Recently, a dear friend and her gorgeous 9-month-old son came for a visit. Her baby is even-tempered, sweet, warm and snuggly. He's a good sleeper, a good eater and has a gorgeous toothy smile that he bestows on everything from the dog, to Little Dude to our favorite Laurie Berkner CD. We loved having them around.
Still, the minute they left, I turned to my husband and said, "Thank God, we only had one baby."
The adorable ball of sweetness, rather than triggering my instinct to pop out a sibling for Little Dude, reminded me of all the reasons I do NOT want to have another. The constant vigilance, bottles, drool, inexplicable cries, making baby food, diaper bags, diaper pails, diapers, the lack of time to myself, talking in sing-song voices and wondering if I will ever again take a shower that lasts more than two minutes. I love my son and treasure every stage of his life, but I'm glad his infancy is in the rearview mirror.
I don't think my take on this is unreasonable. Nor does my husband, who likes to sleep in even more than I do. We seem to be in the minority. At one time or another, nearly everyone we know (and plenty of people we don't) has told us we should have another baby.
It was worse when Little Dude was younger. For years, near strangers would stop me to encourage me to get pregnant. Toy stores, the gym, the park -- no place was sacred. The grocery store was the worst. Waiting to ring up my weekly haul became an exercise in politely deflecting unwanted advice from the efficient, but intrusive, Nosey Cashier.
Nosey Cashier: "Hey cute boy! Your boy is cute!"
Me: (smiling) "Thanks so much."
Nosey Cashier: "You having another one? "
Me: (hoping that a short response would end the conversation and show that our family was just what it should be) "Nope, we're done."
Nosey Cashier: "What? You can't stop at one. It's selfish. This boy needs a little brother or sister. That isn't right."
Me: (panicking and trying to pay as quickly as humanly possible while fumbling for my keys and preventing Little Dude from stealing candy from the register) "Oh, well, you know. Ummm, thanks. Have a great day!"
I need better comebacks. I'm like George Costanza -- always with the zinger an hour too late.
I know why I don't want more kids. I want to sleep. I enjoy one on one time with my son without the distraction of another baby. I like having my body back and I don't miss feeling like my sole purpose in life is to make milk for an infant who doesn't appreciate the sacrifice. My husband and I are re-familiarizing ourselves with date nights. I'm planning a mommy/son trip to visit an old friend this spring and for the first time in years my packing list does not include wipes, a diaper bag or a stroller.
We also have my teenage stepson. I don't know that his existence would placate Nosey Cashier -- he's twelve years older than Little Dude and will be heading off to college just as his younger brother starts first grade -- but he is a fabulous big brother. Still, even if he wasn't part of our family, we would have stopped at one.
I have never, not even once, wanted another baby.
This isn't to say I haven't considered Nosey Cashier's position. I've wondered if, in fact, I'm being selfish by not having another kid. I guess it depends on how you define selfish. If it means I take into account and value my own needs and desires, then yes, I'm guilty as charged. But selfish doesn't necessarily mean cold or heartless. Looking after your own well-being isn't just prudent, it's essential. There's a reason the emergency procedures in airplanes tell you to put on your own oxygen mask before helping anyone else, including your kids. I'm no good to anyone strung-out, stressed or overwhelmed. There are people who were meant to have lots of kids. I am not one of them. That doesn't bother me in the slightest.
What does trouble me are the assumptions underlying the baby-pushers' advice. They seem to fall into two camps. The first is that we're on our way to creating a spoiled monster -- the dreaded "only child." I've considered carrying around a picture of Franklin Roosevelt or Chelsea Clinton in my purse to hold up when these conversations happen. (Lance Armstrong used to be on my list, but, well, you know.) Believe me, we take this one seriously, but I'm sure we can put an end to any narcissism or self-centered behavior without having to set up another college savings plan. We've got help on this front. When my then 4-year-old told his cousin that his job was to drink the juice box and hers was to pick it up and throw it out, he discovered how little tolerance anyone in our family has for a sense of entitlement.
The second assumption, which bothers me more, is that by refusing to have another child, I'm scarring my son by denying him a companion and future best friend. I think a close sibling bond is amazing -- but it's not a sure thing. For every friend I have who relies on her brother or sister, there is one who can go months or years without talking to hers. There's no guarantee that a baby would grow into Little Dude's best friend or alter ego. My "little" brother and I aren't close -- he's a very good person, a kind father, and I admire that he doesn't have a mean bone in his body -- but we don't have weekly telephone calls and we rarely see each other. I love him, but I'm not his confidant and he's not mine. I have high hopes that Little Dude and Awesome Stepson will grow up to be friends as well as brothers -- they're well on their way -- but even if I knew that wouldn't happen, it wouldn't change my mind.
I think you should have a baby when your family feels incomplete without another person in it. I don't think you should have a baby to create a playmate, to keep your firstborn in check or to make sure your child can ask someone else to pay for half of your nursing home bills.
In the end, we can only do what we think is best for our family, which means my husband and I are done with diapers and bottles. Neither of us regrets putting the infant and toddler years behind us and I have no pangs when I donate Little Dude's outgrown clothing and baby paraphernalia. My nostalgia as I remember my son wearing a favorite shirt or playing with a well-loved toy is tempered by an equal dose of liberation and excitement. I take that as a sign that we've created exactly the family we are meant to have.