My 2-year-old daughter is singing a song about kittens and mittens to her good friends the monkey and the dinosaur. The afternoon sun cuts through the curtains, making everything soft and shimmery, and I’m struck with disbelief that this magnificent little girl is mine. Then, she summons me to go round and round with her — a twirling game that inevitably leaves her a little wobbly and me completely enfeebled. As we spin, I think of the emails I forgot to reply to, the lunch I haven’t made yet, and the Twitter social hierarchies I’m way too invested in. I berate myself for arts and crafts I haven’t researched, and plans I haven’t made because I’m still too scared for plans. The plans I had in the before-times all went by the wayside, and I’ve tried to make peace with them being gone. One of those plans was having another baby.
Stay-at-home orders, winter blues, isolation, languishing, depression, anxiety, a recent ADHD diagnosis, and having very little time or energy to make babies the old-fashioned way all coalesced. The result? I’m confronted by the question of what if I don’t want to have a second child anymore? That’s a tough pill, and it changes everything but also nothing. Because while it keeps things the same, it also makes my imagined family of four only a dream.
There’s a cornucopia of reasons why having another baby isn’t a good idea for us right now. The pandemic, which happened right after my daughter turned 1, stopped time for me. I had planned to start a full-time job in April 2020 but instead became a stay-at-home mom who completes freelance work while Sesame Street is on, or while I should be sleeping. I had the privilege of being there every step of the way as my baby grew into a toddler, but COVID also extended her infancy in a way, with both of us tethered together. Although she became a lively 2-year-old under my watch, I also got absolutely no time to myself. Caring for her 24/7 with few breaks has left me with the same worn-out, every-day-is-the-same feeling a brand new parent has.
My infant is now a small child but here I am frozen in the nebulous new mom zone, still waiting to progress to that phase of parenthood where I’ll feel strong and ready enough for another child. I’m in my late 30s, and while I once tuned out the “ticking clock” discourse, it’s now a loud, unavoidable fact that time is of the essence. Many people with uteruses have beautiful, healthy babies well into their 40s, but I truly don’t know if I have the energy, or the will, to do it all again.
To do it all over again with something as exhausting as a pandemic in the background was, for me, unthinkable.
Would I like to kiss a soft newborn head and marvel at impossibly tiny feet again? Of course. Do I dream about my daughter having and playing with a little sibling, and of that baby falling asleep on their parents' chests, and even about cleaning up those first newborn poops, liquid blasts of putrid goo to remind you that you’re in it? I do. But I haven’t showered in a week, my partner and I are so tired we sometimes fall asleep in the middle of conversations, and my toddler will currently only eat out of squeezable pouches. How am I in any position to entertain the idea of having a whole other baby right now?
Trying to get pregnant is a roller coaster, full of basal body temperature checks and ovulation calculations and hope and gutting disappointment if it doesn’t happen right away or if something goes wrong. It requires a lot of faith and patience, and sometimes medical intervention. And if it did happen, pregnancy, birth, and early motherhood are massive, life-altering events. The first time around, I took them as they came. I didn’t know how hard it would be or how much I’d lose myself to it. Going from fully formed adult woman to “mom” is dizzying and requires adjustment. At the onset of the pandemic, I was still deep into a teenage-style identity crisis. In short, having a baby is a marathon and to do it all over again with something as exhausting as a pandemic in the background was, for me, unthinkable.
My daughter’s feeding her baby doll now by bashing its head into a bowl of pretend food and I’m watching her in a trance. This is what happens to me, daily, because I can only play for a total of one and a half hours per day; after that, I’m physically there, but mentally less so. I don’t tell her to be gentle with the fake baby, or offer her the doll’s tiny bottle, and if I were ushering her into the role of big sister, I would be doing a miserable job.
While I know that doesn’t make me a bad person, it does make me a different one than I thought I was.
The truth is, I wanted my daughter and her (imagined) sibling to be about two years apart, which might sound arbitrary, but it’s what I’d envisioned, nonetheless. I know that if I really wanted to, I could embrace a bigger age gap between my children.
Less easily overcome is that, after 18 months of lockdowns in tight living quarters with no child care, and a career putt-putting towards total stagnation, I feel fundamentally changed. I love my little family of three and I might not want to add to it.
While I know that doesn’t make me a bad person, it does make me a different one than I thought I was. Not one who will maintain my two-child dream at any cost, but one who is contemplating a rescue dog as consolation.