“So when are you going to give her a sibling?” The question blindsides my foggy brain after a four am wake-up. Like many of the other mothers at the playground, I am attempting to keep my tiny mobile person from leaping off the nearest tempting precipice. Among the usual round of questions regarding her age and gender, I am not even close to knowing what to say in response to this lovely, grandmotherly-looking lady.
Many mothers I have chatted to talk about the frequency this moment happens for them too. Some even confess to asking the question themselves in a well-intentioned bid to make conversation with a fellow playground friend. After all, we are in this play gym jungle together.
I stare back at her kindly, slightly traumatized by the thought of having another child, but unwilling to reveal so much of myself next to the kiddy slide on a Tuesday morning. My daughter is months away from her first birthday and I am still deeply immersed in her survival and my own. Numerous other fears clutter my heart. With all of my family stuck overseas into the foreseeable future, those early days of motherhood grieving their absence are still fresh. If they had been nearby I might have felt a little less like I was drowning without a rock to cling to. How could I field another pregnancy, another newborn face they would never see in person? To add to that, I am still breastfeeding around the clock, very likely anemic, and slowly growing into an identity I can barely articulate. I am sure that I am not the only mother to feel rightfully daunted by these considerations and more.
Some parents I meet seem to have it all so well planned out. I envy their organized assurance when my mind is filled with doubt, fear, and brain re-arranging love.
There are plenty of articles on the most logical and tactical age gap to have between children, lists of pros and cons, dos and don’ts, and I have read all of them late into the night when I should have been sleeping. If I am honest with myself I don’t know if I can do it all again, especially after losing our first baby late in pregnancy. What if my soul is saying, she is my one and only?
Then the Greek chorus of guilt begins, “My child will want a sibling, how can I deprive her of that? Don’t people say only children are lonely and spoilt? Should climate change affect my decision making?” The guilt is not limited to my daughter’s wellbeing but includes my partner’s conviction we will have another child. I harbor a secret fear that if I do not want to, or find that I cannot, I will disappoint and possibly drive him away. Who else am I in danger of disappointing? Down the rabbit hole of my mind, I have come to a place where the decision no longer feels like my own. I must reclaim it. This is after all my body. A body that has endured so much and so bravely. I long to release her from any more pressure and set her at ease in the beauty of what is now.
Other people’s concern for our child-rearing is mystifying until we understand that they might just be airing the very same worries we all feel inside.
It is so very human to want to name the unknown and carefully plan out the chaos. Of course, if you are a woman you must have your next child soon, lest you get too much older. Not too soon, of course, your existing children need your devoted attention to form positive attachments and reach developmental milestones. When I finally turn down that imaginary chorus of voices what I hear is this. There are no calculators or perfect equations for creating the kind of wild life that makes us mothers, in all the colorful and true ways that exist to be a mother.
I once believed that all mothers just had a magical moment when they felt “ready” again. I recently asked my close friend after having her second child, how did she know when she was ready. “I don’t ever think I would have felt ready. I still don’t”, she replied smiling. It is okay if you never feel ready either. Or it is okay not to feel ready at this moment. That feeling of fear and hesitation is not a fault, but the wisdom of the body whispering, not just yet, there is more healing to be done here. This moment isn’t emptiness. It is the precious and necessary space where something one day may grow. Not everything (or person) in life can be planned, but therein lies the mystery and the delight.