Why (Not) to Have Another Baby

Yesterday I received my new copy of Real Simple in the mail. The first night with a new Real Simple is a kind of ritual for me. I start at the front with the “New Uses For Old Things” section (Which always drive me crazy. I mean, come on, do I really need to use an old sock to wrap a wine bottle? That said, I can’t stop reading it.) and then I usually skip to the recipes at the back. (I save the articles for another day.) But last night, I was feeling adventurous and found myself reading an article by Rebecca Walker, author of several books, and daughter of novelist Alice Walker, about how she “[let] go of her big-family fantasies” and accepted her one-child home.

I was drawn to “My One and Only” because I know of a few women who are unsure of whether or not they want to have a second child, or who have been struggling to conceive. I thought, maybe this would be an encouragement.

It wasn’t an article about the desire to not have a second baby and it wasn’t an article about difficulty conceiving. It was complicated. And it was heart breaking.

It didn’t break my heart because Walker’s family decided not to add another child into their life. I have great respect for every family’s decisions regarding the amount of children they should have. I fully support a family’s decision to raise only one child. In fact, studies have recently proven that only children are thriving in their homes and even in their social lives. (For proof read Lauren Sandler’s cover story for Time Magazine this past July.)

What bothered me was how Walker came to her decision. Why is she not going to have more children? For one, she’s forty and doesn’t want to push her body. Of course, that’s fair. Then there’s the issue of money. She recites a conversation with a friend about his child’s private school education, all $32,000 of it per year. Yes, she says, there are good public schools and we wouldn’t have to send our children to private schools, but… She then goes on to make the assumption that that such a number “represents” the cost of adding another child into their life.

Her final reason? Her husband’s desire that they don’t. It’s her husband who is home with her son while she writes and travels, and he makes it pretty clear for her: “It wasn’t fair to ask him to do more child rearing,” she says. Understandably, he has “his own ambitions and time-consuming dreams.”

So, Walker ends her article with a paragraph that made me ache, not because her reasons are not legit, not because I have any right to criticize her husband’s desire to work or their family’s decisions about finances, or her understanding of her own body, but because what I heard in her voice was a broken woman, mourning something that she longs for desperately.

“I decided to give my dream child up,” she says. “I imagined saying good-bye to her (or him), as though I was putting the baby up for adoption. I pictured the new parents arriving at the hospital, watched them park the car and walk, excitedly, up to the revolving door. I couldn’t run to her and take her home myself.”

All I could think as I read those words were, “Why?!” You’re forty, this is your last shot! Put your body through it! Find a nanny! Don’t write for three years!  (The books will still be in your brain when your baby gets to preschool.) There are ways to raise your child without dishing out tens of thousands of dollars for education. People do it all the time! This is your life, sweet woman! I kept thinking, does her husband understand? Does he get what his decision is doing to her?

What Walker didn’t say is that those reasons are not deal breakers for everyone. She was making a decision about her priorities. We all do. If we all waited till we had $32,000 per child per year, few of us would ever go for the first kid. Some of us put our careers on hold or we find a way to work and get help with the children. What bothered me about her article was that she didn’t come out and say that. What her article said is: This is what I have to do because it’s appropriate.

I know that’s not fair of me. I know I can’t fully understand the depth of the reasons Rebecca Walker mentioned in her article. But I know what it’s like to long for another child, to long for a family that feels complete. A friend of mine recently told me she knows she needs to have one more child because when her two boys are outside playing together she keeps looking for the third.

If Walker’s words were meant to demonstrate some gained wisdom derived from her loss, I didn’t buy it. She, being a strong, independent woman, would probably resent the fact that she came across as bullied by her husband, broken and sadly succumbing to the rules our culture has given her about money and about career. I just found myself wanting her to know there’s another way…

Because no one should have to give away a child she never had the chance to discover.


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8 responses to “Why (Not) to Have Another Baby

  1. Melanie

    Hmm, such a tough topic. I see where you’re coming from.

    On the other hand, I also think that both parents should be on-board when making this decision. I do think there is “veto power.”

    (Of course, pleasant surprises are a different matter. Just talking about planning.)

