“Mama, why don't I have a brother?” my son asked seriously, out of nowhere, from his booster seat in the back of our car. His little sister was fiddling with the window switch and I had country music playing on the radio. The sun was out; summer was in the air.
Surprised that my almost-5 year-old could even process and ask such a sensitive, almost pointed question, I fumbled. “Um, why don't you have a brother? Well, Mommy didn't really have an easy time having you and your sister, and well, I'm not sure I could have another child…and so you are lucky to have your sister though, right?”
My answer, though clumsy, was true. I had c-sections with both children, and after my daughter, now two, was born, I suffered a life-threatening hemorrhage. The fear of a third surgery is real. I have no desire to put my body and life on the line again.
But with my son that day, there was more truth left unsaid, which is this: I don't want another child.
I just don't. I hear other mothers who “knew” they had to have a third, or just “weren't ready to stop at two.” I do know. Deep in my bones, I know I'm done. I feel I have all I can handle– emotionally and physically– with my two, now ages two and five.
This decision does not come without a heavy dose of guilt. My husband would love to have one more child. He came from a large family; he has always wanted a large family. He has made it clear, just often enough to leave a pit in my stomach, that he has not given up hope of expanding our brood. He often brings it up after I've had an especially long day caring for my two young children. It's as if he can sniff out the fact that I Googled “permanent birth control methods” that day.
Am I cheating my husband out of the bigger family he dreamed of? Did our original [naive, idealistic] plan to have “a lot” of kids seal the deal of our engagement and marriage, now leaving him feeling short-changed? Because now, the reality of motherhood has set in and two kids feels like plenty– “a lot”– for me.
The thought of not only being pregnant for nine months but then surviving the newborn years, the infant years, the toddler years… Honestly, it's the stuff panic attacks are made of. I have many fond memories of those times with my children, but not so fond I want to do it all over again. The memories, the photo albums, the home movies– those happily suffice for me.
My son's question adds fuel to that guilty flame. It's the question that nudges me when I'm feeling tired and vulnerable, or when he's having a difficult time socially. It leads to inner arguments: why shouldn't he have a brother? Doesn't he deserve one? Would he be happier as a young man, and then an adult, having a brother? No man I've ever met wishes he didn't have his brother.
Of course I know I wouldn't be able to choose the gender of my next child, or even that I could have another child. That truth only leads to the sister factor. My older sister is my best friend. How selfish am I to prevent my own daughter from ever experiencing the incomparable power of a sister-sister bond because I'm tired? Because I want to move on to the next chapter in my own life?
I always go back to this, though: Since their births, I have given my children every fiber of my being. I pour my heart into my days with them. Every single day. While I'm sure I have the capacity to love a third child, I also know that my family might in fact be a happier family with a mother who has some power in her life decisions, a sense of control and peace about whether her body will carry another baby. Maybe my choice to feel grateful for the two gifts I have been given– and remaining in that place– is okay, and someday, maybe my children and husband will be at peace with that too.