I have three siblings and growing up I always enjoyed being part of a large family. My siblings and I would play elaborate games together, forming teams and coming up with complicated rules. And yes, at one point my mom turned us into a family band. I always assumed that I would follow in my mother’s footsteps and have four children. But now, in my 30s and in recovery from post partum depression, it’s very likely that I won’t have additional children at all.
I married at 25 with no intentions of having kids until my early 30s. I’d quit my job to focus on my blog full time and at that time it was my baby. My dream was to continue growing my website, travel with my new husband and enjoy our life as a young couple in a big city. My plans were dashed when I got pregnant unexpectedly a year and a half later. I gave birth to a boy, and although I had a brief episode of the baby blues, I adjusted pretty quickly. A few months into parenthood I was absolutely in love with him and the experience of being a mom.
While my husband worked his 9 to 5, my son and I explored Chicago. We spent idyllic days at the children’s museum, the library and parks around the city. I watched him play and got to know who he was and how he reacted to things. I celebrated his milestones with joy and pride.
When he turned 18 months I began to consider providing him a sibling. My mother had me and my siblings roughly 2 years apart, so I knew if I wanted to stay in that range I needed to get pregnant soon. After about 3 weeks of trying we conceived. My pregnancy was a breeze, and I looked forward to the birth of my daughter with excitement. But I made a choice that I didn’t understand the implications of until later — I started another business.
My life felt near perfect but what I didn’t know is that the baby on the way would need far more room in my life than I had provided.
Things Fall Apart
In December 2014 my daughter burst onto the scene alert, active and strong.
My mother stayed with me for 2 weeks after I delivered, but things slowly began to unravel after she left. My son’s nanny returned to Colombia after completing her graduate degree. I quickly enrolled him in preschool but pulled him out after realizing how long the commute was. By mid 2015 I was at home by myself trying to work while watching a high energy toddler and breastfeeding an infant on demand. Needless to say my mental health took a beating. My baby blues turned into full blown post partum depression. The sound of my daughter’s cries gave me splitting headaches. I was perpetually sleep deprived and unable to fall and stay asleep without medication.
Worst of all I consistently missed my daughter’s milestones. My midwife, concerned about my mental health at a routine wellness check, handed me a list of therapists who specialized in new motherhood. At my first therapy session I cried bitterly into a rumpled tissue as I expressed how guilty I felt that my daughter’s first year was passing like a blur.
As 2015 came to a close my only new year’s resolution was to be truly happy and engage in self-care. I enrolled my son in preschool again and got a nanny to watch my daughter part-time. I stopped actively marketing my second business so that our daily orders decreased. I delegated more of my website work to my writers and editors, and my husband and I put our rental property on the market. My goal was to restore my sanity and free up quality time with my children.
But perhaps the biggest adjustment of all was accepting the fact that I will very likely not bear any more children.
The Myth of Infinite Mother Love
I remember as a little girl believing that mothers had infinite love and time to give, perhaps because I always felt like the apple of my mother’s eye. Every church play, every music lesson, every poetry reading she was there, smiling and present. She was also a stay-at-home mother who chose to give up a career as a corporate accountant to raise 4 children. That is not my life. I could quit my work, sure, but I know I would be compromising myself. I love being an entrepreneur, and I love being a mother. If I want to do them well I must place limits on both.
I see now that the belief that mothers have infinite mental and emotional resources is a dangerous one. It leads to exhaustion and burnout. I cannot give to my children what I do not have in the first place. I cannot give them peace, time and patience if I simply do not have it to give.
Of course I don’t know exactly what the future holds, but I am trying to think less about the third or fourth child I might never have, and more about the two wonderful children I do have. I am finally able to be present for them, and for that I am deeply grateful.