The only question Single Mothers by Choice seem to debate as much as “Should I become a single mother by choice?” is, two or three years later, “Should I have another?” It’s the same questions, the same concern. Can I handle two by myself? Can I afford another? Will it be too hard? Will I ruin what I’ve already got? What if they baby isn’t healthy? What if my pregnancy or adoption journey has risks? What will happen to my first child when a second comes along? The same questions, but entirely different.
I feel like a bit of an exception. I didn’t debate either question much. I always wanted to be a mother. I had few relationships, none of them long-term. I felt strong and capable of doing it alone. My family and friends were supportive. When I was three months pregnant with my first child, I ordered six more vials of the donor, planning ahead for baby #2. Of course I worried about all the things we worry about, but I never hesitated. I shared my childhood with my brother. My children would share their childhood with each other. I didn’t just want a child. I wanted children.
Claire was 2 years, 5 months old when Anna was born. Claire had been an easy baby and toddler, though always very very attached to me. I loved her infancy, loved being a single mother. The biggest challenge had been loneliness; not having someone else to share the amazement over all things Claire. When I got pregnant again, Claire didn’t seem all that interested in the prospect of a baby sibling. I was worried about jealousy. I needn’t have. She was jealous, I suppose – but not the way I expected. When I’d put newborn Anna down, Claire didn’t crawl into my newly empty arms. She wanted Anna put in hers. When I co-slept with Anna in a bid to get alone time with the baby, Claire was jealous, but not of Anna getting to sleep with me. She was jealous that I got to sleep with Anna. My eager-to-please, terribly attached firstborn was more than happy to share me with her new sister, as long as I shared the new baby with her.
We’ve never looked back. A second child certainly adds work, particularly in that first year, when I was on maternity leave and the full-time mother of two, unrelentingly, 24/7, for 12 months. But even as I felt like a pack mule some days, slogging through life with an infant and toddler, I felt a perverse sense that life had gotten easier, somehow. The intensity of the one-on-one relationship between a single mother and her only child had been wonderful. The two of us against the world. In our own little world. But she had become everything to me, and I was everything to her. She wanted no one but me. I had no one but her. As intoxicating as it could be, I felt another child would be better, healthier. A bigger family. Other options for each of us. Someone to take the spotlight a bit. To take the pressure off, to broaden the relationship.
And that’s how it has been, from the earliest days. The more they get from each other, the less they need from me. Now at age 5 and 3, they need nothing from me for hours at a time. An only child may need a playmate, some attention, entertainment, ideas. Simple companionship. Two little girls, with complementary temperaments, need nothing but each other. They go everywhere together and do everything with one another, from breakfast to bathtime. They encourage each other, solve problems together, take turns leading and following. Claire policy of non-aggression is so inbuilt, and Anna’s confidence so sure, they are evenly matched even 2.5 years apart. They like a lot of the same things, same toys, same games. They squabble, they scream, but it passes quickly, usually before I can intervene. Typically, Claire gives in to her louder, more dramatic, more demanding little sister. She sulks briefly but gets revenge by bragging about the things she can do and the things she has that her baby sister doesn’t. Anna, god bless her, simply doesn’t care. Perfectly matched, even in their rages, Anna focused on the skirmish, Claire content to shape the endgame, both convinced they’ve the upper hand. I rarely have to look up from my book. (Siblings Without Rivalry, read and re-read).
As for finances, of course two is harder than one. Each month, it is clear there is not quite enough money to go around, and as a family, we are doing without some things. I see other families doing fun things with a twinge of envy. We don’t go to as many places. We can’t afford those lessons. We don’t wear those clothes. We don’t eat out. Married friends have two incomes. Single friends often have one fewer child. My biggest challenge is probably financial at this point, and reminding myself I have enough. I want those things, but I don’t need them. I am working on telling other people, other SMCs, without shame, we can’t do that outing. We can’t take that vacation. We won’t go to the dinner. It’s not in the budget. Maybe next time. I assume finances will get easier with time, and for now my energy and optimism will have to suffice. When I get older and hopefully have more money, I expect my energy and strength will diminish, and I’ll switch struggles. That’s okay. I didn’t pick this path because it was easy, but because it is good, and rich with reward.
I know I’ve won the temperament lottery, and am lucky we all have good health and a secure home. I expect it to end any minute, for life to get hard (it usually seems harder in February). For now, I do everything I can not to rock the boat. We live and die by a solid routine, everyone in their own bed every night, home napping every afternoon. I’m Type A from start to finish, dictating sensible shoes, decent food, more books than TV, more play than programs. Manners matter to me, and good behavior is expected, and as long as they play by those few rules, the world is their oyster, and I’ll be reading a novel in the next room. Here again sisterhood comes in handy — a benevolent dictatorship goes over better when you have a sister to grumble with out of mom’s earshot. And all the little rules – no more TV, no more dessert, no worms in the house, no water out of the tub, no hands in the toilet, no food in the car, no dresses today, no dolls in the grocery store, no treats in the change-room, no more candy, no more rides, no more singing, no more books, no bubbles in your milk, no toys at the table, no more. Enough. Stop. All of it goes down easier when two of you are being told no, and two people are told to stop. Every disappointment has an ally, and every opportunity a partner. Can we? Yes? C’mon. Let’s go. Mom said yes. Follow me. It’s an even bet who says “C’mon” more often. “Come on, Claire.” “Come on, Anna.” Come with me.