Is One Child Enough?
A mother struggles with the second-kid decision.
I'm lying on my back, feet in stirrups. Dr. Gyno snaps on a plastic glove and gives the old "scootch toward me." This is not how I had planned on spending my Tuesday morning.
I have lived by the motto "Jump and the net will appear," and not just because I have a thing for firemen. That simple philosophy has inspired me to lead a life of frequent and deliberate change. Hairstyles, apartments, boyfriends, careers... I cycled through them all with the ease of an iPod shuffle.
Right now you're probably thinking, "Wow, what a flake." And you'd be right, only I prefer the term "Change Junkie." It's more accurate, and besides, I kind of like the badass connotation. But that was the old (young) me. Now I'm the new (old) me. I'm a 42-year-old wife, with a kid, and a husband who wants another (kid, not wife. Not as far as I know, anyway). Unfortunately for him -- and for three sets of eager, salivating grandparents -- the concept of change now totally freaks me out.
There could be six half-naked firemen standing outside my window yelling "Jump, you're ovulating!" and I still wouldn't budge. When it comes to the question of whether to have a second child, I haven't had the guts to lift my feet off the floor.
Let me explain: My first pregnancy was symptom-free. Even worse, I enjoyed it. I was a "glow"-er. And despite my fears that I would give birth to an ugly dullard, my daughter, now 3 years old, has turned out shockingly well. We're a very small, very manageable, very happy family of three. So why push it? I'd always been a good gambler; I knew when to hold 'em, when to fold 'em, when to walk away, and when to run screaming from the idea of another kid.
But then came the vacillating. Some days I'd find my brain playing Good Cop/Crazy Cop with itself. One minute I would be scheduling a vasectomy for my husband based on the fact that 60 percent of the finalists on American Idol were only children; the next minute I was gazing longingly at my daughter's baby pictures, then telling my husband to "get undressed and turn off the lights before I change my mind!" Most times, though, I could fight the impulse.
And then it happened.
It was a Sunday afternoon. My kid was napping, my husband was out, I was shaving lint balls off the couch. I began watching a repeat of a talk show, and it was a doozy. I won't go into much detail because if I do I may start crying.
I'll just say that the topic was siblings and the lengths to which they will go to protect each other. Never mind that I grew up with two brothers whose idea of affection was to fart on my head simultaneously; the episode was so moving it left me a heaving, sobbing mess. When my daughter awoke from her nap, in order to calm down I had to pinch my arm flab and imagine the worst thing I could think of, which was the time I accidentally caught a glimpse of my dad bending over in his bathrobe. (P.S. It worked.)
My husband and I "did it" that night. Afterward, I stuck a pillow under my rear and tried to will the smartest of the sperm (move over, dum-dums!) to penetrate either of my last remaining eggs.
I awoke the next morning in a panic. "Another kid? What about my career?! My time?! My life?! My boobs?! What the eff was I thinking?!" Then I reminded myself that it had taken us more than a year to conceive the first time, so I figured chances were slim that this one would stick.
A few days later I felt a twinge-y/cramp-y ping! in my lower abdomen. Nooo... I suddenly regretted having mocked those hippie chicks who claimed they could feel the moment of conception. In that instant I was hit with the reality of what we'd done. It was sharper and more startling than stepping on a Barbie shoe in the middle of the night. Our lives were about to be ruined. I convinced myself that since we'd used up all our good genes on the first kid, #2 would be a disaster of epic proportions.
Before I knew it, a strange set of symptoms appeared. First up: a hot, red rash that started on my arms, then migrated across my chest and stomach. I checked in with my old doctor friend (WebMD) and learned that many women experience hormonally induced hives in the first trimester.
Then came the vertigo. If you've never felt it, vertigo is like the bed spins you felt the first time you got drunk, but without that lemon-gin aftertaste.
So not only were we about to destroy our perfect little family, I was going to spend the next nine months stumbling around as a rashy, dizzy, gassy mess. (I may have neglected to mention the gas as I'm not entirely certain that was a pregnancy symptom.)
My husband suggested I pick up a pregnancy test, but I thought it was still too early for that. A few nights later came the most graphic proof: bright-pink spotting. I didn't need to surf the Web for this one, it had happened during my first pregnancy. It was time to rewrite our future. No longer would we be the mobile, relaxed trio. Now we would be the harried, overstressed, financially unstable family of four.
But as I lay there spotting I reminded myself that even if #2 was a disaster, it would be nice for our daughter to have someone else. A friend, a confidante, someone to fart on; a partner to lean on when her parents grow old, decrepit, and demanding. As I felt the boulders of long-held notions being rearranged in my mind, another unfamiliar sensation took over, as the light spotting became heavy spotting, and the pink turned a deep, dark red.
This was serious bleeding. Heavy, worrisome, almost like...
Dr. Gyno snaps off her plastic gloves and tosses them into a trash can.
"It's your period. A heavy one, yes, but just a period."
But what about the rash? The sudden vertigo? The uncontrollable gas?
My doctor shrugs. "I don't have an answer for you. But thank you for waiting until after I gave the exam to tell me about the gas."
I wasn't pregnant. Not even a little. Huh.
Now you're probably thinking, "Wow, she's flaky and has a tendency toward hysterical pregnancy." And again, you'd be right. But the most interesting takeaway from this story isn't the fact that I'm able to talk myself into thinking I'm pregnant; it's how I don't feel the slightest bit relieved at finding out that I'm not. And that "fear of change"? It's gone. Seems it's been replaced, knocked out of position by a faint sense of sadness for the little delinquent who never was.
Which isn't to say there can't be another. Dr. Gyno says it's true, given my age and the dustiness of my ovaries, that my odds of conceiving are low and getting lower every day; but, she says, if I want another there's no reason we shouldn't keep trying.
And now I do, and so we will.
Originally published in the July 2011 issue of Parents magazine.