I didn’t think I’d cry.
I had said my goodbyes months earlier, sitting in the floor, folding and packing away piece after piece of infant apparel, pausing occasionally to bury my face in a onesie and take in the sweetly musty scent of newborn baby. Each outfit seemed absurdly tiny, yet I tearfully reflected on how they had all swallowed Lil’ Bit at various stages throughout her babyhood as I remembered passing the time during my maternity leave with daily fashion photo shoots.
The clothes, ranging from newborn to 12 months, had resided since then in large plastic bins, serving no purpose other than to take up space. So, when daycare announced its annual charitable Christmas re-wrap, it seemed like the perfect chance to both de-clutter and donate to a good cause. And thus, a decision was made.
Having reserved a few carefully-chosen outfits that held special meaning, I steeled myself to let go of the rest – and the possibilities they held. I was at peace with the decision. And yet, the tears still came as I handed the bins of clothes over to the director of our daycare center.
“I’m sorry,” I sniffled, embarrassed. “It’s not the clothes. It’s just the finality of it all.”
And there was indeed an air of finality in the act, as it symbolized a significant decision for my husband and me – namely, our choice to not have anymore children.
We, it had been decided, were one and done.
A Bump in the Road
I had always assumed I would have two kids – no more, no less. Two was simply what I knew, having grown up with a younger brother myself.
Hubs, on the other hand, was perfectly content with having only one. This had long been a point of contention in our relationship whenever the topic of family planning arose, but we eventually met in the middle, each of us agreeing to consider the other’s perspective.
But first we had to get the ball rolling.
Lil’ Bit was a dream baby. Sweet, adaptable, and even-tempered, she ate well and – to my surprised delight – began sleeping through the night at five weeks old. I was utterly in love with her, with motherhood, and with infancy itself.
Around 18 months, however, the headstrong toddler within began to emerge and even dominate that sweet-natured baby. I admit to struggling through this transitional phase and found myself feeling strangely nostalgic for the bygone days of spit-up, blowouts, and round-the-clock feedings.
Hubs, meanwhile, came into his own as a father during this time and seemed in no rush to have another baby.
But just as I was beginning to accept Lil’ Bit’s impending toddlerhood and the new realm of parental gratification it would bring, I found myself with reason to believe I might be pregnant. When I said as much to Hubs, he responded with what could politely be called “practical concern,” as opposed to the excitement with which he had greeted my first pregnancy. And I was crushed.
“You don’t want another baby!” I raged. “You never have! You’re comfortable! Resistant to change! YOU’RE JUST SCARED!!!”
I hurled one accusation after another at him, and later seethed with resentment over the cold sense of trepidation I felt as I awaited the results of a pregnancy test. But along with the veritable flood of relief that washed over me at the sight of the words Not Pregnant, came a startling self-revelation: Neither my trepidation nor my relief were for him.
They were all me.
It was a classic case of projection. In all honesty, I had grown quite accustomed to our lifestyle with one child and the relative flexibility it offered – financially and otherwise.
As I entered my late thirties, in fact, like all old people I found myself becoming more set in my ways and increasingly intolerant of changes to my routine. Thus, the thought of upsetting the delicate balance of our lives with a toddler by introducing a new baby into the mix left me feeling anxious.
What if a second child turned out to be the exact opposite of Lil’ Bit? We had gotten it so right the first time around – why tempt fate? To say nothing of the fact that I didn’t particularly relish the thought of attending my youngest child’s college graduation at almost 60 years old.
And these somewhat frivolous concerns paled in comparison to the very real ones associated with heightened risk factors for pregnancy in women over the age of 35. I enjoyed an easy pregnancy with Lil’ Bit and had no cause to believe a second one would be more difficult; and yet, I couldn’t shake my feelings of fear and unease associated with doing it all over again.
Furthermore, as I continued to watch my daughter grow and thrive, trivial worries surrounding the only-child stereotype began to fade. Through forces of both nature and nurture, I realized she would in no way be spoiled, lonely, or antisocial. Besides, I ruefully noted reflecting on the often-tenuous rapport I share with my own brother, not all sibling relationships are close.
Moreover, I felt satisfied; fulfilled completely by this happy, bright, funny and articulate individual emerging before my eyes. There was no trace of the emptiness I had felt before she entered our lives. I was perfectly content with just her.
And yet, something dark lurked beneath this sense of satisfaction, preying on my greatest fear as a parent and tethering me to the notion of having another child. A rationale too shameful to think, much less speak out loud. Even with gentle prodding from my own husband, with whom I feel I can share anything, the words caught in my throat:
What if something should happen to her – our only child?
Of course it was ludicrous – you can’t stockpile kids. Nor could an additional child or children ever serve as a replacement for one who was lost.
But would he or she or they not provide a sense of comfort and purpose?
Something to live for?
Yes, my husband agreed – but then quietly added that this was not reason enough to have another baby. We can’t live our lives based on fear and what-ifs, he reasoned. And I knew he was right.
He had drawn these conclusions long ago, confident and steadfast as he was in his desire to have only one child. A desire I now realized I shared.
Still, it took me several more months to reconcile the guilt, shame, selfishness and, yes, cowardice I felt as a result. After all, our baby-obsessed culture had ingrained in me the notion that it was my biologically inherent privilege to bring forth life from my womb over and over again. And here I was, willingly and consciously defying the gift.
But I was done. One and done. And cultural perceptions be damned, I had made my peace with it.
On the morning of New Year’s Eve, I brought yet another batch of Lil’ Bit’s outgrown clothes to our local Goodwill store. This time the tears were expected. And so I sat in my car and let them flow.
I cried at the sight of the boxes I had lovingly packed with not-so-tiny-anymore clothes, now sitting discarded beside the loading dock. I cried for phases past, present, and future, so fleeting in nature and not to be recaptured. I cried over the knowledge that I would never be mom to a boy, and for the overabundance of incredibly awesome baby names I wouldn’t get to use.
I cried from a sense of relief and absolution. And from fear. And maybe even a few remaining wisps of doubt.
I cried for the finality of it all.
And then I dried my eyes and drove home to greet a new year with my little family of three.
Next week, I’m pleased to have Leigh Ann from Genie in a Blog, Kristin from Taming Insanity, and Elena from Ciao Mom here to share their own stories surrounding their decisions to grow (or not grow) their families – and how sometimes fate makes the choice for us. Meanwhile, if it’s not too personal a subject, please share your own story here.