One and Done?

Elyn Cone

Wrestling with the decision to have a second child.

When I reached for the pregnancy test on the Myrtle Avenue Walgreen’s shelf, there was the feeling of a little someone already there with me. I had a hunch that I was already pregnant, that I would definitely be seeing two lines in that proverbial answer window that we women have all looked at so many times before, hearts skipping a beat. The test was a formality, a proving mechanism for what I already, somewhere in my subconsciousness, knew.

For me, deciding to have a second child was not a no-brainer. It was a weighted decision based primarily on my mothering instincts toward my daughter; my hope to give her a sibling was hugely outweighing the formidable discomfort I felt about going through pregnancy, birth, and baby rearing yet again for myself.

I had just gotten out of the brambles and had a functioning, awesome, self-actualized 3-year-old girl who could pour her own milk, go to the bathroom by herself, and understand when it was bedtime. I was only just beginning to get into that sweet parenting groove with my daughter. And now, not only would that be compromised, but I would become the parent to someone new at the same time. Hazy memories of eating salty cheddar bunnies while sipping cheap red wine for dinner then slumbering in my workout clothes (10 pounds overweight) after sweaty, aggressive Zumba classes and sleepy bedtime stories slipped in and out of my mind. Why would anyone want to delve back into that deep dark thicket? That place was left like a land mine in the past desert of my biography.

Many parents of second children ask themselves these same questions many times over and wrestle with their answers. “One and done,” I had to keep hearing other parents tell me when I asked if their child had any brothers or sisters. How are you totally sure your child won’t want or need a sibling later in life? Did it matter?

I’ve never had a sibling, so my romanticism of large families can be a tad over the top. I picture siblings in their 40s chatting over the phone about weekend plans, great books they’ve read, and funny work tribulations. I thought about my daughter totally alone in the world in her 20s without anyone to lean on in times of dramatic dating duress, or even in patches of happiness to share them with.

These “one and done” parents really knew themselves well! Congratulations to them. Their fortitude and investments toward their careers, hobbies, and savings plans were all intimidatingly impressive. The idea of their adorable family of three seemed like a shiny silver rocketship blasting full-throttle toward planets of more success than I would apparently never know.

Of course, I questioned how on earth I could dare compromise these qualities of self-preservation within myself even more than I already had to begin with by having my daughter. Who did I think I was? This isn’t Little House on the Prairie; I have no covered wagon and acreage, nor am I an heiress on any level. Rent in New York City is astronomical. Childcare is over the top. We all know these things.

However, perhaps years of travel and living in other places taught me that, in other lands (and states), people do have siblings and love them. Mothers even treasure having two and more. I fostered a faith in the notion of my daughter having a larger family against all odds in my life at that time in Brooklyn. I do have to say, officially, that I think only children are great (I am one), and especially when they are surrounded by happy, loving, and awesome parents they can feel extreme strength in their family.

Fast forward: my son is now six months old, and he brings the daughter happiness that I never dreamed possible for her. She is proud, protective, and in love with him. Since his arrival, though, I have witnessed tantrums and crying fits from her that never happened before. Her mom is not just hers alone now, and I cannot bail her out of every emotional or physical quagmire she sails into, thus, they often are deeper. I, also, have gotten more upset with her than ever when she gets into them–our boundaries and thresholds are shifting and making room for the new addition. We are both learning every day to rescue ourselves, somehow.

When people ask me how it’s going with two, I want to say, “Ask me in three years when he’s gotten into Pre-K.” But I usually smile and say, “It’s hard. But great.” It’s all the same. Since the beginning of humanity, procreation has probably been a pressure upon all of the childbearing age in every culture. I know the expectation to have more than one is out there. Whether it’s from your grandmother, the Kardashians, or just from yourself. Yet, by being an only child, I know only that as a way of growing up.

Making room in our lives for another child has been joyful and mysterious. But I won’t lie: it is hard. Like, hard on every level you could conjure up. Physically, mentally, financially, spiritually, etc. My fears about it were founded. But here I am, I am still here, writing this piece. It’s not like it’s been so hard that I am catatonic. You make it, you do it, and I think I’ll be stronger. But ask me in three years, when he’s gotten into Pre-K.

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