“It’s not faiirrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!” my six-year-old daughter yells. “Everyone else has a sibling to play with and I’m all alone!”
My “Reasons to Have a Second Child” pros and cons list did not have possible future quarantine on it.
But there is nothing like a global pandemic to force you to reckon with the choices you’ve made — especially about the number of children you decided to have.
My husband and I are, from some angles, very cautious people. Our decision to stop at one baby was, ultimately, an intentional decision based on practical considerations. We wanted only what we could handle — financially, emotionally — without too much strain. We don’t have childcare help, and for years had no family within 4,000 miles. Since I work part time, I can handle our daughter’s care completely on my own. But I was never convinced I could do that with two while remaining a sane, kind person with professional and personal ambitions of my own.
And that decision has, in this insane moment, served us exceedingly well. We’ve been weathering this pandemic with less stress than some of our friends with multiple children. For this I am grateful to my husband: he was always the one to push back on the idea of a second child. Don’t get me wrong, he wanted one, but he could not go through with it until we were able to answer key questions: Will we have enough money to do all we want to do, like travel, pay for ballet lessons, send her to camp? Will we have enough time? Resources? Space? Will our marriage weather it? Will our careers? We always veered to the safer answer, wanting to preserve what seemed to be working for us.
And yet, here we are, going into month two of (infinite?) quarantine and our daughter is begging us for a sibling. And I am cracking.
I’m under no illusion that having a baby now would be a good idea or a safe idea — or even possible, since I am past 40. Nor will it give our daughter what she is so desperate for right this f*cking second: a playmate, a confidante, a person who makes her feel less alone with her old parents. But I now see that when the end of the world comes (and never has it felt more imminent), she will be more alone than I ever thought.
Also, in some ways, this pandemic has brought our family closer together, which is another reason my baby-stirrings are so strong right now: the desire feels born out of love for my husband, the way it was when I got pregnant with our daughter seven-plus years ago. We are, surprisingly, given the circumstances, really enjoying being together, and we are finding new, wonderful ways to be a family. Wouldn’t we want to add to the love?
Years ago, when I was really struggling with the question of whether to have another baby, I spoke to a rabbi (that’s how desperate I felt — I’d already exhausted all my friends, my sister, parents, and my therapist). The question I asked her was: Is it moral to have a baby right now, with our world falling apart, climate change ravaging our children’s future?
Having a baby is always an act of faith, she told me. You never know what will happen.
And this was all long before Covid-19. The answer — and question — feels more acute now.
I’ve spent a few nights of the last few weeks wracked with guilt, even as I know deep down that our daughter is absolutely fine; even as I know the stay-at-home orders will lift eventually; even as I know she might not be any happier spending all her time fighting with a sibling and that our family life might be much more complicated. I revisit in my mind all the times I felt desperate for another baby and didn’t push my husband hard enough: We’d have a 4-year-old now, a 3-year-old, a 2-year-old. She wouldn’t be so alone! Why didn’t we just try?
But alas. You can’t go back in time.
If I were a few years younger, I’m pretty sure that I’d say, let’s try!, even though it’s not the “right” time. After all, it’s never the right time! (Okay, given the state of hospitals — and what the next few years might look like — now is really not the right time, but you know what I mean.) I’m more acutely aware of how vital our nuclear family is, and I feel like my husband and I are, ironically, co-parenting better than ever. This is bittersweet.
But we also need a heaping dose of hope. And if there’s one thing I know, it’s that a baby always brings that. But perhaps hope comes in many forms — a new baby, yes, but also in other things: finding new ways of being with your husband after a decade; in a daughter who never fails to amaze and delight you; in the faith that this family, whatever shape it takes, will, together, weather whatever comes our way.