  2. Personally, I think her husband comes off as kind of jerky. It “wasn’t fair to ask him to do more child rearing”? If I knew my wife desperately desired another child, we’d find a way to make it happen. When you enter into a marriage, your life is no longer your own. That’s magnified when you become a parent. So, you realize it’s not about you anymore and suck it up.

  3. Stephanie F.

    I love your thoughts on this subject. I have noticed in my own life the sense of shame (?) and feeling like I have to justify my position to have more children even though it means I don’t advance at work, I keep driving our “old” vehicle and yes, I have to lose baby-weight one more time 🙂

    I don’t think she came across as being bullied by her husband (admittedly I haven’t actually read the article – I don’t have the pleasure of subscribing to Real Simple 🙂 It seems good that she actually took his views/wishes into consideration. If she is on the road/working etc. a majority (even half of the time?) of the time then she isn’t really living with the consequences of her decision to have another child, her husband is.

    As someone who works part-time and has a husband who works full-time from home with three children (he watches the kids while I work) I am well aware of the dynamic she is referring to. If she wants another child then I don’t think it would be fair to just ask her husband to sacrifice his time and ambitions without being willing to sacrifice hers as well.

    Just my two cents.

  4. Stephanie and Melanie, I think you guys are right. I was a little too harsh on the Mister. I don’t think it’s fair to call him a bully and you’re right, both parties have to agree when it comes to having another baby. I guess I’m just disappointed that he didn’t turn out to be the superman I dream all Stay at Home Dads would be: Willing! Determined! Ready to put aside all dreams of career for the sake of a family!

    So, yes, I was unfair. And I agree, Stephanie, she can’t ask her husband to sacrifice his career if she’s not willing to also…and vice versa.

    Thanks for your thoughts!

  5. Lex

    What up, Micha!

    It seems like what Ms. Walker is describing is the phenomenon of the little deaths we experience throughout our lives. I get the feeling that no matter what choice she made, however her husband contributed to the decision, and whatever criteria she may have chosen, there would’ve been something heartbreaking about it, because there’s something heartbreaking about last shots and having to choose between different dreams.

    Of course, I didn’t read it, either.

  6. Sam

    I understand your upset-ness with this. If I would have read it, I would have probably felt the same way. Seriously – sometimes the best gift is a kid who makes his appearance before we’re “ready” – I was not-so secretly thrilled that I got pregnant way before our timeline. But I think that view is dependent upon personality (of the mother, especially, and of the kid that comes along).

    The only reason to be upset along side Rebecca Walker is if she and her husband had previously agreed to two kids, and then he backed out. Which, like other commenters said above, it should be a couple’s decision. Not only to have another kid, but to NOT have more kids. It’s kinda like my beef with husbands who push more kids on their wives, or before their wives are ready, all in the name of “honoring your husband”.

    I don’t think it matters if she works outside the home, or is on the road – if her husband did this, then would anyone question it? And I would honestly question the ‘goals’ my husband had, as I would examine my own. Is running a marathon equal to another child? Is writing a book? Going to graduate school, or getting a doctorate? You know, actively considering those goals and weighing them against ‘another family member’.

    But like I said, if they both truly agree on the decision to stick to one kid, well, that’s great. But I am like you – will she regret it? And I guess we all have our regrets.

  7. Micha, I so appreciate you for reading between the lines. I can’t wait to read this article now.

    We’re dealing with a similar question – whether or not to have baby #2 and an additional question. Do we have one biologically or adopt? I’m thankful for options but they can be paralyzing.

  8. Bon

    This article made me feel sad too. It was the closing paragraph(s) that I found heartbreaking. I just lost my sister. I understand in a way I did not before how this life is our one life. So talk of “another life where I will meet my child” is just …..tragic to me. Talk like that. Money and time are continual issues– and by nature are negotiable mediums. if a dream still burns, as hers seems to…even after it is doused with water –maybe it is for a reason which humans, time, and money can negotiate. Practical or tactical concerns can obscure something at times–not always, but at times– more true. Like you I did not sense closure in the article, I sensed sadness. She spoke of her husband soothing her “when” she cries over the decision. Perhaps she is the breadwinner and so does not feel she can afford to slow down to adequately appease her husband’s (understandable) desire for more time and also earn necessary income to keep the family running. One never knows all the reasons.

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