Up until recently, I’d pretty much convinced myself that I was going to be okay with just one kid. I cringed when I imagined how hard it’d be to take care of a newborn and a toddler at the same time. I cringed when I imagined how I’d go back to having hardly any time to myself, even less so than the first time around, and how I’d have to put all my teaching and writing projects back on hold. My husband was pretty much in the same boat.
With one, we could gain back our freedom to travel sooner—whether on weekend trips with just the two of us, or family trips that involved more distant locales (even China, I fantacized, for several months… we could rent out our house, take up in some quaint town (or tolerable city), immerse the whole family in Chinese).
Then there was also the question of money and space. With just one child, we would not be pressed to add on to our one bedroom cabin as quickly; we would not be forced to take out a loan before we felt like it was a smart financial decision. Hell, if other factors outweighed a desire for more space, we could even put off remodeling indefinitely. It’s been working out just fine the last couple months with our bed in the living room. Plenty of families all over the world wouldn’t blink an eye at raising a family in 850 square feet.
It wasn’t that I’d made up my mind or anything; I knew that there was a distinct possibility that I could feel totally differently in a year. But when I’d see moms with a baby and toddler and feel a wash of relief that I wasn’t them as opposed to envy, I thought that was a pretty good indicator that I was happy with what we have. Cedar is an awesome kid. But he wasn’t an easy baby with all his food sensitivities and sleeping challenges. He’s bright, active, and will keep delighting and challenging us for years to come. He’ll have plenty of playmates; I don’t think he’ll be lonely. And meanwhile, Matthew and I continue to reclaim vestiges of our former adult life back.
One of the major elements that we’ve recently started to reclaim is sleep. Cedar is finally sleeping through the night, pretty much every night, in his own bed. That doesn’t mean he always gets enough sleep, seeing that he wakes up around 5 a.m. But we no longer have to spend half our night listening for his waking whines, then rushing in to put him back down before he fully wakes. He no longer depends on nursing to fall asleep, and he knows he won’t get any milk from me now until 5 a.m. (which I’d like to try and change to even later; that’s the next goal).
In addition to all this, he just recently started going to sleep without anyone staying in the room with him until he drifts off. This feels huge! We do our usual stories, I leave, then him and Matthew say night-night to various animals, objects, and people, and then they turn on the noise machine, say a final night-night, and Matthew walks out and closes the door. Brilliant. This whole shift happened quite effortlessly one night after Matthew had enough of Cedar squirming about, climbing on top of him, and keeping himself up by distraction. Matthew decided to say goodnight and leave that night—and Cedar let him without a cry of protest. So that was it. Matthew then did the same thing the next few nights, staying in the room for an even shorter amount of time, and Cedar hasn’t protested at all. The most he’s done is get up and crack the door open, listening, then shut it and go back to lie down. I wish I could see what he looks like as he lies there going to sleep on his own and know how long it takes him, mostly to bask in the pleasure of my little guy getting to be so independent and taking so many changes in stride. But I don’t need to see him to know how good it feels to have an entire evening now where me and my husband can both relax, off duty for hours, by ourselves.
So needless to say we’re pretty happy about all this, and it’s probably no coincidence that now that we’ve FINALLY gotten over this poor sleeping hump, I’m lo and behold a bit more open to the idea of having another. It’s totally ironic, yes, that the minute I start sleeping better I’d begin considering being thrown back into total sleep deprivation and chaos. And on top of this, I’m thinking about weaning soon—almost looking forward to it as much as I’m dreading it—and I don’t exactly want to go straight from weaning to nursing again. I’m banking on having at least a good few months, if not more like a year, to remember what it feels like to not be producing milk as a primary occupation.
Here’s the thing. If I wasn’t 37 and a half years old, I wouldn’t be in a hurry. I’d say, let’s wait until Cedar is at least four or five, out of the toddler stage, before we even go there. Let’s give ourselves a few years off from this early intensive stage of parenting. Let’s get our finances together and remodel first, and let’s not kid ourselves about how long that process might take in itself. Let me also get my teaching life that much more established, not to mention self-publish that dusty manuscript of memoirs that I’ve been saying I’m going to publish for so long. Let me achieve some major goals that make me feel good and satisfied as a writer, before I dive back into the intense beauty and torture that is mothering a newborn. In other words: let’s take our time and think about it.
But the reality is, I don’t have a ton of time. After you hit 35, it becomes significantly harder to get pregnant each year that passes—the curve sharpens dramatically. I know people over 40 who are trying to get pregnant now, and who are mourning their belated realization of just how much difference a year makes at this stage. I know that if I were to decide that I did indeed want another one, I should just bite the bullet and do it NOW, or in the next year at least, because wouldn’t that suck to finally decide you wanted one and then to not be able to get pregnant?
Other people my age seem to know this too, because there’s been an explosion of births in my world this spring. I know of seven or eight women in my son’s preschool co-op class alone who just gave birth to their second or are due in the coming months. Then there are my friends on Facebook; the three babies born recently on my block; two of my oldest, dearest friends; and, finally, my sister who gave birth just last Friday.
Seeing people get pregnant and hold their new amazing babies doesn’t have anything to do with my new (old, revitalized) line of thought, does it? Nah…. Of course having lots of pregnant women and babies around me is tugging at my tender heart strings that holds this process up as one of the most amazing gifts in life of all; of course it is. But I also want to make sure that I’m not just caving to some kind of socially accepted norm and unspoken peer pressure—the kind that carves into our psyche from the time we are young that families are supposed to consist of two parents and two or three kids; and that it’s the most natural wonderful thing in the world to want more than one.
