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Family Matters

How I Decided to Have Just One Kid

A mom reveals her motivation

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My daughter was perched precariously on my right leg, a board book open on her lap, when the door opened. “You can come on back now,” the nurse called. I scooped my toddler up, my hands beneath her thighs, and she squawked as her book hit the floor. All she cared about in that moment was why I’d stopped reading. She had no idea that on the other side of that door a doctor had just officially made her an only child.

The day of my husband’s vasectomy was snowy with the sky gray, a typical one for upstate New York in February. I don't remember the exact date—which still surprises me since big dates tend to stick in my mind. And this was a big one, because this was the day I finally found myself as a mom.

Nearly a decade later, I remember the rest of that day not for what happened next—I made homemade macaroni and cheese while my daughter played with her favorite toy—but for what didn't happen: I didn't second-guess myself.

I was calm that day, peering into the cream sauce, while my husband laid on the couch moaning from his procedure and a mechanized monkey rammed into my ankles. I could handle this. A house of three people. A little girl, her smiles, her flashes of anger. All of her.

When my husband and I had decided we wanted to have a baby, our focus was myopic: Let’s just get pregnant and have a child. We tried for about six months until the magic moment happened when I peed on a stick and we knew we were going to become parents.

And then panic set in. I very much wanted a child, but I’d had a rough childhood. I struggled through my teen years with depression and an eating disorder. I had the latter mostly under control, but the former will always be a part of me. I chose to go off of my medicine during my pregnancy, lest the pills hurt my child, and this made for a particularly anxious pregnancy. I also suffered from hyperemesis gravidarum, a severe form of morning sickness that landed me in the hospital twice, and I was in a bad car accident while pregnant that didn’t make things any easier.

And then our daughter arrived. Ten fingers. Ten toes. Her father’s nose. My bright blue eyes. She was perfect and healthy. I was exhausted.

The first year of her life was a contradiction. I could spend hours watching her sleep. I could spend hours wishing she would just go to sleep. Grappling with both postpartum depression and general depression, I struggled through that first year, and then on into the second year.

Meanwhile, I started hearing how we should have another. I was often told, “She needs a brother, so your husband can have a boy.” Or “You can’t wait too long! Siblings need to be close!”

I met their comments with gritted teeth, fear snaking its way up my throat. I felt like I was staring through a piece of cling film at other moms enjoying their children—and I felt like another child might pull that film closer, covering my mouth and nose. To add another child to our home would mean more sturm und drang over finances, more worries that would tax even the strongest anti-depressants, and more exhaustion. It would mean another difficult pregnancy; this time with a toddler who needed me to read bedtime stories and play horsey, no matter how sick I was.

My husband, an only child himself, always knew he wanted just one child. And by the time our girl had turned 2, it sounded exactly right to me. She might not have a sibling, but she’d get a better, stronger, healthier mom out of the deal. A vasectomy would forever block out the specter of a second child spiking my anxiety at every turn.

So, on the day of my husband’s vasectomy, I was over the moon. We had done it: We’d taken control of our family and of my own mental health. We had the family we wanted, not the family other people told us we should have. Despite how much I loved my daughter then and love her now, I had been severely stressed as a mother of one, wondering if we’d have more. Now I could be a mother of one and actually be in the moment. A vasectomy might have taken away the ability to make more children, but in our case, it gave me so much more: A chance to enjoy being a mom to the amazing one I already had.