Photo: Katherine Clover
It happened again this week. We were in line at the grocery store, trying to keep the toddler occupied, and chatting with the well-meaning woman with a bright smile behind us. “Is he your first child?” she asks. My wife and I glance at each other—a quick flicker of the eyes is all it takes to reaffirm that we are still locked in the same confusing stalemate.
This is the question we get asked almost every time the three of us are in public. What people don’t ask, what seems to never occur to them, is whether or not he’s an only child. And as it turns out, he is an only child … maybe … probably.
The fact is, I’m still not certain about how many kids I want, even though my wife feels our current family size is ideal.
At the age of 12, I confidently told my mother that I was going to have seven children. But, by the time I met my wife, some 18 years later, my perspective had changed. I wanted to be a mom, that I knew with incontestable certainty, but that was it. My twenties turned out to be both emotionally and economically tenuous, and I couldn’t imagine being able to pull off having more than one child. We got married, and the plan was one baby. And we always discussed the matter of reproduction in singular terms. Neither of us ever said “when we have kids.”
A difficult pregnancy and labour, which eventually ended in a merciful caesarean section, cemented our plans for a one-kid family. Somewhere in the midst of the unbelievably gruelling five days of labour, someone said “it will be different next time,” and I scoffed. I told my wife that if I ever seriously considered having another child, it was her job to talk me out of it. These days, we have an active two-year-old, and that job is starting to get complicated.
When our son moved to a big kid bed, I didn’t give away his crib. Instead, I shuffled it into storage—just in case. When I’m all alone with my thoughts, I know that the truth is that I do want there to be a next time. Unexpectedly, in the middle of the day, I catch myself thinking “with the next baby, we’ll get one of those woven wraps.” I feel awful about it, because we had a plan, but in my heart I’m still dreaming about a future in which my son is an older brother.
My wife has no such inner conflict over the size of our family. As far as she’s concerned we’re all here. She’s a happy and well adjusted only child, and she harbours no fear of our kid “missing out” on the joy of siblings, because she doesn’t feel that she missed out. He has a best friend on our block, and there’s hardly a day that goes by when he isn’t playing with neighbourhood kids. He isn’t lonely, and in a year he’ll go to preschool. She seems confident that our little three-person family is perfect just the way it is, and it is a confidence that I watch with envy, and sometimes a little sadness.
There are practical concerns. I can scream “children need love more than money!” until I’m blue in the face, but it doesn’t change the fact that we have bills to pay. As a working class family, our budget is already extremely tight, and I honestly don’t know if we could handle it getting tighter. And although my wife has a uterus, she’s made it clear that she isn’t interested in the joys of pregnancy and childbirth. If I got as sick as I was the first time around, I wouldn’t be in any position to take care of the kid I already have, and what happens then? When I think about the potential hardships, my mind is suddenly made up, and I steel myself to stick to our plan.
But then I see the little boy down the street pick up his baby brother with the comfortable ease of someone who picks up a baby constantly. When friends have babies, there are always pictures of the older siblings meeting the newcomer, wide-eyed and filled with wonder. I think about my own sister, and the big family I always wanted, and my heart aches. I know that children don’t need siblings, but it’s something I wish I could give my child. My head spins with it a kind of longing I don’t understand, before I even know what I’m doing I start thinking of ridiculous and illogical arguments for having multiple children. Then I see my wife’s beautiful face in my head, I see her calm confidence in her family, and I know I can’t try to break that, not ever.
Here is a sad and uncomfortable truth: many people do not get the families that they wanted and dreamed of. Some people are unable to have children, and adoption isn’t always an accessible alternative. Some people never meet the partner they want to parent with. If my wife wants one child, and I want more than that, there is a very good chance that one of us is going to be disappointed and regretful. If that’s the case, it is preferable for me to being quietly sad about the children I didn’t have than for her to regret any children she did have. Could there be anything more disrespectful and cruel than to try to talk a person into a having a child they do not want?
If you asked me whether or not my current family is “enough,” I would say yes, we are more than enough. My child is everything I could have wished for and more, and being his mother, and parenting with my wife, is a dream come true. And yet, I vividly recall turning to her with tears in my eyes while he was only three months old. I told her I just wasn’t ready to make a final decision on the matter of family size. I needed to leave the door to more children open, even if it was only a crack. Couldn’t we just wait and see, wasn’t it possible we might feel differently in a couple of years? She agreed to postpone a final decision, even though it was clear that she felt our little family was complete.
These days, when people ask me if he is my first child, I say “first and probably only.” I know I should drop the word probably but I just can’t bring myself to. And when my wife matter-of-factly states that she doesn’t want any more kids, I smile and say “OK, call me if you change your mind.”
I know she probably won’t change her mind, but for now I’m still waiting to see how we all feel in a couple of years.
This article was originally published online in July 2017.