Last night, I got this letter from my mother (reprinted here with her permission):
When you were about 2, we decided that since you had turned out so well, we would try for another child. Despite our best efforts, including all the tests (everything was normal) and taking of fertility drugs, etc…no luck. We even seriously considered adopting for a while. We were sad we were unable to give you a sibling.
The upside of being an only child was that you had the advantages of the best education, extracurricular activities, international travel, and awesome family vacations. We couldn’t have afforded to do all that with two kids.
However, there was a strange phenomenon surrounding having only one child: I was constantly being asked when we were having another. These questions came from family, friends…even random strangers on the street. Everywhere. All the time (kind of like the over-sharing that comes when you’re pregnant). Eventually, I began to get very defensive: there was always an implied criticism that I was a bad mother? person? for having only one child. How did these people know that there hadn’t been some tragedy or major medical condition that prevented us from having a second child?
I realized that I am doing the same thing to you. It is nobody’s business but yours if you decide to have only one child – whether for economic or other reasons – or if you want to have ten children. I noticed that there is a lot of discussion among all the mothers justifying a decision as to how many children they want/have.
There is enough stress on a new mother without having to worry about what people will think of them if they don’t rush into having a second child (or at least have definite plans for a second child within a specific period of time).
So don’t you worry. Take your time and love your little boy to pieces. It is totally up to you and Kendrick to decide if and when you want to add to your family. I’ll try to keep my nose out of it. And I’m sorry if I ever made you sad or defensive or stressed about this.
There you go. That’s it.
That’s what’s I’ve been trying to put my finger on; what’s been throwing me into such a tailspin about our son’s first birthday. Not anything that any one person (my mother included; she’s wonderful, has never made me feel stressed or sad about this, and is being very hard on herself with this letter) has said or done…but let me tell you: you know how when you’re single, all anyone wants to know is if you’re dating? And then the second you start getting serious with someone, the only question people have for you is “When are you getting engaged?” And then: “When are you getting married?” and “When are you having kids?” And it’s super annoying, because you wish that people would just let you exist in the moment that you’re in for a minute?
Well, it doesn’t stop there. The second – and I mean the second – you actually give birth, the only things people want to talk about are 1) How fast it all goes and how desperately sad you’ll be when your children are grown, and 2) When you’re going to have another. And if you answer “We’re not” or even “I don’t know” to the second question, you better be ready to explain yourself. (And I get it: there is no malicious intent here, only a desire to help and guide…but it’s still absolutely zero fun to be stopped on the street by total strangers who touch your child’s feet with a wistful expression and tell you that he’ll be gone before you know it. I know they’re trying to be nice. It’s still horribly upsetting.)
I am so aware – so aware – that every day that passes is a day with my child that I will never have again. The constant reminders of “how fast it goes” and that I “have to savor every minute”? You know what they’re doing? They’re making me so freaked out about all this savoring that I’m not actually swimming in it; every second, I’m thinking “Am I enjoying this enough?”
Sometimes I sit in the nursery with my son and watch him play, and honestly? I really want to pick up an US Weekly and read about Christina Aguilera while he does his thing…but I can’t. Because I am so terrified of turning around, and boom: he’s grown and out the door, and I spend every day for the rest of my life wishing I had chosen to watch him roll his ball for that one moment rather than do something – anything – else.
This, of course, is crazy. But it’s also impossible to get away from, and the sheer volume and repetition of “your children will grow up far too fast” is enough to break anyone’s heart.
Do we want to have another child? I don’t know. I know that I did wish that I had a sibling growing up, and I wish I had one even now. I also know that I got to do extremely cool things with my parents that I wouldn’t have gotten to do had there been another child around. I know that if we only have one child, he’ll have a very different kind of life – more exciting and easier in some ways, less exciting and harder in others – than if we give him a brother or sister. I know that we can’t imagine moving ahead with another baby right at this very moment, and that if we do decide to have another that we’ll love him or her madly and won’t be able to imagine our lives any other way.
I also know that having a child is in many ways a stroke of the best luck you can ever have, and it may not even be up to us to decide. And whatever ends up happening, of course it’s nobody’s business but our own: I really do know that, and that’s not what’s at stake here. I’m not worried that other people will think we made the wrong decision; I’m worried that if we wait too long or decide not to have another baby for whatever reason, that one day I’ll think that I did.
And most of all, I’m worried that I’ll spend the time that I get with my son – this precious time in the months and years after he first arrived in this world – so focused on the future and our plans and what could be that I’ll forget to pay attention to what is.
Being brave and taking the leap is important – I believe that – but sometimes staying exactly where you are for a moment is just what you need in order to decide how to move forward…or if you’re going to at all.
Sometimes the “right here, right now” isn’t a place you’re in a rush to leave.