Before my daughter was born, no one ever pressed me about whether I would have children. Maybe I was lucky to have a supportive husband, and family and friends who could stifle their own curiosity. Maybe they knew that I was putting off deciding myself. Or maybe I just put out “Don’t ask me” vibes. Either way, I was left to my own thoughts for years and years, and eventually, I made my decision.
But Zelda was barely crawling before someone asked, “Are you going to have another?” I was shocked to hear this question tumble from the mouth of a friend, and even more aghast to recall that I’d asked others the same thing — not “Are you going to have children?” but “Are you going to have more?”
In a lot of ways, it makes sense that one question feels taboo and one feels quotidian. Asking someone if they want to be a parent is a topic verging on the political. Many of us spend entire swaths of our adult lives either grappling with that issue or working to avoid it. But once a person has already had one child, that barrier is broken down, so what’s the harm in asking?
Now that I’m a mother, however, I see that this question can be harder than the first one.
Logically, the stakes are lower. I sometimes even think to myself, Well, how much more work could it be? Life is already chaotic; would another baby really undo me completely? Doubtful. I now know how to care for a newborn with my eyes closed, whereas two years ago, when I came home from the hospital as a new mother, I was terrified, all those facts from books (when should you be worried about a fever? what does jaundice look like? what is the right temperature for a baby’s room?) drained out of my exhausted brain, and my learning had not yet even begun.
Another baby, too, would be a constant playmate for my daughter in the short run and hopefully a lifelong friend in the long one. I am not a person who is easily guilted. I don’t feel guilt if I, for instance, in the midst of watching what I eat, break a rule and have a sugary dessert. I simply try to accept responsibility for what I’ve done and move on. But I do wonder, some days, if I will feel guilt at denying Zelda a sibling. As one of four, I’m grateful to have three brothers every day of my life. In my memory of childhood, they were more important than my parents. I played with them, asked them for advice, and lived with several of them well into adulthood. So there is, of course, that to consider.
And Zelda is currently obsessed with babies — the dolls and the real ones — so I suspect she would adjust easily and happily to the appearance of a new houseguest. Holding my friends’ infants certainly pulls from me whatever maternal instincts I was blessed with. They are tiny and cute and I remember with some sadness that those days have already passed for Zelda.
So on the one hand, yes, it seems like it might easily follow: I’ve had one child, she is amazing, let’s just have another. But then there’s the other hand.
I might be wrong: Having two children really might be a lot more work than having one, even if they entertain one another wonderfully. I have been wrong about this before. As an adult woman who had spent little time around babies, I woefully misrepresented to myself in pregnancy how well I could handle an infant, a career, and a marriage all at once. For a while, I was doing all three, sure, but often badly.
Everyone experiences motherhood differently. I found that, even when presented with time for “work,” I often had nothing to offer, nothing to say or to write. I felt my voice was gone for quite a while, and no wonder: I was woefully ill-informed about the world outside my cozy little home environment. I didn’t see movies until months or even a year after they came out; I’m still reading books that everyone else read two years ago. Even when I did go back to work, I sometimes just sat around, staring blindly at the wall, or surfing the internet randomly, hoping that inspiration — an idea, any idea — would strike.
It took me more than a year to get my footing with the first baby: to get back to writing and working, cooking meals sometimes, occasionally reading or getting a haircut. My former self got lost, at first almost completely. And now that I have found her after nearly two years, what would a second child mean to all of that? What would it mean for my career, which I’ve only begun to pay attention to again in earnest in the last six months or so? Before my daughter was born I had a full-time job, which meant some paid time off, but now that I am freelance, there would be none. And I’m not getting any younger. I am still physically capable of getting pregnant, but do I have the energy? What if, unlike Zelda, the next kid is a bad sleeper or something worse? When are we happy just as we are?
These are the things that erupt in my mind when people — and there are more than a few of them these days — ask “So, what about No. 2?” They’re the reason it’s not an easy question to answer. But having been on both sides of the conversation, as the asker and the person being asked, I get it: We’re all struggling to figure out together what comes next.
So what does come next? Here’s where I’m at, with my usual lack of clarity and certainty: I have no fucking clue. We’ll have to wait and see.