It was a couple of weeks after my daughter was born before we were finally able to be at home together. Those who have been reading my blog for a while know why. Those who are new can catch up here and here. My husband had been doing the parenting thing on his own for the second week of our daughter’s life, the week she came home from the NICU and I was in the hospital due to a botched c-section. So when I came home, it took a bit of time for the mom-ing to feel natural. The husband and the child had a little system going, and he had to teach me my baby’s
And just like that, after months of discussing and second-guessing, it was decided. We were one and done. I had never even heard the term “one and done” until eight months ago, when I Googled “pro/cons of having an only child.” At the time, I was in the throes of anxiety, biological clock pressure and some arbitrary deadline I had put upon myself, and I thought Google would help my husband Josh and I tilt our pro/con list for growing our family to one side or another. Looking back, letting a search engine decide our family’s future probably wouldn’t have been our best move. But I was terrified that either choice we made would be the wrong one, and, being indecisive in general, the finality of the decision had me spinning. Turns out, Google was quite egalitarian on the issue, so it didn’t help anyway. Many online forums extolled the virtues of being one and done, and just as many were devoted to the joys of sibling relationships. Seriously. No. Help. At. All.
Josh had been about 80 percent certain he didn’t want to have another child for some time. Both of us had always envisioned a family of four, but, given our daughter Hailey’s difficult birth, and, you know, us almost dying and our resulting PTSD, well, needless to say, he wasn’t anxious to go down that road again. Also, given that Hailey’s birth could have turned out much different, Josh felt strongly that we dodged a bullet and wondered if trying for a second child would be pushing our luck. Rather, he chose to be grateful for the blessings we had than to ask for more. I shared his concerns and added to them the worry that my body and my psyche couldn’t handle another difficult pregnancy and birth, this time at 41.
For several months, Josh and I asked ourselves the tough questions (and some superficial ones): The three of us have a pretty cool family dynamic going on. Did we really want to change it? Did we have the time and energy to devote to another child? And we’re finally getting sleep! Do we want to go back to sleepless nights and diapers? And Hailey is such a good traveler! We can go anywhere! (We don’t. But we could.) Are we too old and tired? On the flip side, we worried about Hailey being lonely without a brother or sister, missing out on some of the quintessential sibling moments that most of us grow up with. My brother, sister and I are pains in each other’s asses much of the time, but we are also a support system for each other, shoulders to cry on, listeners, friends, cohorts in the stories of our lives, a reality check, our children’s godparents.
Our pro/con list had 10 items in each column, a clear sign that decisions like this can’t be whittled down to a list. In the end, it came down to Josh and I realizing on a gut level what was right for our family. After months of intellectualizing the decision, it clicked for us in an unusual way. The three of us were waiting in a line to see Mickey Mouse at Disneyland and a family of three was in line ahead of us — parents and a teenage daughter. They were talking, playing a game of some sort together and enjoying each other’s company. Perhaps the daughter was all teen angst at home, but on that day, not only was she a teenager alone at Disneyland with her parents, but she was having fun with them. Josh and I watched them for a while, then we turned to each other, smiling, and Josh said what we both were thinking: “I want that.”
We’re a couple of months past making our choice to join the ranks of the one and dones, and we’re still adjusting to this new plan for our family. I had always expected to have a second child and give birth again, thus being able to experience some of the early bonding moments Hailey and I missed out on due to her rough entry into the world. I’m still letting go of some sadness over the fact that I won’t ever know what it’s like to hold my crying baby after its born and feel its skin against my skin. And Josh and I always envisioned ourselves with two little girls, so we’ve had to adjust that vision for our family. But these are just longings for experiences we never knew, ghosts of a life that never existed. The reality of our family is beautiful, and our “one” is pretty damn incredible. Maybe the ghosts of a life never lived always remain for everyone, everywhere on some level, for one reason or another. But I think as gratitude for the present and for your real life builds, those ghosts dissipate, eventually settling into nothing more than a fine mist of a memory of something that never was.
