first, despite concerns about affording the type of life we wanted, despite a few other various concerns… because we believe in siblings. We come from big families and neither one of us can wrap our heads around a life where this is just one child.
The past few days I began to think I might be pregnant. A familiar feeling of “not quite right” came over me, a particular distaste for the sight and smell of food and coffee. I spent two days feeling pregnant and thinking about the reality of that. Nine months of exhaustion and illness and carpal tunnel and inflamed psoriatic arthritis to look forward to, a year of chained-to-the-house-so-the-baby-is-on-schedule after that. What about our strong urge to travel the world as often and as easily as possible? What about my desire to go back to school? What about the difficulty of financially and emotionally dividing attention in yet one more direction? What about my marriage and my relationship with my husband? When does that get some of my attention again? What about dates and romance and sex?
My heart sank as I thought about it. I didn’t want any of that. Not the illness, not the year of isolation, not the potty training one while wearing another. I didn’t want to put off any more personal or family goals. I didn’t want to spend another year or more with my husband on the other side of a baby instead of wrapped up in each other once in a while. I didn’t want another baby.
People, women especially, tell me I will. I’ll get past this general fatigue and forget the hard stuff. I’ll miss newborn snuggles and impishly delightful toddler grins. I have no doubt that is all true. I have no doubt that I will, eventually, nostalgically, long for another baby. That sweet, inimitable newborn smell, those very first gummy smiles, the victory of learning a new personality and the joy of watching yet another beloved grow and learn. Of course I will want that.
Reality is, and let me be clear when I say, MY reality is, I can understand in this moment that I am going to want that because I am a mammal. I am a species focused on perpetuation and preservation and my mammalian body and instinct tells me that to reproduce is to survive – and so I will tenderly recall small moments and forget the harder, larger ones, and will turn my heart towards new life.
The second reality is that I am evolved. I am a thinking and intellectual life form. I can look, with understanding and sympathy at the animal piece of myself, and deny it. I can apply my intellect to the greater reality of my personal choices in life and love, to my prioritized list of wants and desires, to those of my partner and spouse. I can look at all of the pros and cons of a situation and make a decision that takes all of it into consideration.
I do not want another baby. (And, for the record, I am not less of a woman for knowing and saying so. Just as you are not more or less of a woman for wanting a dozen more babies. We do not need to want each others lives to support and love one another.) My husband, though he agreed to a second when I insisted, did not want another baby. Our goals for our lives and for our daughter would not support another baby. I understand that I will sometimes feel sad and conflicted about this decision, but I also know fully that it is the truth.
I took a pregnancy test and it came back negative. I am fortunate to come to this understanding for myself and my family while I am still in a position to determine the outcome. If we had been pregnant we would have taken a deep breath, steadied ourselves, and welcomed a new life with joy and passion. Our wants and desires would have changed to accommodate what was instead of what could have been. Fortunately, they don’t have to.
There is a sweet peace that fills my today. Suddenly life seems a little less hurried, the frustrations are a little less frustrating. Long naps with my daughter, in which she insists on staying latched on and I am forced to lay with her, seem a treasure. I want to study her and memorize this singular moment because I will never have this again. Suddenly she is the only baby of mine who will throw food at dinner, spit milk out and giggle, decide to wean months and months later then I would have chosen. She is the only one that I will have to research illnesses and strategies for, decide on television rules and menus for, breathe with through tantrums. This is the only time in my life where I will need to back burner all but the most immediate needs of my husband and our marriage, the only time we will have to wait patiently for our turn with each other. All of those moments have now become treasures. There is no idea in the back of my head that after this one I will do this again with another, there is no urge to just ‘get on with it already’. This is my chance. This is our only chance to carry a tiny child who calls us Mama and Daddy, to bedshare until she is sick of it, to set aside our wants and needs for. My day is colored with gratitude for every moment that I get to live with this sweet girl of mine.
It is a bittersweet thing, deciding to support one piece of yourself at the cost of another. Either way you feel divided. Today, however, I am focusing all my energy on the sound of my very favorite giggle in hopes of memorizing it’s perfection.
I don’t need to recreate today, I only need to live it.