The thing about a pain threshold is, you don’t know what yours is until you arrive there. I always suspected I had a high pain tolerance, but I’d never broken an arm or had stitches or surgery, so it was just a theory. Then I went into labor, and I resisted an epidural until 24 hours after my water broke. After that I thought, OK, so maybe threshold for pain is kind of high.
If you asked me if I want another child, I’d tell you, no, never. No, I never want to be pregnant again, never want to give birth again.
But what I wouldn’t tell you is this: Almost two years later, thinking back to those newborn days makes me shudder. Our little house in Denver a warm cave, me isolated in it, scared and figuring out how to take care of an infant, my family a thousand miles away, waking up every morning wondering how we’d make it through the day.
I wouldn’t tell you about the long days when my daughter was a bright and active six-month-old, so sweet and lovable, and I was utterly bored and yet overstimulated by her needs, by the sheer physicality of the existence into which I’d been thrust, so different from my former life that was dominated by my thoughts, my time spent in my imagination or in front of a book or computer screen.
It’s not pleasant to admit that even now, though I’m much happier working full-time, I’m barely hanging on most days, adjusting to the new normal of shuttling the toddler to daycare, commuting to work, squeezing in errands on shortened lunch breaks and falling into bed at night feeling as though I ran a marathon. And even though my favorite part of the day is picking her up from school and hearing her shout, “Mama!”, the two hours I spend with her before bedtime sometimes seem like too much.
Of course I’m completely in love with my daughter, with her dark denim blue eyes and perfect creamy skin, her mischievous smile and offbeat dance moves. I can’t imagine life without her, would lie down on train tracks for her, if it came down to it. But for every moment of deep joy and pure bliss her presence brings, there’s a moment of sheer frustration, gritted teeth, bone-deep weariness, or longing for escape.
How do you know you’re done having children? it’s a favorite subject on the mom blogs and Facebook groups I frequent. “We felt like someone was missing,” is a common sentiment. It’s a sense of imbalance that makes me wonder whether we are truly done. Two parents, one child; things are always teetering too far in one direction or another. The worst friend groups growing up were the triads; two always splitting off and one left out. Who’s to say a family of three would be any different? My daughter needs an ally, someone with whom she can rebel against us, question us, commiserate about our neuroses.
But how could I do it all again–the uncomfortable pregnancy, the brutal birth and recovery, the dark newborn days? Further, how could I multiply this life we’ve created by two? Another little body needing clothing and sustenance, needing my arms to carry it, a little heart needing every ounce of love and strength and patience my soul can muster, and then some.
I went to acupuncture for the first time, hoping to finally sort out the hormonal roller coaster I’ve been strapped in since giving birth. “You’re depleted,” said the acupuncturist. “We need to work on building you back up.” If we had another child, I would be emptied once more. I survived it once, barely. There are no guarantees if I tried again.
In one of those “should I have another baby?” conversations, one person said, “Sometimes life chooses for you.” It’s a truth that leaves a lump in the throat, a tough pill to swallow. A blend of nature and nurture created my introverted personality that’s unable to bear a lifestyle so many women seem to cheerfully master—maybe it’s these same fates that will dictate my family size. Maybe our family will end up bumping along clumsily, like a wagon with a missing wheel. But that’s better than trying to take on more than I can bear, causing everything to come crashing down around us.
I wanted to be a person who didn’t need drugs to give birth, but I couldn’t do it. Even after 36 hours of labor and 3 hours of pushing, I ended up with a c-section, just like my mom and my sisters. My doctor said it’s possible our pelvis shape prevents us from having successful vaginal births. It’s just the way we’re made.
Sometimes you’re stronger than you know. Sometimes you can bear more pain and carry more weight than you ever thought possible. And sometimes no matter how much you hope or wish otherwise, the way you’re made determines how much you can take, and life chooses for you.
And sometimes, maybe all you can carry is one.