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Why I Shouldn't Feel Guilty for Wanting Just One

It took three and a half years of trying before I was able to get pregnant. And when it finally happened—the "YES" on the at-home pregnancy test floating up out of nothing—I hiccoughed tears and snot all over myself and my husband, overwhelmed with relief and gratitude and exhilarated anticipation.

And when I pushed her out of me eight months later and they placed her on my chest, still hot and slick with blood and vernix, I held her tiny hand and tried not to cry at the joy of finally having her with me.

And even later, when I spent entire days crying because I was tired and my nipples were sore and she was cluster feeding and it was all too much, I would watch her get excited at her own reflection and my heart would grow to three times its normal size and I would wonder how I'd ever be able let her out of my sight without immediately missing her, without fearing for her safety, without needing her.

But still.

I was walking up my front steps the other month, about four months into motherhood, when my neighbor called out to me. "How's the baby?" he asked, leaning over the railing on the side of his porch.

"She's doing great," I said, fumbling through my keys.

"You better hurry up and get started on that second one!" he shouted across to me.

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"Please," I said, grinning back at him. But my stomach clenched and my smile withered away as I ducked my head to unlock the front door, my hair falling in a curtain to hide my face. When I finally pushed through to my front entryway, I sighed, locking the door behind me, leaning back against it and closing my eyes.

I was already hearing it from everyone.

"When you have your second ..."

"Once number two comes along ..."

"Just wait until you have two ..."

Like it was a given.

Barely four months in, I already felt besieged by society's expectations of all the things I should want. Sure, my husband and I had always planned for two kids. But since Em, I felt done. I felt fulfilled.

And I didn't want to do it again.

And though I am consumed by Emily, though she is everything to me, my life feels in a sort of perfect, beautiful balance. I want this forever. And I hate feeling pressured to want something more, something different.

Recently, Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond revived their Dear Sugar column as a podcast. The pilot episode ran on Monday, Dec. 10, and one of the letters they received was about whether or not the letter writer should have another child (this segment of the podcast begins at about the 26-minute mark.) The woman seeking advice wrote that her husband wanted another child. She, on the other hand, wanted her life back. I was transfixed by the discussion that ensued because, even though my daughter is only 6 months old, my husband and I have already argued over whether or not there will be another one.

The woman on the podcast wrote of already feeling stretched thin, mentioning that she couldn't depend on her husband to be around when the kids came home from school. She wondered if she could keep all her balls in the air and wrote that, "even though I know it is possible, it seems unappealing." She wrote about how she is able to read books again, work out again, "feel human again." She yearned to see her children reach independence while she and her husband were still young enough to enjoy themselves and immerse themselves in non-kid-related activities.

"It's easy for him to say he wants a third baby," said Almond, "because he'll be doing ... 25 percent of the work, probably less than that, if we're truly, deeply honest." I found myself nodding along, because it was familiar to me to feel like the default parent, even when I had just as much work to accomplish as my husband did. "This woman wants her life back, her sense of identity," said Almond, "and yet she's plagued by the idea that those feelings are selfish."

"We've been guilt-tripped for so long that we equate independence or agency with selfishness," added Strayed, and I wanted to raise my arms into the air and give an amen.

Strayed then spoke of how motherhood had affected her own career, recounting a story she once wrote about for Brain, Child magazine. "I had been in the slow lane," she said, "running a race with one of my legs tied to a bucket. I couldn't run as fast as the people around me, professionally."

Almond conceded that parenthood was one of the most profound thing that human beings could do, "but it's not the only thing they do," he said. He spoke of the life the letter writer wanted to lead. The life she had a right to lead.

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I am so damn in love with my life right now. I do writing and editing work from my home office, and find that I bring in more work now than I did pre-pregnancy. I teach yoga twice a week, leaving Em with her father or with her grandmother. I take class two to three times a week, when my husband is around, as a means of maintaining my physical and mental health. I go to Toastmasters two evenings a month in order to interact with other human beings.

But most importantly, I have Emily. I spend the bulk of my days with Emily. And though I am consumed by Emily, though she is everything to me, my life feels in a sort of perfect, beautiful balance.

I want this forever.

And I hate feeling pressured to want something more, something different.

Because yes, my feelings might change.

But you need to stop trying to convince me that this change is inevitable. Because if nothing ever changes—if this is everything I have—my life remains in abundance.

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