It’s a choice that has taken two years to make, but it feels like the decision of a lifetime. Mothers of children numbering anywhere from four to fifteen will no doubt look askance at my inability to manage it all as Caribbean women have always done, with a handful of pickneys milling around their skirts, and a world to get on with it and carry on their shoulders.
I’ve decided not to have any more children. Zi will be an only child.
That is not a bad thing, I know lots of happy only-children and lots of folks with siblings who nonetheless should take up several years of therapy, but I know from conversations over the last two years that lots of people – often other mothers – think it’s selfish to not have more children, that it’s better for a child to have siblings and that even if the first two years are hard, it gets exponentially easier as time goes on.
I don’t know what finally and only recently enabled me to make this decision. Maybe it was the fact that, now two years old, Ziya is finally beginning to be seriously fun, to be able to carry on full conversations, and to be less dependent and exhausting than before. Maybe it was just that I reached a cumulative point of tiredness, from being awoken on average three times a night for two years, that made me feel I just could not go through it again.
In another world where I didn’t have a full time job or just had a different job, I’d have another baby mostly just to give Zi company and family throughout her lifetime. In another world where I was 28 and not 38 or where my husband wanted any children at all and felt able to manage not only one but two or where we had already paid for our house instead of still having to save to get a mortgage. In another world where Zi had been a baby who slept at night or where we lived in more than a one-bedroom house or where my mom was able to cope better than she can. In another world, I’d make another decision, but this is my world and I’ve come to terms with its realities and what they mean for me.
In my heart, I feel like Stone, Zi and I could be a really tiny, happy unit together. I could jump on a plane and take her to see whales in St. Lucia and it would be easier than managing two kids on my own. Stone could develop the relationship that I see slowly blossoming and clearly come to love the bond he has with Zi. Zi could spend nights by any of the aunties who love her already and who would, as much as they love me, be less likely to take two of my kids instead of just one. The entire army of people who must be mobilised, my mom and her helper, my husband and our helper, and me, could maybe not be on call all the time. I could find the balance I am slowly rediscovering, a balance that enables me to meditate in the morning, do the academic and activist work I am committed to, explore all the creative potential I’ve let go of over the last few years, and enjoy my relationship with Stone as we both get older. I feel like we could be happy now and later if we just recognised that this is right for us rather than embarking on a path that meant we’d have to survive two or three years of tired, manic, on-24-hour-shift hell before things settle down again and I feel able to find myself somewhere there inside it all.
This decision makes me realise, not intellectually but in my heart, how personal choices are, how much imperfect contexts and conditions shape the options that seem right at the time, and how much you have to come to terms with the fact that you can only make the best decision for you at that time even if you don’t know how you will feel tomorrow.
This is not the decision I’d make in different circumstances, but after endless thinking, feeling, reflecting and imagining, but I think this is the best decision that I can make for who I am right now and for what I think is right for me. Maybe I’ll change my mind tomorrow, but I feel a lot of relief so I don’t think so. I feel bad about that relief, like if I was a good mother, I’d make the sacrifice for Zi’s sake and with an eye to the future far ahead.
You never know if some decisions are right or wrong until much later. For that reason, motherhood – if it is anything at all – is about continually staying in touch with your own emotional truths and recognising that that may be all you can do in the present.