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Why I only want one child

I wanted to want two children. After all, my daughter was a “planned pregnancy,” a little girl created by two people who decided they wanted to have a child. I figured then that one day I’d want another, but we had to start somewhere. Everyone else certainly seems to want us to have another . . . and another.

Once the first one is here, you learn to brace yourself for the question. People look your child up and down with a smile playing on their lips. Then they turn to you, and the smile morphs into something closer to a smirk. “So . . . when’s the next one?”

Some people didn’t even wait until Jillian was out of my stomach. They’d eye my belly, their hands held up at odd angles like they were measuring a piece of furniture. “Ah, so twins run in your family, don’t they?” I’d hear. The insinuations were always accompanied by that same sick grin.

Parents of multiple children always act like they know something I don’t. Their eyes take on a look of pity when I say, “Jillian’s my one and only.” Apparently women are supposed to want babies. When they’re done popping out the first one, they’re supposed to be working on the second.

I guess I didn’t get the memo.

When my own mother was finished with a twenty-eight-hour labor and delivery, my father said she turned to him and said, “Oh, let’s have another.” My labor was half that. And all I wanted to do was go to sleep with my daughter in my arms.

I love children. I do. And not just my own daughter. I sometimes sneak a whiff of Jillian’s Johnson’s Baby Wash just so I can drink in the scent of baby. If there’s a toddler sticking his head over the back of the restaurant booth, I’m the adult one table over making goo-goo eyes and playing peek-a-boo. I volunteer on family reading night at a school where I know no one except the teachers – it’s not even the school my daughter will one day attend.

But loving children and wanting them are on two distinctly different planes. I was there once. I wanted a child desperately. Fortunately for me, my husband – an only child, by the way – wanted one too.

Now we have her, our joyful little monkey with long blond curls and little hands that pat at the backs of my shoulders when she’s giving me a hug.

And while my friends are off birthin’ more babies, I’m wrapped up in the world of parenting a toddler and only a toddler. I work on the ABC’s and the 123′s. I read Goodnight Moon until my voice runs out, then flip on the television for a helping of Sesame Street.

I still have that gooey feeling that filled up my heart the first time Jillian clenched her fist around mine. It’s enough.

She’s enough.

Think I’m selfish?

You’re right.

I’m wrapped up in my own life – a life that’s wrapped up in Jillian.

I get a decent amount of sleep. Now that we’ve bid goodbye to diapers and Gerber, I’d say I even get a decent bang out of my buck. After slicing up a hamburger into mini bites and smushing peas into the mashed potatoes, I can spend a decent time eating my own meal. No scarfing down a hardened piece of pizza and sucking down the long-cold dregs of coffee for me.

My boobs are my own these days. And my attention isn’t divided. When I’m in the room with my daughter, I no longer have that baby-in-the-house radar honed to catch noises from the nursery.

I can spend an hour – or two – on the floor with Jillian and a pile of wooden puzzles without a single interruption. “She’s going to be so spoiled, you know,” they tell me. For that matter, despite the meager incomes of part-time stay-at-home-mom and a guy on the low end of the banking totem pole, I don’t feel guilty buying four puzzles on a trip to Target.

I’ve let go of the guilt that used to rumble through me when yet another well-meaning parent tells me I ought to give that little girl a brother or sister.

“She’s going to be so spoiled, you know,” they tell me. I smile. I shrug.

“Don’t you want another one to love?” they ask. “I love her,” I respond.

“You’re going to regret not doing it while you can,” they say.

Or “she needs a playmate so she can learn empathy, respect, teamwork.” That’s why we have a dog. Oh, and my husband is grooming her for a long soccer career.

I have an answer for everything – even the horrid “What will happen to her when you die?” “I’d rather not think about that quite yet,” I say.

Faced with all this unsolicited advice, I used to seethe. Now I respond.

I laugh when they tell me she needs a brother because she needs someone to love. I love my little brother – now. But the memories of him sitting on my head to pass gas are not sweet. Having a brother built character – only time built love.

There’s only one reason to have a second child that ever made me flinch: the fear that some day something will happen to Jillian, something I can’t control.

That possibility started whispering in my ear on the drive home from the hospital, Jonathan stomping on the brakes every time a car approached in the opposite lane. He felt it too – our baby’s frailty and our inability to protect her from future hurt and pain and the big, bad world.

The fear thumps in my heart on late nights when I pace her dark bedroom while she wails in my arms, while Jonathan measures out Tylenol in an eyedropper. It burns a trail up my throat when I sit down to write about a teenager lost in an automobile accident, when I cover a funeral for the newspaper.

For three years, the fear told me, “No, you cannot settle for one child.” It told me not to make any drastic decisions. It told me to keep open the door to bearing more children. “Please, just wait,” I told him when he wanted a vasectomy. “You just never know,” I told Jonathan, who had his mind made up the moment Jillian entered the world that he was done. “Please, just wait,” I told him when he said he wanted to get a vasectomy.

I heard the quaver in my voice that used to be part of everyday married life when we were trying for baby number one. Jonathan would look at me with his own brand of fear in his eyes. I could almost hear him asking, “Who are you, and what have you done with my wife?”

He was right. I didn’t recognize myself in the puddle on the floor.

And then one month I thought I might be pregnant again. And as I sat there waiting for the line or lines to appear, I realized I was hoping I wasn’t.

One line. Not pregnant. We were safe. Yes, that was my first thought: I was safe.

“I’m done,” I told Jonathan and gave him the thirtieth birthday present he’d asked for: a vasectomy.

Now the fear is quiet when Jillian laughs. It’s not there when we snuggle on the couch, Goodnight Moon splayed out on my lap, those curls resting against my chin. When she balances one foot on each of my thighs, wraps her arms around my neck and pats my back, I hear only her breath and the little hum she makes when she’s content.

And I think, Okay, no more. I have the one I always wanted.

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