I told my husband the other day, the same day we went to meet my sister’s new baby, that I wanted to talk to him about the possibility of having another. He immediately got defensive and antagonistic, forcing me to play devil’s advocate and act as if I indeed knew I wanted another one, when what I really wanted to do was just explore and hash out the idea verbally, see how it sounded saying it aloud, return to the part of me that had always imagined I’d like to have two, a pair of playmates, a pair to grow old with, share holidays with, share affections with, preferably a daughter and a son, the so-called “perfect” family.
I also told my husband the story of some friends of ours, a couple who was trying to decide if they wanted to have another. After much soul-searching they finally decided that no, they did not, they were fine, they were done. And then the minute they decided this and made it real, they realized that they did indeed still want another. It’s that element of regret at play. Wanting what you could have had, but didn’t choose.
The thing is, how many parents ever regret having a child, whether that child is number one or number five? It seems like once you have a child, once they are real and breathing and in your life, there are few who would ever, on a deep soul level, regret having that child. The thought would be unspeakable, for that baby was here and thus meant to be. It might have made your life insufferably hard for many years, but in the end, it was worth it right? You wouldn’t have had it any other way? Or is it simply such an unspeakable taboo that we never hear from the parents who do?
That’s how it seems to work. Once they are here, you can’t imagine them never having been here. But what if you wanted a child, but never had one? Or never had the second one? It seems like the possibility to regret is much greater. I am almost 40, but I still have many years ahead of me to nurture students and to write and publish books. I am almost 40, but I don’t have many years ahead to have more children. This, my dear husband, is why I’m now starting to talk to you about this. This, because it does feel like now or never time. This, because even though we are both still on the fence, we love each other deeply, and if we do want this, we can make it happen. This because it will always be scary to contemplate something so huge as to choose to bring another life into the world and your life. But it will not always be possible to do so.
This is what I don’t want: I don’t want to passively choose to not have another one (by letting time slip away) because of money or space issues. Those are the things that we can figure out, make work. And nor do I want to passively choose to have one (how could you, really?) because of a fear that I would regret it if not. If we have another one, I want it to be because we are so fucking excited by the possibility of being able to experience the miraculous process of coming to know a new being so intimately related to the both of us, and yet so ultimately unknown and mystical, and to know all the joy and riches that such a darling spirit could bring into our lives. That leap of faith.
Yes, there’s always the chance that she/he could have a birth defect, or be a terribly difficult bad seed. (I have yet to see, Dear Kevin, but it’s on our queue). But chances are, they wouldn’t. And even if so, then they’d be meant to be ours to love and grow with anyway. I know of no other “path” than parenthood that rocks your world so tremendously, and that if you choose to accept and let it, will transform you in brilliant ways in the making. Despite all the sleep deprivation, time alone deprivation, and undeniable challenge and hardship.
What I want is to take a poll of all the new moms of two out there and to ask you: tell me the truth, how hard is it? How much sleep do you get, how much time do you get to yourself and with your husband? How much harder is it to balance the whole work-family continuum with two than one? Do you ever get pangs of regret? I want to hear from the new parents, not the seasoned ones who have made it past the hardest years and are now coasting in the land of “kids are in school during the day” and “couldn’t imagine it any other way”. I want to hear from the newbies because if we do choose to go this route, I want to know what I’m in for. I don’t want to fool myself into thinking I might be that much wiser at hiring help or carving out more time for myself this time around that I’d avoid all the depressing, suffocating pitfalls of new-immersion-motherhood.
I’ve already heard sentiments from moms of two young ones about how it now feels like a “break” when you “just” have the baby to watch, and not both kids. My selective memory is remembering the days of long stroller walks where you could have long continuous conversations with other new moms and get exercise at the same time while watching the baby, and thinking, that wasn’t so bad… But then simultaneously wondering if this kind of activity would be the closest thing to a regular “break” that I’d get in a long time. And, of course, my problem is that I don’t just want your typical mom “breaks” to go work out, go to the spa, or to read on the couch—I want those too, yes, on occasion, but mostly I want time to write and do my work (writing and teaching)-- work that doesn’t pay much if any money.
So my conundrum has always been how to afford a babysitter to do my work that doesn’t pay for a sitter, and still have time left over for yoga or walks or necessary mental health breaks. In short, if I decide to have another, am I deluding myself if I think that I’ll somehow manage to have time for all of these? I can handle a sacrificial period without for maybe six months or so. But after that, I want back to it. I want to write, I want to teach, I want to work. This calling is like another child of mine, one I must take seriously. I don’t want to return to that deep motherhood cocoon quite so wholeheartedly as I did the first time. I want that elusive work-life balance.
My husband (and my selective memory) would do well to keep reminding me about how miserable I’ve been at times during the last couple years, and how it is only just in the last six months or so that I’ve had the energy, resolve, and time to teach again, in addition to everything else. Nobody needs to remind me of the joy of motherhood though. That reminder is breathing and singing and screaming with me every day.
Anyway. I know that after hashing it all out, by myself and with my husband, I know that in the end it won’t be a rational decision. It will either be a clear (but slightly fearful) yes or a clear (but slightly wistful) no resonating from within my heart.