After thirty-five hours of labor—and three hours of pushing—my son was finally placed on my chest. Leading up to the delivery, I'd heard people talk about that movie-like moment, when the music swells and they finally meet their child.
For me, when I held 8 lbs., 5 oz., of perfect-smelling, warm baby in my arms, it was a little different. It was like I'd been walking on an uneven floor, and suddenly everything shifted. When my son was in my arms, the world was level and plumb.
Less than a day later, as I was struggling to breastfeed, a nurse said, "Well, you won't have any trouble with the second one."
Second one? You mean, my second boob? Oh, you mean child. Can…can I learn to feed this one first?
And as I was wheeled out of the hospital, another nurse said, "We'll see you back here for the next baby!"
It's easy to dismiss this as harmless (albeit thoughtless) hospital banter, off-the-cuff comments said by people who see hundreds of babies enter the world. But then in the outside world, people still kept asking me about my plans for a second. And I'm not just referring to family and friends—I'm talking about other moms in music class; moms children’s birthday parties; moms at the park. And it always goes something like this: we start chatting about our kids and then—bam!—they pop the question.
“Are you going to have another baby?”
The short answer is no.
The long answer? My pregnancy was difficult—mostly due to me being a severe asthmatic. I contracted bronchitis three times during my pregnancy, and the third time, it triggered a pretty bad asthma attack that resulted in me taking steroids and undergoing weekly sonograms to ensure the baby was okay. Because I couldn’t breathe, labor was challenging; I couldn’t take a deep enough breath to brace myself to push.
Then there's the pesky little detail of being 40 when I gave birth, right in the ol' "Advanced Maternal Age" category. While plenty of women can and do have perfectly healthy pregnancies well into their forties, I don't want to risk any additional complications that could put my life, or my baby's life, in jeopardy. I don't want to risk not being here for my son. I know women survive much worse during their pregnancies, but for me, I'm not going to push my luck. I'm grateful I made it through with one happy and healthy kid.
But random-lady-at-the-playground, do you need to know all that? And what if my story didn't have a happy ending? What if I had miscarried? What if I had severe complications that left me with fertility issues? What if my one child was the result of arduous, expensive, emotionally and physically taxing fertility treatments? Or what if I just didn’t want any more kids? There's nothing wrong with being "one and done," regardless of your reasons.
If I don't give the long answer, though, there's the implied indictment against my son, or against me as a mother; I must not love my kid enough to give him a sibling or that motherhood isn’t my thing if I don't have more kids.
And the truth is, I love being a mother. I love the little fingers on my face. The giggles and babble and unsteady but oh-so-adorable toddler walk. The way he smiles when he's flying through the air on the swings.
So to the random-lady-at-the-playground, what may seem like a harmless question is actually one that shouldn’t be asked or answered. Instead of quizzing me on my plans for more kids—and insisting I’ll “regret it” if I don’t have another—how about we enjoy the kids that are right in front of us on the swings, grinning, giggling and relishing in that exhilarating moment.
Cara Lynn Shultz is the author of *Spellbound, Spellcaster and The Dark World. She has written for Billboard, People, Logo TV, Bustle, The Guardian UK, Us Weekly and The Dodo. Cara lives near her native New York City, where she writes words. Sometimes sense make they.*
Published August 2017