A relentless parade of colds, flu and bronchitis circled through our house for a couple of months during the holidays this year. When Hailey caught her third cold in a row, we paid a visit to the pediatrician, who gave us a slightly patronizing “this is all very normal” look, and informed us that school-aged kids typically get seven viruses between the months of October and March. Sobering news indeed. And perhaps the patronizing look was warranted. I mean, we took Hailey to the doctor for what was essentially a bad cold, and we probably take our child to the doctor more than most parents. When the doctor recommended an app with which we could check common symptoms on our own, I read this to mean, “your family brings me too much business. Stop. Just stop.” There’s no rule book for parenting, let alone for how to handle childhood illnesses and accidents. As parents, we’re limited in our ability to take away our child’s pain, so we administer aid, seek advice, soothe, cuddle and comfort as best we can all while stressed out and sleep deprived. For Josh and I though, a sniffle, a cough, a stumble or a fall triggers not only normal parental worry, but deeply embedded anxiety. All parents watch their kids closely. Is that normal? we ask ourselves. Should he be walking on his tip toes all the time? Does she get sick too often? Fall down too much? Parenting provides endless opportunity for worry — both real and imagined. All parents watch their kids closely. But Josh and I watch especially closely — evaluating, wondering, constantly struggling with internal fears.
Hailey had a rough entry into this world. Following 18 hours of labor, I caught a hospital borne infection and spiked a 105 fever, and Hailey went into distress. After an emergency c-section, Hailey was born not breathing. She was intubated, but still didn’t breathe on her own for several minutes. One second I was lying on the operating table with my husband to my side, both of us waiting to hear our child’s cries — my doctor and a few nurses behind the screen. The next, there were 30 people in the operating room and all the color had drained from Josh’s face. Chaos ensued and, cliche as it sounds, time briefly stood still. I closed my eyes, prayed and imagined the absolute worse. When I opened my eyes, a woman (a young and inexperienced fellow, I soon found out) was whispering to Josh. The look that came over Josh’s face was a look I hope to never see again. In that moment, I knew she was telling Josh our baby had died. She then made her way over to me. My arms were still strapped to the table. I was trapped — forced to lie there and hear what I knew would be devastating news — I wanted so badly to run, hit her, cover my ears and scream, anything to avoid hearing her speak. She leaned down and repeated what she had told Josh: Hailey hadn’t been breathing, they had to intubate her and, in situations such as these, Hailey’s brain could have “taken a hit.” Her words: taken a hit. Now, almost four years later, despite having been assured by many doctors and an MRI that Hailey’s brain did not, in fact, take a hit from her lack of oxygen at birth, whenever I worry about my daughter for what are likely normal childhood illnesses, injuries, behavioral issues…when she has three colds in a row, for instance…I close my eyes and hear, “her brain might have taken a hit.”
Josh and I couldn’t talk about Hailey’s birth with each other for about two years. There was too much trauma, fear and guilt wrapped up in what was both the best and most traumatic day of our lives. As time went by, we were able to talk about that day with others…therapists, friends, family…and we learned of the other’s experience through tidbits we picked up from those who who lived through that day with us. At some point I started sharing my birth story with anyone who would listen. And to all those who were kind enough to listen to my story, I thank you. I was working some stuff out. Josh and I were both diagnosed with PTSD related to the birth of our daughter. I never imagined that I would use those two phrases in the same sentence — PTSD and the birth of our daughter. It seems too unreal. But there you have it. We’re working our stuff out. And now, four years later, Josh and I are able to talk about Hailey’s birth with joy and gratitude and, still, lots of tears.
We’re healing, the three of us. Josh and I are learning to stop looking so closely, to let our daughter be a kid, grow up, thrive, be the amazing child she is turning into. We’re trying to worry less over every little ache and pain. I try not to hear that wretched doctor’s voice when Hailey has a headache or when she starts screaming for no good reason. This is childhood. This is parenting. We’ll be vigilant but we’ll be thankful. Though Hailey had a rough start, by some miracle she’ll likely have no lasting effects from that experience, and, unlike her parents, she’s already cast off any lingering shadow from that day. So, now, when I look closely, I’ll make sure to see what I know for a fact to be true, that I have one hell of a strong daughter.