by Jessica Towns
The question is always: what’s next?
Two years ago, I was on a walk with my newborn daughter, beelining toward a much-needed Starbucks latte, when an elderly woman approached me at the crosswalk. She looked down and smiled at the baby. “Is this your first?” she asked.
Life is always pushing us forward toward whatever’s next: finish school, get a job, get married, buy a house, have a kid, get promoted, have another kid, and on and on. Why do we run so fast?
I nodded, I think, or murmured some sort of affirmative statement. I was cross-eyed from sleeplessness, sore all over, and still rocking the maternity pants.
“Make sure you have another one,” she said, “so they have each other if something happens to you.”
The light changed, but I paused for a moment. Here was a stranger, not even asking, but telling me what I have to do next.
These days, things have normalized a bit (no more maternity pants!), and I’m getting by with the help of great friends who have kids my daughter’s age. We’re rolling through second birthdays now, but alongside these is a phenomenon I wasn’t ready for: second pregnancies.
Every week I open Facebook to a new ultrasound image or other imaginative way to announce a pregnancy. The award for Most Adorable goes to a photo posted around the holidays—a gingerbread family of three, with a little gingerbread baby inside the mommy.
Then I see the look on other women’s faces—that ooey gooey estrogenic expression. They’re next. Now all sizes of baby bump surround me, like a collection of pregnant nesting dolls.
My ovaries have been decidedly quiet on this matter. The way I see it, having a baby is a high-stakes lottery. I imagine genes bouncing around like those numbered ping-pong balls in a powerball machine. You cross your fingers as each fateful sphere pops up. Oh good, her dad’s eyes. Sweet, a mellow temperament. My husband and I hit the jackpot with our daughter. I’m not sure I want to play again.
Not to mention that a browse through my journal would suggest that I genuinely believed the first two months of my daughter’s life would kill me.
Not to mention that I now have a toddler who is trying to kill me.
But the question keeps coming. The world wants to know: “When are you having the next one?” I grit my teeth and shrug.
I’ll admit that I’m concerned about what might happen if I don’t have another child. I could get left behind. My friends might drift away because I can no longer relate. I might get older and regret it. And Crosswalk Lady made a good point—do I want to deprive my daughter of siblings? My younger brother is one of my favorite people in this world. And really, newborns are precious. I look at old pictures, and part of me can’t imagine never having a tiny spit-bubbler in my house again. But also, these have been the hardest two years of my life.
What I’m saying is, I have no idea what I want. I asked the two year-old, but she is programmed to say “No” to everything, and she has questionable judgment in general.
I am enamored with my only child. She’s scribbling on my notebook as I draft this piece, pausing to chew on her pen the same way I do. My life is full and happy. Would it be fuller and happier with a second child? Maybe. Do I want this to be the only time in my life that I get to love and nurture a tiny human? I don’t know.
Life is always pushing us forward toward whatever’s next: finish school, get a job, get married, buy a house, have a kid, get promoted, have another kid, and on and on. Why do we run so fast? (And why do other people, even strangers on the street, insist we run faster?) There’s no finish line, no medal for checking off all the boxes in a timely manner. If we don’t slow down, we’ll reach the end of our lives exhausted and having missed the scenery.
On rainy evenings, my husband, daughter, and I like to lie on our bellies and poke our heads under the curtain that drapes our sliding glass door. For a few minutes before the chaos of bathtime, we hold still and listen to the rain on the deck. Sometimes it sounds like a typewriter, slowly clacking out the story of our lives, and other times like well-deserved applause.
So, what’s next? I’ll get back to you on that one.
About the Author
Jessica Towns is a full-time mom and two-time PEPS graduate. She lives in Wedgwood with her husband Will and daughter Ravenna, and spends her limited free time writing and drinking a lot of coffee. Jessica holds a civil engineering degree from Seattle University.