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On having a(nother) child

Laila Achmad
Laila Achmad

A mom of a son, currently freelancing and regularly make unfunny jokes

Jakarta | Tue, May 23, 2017 | 08:09 am
On having a(nother) child

Being a mother was an undeniably sublime experience for me… …but I wasn’t sure I’d do it again. (Shutterstock/File)

Five years ago, I gave birth to my first—and so far, only—son, Raya. Being a mother was an undeniably sublime experience for me…

…but I wasn’t sure I’d do it again.

After I had Raya, I was shocked at how tough parenting actually was, although I’d suspected it. Before I got pregnant, I was already aware that being a parent wouldn’t be as pretty as those Instagram-mommies’ pastel-colored posts. So when I got knocked-up, I educated myself on the “real” side of parenthood, instead of just the “cute” side.

Nevertheless, the experience still hit me hard like a tornado. So for a while, I was uncertain about having another child, and being strong enough to go through the hurricane of pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding and raising a kid all over again.

This year, my son will turn five and officially passes toddlerhood. Right before my eyes, he has grown into an almost completely independent human being, and the dark times of being a new mother (sometimes) feels so far away.

Not to my surprise, my husband started bringing up the topic of having another child.

Well, my initial reaction was, “Definitely not this year! Or the next! Or probably ever!”

But before I realized it, it was too late. Like in the movie Inception, my husband had successfully planted the seed of the idea of having another child into my head. The idea flourished, and I began to daydream about cuddling Raya’s sibling in my arms.

Thus, on some days, I wanted to jump on my husband and yell, “Inseminate me NOW!” But on other days—when my marriage seemed fragile or when Raya was being impossible—I felt like sterilizing myself.

During this vague baby-fever period, I contemplated a lot and, at the same time, observed society carefully. Although they were not novel observations, I still felt amused by some things I concluded.

First, the Indonesian mindset is very Mormon-like: Every woman MUST marry and MUST have kids eventually. Being a wife and mother are non-negotiable roles for every woman to embrace.

So when I told my family that one of my friends was considering not having kids, they gasped in shock, then said pitifully, “Let’s pray she’ll change her mind soon!”

Being self-proclaimed tolerant, I was surprised that I hated those reactions. I understood that one of women’s primal roles is to procreate and continue mankind’s existence, but in the wise words of Chrissy Teigan, “I don't feel like people should be pressured to have children […] I don't think any of us should assume all women's goals are to have kids. It's a choice!"

Second, the more advanced a nation is, the less its people want to have kids.

First-world countries’ populations have been declining for years. My guess it’s because women in those populations have realized that having kids is not easy and is optional. They know it’s not an undeniable fate.

I can imagine how Indonesians would see them as selfish, since they choose to live their lives to the fullest without being weighed down by kids. But on the other hand, they’re also more aware of their potential and their basic rights, instead of blindly believing that their main purpose in this world—as women—is popping out babies.

Third, many people see having children as an old-age investment

Read also: Five things to consider when visiting a newborn

One of the most typical Indonesian motives for having kids is so we’ll have a (free) caretaker when we’re old.

Surprisingly, I just realized that I also despise this notion. I believe our children owe us NOTHING. They didn’t even ask to be born. Besides, what would we do if our kids screwed up? What if they abandon us in our old days? We invest years and years of emotion, tears, sweat, blood and money, and they just leave us just like that. Would we go crazy?

Fourth, the firstborn child is usually the result of an emotional decision, but the second child is usually the result of an intellectual decision.

I read somewhere that having a second kid is full of intellectual considerations rather emotional ones, and that rang true for me.

When I decided to have my first child, I didn’t think, because my heart genuinely ached for a baby. But when contemplating a second child, I considered it a lot with my head, not just with my heart.

My friend’s son was born with a congenital heart disease. Though the darling boy is now relatively healthy and happy, his heart problem makes my friend wary about having another child. She’s worried that her second child could also have health problems, since it will be emotionally, physically and financially draining for the family.

She keeps a note in her cellphone as a self-reminder when (and if) she wants to have another kid. The note says things like, “If I ever have another child, I have to be ready for____. I have to be mentally prepared for____. I will not be bitter if my child____.”

I was inspired by it, and started keeping a similar list myself. It contains things I need to be ready for when (and if) I have another kid, from shallow ones (“I have to be ready to be fat again,”) to deeper ones (“I have to be more active in keeping my marriage alive.”)

When people decide to have kids, the first image that usually pops into their heads is them cradling a happy, healthy baby. They rarely imagine being parents of teenagers, adults, or “challenging” children, which, of course, is harder and most likely lonelier.

For that reason, I sometimes envision myself having a child at each stage of life (baby, child, teen, young adult and adult) and in every possible scenario (gay, autistic, disabled, a child who loathes me for no reason) to see how I’d like it. To see if I’m absolutely, 110% ready.

***

You may think that I’m leaning toward the idea of not having any more kids.

However, I’ve chatted with many moms, and although motherhood is more of a walk in Jurassic Park instead of a serene stroll, no mother ever regrets having her kid, including me. Despite everything, no other feeling can compete with my love for Raya, and I would still lick the sole of very dirty shoes for him if I had to. A parent’s love is the most magical, primal feeling that is absolutely beyond our control, and I am lucky to have experienced such a thing.

Therefore, although I have 1,001 considerations—or even if I conceive a baby by accident—I realize that I would never, ever regret having a(nother) child. I know the kid would bring just as much magic as its older brother, and shatter all my doubts.

On the contrary, it is very possible for me to regret missing the opportunity of having another child, and then crave for that non-existent child for the rest my life.

I guess I’ll make an appointment with my OBGYN tomorrow. (asw)

***

Laila Achmad is a mom of a son, living in Jakarta, Indonesia. Adores dancing, travel planning, horror stories, and engaging conversations. Currently freelancing and regularly make unfunny jokes at letthebeastin.com

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