My daughter was barely a year old when the queries started coming. Lately, it seems like people ask my husband and me more and more: When are we expanding our family? Our daughter will be 2 in July; I suppose the timing seems near perfect. “Eve is quite enough for now,” I’ve started saying. “Let’s see how the next few years go.” I don’t blame anyone who is curious about the prospect of a second baby, but I’ve never resented the question more than I do now.
Eric and I were well aware that the state of the union was far from ideal before the 2016 election. We realized there would be agonizing conversations when our children reached a certain age: about where they can and can’t go and why, what they should and shouldn’t say, how to stay hyperaware and on guard in certain social situations. We knew that raising black children in America would be a uniquely heartbreaking and terrifying challenge, ever toeing the line between preserving their innocence and forcing their eyes open. Our children would learn the names Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, Kalief Browder, Jaquarrius Holland. They would understand the emphasis that Black Lives Matter.
The future is never certain, and making the decision to become a parent is always frightening. But despite the very real grassroots efforts to effect radical change that people around the United States, and the world, have taken up in recent months, I don’t see the fruits of that labor working within our very specific reproductive time frame. Now every time a well-meaning friend or family member asks: Are you having another baby? I wonder, Why should I? Why should I subject another black body to this world right now?
When a police officer killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice in November 2014, I was 11 weeks pregnant. Eric and I didn’t know whether we were having a boy or girl yet. I hoped for a boy, out of some arcane desire to have our first child bear our family’s name, to secure our legacy, but most acutely, to watch Eric be a role model. My anticipation dampened every time I remembered a son would essentially be another citizen with a target on his back. It seemed that every other day, I heard about another young man being degraded, harassed, and murdered by police or vengeful vigilantes.
Just as much, I yearned to have a little girl — whip-smart, opinionated, curious, the young queen of our household. But even as I dreamt of her, I raged and despaired at the disproportionate media and community response to the young women meeting the same grisly fates as the men. I couldn’t abide the thought of having to tell my future daughter about the countless ways this world would try to break her down because of her color and sex. I wondered, too, about the possibility of our child realizing they were a different gender than the one we assign at birth. Transphobia and bigotry aside, it is not hyperbolic to say that the killing of trans people of color has become an epidemic.
The proactive grief I felt, as a black woman on the cusp of motherhood, was overwhelming. I mourned for so many children lost, for so many parents who’d suffered the unimaginable. Every march, every rally, every hashtag was a reminder of what might await us.
I already wear fear like second skin. So the decision to become a parent of more than one becomes a question of compound risk: Am I ready to accept the challenge of loving another child the world is taught to hate? Am I strong enough to model radical self-love for one more? Am I prepared to handle the consequences of my guaranteed failures, and the consequences my children will suffer as a result? The odds feel irrevocably stacked against us now.
Sometimes, though, it’s easy to bypass the angst and nosedive into rose-colored nostalgia. Already, I scroll through my toddler’s old photos, reliving precious firsts: the way Eric cradled her head on that midsummer morning, slowly and tenderly, as if she were made of glass. Stepping through the front doors of our home while she stirred softly in her car seat. Miniature fingers with miniature fingernails enclosed around ours, her bright eyes peering open, mouth smacking with hunger. The chance to begin the journey anew with the knowledge and experience we sorely lacked the first time around: I’ll admit the temptation is palpable.
It’s also true that if the election had gone differently, we would still have many of the same immediate concerns. We’d both like to be making more money before we add another family member to our household, to purchase a home and a car, to be at a place in our careers that allows us to spend more time at home. These are all issues Eric and I discuss often, and are working on now to ensure they can be resolved with time. But they didn’t feel quite as insurmountable, somehow, back when we believed we knew who would win the election.
A Clinton presidency would not have been perfect, by any means, but there was a level of competence and security she promised that felt at least commensurate with what we experienced under Obama: A left-leaning Supreme Court. Continued investigation into discriminatory police departments. A focus on public education, particularly in early childhood. A commitment to improving parental leave, for everyone. Now, our economic concerns feel much more grave. Our hope for a more equitable society feels a bit naïve. The future feels a lot less bright.
We aren’t alone in our fears. Among friends with young children our daughter’s age, education is of particular concern, as we live in a city where public schools desperately need assistance from the federal government. Other women of color in my parenting group share my anxieties about the slackened pressure on racist police forces, and the threat that poses to young black men and women, in urban, rural, and suburban neighborhoods alike. Health care is yet another worry — while we may have been granted a temporary reprieve from the threat of Trumpcare, this administration has made its contempt of women’s care abundantly clear. “We paid $25 out of pocket,” a friend of mine said about having her daughter. “We’re not trying to go into debt to have the next one.”
Are some of our fears hyperbolic? Perhaps. Many of the conversations I had with friends immediately following the inauguration centered around the fact that for the first time in our adult lives, we were witnessing an outright shift away from our nation’s already-tenuous grasp on “progress.” My generation is one that came of voting age in 2008; our memories of Obama’s win are as vivid as ever, which makes this Trump presidency all the more jarring.
My parents, born in 1947 and 1953, understand my fears, but don’t indulge them; they’ve been through worse and lived to tell the tale. My mother didn’t have the luxury of family planning, and even if she did, she’s made it clear that her decision would hinge on her own financial situation, not necessarily the wider scope of whatever was happening in the White House. Bombastic, bigoted liars are given positions of leadership all the time — they don’t stay around forever. Marginalized groups have endured centuries of abuse and hate from their governments — we persist anyway (not exactly a comforting thought, but a sustaining one). This is not the first time our nation has found itself at a political crossroads when the future is uncertain, and it definitely won’t be the last. But while I still have some time to decide, I would much rather listen to my gut feeling than cover my eyes and pretend to feel fine. It doesn’t feel fair to us, and it certainly doesn’t feel fair to whoever our next child may be.
So for right now, we’ve suspended the second-baby plan. It’s a distant dream, in the same far-off, idyllic realm as purchasing a house, a roomy car, working less, traveling more. We want to complete our family, to give our daughter a sibling. But until we have a better sense of where our nation is headed, and how it will affect our family, that dream will have to wait.