Illustration by Cassie Skoras
My husband and I had always planned on having two children. We had discussed it even before we got married. Not one, not three, but two; two was perfect. We were so certain of our plans that we made sure to look for a house that would fit our future brood. And we found it. In February of 2020, we moved into a three bed, two bath home in Martina Franca, Puglia in Italy with a large living room, kitchen, dining room and plenty of outdoor space for our daughter, two-year-old Lucia Antonia, to run around. It was exactly the kind of space I envisioned for what I hoped would be our growing family.
Then the virus began spreading and suddenly nothing seemed certain about the plans we had made. We had our beautiful daughter, and she was plenty of work on her own. With all this uncertainty and doubt for the future, everything was put in a new light.
As you probably know, the pandemic hit Italy early and hard. We were stuck in complete lockdown for nearly two months. Two months inside ALL THE TIME. With a teething toddler. With no individual space. It was not an experience for the faint of heart. We had no options, no place to escape to for a moment of air. Everything was completely shut down. At the beginning of the pandemic, I was managing to keep myself and my daughter happy and busy. But soon every day started feeling like Groundhog Day. Some days I felt like a perfect mother and housewife—baking, doing crafts with my daughter, cooking, and cleaning. Other days were spent plopping my daughter in front of the TV with a bag of cookies. Sometimes I would catch my daughter running back and forth on the sofa with no place to go and it seemed the perfect metaphor for our life.
One week when I was working on two deadlines, my daughter was having a major tantrum. I was trying to let her play on her own, while I sat at the table on my computer attempting to work. But, no. That wouldn’t do. She was screaming. Crying. Clawing at my leg. It was raining, so I couldn’t take her out to play or walk to a nearby café. We had no options. I was on the edge of a breakdown, fighting back tears. I wanted to scream. Imagine if I had two kids? How crazy would I be? This was the moment when I thought, one child will be enough. She would have to be. I couldn’t let the picture perfect notion of two babies change my mind.
I love the idea of Lucia having a baby brother or sister. I grew up with an older brother; the connection we created growing up together is still nurtured to this day. I want that for my daughter, too. I really do. I think she would benefit from having a sibling greatly. But is that enough to go on? Having two children opens up more windows for challenges to come through, and once that window is open, it can’t be closed. In reality, can I handle my dream?
To be fair, there were always other deciding factors, even before the coronavirus. My husband is 55 years old, 23 years my senior. He understandably does not have the energy that I do. He does plenty for our daughter but sometimes, I feel like 90 percent of the parenting falls on me. Would we seriously be able to handle having a second child without everything falling apart? Could I, if needed, handle the vast majority of care for both children?
It’s no secret that for the most part, parenting has fallen even more so on mothers during the pandemic. According to a National Women’s Law Center analysis, more than 860,000 women have dropped out of the labor force between August and September. I have the good fortune to work from home as a writer. Oddly enough, the pandemic has created more work on pieces that have tighter deadlines and require more time and research. Trying to work under heightened circumstances, often with a toddler on my lap, has led to errors. If I had a second child, would I be able to work at all? Or would my writing become a thing of the past?
I also feel like my personality has changed in the past year, and not for the better. I have much less patience. I feel angrier, and I have a shorter fuse. I suffer from anxiety, as I have for quite some time, but the pandemic has unsurprisingly exacerbated it. I’ve made sure not to take my stress out on my daughter, but sometimes I feel so overwhelmed that I worry one day I will. These new characteristics don’t make the idea of having a fussing kid on each arm all that tempting.
The pandemic has also laid bare the reality that I was not as prepared for motherhood as I thought. You’d like to think that by the time you’re nurturing the next generation, you’d have all of your own shit together: finances sorted, goals met, house in order. But…nope. I haven’t been working nearly as much as I would have hoped at this point in my life. Our house is in total disarray with reconstruction plans indefinitely put on hold. I don’t even want to think about bringing another child into all of this chaos.
Italy has now entered a second lockdown, once again cutting us off from the outside world. No trips to museums, parks, or playgroups. No contact with anyone. Nothing. It’s not the type of toddlerhood I had envisioned for my daughter, and the second lockdown feels even harder than the first. I’m not getting to work as much. Work calls are often punctuated with the sound of my daughter banging on the door or trying to steal my phone. I’m not getting any time to myself. Sometimes, it feels like I’m not getting any air. Having a child is not supposed to be easy, but let’s be real: The pandemic has made it at least twice as hard.
I’m going to be honest. In this moment, I can’t imagine having a second child. Before COVID, it was a definite yes. I thought we had our future figured out. I thought we were going to have two children that would grow up in our perfect house, go to school, and be surrounded by friends and family. But now? Will I even feel comfortable sending my daughter to daycare in the future? I have no idea, which makes the other decision facing me a big fat no. It’s too much to even think about. Will I change my mind? Maybe, maybe not. For now, my daughter is more than enough.
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