When you can only handle one child—and that’s okay

By Joy Netanya

If you were to ask me today if I want another child, I’d tell you, no, never. I never want to be pregnant again, never want to give birth again.

But what’s harder to say is this: thinking back, two years ago, to those days with my newborn daughter makes me shudder. Our little house in Denver a warm cave, me isolated in it, scared and figuring out how to take care of an infant, my family a thousand miles away, waking up every morning wondering how we’d make it through the day.

I wouldn’t tell you about the long days when my daughter was a bright and active six-month-old, so sweet and lovable, and I was utterly bored and yet overstimulated by her needs. By the sheer physicality of the existence into which I’d been thrust, so different from the pre-motherhood life that dominated my thoughts, when my time was spent in my imagination or in front of a book or computer screen.

It’s not pleasant to admit that even now, though I’m much happier working full-time, I’m barely hanging on most days, adjusting to the new normal of shuttling the toddler to daycare, commuting to work, squeezing in errands on shortened lunch breaks and falling into bed at night feeling as though I ran a marathon. And even though my favorite part of the day is picking her up from school and hearing her shout, “Mama!”, the two hours I spend with her before bedtime sometimes seem like too much.

Of course I’m completely in love with my daughter, with her dark denim blue eyes and perfect creamy skin, her mischievous smile and offbeat dance moves. I can’t imagine life without her, would lie down on train tracks for her, if it came down to it. But for every moment of deep joy and pure bliss her presence brings, there’s a moment of sheer frustration, gritted teeth, bone-deep weariness, or longing for escape.

How do you know you’re done having children? it’s a favorite subject on the mom blogs and Facebook groups I frequent. “We felt like someone was missing,” is a common sentiment. For us, it’s a sense of imbalance that makes me wonder whether we are truly done. Two parents, one child; things are always teetering too far in one direction or another. I wonder if my daughter needs an ally, someone with whom she can rebel against us, question us, commiserate about our neuroses.

But how could I do it all again—the uncomfortable pregnancy, the brutal birth and recovery, the dark newborn days? Further, how could I multiply this life we’ve created by two? Another little body needing clothing and sustenance, needing my arms to carry it, a little heart needing every ounce of love and strength and patience my soul can muster, and then some.

In a recent conversation with my therapist, she pointed out that I’m still in my early thirties––I could wait a few years and reconsider then. But I can’t fathom the possibility. “It’s not worth rolling the dice,” I said. “The risk is just too high. You couldn’t pay me a million dollars to go through that year again.” She looked at me seriously and said, “That is an indicator of how painful it was for you.” I’ve heard one should never make big decisions in the midst of grief, and I am the first to admit I’m still grieving what my first year of being a mother was, compared to what I hoped it would be.

In one of those “should I have another baby?” chats on Facebook, one person said, “Sometimes life chooses for you.” It’s a truth that leaves a lump in the throat, a tough pill to swallow. My life’s circumstances, including my family of origin and even my genetic makeup, seem to have created an introverted personality that is unable to bear a lifestyle so many women seem to cheerfully master. Maybe it’s these same fates that will dictate my family size. Maybe our family will end up bumping along clumsily, like a wagon with a missing wheel. But that must be better than trying to take on more than I can bear, causing everything to come crashing down around us.

Sometimes you’re stronger than you know. Sometimes you can bear more pain and carry more weight than you ever thought possible. And sometimes no matter how much you hope or wish otherwise, the way you’re made determines how much you can take, and life chooses for you.

And sometimes, maybe all you can carry is one.

Joy Netanya Thompson is a writer and editor living in Los Angeles with her one and only child, Zadie.You can find her at her blog, or on Twitter @JoyNetanya and Instagram @joyofhonestmotherhood.

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