Before I was pregnant, I wasn't the least bit swayed by anyone else's venture into procreation — in fact, watching other people breed usually left me less swayed. But now that I've got one pod on the table, I can't help but notice how everyone else in the entire world seems to have at least two. Spaced two to three years apart. Make no mistake: My husband doesn't want a second baby, and neither do I — so why does it still feel like a thing?
Maybe it's because everywhere I look I happen upon stories of second baby-ness. People are having them or not having them and it's a thing. Wanting them or thinking about wanting them, and it's a thing. Arguing about them, campaigning or trying for them, and it's a thing.
Weird as it may sound, it actually seems like a bigger decision to have a second one than whether to have one at all. Hear me out! With the first one, you have no idea what you're doing, so it's infinitely easier to lean into the whole unknown-territoryness of it. But the second one? It's like real estate or antique cars: Once you're in the game, it's practically impossible not to talk about if or when you'll make your second big acquisition. There's a certain inevitability to it. Even a randomly flipped-to page in the most recent New Yorker happened to be a short story about second babies:
My wife wanted another baby. But I thought Philip was enough. A toddler is a lot. I couldn't picture us going through the whole ordeal again. We'd just gotten our lives back.
I really wanted to track down the author's personal phone number, grab him by his imaginary lapels and demand to know when, exactly, this whole getting-of-one's-life-back business actually happens, but instead I decided to just ask my husband outright if we were both really super sure about this whole not-having-another thing. Just to make super-double-sure.
"Absolutely," he said firmly, as if I'd asked whether saving money was a good idea. Then he eyed me nervously, like he was waiting for me to tell him I'd suddenly changed my mind.
I hadn't. Honest! (That part took some convincing.) Now that I know what it's really like, I don't want another. Not me! No offense to babies everywhere, including my own. It's really about having more resources and energy invested better in this one baby. We want to travel as a family, buy a nice cut of organically sanctioned meat every once in a while and stick her in a good school. Do it up right and shit. Having only one is a way of having our babycake and eating it, too.
But it also, strangely, feels a tad premature to settle this debate long before the twilight of my childbearing years, kind of like getting a vasectomy when you're only 19 or an Ani Difranco tattoo at your all-girls college. Yes, it's awfully long-term thinking coming from someone who got pregnant at Bonnaroo, but the ovaries work in mysterious ways.
This isn't about the only-child syndrome, either. I think the whole spoiled-brat narrative is mythically exaggerated. A lot of only children navigate the world better for having grown up around mostly adults. Also: friends! People have friends in lieu of siblings, and if you end up hating a pal, boom! Get a new one. Hate your brother? Enjoy four more decades of Christmas.
But I also think the whole perfect-two-children-household thing is mythically exaggerated as well, if not nearing the economic endangered species list. In this two-incomes-barely-cuts-it world, it's about as solid a financial choice as college or a mortgage, to say nothing of the assumption of the deep bond between siblings, who seem just as likely to end up as antagonists as besties by adulthood. I've also seen many a well-meaning parent favor the shit out of one sibling, much to the other's deep, long-term, therapy-needing dismay.
So yes, our choice is right for us. But it worries me a little that I will regret that choice in a few years, once it's an even bigger hassle to reconsider. It's fretting the leaps you can't envision.
Fact: I wasn't even sure I wanted one baby in the first place. But I had one, and I love her more than all the tattooed vasectomies in the world.
Fact: I'm sooo old, you guys. My eggs are only from the 1970s, which means I'm still younger than plenty of people who haven't even thought of having babies yet, but I feel old as fuck anyway. You know, inside.
Fact: It was hard enough to ditch Parliaments and booze to have this one, I can't ditch my only other vice in the whole world - decent coffee - for another one, which would no doubt be required. Too many sacrificed vices = bitch. It's, like, a fact.
Fact: We made such a great, smart, darling little baby the first time out of the gate. If another baby happened surely it would be awesome, too. I guess? I mean, who knows, right? Lady luck giveth with one hand, taketh away with the other. Or is that unemployment insurance? Either way, if you make one awesome, smart, funny, adorable baby, aren't you like asking for the second one to eat glue in the 1st grade?
Fact: I'm my mother's third child, and let me put it this way: I ate some fucking glue in the 1st grade. And I liked it.
But I think what really bothers me most about our choice to go uno is that we're not just deciding for us — we're deciding for our daughter, too — and not just for now, or her childhood, but for her adult life as well.
Does it matter at all what she thinks? Or is our choice to have just her yet another in a long line of rightful parenting choices we'll make, like living on the West Coast or letting her eat the occasional hot dog, that she just has to deal with whether she likes it or not?
If she never mentions it — great. If she starts asking one day in the near future where her little brother or sister is, I'm not sure I'll be able to keep that debate up for 10 years solid without a pangs of regret. Suddenly this issue is like the parenting version of Sliding Doors, except with lots more guilt and without the getting-over-him haircut.
And then there's the great, big fear: that one day our only daughter will likely have to deal with our aging old asses, tedious health problems, embarrassing Facebook posts, last will and testament and daily care. That image alone is enough to make me put my coffee money into her college fund right this instant.
Hey, maybe that's really why people have more kids, to spread around the aging-parent risk across multiple siblings in the hopes that one of them really really wants to be the dutiful caretaker and everybody wins. Because no good parent wants to derail the stable career, happy relationship, or adventurous life of an only child with a bunch of old-people problems, right?
That would be so burdensome. And yet, how else will our daughter ever pay us back for all that good meat, great schooling and expensive travel we gave her?
Tracy Moore is a writer living in Los Angeles. She has 8 siblings, all but ensuring she'll never get stuck with the old-parent hassle. She will accept your condemnation via Twitter: @iusedtobepoor.
Image via theiury/Shutterstock.