My One and Only

Author Rebecca Walker explains how she let go of her big-family fantasies—the better to embrace the (small) one she already has.

Photo by Aimee Herring

Recently several dear friends have written to tell me of their number twos on the way. Each note registers as a tiny shock to my system. I saw these children coming; I expected them in the natural course of things. But I always thought I would respond with my own exclamation, my little bit of thrilling news. Not long ago, these joyous announcements would have laid me out flat with envy; I craved another baby and couldn’t imagine my life would be complete otherwise. The dream of two (or even more) children, of spending years at a time with those small, warm bodies and soft, shiny faces, wouldn’t let me go. Even now I struggle to be at peace with my decision to remain a mother of one.

I came late to motherhood. Like many of my peers, I spent most of my 20s and 30s traveling to faraway places, working hard, and falling in love over and over again. I felt I had thousands of miles to travel—endless terrain to cover, really—before seriously considering the topics of marriage and children, and of that thing people my parents’ age spoke of: settling down. This concept seemed totally alien to me. I could not imagine the bone-deep satisfaction of living to nurture someone else.

Then I fell in love again. Glen, the man who became my life partner, wanted to have a child with me. “He or she will make your life bigger, larger than you ever thought possible,” he said one night over dinner. “Are you ready?” It was as if I had been waiting for that moment all along. I said yes. My son, Tenzin, was born a little over a year later—flip-flopping for 10 or 15 seconds on my breast before being whisked away by the nurse—and my life changed beyond measure.

Of course, motherhood has not been all gardenias and rainbows. Think of the diapers. The sleep deprivation. The feeling of being eternally on call. I have had to shrug off a sense of failure at handing Tenzin over to his father. I have asked myself (over and over) the unanswerable questions of mothers and fathers everywhere: Am I any good at this? And is there any way I can save this sweet, vulnerable child from the horrors of the world?

My difficulties and self-doubts aside, Tenzin, who is now five, has transformed me. His laughter cracks my face open with gratitude. Sharing time and space with this person is my greatest joy.