Not even a month after having my son, my mother casually asked me when I was planning on giving him a sibling. Up to that point, I probably hadn’t slept a full night since giving birth.
My body still felt like the remains of a battlefield, post-war – nothing left but a reminder of the trauma my uterus had been through, like smoke hovering over a mountain range with no sign of dissipation.
It wasn’t just the birth. My whole pregnancy felt like a never-ending upward battle. I wasn’t one of those lucky women that “glowed” with pregnancy hormones.
I didn’t lavish in all of the attention and perks (if you could even call them that) I received for being “with child.” I never felt “blessed” or like I was carrying around a “miracle” (as so many bystanders would remind me of on a near daily basis).
Don’t misconstrue these admissions – I was always HAPPY to be having a baby. I was ECSTATIC I would soon be a mom. But nothing about pregnancy made me feel grateful. Mostly, it was just a painful, uncomfortable burden that I had to struggle with for ten months. Then, when it came time to the actual birth, I was in active labor for 48 hours. Even with meds, I thought I was going to die. It felt like every single one of my bone was breaking. The fact that I didn’t pass out from the pain was the only “miracle” of that entire situation.
But none of these tribulations were the worst part. It was the months afterward that cemented my decision not to breed again. My after-birth experience was marked with crippling postpartum depression, exhaustion, and severe anxiety – characteristics I had never really experienced prior to pregnancy and traumas I still have to navigate from time to time – three years later.
So when my mom hinted at another baby – as innocent as her intentions were – the idea made me viscerally ill. It made me want to cocoon into myself and never let anything near or inside me again, Of course, I never admitted this. What new parent thinks like that? I casually explained to my mom that I didn’t think i wanted a second baby and this spurred into months of arguments and attempts on her part to convince me otherwise.
For context (so as not to come across COMPLETELY cold and mallous), I grew up with a sister. We were – and still are – very close. I feel incredibly fortunate I had her in my life. Similarly, my mom grew up with two brothers who took on the responsibility of caring for her throughout her childhood. Both my mom’s parents died at an early age and her brothers was all she had left. In my mom’s mind, it was her brothers who got her through some very difficult times and she truly believes all kids deserve siblings for emotional and mental support.
I get that. On a fundamental, rational, emotional, and comprehensive level – I totally understand the valuable and unique bond between siblings. It’s unlike any other love.
Unless it isn’t.
Here’s the other side of that whole story: My mother ALSO had a sister who (for all sakes and purposes) was a horrible human being. In fact, my mom cut contact with her sister early on in life and didn’t even attend her sister’s funeral upon learning of her death.
My point is: family IS important but it also isn’t guaranteed. Having kids doesn’t automatically mean they will like each other and be close. There are plenty of estranged families; parents and sibling that can’t stand to be in the same room with one another. Sharing a blood type does not automatically correlate to a long-lasting bond. Just because you hope your kids will be tight, this doesn’t mean they will end up sharing friends and interests and secrets. Furthermore, i’m not convinced having another kid for the sake of having a built-in babysitter/play-partner is the best reason to reproduce.
I bring this up because my mom is one of hundreds of people who have inquired why I’m not having a second child. I’m not referring just to close friends and family – I’m talking passengers on planes, bartenders, baristas, sales clerks, even my son’s preschool teacher. And quite frankly, I’m over it. It’s rude and passive-aggressive and makes me feel like I cheated my son out of something that in indebted to him.
Now, i don’t care if you ask me if I’m planning on having another child. That’s a fair question and in no way imposing or insulting. But when I say no, I expect you to just smile and nod, even if you think I’m making a mistake or being selfish. But that’s rarely the response. Instead, the overwhelming reactions are either disappoint (“oh, that’s too bad”), pitty (“that poor kid is going to grow up an only child. Hopefully he doesn’t get only-child syndrome”) or a foreboding warning (“you’ll regret that one day”). These responses are equally hurtful as they are insulting.
Look If YOU want to have a second or third or fourth child, by all means, be my guest. I thinks it’s wonderful and admirable, but it’s simply not for me. I’m not emotionally, physically, financially, or mentally prepared to have a second kid and I’m tired of having to explain this to people. Nor should I HAVE to explain this to people – particularly strangers.
You think it’s paramount my son has a sibling? Then YOU have a child for me. YOU spend ten months carrying around a baby. YOU pay for the medical bills. YOU go through the delivery. YOU deal with the potential postpartum depression and sleepless nights. YOU spend your workdays hiding in a closet, pumping milk. YOU pay for the doctor visits and clothing and food and school and everything else that comes with being a kid. Then, I’m all for it! Bring on a second child.
But you don’t have to deal with all of those hurdles, I do. So please, stop telling moms what they should or shouldn’t be doing with their bodies or their children. We all have our stories and reasons for the families and lives we’ve carved out for ourselves. My son is very much loved, happy, and well taken care of. Instead of lecturing moms like myself, try this instead: Give us a big pat on the back and let us know we’re doing a great job. That’s it. That’s the only say you should have in the matter. That’s the only thing most moms want or need to hear.