That is the question.
So, Izzy is 20 months old today, if this were a leap year and February had a 29th day. Despite our rocky beginning, she is spectacular. A feral bundle of grit, crazy, sass and sweetness packaged in blue eyes, blonde hair and dimples. And we are very much bonded to one another.
But here is the dilemma…
The plan (I use that word knowing full well that planned parenthood is an ironic oxymoron) was to always have two children. In 5.5 months I turn another year older, my daughter will by then be two years old and I need to decide within myself if I am actually up for baby number two.
I thought I would share the things I know, the things I don’t know, the things that keep me going back and forth over what I want:
#1: The value of a sibling
Siblings are a gift. A gift that sometimes you wish you could return, but for the most part a gift you could not imagine life without.
I want to give that gift to Izzy. I want her to know the feeling of having a lifelong side-kick or a partner-in-crime. I want her to have a person – someone she can rely on, bitch to when her mother is unyielding or her father is too uptight, someone who gets her and wont judge her too harshly. I want her to have someone who laughs at her jokes, even if no-one else does, someone who tells her the hard truths that no-one else will. Someone who knows her history, someone who shares her history.
I also want Izzy to know the responsibility and privilege of being that person to someone else.
#2: Economies of scale are rare
As much as we try to fool ourselves, saying things like, “once you have one, a second won’t make so much of a difference.”. WRONG!
Take the money spent, take time spent, take shopping trips, running around, doctor’s appointments, nappy changes, lunchboxes packed, and everything else you currently do and times all of those things by two, or at best 1.5.
Then take your energy levels, your patience, your focus, your time spent on you (wait while I wipe the tears of laughter and despair from my eyes), your time with your husband – alone, your spare cash (again I am overcome by such naïve optimism) and divide that by 4. If you are questioning my math, either you are one of those perfect mom unicorns that I don’t believe exist (#weknow) or you do not yet have children and live in that blissful bubble of ignorance – in either case, this blog might not quite be the place for you.
Kids are black holes when it comes to emotional, economic, mental and physical resources. And while the return on investment is precious, a lot like a gold nugget or a diamond, it does not balance the scales of every deficit created. You will be in debt on some level of resource for the rest of your life and let’s face it the greater the number of kids, the bigger the debt.
#3: The world is overpopulated
Many reading this are probably saying, “Whoa, she is way overthinking this!”, but the reality is that every single human being on earth today has to consider their impact on future generations, we are all responsible to find ways to reduce our toll on the planet.
Recently, I was faced with a scary diagram on Facebook, that hammered this thought home. Canadian researchers identified the number one lifestyle choice for reducing greenhouse gases – “have one fewer child”. This action has by far the biggest impact, at 58.6 tonnes of carbon dioxide saved per year. The next closest action is living car free, which saves only 2.4 tonnes per year. Even switching to a Vegan lifestyle doesn’t even come close, saving only 0.8 tonnes.
Part of my internal debate around this matter, stems from not wanting to bring another child into a world that may not have the space for her/him. Space to live a healthy, happy and safe life. I cannot in good conscious simply want to have a child and selfishly not worry about their future and their children’s future on this earth. I must be conscious of the life my children and their children and their children will eke out on this one size fits all planet of ours.
Shew, see what I mean about the size of this decision, and here I thought deciding to have the first one was a big decision. That was when I still lived in the blissful bubble of ignorance.
#4: The grossness of birth is seared into my memory
Another big deterrent is the level of grossness associated with giving birth. I don’t care what anyone says, giving birth is not beautiful – the child is beautiful, the moment is beautiful – the act and what follows in the days afterwards is not.
Just some of the highlights of my experience of birth include the joyful device known as the catheter, having my lady parts shaved with a disposable razor by a nurse in a shared ward, “hemorrhoids the size of Kimberly” (the doctors exact words, not mine), the spoon “massage” from a nurse to get my breast milk flowing that resulted in bruised and battered boobs that had a good flow of milk, blood clots the size of cricket balls slinking out of my uterus and body for days afterwards, their size and severity causing me to think I was bleeding internally (I have since been told these are a treat we all get to enjoy regardless of natural birth or birth via C-section), and endless suppositories, some of which I am equal parts ashamed and proud to say were administered by my saint of a husband.
