Yesterday I received my new copy of Real Simple in the mail. The first night with a new Real Simple is a kind of ritual for me. I start at the front with the “New Uses For Old Things” section (Which always drive me crazy. I mean, come on, do I really need to use an old sock to wrap a wine bottle? That said, I can’t stop reading it.) and then I usually skip to the recipes at the back. (I save the articles for another day.) But last night, I was feeling adventurous and found myself reading an article by Rebecca Walker, author of several books, and daughter of novelist Alice Walker, about how she “[let] go of her big-family fantasies” and accepted her one-child home.
I was drawn to “My One and Only” because I know of a few women who are unsure of whether or not they want to have a second child, or who have been struggling to conceive. I thought, maybe this would be an encouragement.
It wasn’t an article about the desire to not have a second baby and it wasn’t an article about difficulty conceiving. It was complicated. And it was heart breaking.
It didn’t break my heart because Walker’s family decided not to add another child into their life. I have great respect for every family’s decisions regarding the amount of children they should have. I fully support a family’s decision to raise only one child. In fact, studies have recently proven that only children are thriving in their homes and even in their social lives. (For proof read Lauren Sandler’s cover story for Time Magazine this past July.)
What bothered me was how Walker came to her decision. Why is she not going to have more children? For one, she’s forty and doesn’t want to push her body. Of course, that’s fair. Then there’s the issue of money. She recites a conversation with a friend about his child’s private school education, all $32,000 of it per year. Yes, she says, there are good public schools and we wouldn’t have to send our children to private schools, but… She then goes on to make the assumption that that such a number “represents” the cost of adding another child into their life.
Her final reason? Her husband’s desire that they don’t. It’s her husband who is home with her son while she writes and travels, and he makes it pretty clear for her: “It wasn’t fair to ask him to do more child rearing,” she says. Understandably, he has “his own ambitions and time-consuming dreams.”
So, Walker ends her article with a paragraph that made me ache, not because her reasons are not legit, not because I have any right to criticize her husband’s desire to work or their family’s decisions about finances, or her understanding of her own body, but because what I heard in her voice was a broken woman, mourning something that she longs for desperately.
“I decided to give my dream child up,” she says. “I imagined saying good-bye to her (or him), as though I was putting the baby up for adoption. I pictured the new parents arriving at the hospital, watched them park the car and walk, excitedly, up to the revolving door. I couldn’t run to her and take her home myself.”
All I could think as I read those words were, “Why?!” You’re forty, this is your last shot! Put your body through it! Find a nanny! Don’t write for three years! (The books will still be in your brain when your baby gets to preschool.) There are ways to raise your child without dishing out tens of thousands of dollars for education. People do it all the time! This is your life, sweet woman! I kept thinking, does her husband understand? Does he get what his decision is doing to her?
What Walker didn’t say is that those reasons are not deal breakers for everyone. She was making a decision about her priorities. We all do. If we all waited till we had $32,000 per child per year, few of us would ever go for the first kid. Some of us put our careers on hold or we find a way to work and get help with the children. What bothered me about her article was that she didn’t come out and say that. What her article said is: This is what I have to do because it’s appropriate.
I know that’s not fair of me. I know I can’t fully understand the depth of the reasons Rebecca Walker mentioned in her article. But I know what it’s like to long for another child, to long for a family that feels complete. A friend of mine recently told me she knows she needs to have one more child because when her two boys are outside playing together she keeps looking for the third.
If Walker’s words were meant to demonstrate some gained wisdom derived from her loss, I didn’t buy it. She, being a strong, independent woman, would probably resent the fact that she came across as bullied by her husband, broken and sadly succumbing to the rules our culture has given her about money and about career. I just found myself wanting her to know there’s another way…
Because no one should have to give away a child she never had the chance to discover.