Here I was again, sitting in the stall of a Walgreens bathroom and looking at a pregnancy test that read “Not Pregnant”. I know I probably should have waited until I was home, but I could sense the familiar wave of anxiety creeping in. I just had to know. And like… now.
Before the birth of my now 2-year-old daughter, my periods were always irregular. 4 days late one month, 7 days late the next. Needless to say, I paid a small fortune for pregnancy tests over the years (You’re welcome, Walgreens). But after having my daughter, my cycle finally regulated, despite having endometriosis and PCOS. I finally knew when to expect my period.
It also meant that the first time I was late in over a year, I kind of lost my shit.
At this point, my daughter was one and a half. When she was six months old, I quit an underpaying, but very fulfilling, job in senior care to become a stay-at-home-mom. This was never my plan while I was pregnant, but it was working well for our family… mostly. We no longer had the insane costs of daycare or the struggle of figuring out who was going to have to call into work because the baby was sick or daycare was closed because of the weather.
My husband, the primary earner in our family, gained more flexibility at work while I enjoyed resuming my role as primary caregiver for our baby. My husband and I had struggled financially for many years, and so the privilege of this decision was not lost on me. But the plan was always for me to go back to work when she began preschool, and in the beginning, that didn’t seem so far away. I didn’t feel like I was giving anything up, not then.
After struggling with infertility for years, pregnancy and the birth of my daughter were things I thought might never happen. So I relished them. I tried to treat being a stay-at-home mom (SAHM) like any other job. I applied myself rigorously, reading every book, and making promises (mostly to myself) that so many moms make about how I would do things. I failed gloriously at many most of them, triggering waves of blistering postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety that I would wrestle under control for a little before they would slip back out from under my grip.
Transitioning to a SAHM did not, in any way, assuage these problems. On one hand, I felt immense pride for the care I provided my daughter and our home. We had play dates and went to storytime and visited the lions at the zoo and learned and read and experienced. I tried to keep us so busy that I couldn’t feel how the isolation and repetition were eating away at me.
As much as I wanted my day-to-day Pinterest crafting, errand running, and playdates with a one year old to be enough for me, it wasn’t (AND THAT IS OKAY).
As much as I wanted my day-to-day Pinterest crafting, errand running, and playdates with a one year old to be enough for me, it wasn’t (AND THAT IS OKAY). There were days that were amazing and days I ended up drinking way too much wine, crying alone in my bathtub and grasping for an idea of who I was now.
Eventually I realized: something had to change. I made the decision to go back to work, at least part time. And still, sending my daughter to Mother’s Day Out was terrifying at first. I sat in the car after drop-off and cried each morning, feeling guilty leaving her and guilty for wanting to. But Olivia transitioned much better than I did at first. Her gross motor skills accelerated and her language skills began to improve. Once I saw how my daughter blossomed being around others, I increased my workload and eventually applied to graduate school.
My PPD and PPA improved gradually but heartily. I benefited from being around my peers just like she did. I felt like me again, but a newer, stronger version with clear goals inspired by my daughter – goals that would allow me to care for her in ways I couldn’t before.
Yet a few weeks, I was staring at my calendar with a knot in my stomach, having realized my period was 6 days late. I told myself it was fine over and over again as I drove to Walgreens. This trip was a far cry from the last pregnancy test purchase I made when my boobs were aching and I was already throwing up. That test held hope, joy, and a different kind of relief.
That test said: I’ve beat it. I got pregnant, despite the odds.
This test said: Oh, fuck.
On the way there, I started wondering, ‘Why aren’t I excited? Shouldn’t I be excited? Wouldn’t Olivia like having a sister? What is Todd going to think?’ And then the scariest thought of all crept, uninvited, into my mind.
‘What if he’s happy…and I’m not?’
It hit me. I did not want another child. Not at all. Not ever.
Our family had finally achieved a balance, which anyone with small children knows is a nearly miraculous feat. Another baby would be wonderful, sure, but it would also be expensive. It would also bring with it the possibility of another devastating miscarriage. It could bring another battle with PPD and PPA. It would mean me taking another leave from work because I know I wouldn’t be able to leave my 6-week-old baby again.
I’m calling bullshit on the whole thing. I want to give my family the best version of myself and having a big family is not how I will do that. If that makes me a selfish mom, I’ll proudly wear that title.
Does wanting to avoid these situations make me selfish? Some would say yes. And I get asked all the time when I’m going to give Olivia a brother or sister like it’s just so easy. You have one, why not have another? And I know these are well-meaning questions, but I hope the people who ask parents these things might read this and pause.
There is already such an expectation for parents, especially moms, to give themselves up completely for their children. This includes giving up careers, self-care, financial security, and even sanity. We live in a parenting era where not showering for 3 days is considered a badge of honor! We compare the durations of our exclusive relationships with yoga pants. We boast about how little sleep we’re surviving on.
But you know what? The guilt that this self-flagellation inflicts on parents is crushing. I’m calling bullshit on the whole thing. I want to give my family the best version of myself and having a big family is not how I will do that. If that makes me a selfish mom, I’ll proudly wear that title.