Giving birth is a messy, undignified affair. Who on earth would ever put themselves through that more than once in their lifetime? Oh right, almost 3.8 billion people – the female half of the world’s population.
#5: The bad feelings are not extinguished
When it comes to my fight with postpartum depression, I have won many battles, but the war is not yet over. The feeling reminds me of Voldemort from The Harry Potter books – no matter how hard I fight it, no matter how much I weaken it, it just will not die.
Even now, 20 months on, the feeling lurks in the dark places, when I am tired or stressed, when Izzy feels overwhelming, when work feels overwhelming or when my life as I knew it seems a distant memory never to be relived.
In those moments the feeling tries to drag me back under, but these moments are few and far between. The good feelings are far more dominant than the bad, and now Izzy more often than not takes my breath away in a most wonderful way – those are the feelings I cling to, when the other feeling tries to snake its way back into my life.
But it has taken a long time to feel the deep love that was advertised. I can recognize it now, but for at least the first 16 months I wasn’t sure I had it.
I know I can carry on fighting because, now, I know the feeling lies, it cheats and it steals. The feeling blocked me from the joy that should have been mine, the joy of unconditional love, of creating a new life with the love of your life. It stole my husband’s partner, the one he knew and needed. It stole some of his confidence in me and my commitment to our family. The feeling lied to me about Izzy and her role in all of this and it cheated her out of a present and emotionally engaged mom when she was at her most vulnerable. The feeling stole all this from me, from Izzy and from my husband.
But I also know the feeling, like Voldemort in The Goblet of Fire, will return with renewed strength at the worst possible time – post the birth of a second child. This is my biggest fear. A fear that my doctor cannot dispel, because research has shown that a woman’s likelihood of suffering postpartum increases with each and every childbirth. That’s why a mother of three can be debilitated after her third but have breezed through one and two. Ultimately, my doctor and I have agreed that I should expect another bout, as my chances of relapse are almost unequivocally certain.
And should I decide to have a second child, I will need to mentally, emotionally and physically prepare for my second internal world war. As will my family, little Izzy included, another innocent casualty to consider when making this decision.
Despite all my misgivings, despite all the reasons why not, my biology is betraying me. I want it, I want the pregnancy, I want the kicks to my liver, I want the ultrasound heartbeat, I want the baby breathe, I want the scrawny chicken legs and arms, I want the first gummy smile, I want the tiny hand holding my one finger, I want it all, I want it all over again.
And even more, the eternally gullible optimist in me wants what I didn’t get the first time – the instant bond, the profound feelings, the exhausted joy, the presence of mind, the presence of heart and soul, the wonderment, the content cherub baby and the happy family.
I am able to momentarily fool myself. “Maybe next time will be different?”, “Maybe it won’t be so bad?”, “Maybe it will be a fleeting feeling.”. Maybe all of these things could be true. But I just don’t know and no-one can tell me with 100% certainty what the next time will be like.
#7: The next time might be worse
It could very well be worse. What if the new baby never sleeps? What if he/she doesn’t eat? What if he/she is sickly? What if the depression and anxiety lasts even longer? What if it is even more profound? What if I need to be hospitalised? What if I am so mentally distressed I do something to hurt myself?
That’s a lot of “what ifs”, a lot of maybes and a lot of unknowns. How can I be expected to make an informed, responsible decision if I don’t have all the facts, if I can’t predict the outcome, if I there are so many variables? And therein lies the rub, I cannot rely on absolutes. No-one can, not when it comes to children. Because as I have already established in previous posts, nothing goes according to plan. It is uncharted territory, always new, always changing, always different. It’s a leap of faith, a risk.
The only absolute at your disposal, is the answer to an incisive question: Do you believe the potential gain outweighs the potential risk? Can you manage that risk by focusing on the gain? Yes or No.
I wish I had the answer. Not yet. But I will let you know, when I know. Well, when I know what’s right for me and my family anyway, you will need to make your own arbitration.