Motherhood Week: Indecision 2017

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I wasn’t sure I would become a mother. I struggled with the question for years. I fretted about the loss of freedom. I worried I would become someone I didn’t recognize. And then, I found myself pregnant. Nine months later I had a daughter.

The early months were harder than I ever could have imagined. There is nothing that can prepare you for a newborn’s raging neediness. But eventually we settled into a rhythm, and I began to feel human again.

Still, I knew I wouldn’t have another kid. More kids mean more work, work I wasn’t sure I wanted to do in the first place. I love my daughter fiercely. I am eternally grateful that she exists. But the labor of raising a young child is grueling.

Magda Pecsenye of AskMoxie phrases it this way. Motherhood is a relationship, she says. “All the stuff that has to be done for kids, though, those things are jobs.” And those jobs aren’t valued. No one applauds you for changing diapers, buying car seats, wiping noses, washing bottles, making meals and then cleaning them up. No one gives you a promotion because you are especially good at scrubbing poop stains out of onesies.

With one child, I thought, I could experience the relationship of motherhood without being entirely consumed by the chores. It seemed like a nice compromise.

But maybe six months after my daughter was born, doubt began to creep in. I was folding laundry and half paying attention to the TV. On the screen I saw mothers rocking and cuddling their newborns. “We all need a hug in the morning,” a woman sang, “and a hug at the end of the day.” The babies were so fragile, so helpless. Their tiny faces. Oh god! And then I was crying big, gulping sobs.

This is what motherhood does. It takes cynical, hardass women and turns them into blubbering idiots who cry over diaper commercials.

I pulled myself together, of course. But something had changed. In my brain a tiny ember of second child desire smoldered. And while it hasn’t evolved into a full-blown flame, it also hasn’t died out.

There are good reasons not to have another child. Money. Space. Sleep deprivation. Additional stress on my already taxed marriage. But those challenges seem surmountable. The primary reason I don’t want to have another child is this: I am still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. If we have another baby, I worry I might never know.

I didn’t anticipate how much becoming a mother would sap my ambition and steal my focus. I have a loving partner who is a wonderful father. I expected that we would split the burden of parenthood evenly. And then we had a baby, and I realized something that many women already know: equal parenting is a myth. At first, my husband couldn’t help much. I had the boobs. But even after my daughter was done nursing, I remained the default parent.

Some of this is circumstance. I am a freelance writer, so I have more flexibility than my husband does. He travels some for work. I generally don’t.

But there are other differences too. Even when my daughter is at daycare, I can’t focus. I’m still thinking about her needs. Should I order more wipes? Has she almost outgrown her sneakers? Did I remember to turn in the immunization form that her daycare requested? What will she eat for dinner? Do we have leftovers, or do I need to make something? Does she have clean pajamas? And on and on and on. I cannot seem to sweep away the mental clutter of motherhood.

My personality is partly to blame. I am a procrastinator, and I would rather deal with mundane household tasks — especially those that require the satisfying click of an online order button — than get down to the difficult business of writing. I still do my work, of course. But if I have this much trouble focusing with one child, how much worse will it be with two?

A lot worse, says writer Amiee Phan. After her second kid, she wrote this. “My exhaustion morphed into despair at night. After several hours trying to put both children to sleep, I would open my neglected laptop and stare at the many unread e-mails and unfinished projects cluttering up my screen. I wondered how I would ever be productive again, if I would ever have the energy or motivation to accomplish anything outside of parenting.”

My daughter will turn two in August. And I can envision a time when she might be less dependent on me, when there might be fewer chores. But if we have another baby, I fear that magical moment might recede so far into the distance that I will no longer be able to picture it. Years. It will be years before I can fully focus on my work again.

But then I see a diaper commercial and I start to cry. (I watched that damn Huggies ad again as I was writing this and wept sitting in front of my computer. The babies are so tiny!)

And, so, I’m back where I was in 2012, living in a cloud of uncertainty that feels like it will never dissipate. Each shirt and shoe and toy that my daughter outgrows gets tucked into the already crowded basement because . . . maybe?

There’s one question you have to ask yourself, says Pecsenye. “Do you want the relationship enough to suffer through the jobs?” But, for me, that’s not the only question that needs answering. Do I want the relationship more than I want professional fulfillment? Will I be able to figure out my career path if I don’t have a second child? Will I figure it out even if I do?

I don’t have answers — not yet anyway.

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Image courtesy of wilvia via Flicrk.

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9 thoughts on “Motherhood Week: Indecision 2017

  1. One other thing to consider: If you have two children they will, eventually, play with and occupy each other. We have a number of friends with “only” children roughly the same age as our kids. And I suspect they are called only children because they have only Mom and Dad to play with. As our younger child reached 5 or so, I noticed that the people who complained the most about not having any time to themselves were the people with one child. I’m not saying that this is the most important factor or that it should tip anybody’s balance toward having another child. That’s certainly a point on which I would never dare to advise anybody. And certainly having two toddlers is a harder than having one. But as kids get older this is a factor in family dynamics. Our kids are now 12 and 14 and they ignore us for hours on end. I’m now dreading the day when they have moved out. It won’t be fun.

  2. I have two, going on three. Two are harder for the first eight months, then easier because they play with each other. And I lowered my standards enough that we’ve reached an equilibrium with roughly the same amount of work time and free time — although sleep is definitely scarcer.

  3. There is also a lot to be said for the pleasure/comfort/advise of siblings as you grow older.

  4. Nice essay. I’ve just gone through the exact same experience. In the end I shut my eyes, held my breath and jumped. I now have two awesome kids (4 years & 10 months). I’m a long way off where I want to be professionally but we have many many more years of work ahead of us so my hope is I’ll get there some day. Its gonna be really tough, but what the hell else you gonna do?!?

  5. We solved the indecision issue by getting pregnant with the second one before we had decided to. But two it is, two is plenty, we’re done. I pretty much look at anyone with more than two as certifiably insane, was two not enough work for you? Of course we have friends with 3, 4 or even 5 of them… Maybe they’re just better at being parents than us? Or more efficient? As them playing together, they may well do so, but they’ll also fight each other. You’ll have to add Referee to you list of constant jobs.

  6. And of course if you do decide to have two, then the “maybe” thinking starts all over again about having a third. I have two and I am now 98% sure we are done. But there were years when the question of the third was my own “cloud of uncertainty”. I guess in the end no one can ever be totally sure they made all the right life decisions. If only we had a half dozen lives apiece so that we could try out different alternatives!

  7. I agree with the other commenters that while having babies is a lot of work, having two kids can take the load off when they’re slightly older and can entertain each other. It partly depends on your child’s personality. My daughter wants to talk constantly, and it’s a relief to me when her brother is around to engage with her.

    As for career … I’m a science writer you’ve never heard of. And I have two kids and went through a rocky and consuming few years as a single mother. For years my focus has been on my kids, and work has been primarily a way to pay the bills and to try to give my kids the kind of upbringing (house, good neighborhood) I’ve always wanted to give them. Certainly, there are mothers who are able to be tremendously creative even with kids around, but *I* couldn’t juggle trying to be creative while trying to earn a comfortable living and being fully engaged as a mother to young children. My younger child started kindergarten this year, and I feel like I finally have some head space to be more deeply engaged with my work. I figure I still have 25 years or so of working ahead of me, and I’m hoping the world has enough space to reabsorb me in that way.

  8. The worst thing is, for all the advice, only you (in partnership with your husband) can make the decision. The best thing is, whichever way you go, believe it is the right decision for you and then it will be.

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