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By Carter-Ann Mahdavi

I only want one child.

I find it hard to say that statement out loud to other people. For one, it's often taken as a sign that I don't like motherhood, which isn't true. I love being a mother. Secondly, it's assumed that such a statement never has any weight behind it, especially coming from a mother. The combination of these two attitudes towards my desire to only have one child makes it an incredibly difficult subject to talk about with anyone, except the few other mothers I have found who harbor the same secret.

I try to explain to people why I only want one. I start to discuss what a traumatic childbirth entails, what postpartum depression is and what it can do to a family. Even the most sympathetic shoulder usually ends up telling me that I will forget the pain and the fear will go away. I sometimes wonder if it is my inability to properly express what happened or the fact that our society expects women to forget about the negative aspects of childbirth. Either way, only wanting one child is somehow seen as abnormal, especially if your main reason is linked to your birth experience.

When I was pregnant I had numerous conversations with mothers who would often agree that childbirth was the most painful thing they ever experienced, but that eventually they forgot about it. Laughing, they would say that if women actually remembered how hard it was they would never give birth more then once. I was never sure whether to laugh along or grimace in horror. The idea that you would be able to forget an important event such as giving birth because the pain was intolerable reminded me more of post traumatic stress symptoms and coping methods used to deal with trauma. But I tended to laugh along and tell myself that too much research into obstetrics and women's rights had made me too analytical and slightly pessimistic.

My daughter was born prematurely by emergency caesarean. She was amazingly strong and healthy enough not to stay in the hospital for very long and a few days later I took her home. Six weeks after I gave birth, I was diagnosed with postpartum depression. On top of that I could barely remember the actual birth -- I was only getting disturbing flashbacks of the birth and waking up from nightmares. My doctor mentioned that it might be post traumatic stress but not worry about it, it would soon go away. But she wasn't clear. What would go away? The flashbacks? The nightmares? The few memories I had of the birth? Would I ever remember the whole birth?

Her concern was with my depression, how it would impact my future, and not with an event in the past. That was not good enough for me. As scary as my birth experience was, I wanted to remember it, I wanted to fully remember the first time I saw my daughter, what my surgeon looked like, who had been in the room, what words I had spoken when they finally put my baby in my arms. I didn't care if that sent me further spiralling into postpartum darkness. To expect me to forget it and hope the few memories I had of it would disappear seemed cruel and insulting.

My daughter is a full fledged toddler now. She walks around, exploring the world and I think back to those first few months when I, heartbroken by how she had come into the world, could barely remember the first time I saw her dark eyes looking back at me, taking everything in. I can remember most of it now, even though I was told to forget it, that it would somehow help my postpartum depression. We talk of the challenges of motherhood and remembering that night has been my biggest challenge to date. To not remember it, or even try to remember it, would be an affront to my daughter. Her entrance into the world deserves more than an obliterated moment.

Mothers are not encouraged to talk about the birth with any realism. When we do talk of the pain, the blood, the dirty details, we're expected to downplay the pain and fear, to laugh about it and reassure those around us that childbirth is always beautiful and wonderful. And in a way it is. But it is also bittersweet for so many women. For those women, we are not given the words to express such duality. We have not been taught to talk about trauma and violence and at the same time beauty, happiness, and overwhelming sense of relief. New mothers are told that giving birth and the first time they hold their child will be life changing moments. And it was for me. But I have been told to let it slip away and I am expected to move on and forget the trauma. Why are only the good births allowed to be remembered? For the mothers who are unlucky enough to have a bad experience, we are pressured to cast our reality aside.

I only want one child because I won't risk it again. I won't risk having another premature baby who may not be as lucky as my daughter, I won't risk another caesarean, and I won't risk another bout of postpartum depression. These reasons are good enough. To suggest otherwise trivializes my experience, makes it insignificant. My reasons are good enough and I am grounded by the fact that I know child birth is not an incidental life episode you can "get over." It resonates inside you -- for better or for worse.

Mmo : march 2008

Carter-Ann Mahdavi is a feminist, mother, and freelance writer. She lives in Europe with her daughter and partner. She also writes Postpartum Perspective
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