Let me say right off the bat, this was not the post I intended to write when I woke up this morning. I had something else prepared entirely in my brain, but when I sat down to write it yesterday, nothing came. And so this morning, when I still felt like the well was dry, I decided to go for a walk. A long walk. Lots of right, left, right, left. An action I have been told by medical professionals, causes both sides of your brain to kick into gear and allows thought to move freely from the right side to the left side of the brain. And a new thought popped into my head. A thought I didn’t like. In fact, I immediately tried to force it back down to the recesses of my brain and focus on what I wanted to write about today, my new year’s resolutions…they are many and they are impressive. Just kidding. About the impressive part. They are, of course, legion.
But no. Still nothing would come except this other nagging thought. This other topic that always causes me to turn away in shame and makes me fall silent in the company of most other women when it comes up. The fact that I/Greg and I together have decided to have only one child has been a source of great shame and guilt for me for more years than we have been married.
When I was younger, but not so young that people didn’t take me seriously, I would declare quite confidently that I would never have children. Some people, of course, would tell me I was still too young to know that for sure. Some, usually other women, would tell me they couldn’t imagine ever feeling that way. And then one time, a guy friend I trusted greatly, remarked with great disgust that if that was actually really and truly how I felt that I needed to begin every date I ever went on with that declaration because that kind of statement was an inherent deal breaker and would only be continually more selfish of me to keep to myself. Why waste a guy’s time if I would never want to give him a family?
And all of these reactions made me feel so so very guilty. I actually would hope and pray that God would change my mind about kids, not because I wanted to want them but because I so desperately did not want to feel like a bad person/woman/Christian anymore. And then I met Greg. And of course, we talked about having kids before we got married and my opinion had not changed by then at the age of 23. I still did not want kids. And Greg was a little on the fence. He could have them or not. Neither was more appealing or appalling than the other for him. So we entered our marriage with the idea that we most likely would not be having kids. And I still felt guilty, but I felt a little less guilty because at least I hadn’t tricked some poor sap into marrying me and then refused to give him a family. Greg and I were on the same page.
And we stayed on the same page….all the way up until that little plastic stick told us that not having kids was not an option anymore. So we did what any logical, 20 something people would do. We lost our minds for a little bit. Well, I lost my lunch a whole lot and Greg lost his mind..but quietly so I wouldn’t feel so terrified. And I was terrified. But I was also a little teeny tiny bit secretly glad that maybe now this guilt of not wanting to have kids would fade away.
We had Levi. And it was hard. We had had over five years of marriage, just the two of us. Not a lot of our friends at the time were having kids so we were a little alone. I probably suffered through a good bit of postpartum depression without realizing it because I didn’t want to harm myself or Levi so I assumed I was just really not coping with this new change very well. I’m bad with change as it is and this was a doozie.
But we survived the first year with Levi and at the end of my cage fight with motherhood I discovered that I adored this little scrawny piece of my flesh. I love him more immensely every day that I get to know him, more than I thought possible. And Greg feels the same. And for a while the guilt stayed at bay.
Until Levi turned two. And then all of the same questions started but this time with more fervor. Surely having one child would only make me want to have more. Surely all of the fear and terror that came from the unknown was now gone and now that I had tasted from the well of motherhood, I was of course wanting more, right? No. I didn’t. We didn’t. My time being pregnant and my first year with Levi was so heartbreaking, so hard, so lonely that there was no way I could go back and start all over. And the guilt returned. But this time I was also a little angry. I had done my part! I had had the kid! How was it possible that I was now feeling guilty again because I didn’t want ANOTHER ONE?! But I disguised it well with jokes and eye rolls.
Now that Levi is five…well, five and a half as he will quickly correct, people have stopped asking me so often if I will be having another one. In fact, I think most people assume that maybe I can’t actually have any more kids and they are terrified of that being the answer to their question so they don’t ask. (Which is very good of them and even though it is not my answer to that question, it most definitely might be someone else’s. And it is kind sometimes to just not ask.)
Recently Greg and I have decided that we definitely aren’t interested in adding to our family by way of me physically carrying another child. And while I feel extreme relief at having made that decision and being so lucky to have my husband completely agree, because I very really and truly do not want to have another baby, the guilt is back to play.
I feel guilty when I see my friends post pictures of their kids all playing together and caption it with how delighted they are that their kids will always have each other. I feel guilty when I see another friend live out loud and own her own shame at not being able to have children. I feel guilty when women at my stage of life are happily announcing the arrivals of 4th, 5th or 6th kids. I feel guilty when I have to admit just how much free time I do have these days now that Levi is in real school. I feel guilty that my house is clean and my schedule is open. I feel guilty every time I meet someone new and they ask, “You just have the one?”
Let me be clear, none of these above situations are the wrong doing or cruel acts of the people in my life. They are simply living their own lives. As they should! My guilt is MY guilt. I own it. No one puts it on me but myself. And while I wish I were in a position to tell you now exactly how I worked through this guilt, while I wish I could give you the positive ending, the 8 ways in which you too can triumph over your own guilts and shame, I’m not there yet. I don’t have those answers.
I know that I have open and honest dialogues with Greg and my close friends about how our “one and done” lifestyle makes me feel, both the good emotions and the bad. I know that I talk to God about it a lot. And I know what my good friend, Brene Brown, says about shame and where it gleans its power and how it stays alive. And I am fighting like hell against this particular one to put all of those tools into practice.
But I hate when all you hear from someone is the happy ending they found. I hate when you miss out on the process. And I am very much in the process on this one. I hate when writers are their own heroes to every problem they hit in life.
I love my family. I can’t imagine life without them, just as they are. And I am so very content and fortunate to have so much to be thankful for in life. So I own this shame. I battle this guilt. And I proclaim victory over it…one day.