Last week while my husband, son and I were out for dinner, we bumped into a couple of old acquaintances we hadn’t seen in five years.
After spending a few moments catching up on work and life changes, we moved to admiring each other's children – they have two, we have one. The small talk went from the jovial - "Oh god, aren’t kids a nightmare?!" ... "Remember how Friday nights used to look?" ... "How much do you LOVE the iPad?!" to the plain nosy: "So when are you having another one?"
Most people tend to ask this question out of curiosity and not animosity, but it doesn’t stop me feeling irritated by its tone - that by only having one, we are somehow not ‘finished’ as a family. I diligently replied with exactly what they were expecting me to say in the theme of our small-talk bantering, saying, "Oh, someday", before quickly changing the subject.
The fact is that I am 35, I have one child of nearly four, and I have had two miscarriages in our attempt to make a sibling for him. On their own, the miscarriages were an upsetting experience, but we have also had a serious illness and two international moves to contend with. It has been, without doubt, a difficult few years for us as a family.
Our only son was born in 2010 and although I love him fiercely and enjoy his company immensely, it would be fair to say I have not found the early years of motherhood easy.
I realised along the way that being a parent requires skills that I am woefully short in – patience being the main one. Before I had a child, I also never liked to cook, bake or do craft of any sort, and just because I now have one and I am the primary caregiver these feelings have not changed. I often feel guilty that I don’t frequently bake cookies with him or make an octopus out of a toilet roll (thanks Pinterest). I know I am a good and loving mother, but if ‘motherhood’ was a job description I would not meet the essential criteria.
This brings me on to whether or not, knowing these things about myself, should we really try again for another one?
On the occasions when I have written ridiculously simplistic ‘pros and cons’ lists of whether we should have another child, the ‘cons’ list is vastly longer. If we choose not to procreate again, we could start travelling to exotic destinations and I will also have more opportunities to work and have more time to myself. There would be less financial worry; we won't have to send two children through university or pay for two lots of hobbies, plane tickets and fashionable trainers. I will never have to be that sleep-deprived, cranky new mum that I felt I was. I won't have to deal with nappies, vomit or getting a pram in and out of the car’s boot ever again. I won't have to get enormously pregnant (I gained 30kg with our first) or lose control over my breasts and my lady bits. My husband and I could spend more time just the two of us, eating, drinking and laughing - like we used to do and enjoyed so much.
The 'pros' list, however, is far less practical, and comes down to a mixture of guilt (how can I deny my son the chance to have a sibling?) as well as love (how can I not sign up for an experience whereby we will create a new human that I will undoubtedly love with my entire being?).
Biology and social expectations are hard to ignore. I can’t always explain why I think I should have another child, and in the past I just assumed it was something we would do ‘when the time is right’ because that's what the majority of other couples do.
For us, however, the time seems never to be right, and although we have tried, it just hasn’t worked.
When I spend time with my friends with two (or more) children and we manage to barely get a word out between us, I wonder if I really want to be in their shoes at all. Then I feel guilty that I should want to retain some autonomy and just enjoy the one child that I have and the freedom that only having one brings.
My son currently attends preschool three days per week, and I have time to go to the gym, have a quiet lunch, and get through the shopping and housework. I work when I can and I have time to myself. My life isn't hard in the way that a new mum’s life is, or a mum of multiple children’s is. I feel as if I have a foot in both camps – I am a parent, yet I do not spend my whole day consumed by parenthood.
So where to next?
I don’t want to have another miscarriage - I found the physical and emotional pain intense. But at the same time, I'm not sure I can live with just not trying again. The guilt I feel about ‘being selfish’ and just having one, and the potential for creating a new love, is strong and unavoidable.
So next time someone asks me "When are you having another one?", perhaps I will be more honest and mention my miscarriages, my feelings of ambivalence towards motherhood, and yet how my biological clock still ticks ever louder. Whatever we (and nature) decide is right for us, the one thing I can be sure of is that there will be times when we look back with rose-tinted regrets, and other times when we think it was the best decision we ever made.
This article first appeared on Daily Life.