Some people are happy with one child, and their world feels complete with that single addition to the family. I’m not sure I’m one of them. I always thought I’d have more than one, but somewhere between the blur of a newborn baby and the bastardry of a pandemic, I haven’t quite got around to it. Which is surprising when you consider that as new mothers, it’s something we’re forced to discuss, time and again, whether we want to or not.
It’s one thing when Great Aunt Alice is holding your newborn and asking when you plan to have the next one. With your C-section stitches still healing, even if the answer should be “None of your business, Alice,” you can just wink and say, “ Not just yet!” But flash forward five years to school pick up, and it’s a different story when your child is the only one at the gate without a sibling. What do you say when they look up at you, sadly, and ask, “Why don’t I have a brother or sister?”
While the scientific answer might be that Mummy and Daddy are too exhausted by the pandemic, trying to pay off a mortgage and making book week costumes to ever knock boots, it’s a little more complex than that.
Time marches on, and with your stroller growing its own ecosystem under the stairs and the boxed-up baby clothes gradually being given away, you start wondering if you’re past the point of going back to the baby stage. You’ve made it through the terrible twos, raised a threenager and survived the fournado. By the time your kid is five and everyone has a little autonomy (and sleep), do you really want to do it all again?
I mean, sure – there’s no doubt going back for a second child is easier when it comes to your parenting skills. By now, you can probably change a diaper with your eyes closed, have a handle on just how many changes of clothes a newborn will need, and you know to never let the tylenol run out in the bathroom cabinet.
But at the same time, there are other pieces of information I’m happy to have tossed out. While once I was a Kung-Fu master of the modern cloth diaper, able to strip, sanitize and dry them within 24 hours in the dead of winter, despite having a broken dryer, it’s a skill set I don’t want to revisit.
There’s also plenty of research that hammers home the cost of having a second child. Meanwhile, there’s the non-newsflash that having kids has a regressive impact on your career. The younger the child, the more career progression is restricted, and the more kids a woman has, the worse it gets. In monetary terms, the lifetime earnings of mothers with one child is 28 per cent less than childless women, and each child after that lowers lifetime earnings by another three per cent.
And of course, even if you do want another child years after your first, the shitty reality is you’re older, and so is your biological clock. Great Aunt Alice chiming in to say “tick tock, darling,” might have been irritating when you’d only just been discharged from the maternity ward, but it sucks even more five years later, because (god rest her soul) she might have been right.
I bristled at being described as a geriatric mother when I had a kid at 35. Now, at 40, I’m frightened the clinical term might be elderly. The postpartum issues women face are very real, from birth trauma to thyroid conditions, from stitches to abdominal separation. And when you’re older, it all gets harder. Studies have found women who get pregnant over the age of forty increase their chances of pregnancy complications, including cesarean birth, gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, premature birth and preterm labor. Then there’s the irony that while your fertility declines as you get older, your chance of having multiples rises as you release more eggs: twins, triples (or more). Call it an all or nothing two-for-one special.
For me, one of the biggest driving forces behind having another baby is guilt. I know my kid aches for a sibling, but my guilt comes from thinking about how that plays out far in the future. At the pointy end of life, when I’m old and wrinkled, is it really fair that the care and responsibility of sticking us in a nursing home and eventually burying us, is left to just one kiddo?
Granted, it would cut down on the paperwork, and there’d be no Succession-style drama when it comes to the inheritance. But not having anyone to remember those good times when you cut off Mommy’s hair with safety scissors as a four-year-old? There’s no fun in that.
Becoming a parent often changes us in the right ways. Becoming one for a second time? I’m not sure I want to be pulled back into the abyss of sleepless nights, bulging diaper bags, career uncertainty and urinary incontinence. And yet despite reason, finances, fertility and practicality, if you feel it in your gut, it’s a pretty hard feeling to ignore. And if you start to feel it in your heart, like I have, then the decision might already have been made.