I promised myself that if I wasn’t pregnant with a second child by the time I turned 40, I’d put my ovaries to bed. My 40th birthday was last month. And a deal’s a deal.
On the occasion of my husband, Erik’s, 40th birthday, we sat on the deck of a restaurant that overlooked the glittering Monterey Bay. Twelve years together, now that Erik had obtained his first post-Psy.D job, we were both aware of a towing gravity shifting us into a future beyond years of scraping by on miniscule incomes as we put ourselves through graduate school. A future in which we might travel the world, or take up intriguing hobbies.
“Where do you think we’ll be in five years?” I asked.
“Well, I’m ready for a child,” Erik said, to my surprise.
When I married him nine years before, he didn’t even know that he wanted children, and I, then 24, was nowhere near ready, anyway.
As if my ovaries had simply been waiting for these magic words, they sprung into action, and on our first real vacation to Hawaii—a delayed honeymoon by almost 10 years—we were unwittingly pregnant just three weeks later.
Despite the sales pitch of the MegaBabyPlex that seeks to convince prospective parents we will be ethereal beings in gauzy white clothing expertly maintaining a hold on our pre-baby lives while raising little Einsteins, parenthood kicked our asses.
Sleep deprivation is a neatly packaged word of illusory gentleness, like “climate change” or “friendly fire,” to mask the reality of a fatigue so altering it could force hardened spies to turn over their mothers.
Walking our infant son up to the library in a haze one day in that first year, the world constantly blurry at the edges, I shook my head at a family with three children passing by. “How?” I asked my husband, voice cracking, “Does anyone ever do it again?”
“I don’t know,” he said, rubbing a hand across his excessive stubble, slugging back his third cup of coffee.
We were like shell-shocked survivors of a great, sudden accident, except of course we loved our son with the force of having the wind knocked out of you, a strange paradox.
From the moment my son was six months old people began to ask us when we were having another, and never stopped. The idea of having more children literally made my skin hurt. He didn’t sleep through the night until he was 2 when I stopped nursing him purely to return to something resembling human form.
I didn’t think I was emotionally or physically capable of having another child and I pushed the idea away quite easily.
And then my son emerged from the terrible-2s into the slightly more civilized landscape of 3. He slept through the night and communicated desires verbally. Like all women with ovaries beating out their plaintive reproductive tune, I started to think about another child.
My husband and I talked about it in an abstract way. “Well if we did it, where would it sleep?” we asked. “We’d need a bigger house to put it in.”
It was true that while a second child could share our son’s room at first, eventually two children would need their own rooms, especially if we wound up with a girl.
One time the conversation came up after watching old videos of our sweet-cheeked, babbling son that set the ovary-machine into overdrive. “Ohhhh,” I purred, “don’t you want another?”
My husband raised one brow, “OK, make your case.”
Let me see, I thought. Having children, while magnificent and life-changing, an experience that grows and tests you beyond any other, is not exactly a practical enterprise. Kids cost money, steal time and energy, and statistically, the more you have, the lower your happiness. A full-time freelance writer when I became pregnant with him, I didn’t write for most of his first year and hadn’t exercised for two more. I could not make the case with my mind, only my loins—and they were notoriously unreliable for long-term decisions.
Our son was a wanted child on all accounts. My husband, who didn’t know if he wanted children was, after all, the one to kick this reproductive experience into gear with his statement of certainty. From that first clichéd moment of awe at the sound of a second heartbeat inside me, my pregnancy brought me a giddy joy; and though his arrival came with challenges, I took them as part of motherhood boot-camp, necessary training for the task of raising a human.
Still, neither my husband nor I could wholeheartedly embrace this second theoretical human. We are people who need copious amounts of downtime. My son soon had to compete with my writing like a jealous suitor. While I knew intellectually that any child of ours would be loved beyond measure, I didn’t want “we had to argue you into existence” to be my second child’s back-story.
And so I made a deal with myself. My son was 3, and I was 37. If the mythical second child wasn’t growing in my womb by the time I turned 40, I would put my ovaries to bed and thank the stars for this amazing, healthy little product of our DNA.
And here I am. This past August, with the suddenness of a surprise attack, I turned 40. And a deal’s a deal: We are done reproducing.
There are myriad ways this is a marvelous fact. Studies have finally proved that only-children are no worse off than those with siblings, the “spoiled only” myth overturned. Many of my friends with more, particularly those with three and up, admit to me that everything from the quality of communication with their spouses, to their own sense of personal fulfillment have been sorely tested and even lost in the face of more children. Which is not to say that any one of them regrets their children, but reminders of the intensive mental, emotional, and physical expenditures of childrearing.
Will I regret not having any other children? My mother made the difficult choice not to have what would have been my only full-blooded sibling when I was 2, when she was splitting up from my father. That choice has haunted her all her life. I’ve asked myself that question many times and I have come to this: No, I won’t regret it.
My son’s brief “I want a brother or sister” interlude was neatly interrupted by having him spend a weekend with a friend’s baby sibling, whose crying jags and constant demands for “Mama” prompted him to say, “How about we just get a kitty?” instead.
Do I occasionally feel a wash of melancholy at the downy head of a newborn? Do my ovaries perhaps shiver just a little with anticipation when we replay videos of my son’s adorably chubby infancy? Do I even occasionally sigh at the onset of my monthly flow? Yes. But I have a big, full, happy life, and that’s a choice I simply can’t regret.
Jordan Rosenfeld is author of the writing guides Make a Scene, Write Free, and the novels Forged in Grace, and Night Oracle. Her essays have appeared or are forthcoming in: Brain, Child, Modern Loss, The Rumpus, the St. Petersburg Times, San Francisco Chronicle and more.