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I am winding up 12 weeks of maternity leave with my second daughter, who was born the day after Election Day (that’s a story for another time.) As I prepare for re-entry into what Zorba called “the full catastrophe” — 2 jobs, 2 kids, one mortgage, one elderly cat — I’m reflecting on what this transition has meant.
I’m madly in love with my new baby. I love and appreciate my first daughter in a new way as she’s maturing before my eyes and growing into her role as a big sister. I love my husband more than ever; he is killing it as a dad while killing himself to get a startup off the ground, and even bringing me flowers once in awhile.
One change I’ve already noticed, and that other mothers who have been there have pointed out to me, is that with one kid you can often end up passing them back and forth while the free parent basically conducts life as usual — you take her while I go to the gym, then I’ll take her while you hop on that call. But with 2 that’s much, much harder. So as a result, we’re more often operating as a team of 4. We’re all in, all hands on deck, and that has made for some awesome family times already.
So basically, it’s all big love and gingerbread houses (and sometimes sniffles and lost mittens and diaper blowouts and hollering). But there is one tradeoff that makes me sad. And that is that I’ve left the sorority of mothers of solo children.
I had a 2-year fertility battle before my first child was born. The scars of that time influenced me to hold off before trying again, and then the trying part took another year. The upshot is, I have one kid who’s anticipating her first visit from the tooth fairy any day now while the second one is barely teething.
I’ll keep drawing inspiration from each woman I know who is living her life in her own singular fashion.
As my first daughter turned 3 and then 4, she started to seem less like a first and more like an only. As a result, I often bonded with other mothers of one. There’d be a shift, an opening up in the conversation, when we discovered each other at the playground, at parties or work events.
It’s an interesting group of women. What many have in common are lives that haven’t gone exactly according to script. Some, like me, had fertility issues. Maybe their relationships ended, or their partners died, or they simply found partners a little later in life, or they didn’t, and became single mothers by choice. Some have financial constraints. Some are adoptive parents, or same-sex parents, or both.
And some have work, often creative work, that they absolutely love, so they’ve made what is somehow still considered a radical choice; that there’s enough room in their lives for one child and no more. Lauren Sandler, the author of the book One and Only, which I devoured when I was considering whether to add to our family, published an impressive list of canonical women writers who had exactly one child: Toni Morrison, Joan Didion, Susan Sontag, Margaret Atwood, Alice Walker. Jessica Valenti is a younger writer who has written about the health issues that landed her in the same one-child boat, and the joy she has found there.
By coincidence or adaptation to circumstance, the mothers of only children I know haven’t disappeared entirely into motherhood. They travel frequently, dress fashionably, work for political change, run successful businesses, run long races, publish books, give talks, organize spiritual retreats, perform original work, and even go out dancing. They know who they are and they are working hard to accomplish their goals in the world while delighting fully in the flourishing of their children. This is still the kind of mother I’m determined to be, in the long run, though I’m once again running the gantlet of diapers and tantrums and waking up at night.
I’ll miss the slightly countercultural flavor of our former family of 3, not to mention the relative ease of getting in and out of taxis. To be sure, what I’ve gotten in return — the chance to help another unique human grow while being a slightly less-freaked-out parent, a sibling for my beloved firstborn — is priceless. But I’ll keep drawing inspiration from each woman I know who is living her life in her own singular fashion.
Anya Kamenetz is is an American writer living in Brooklyn, New York City. She is lead education blogger at NPR, a former staff writer for Fast Company magazine, and a columnist for Tribune Media Services.