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Let's Panic: The Book!

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How to Endure and Possibly Triumph Over the Adorable Tyrant
who Will Ruin Your Body, Destroy Your Life, Liquefy Your Brain,
and Finally Turn You
into a Worthwhile
Human Being.

Written by Alice Bradley and Eden Kennedy

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At LET'S PANIC ABOUT BABIES, Eden Kennedy and I share our hard-won wisdom and tell you exactly what to think and feel and do, whether you're about to have a baby or already did and don't know what to do with it.

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« Briefly, before the year ends | Main | About last night »
Saturday
Dec052009

Only

We're walking home from school.

"I was thinking," Henry says. "I was thinking it would be good to have a little brother."

I can't help but picture it. Henry holding a little boy's hand, guiding him as he toddles down the sidewalk next to us. He would have been such an excellent big brother.

"Or a sister," he says. "Yeah, actually? I think I want a sister. Because I like the girls I'm related to. So I think if I had a sister, I would like that."

I am murmuring noncommittally. "Huh!"I say. "Hmm!"

"So," he adds, looking at me, "can I get one?"

"I don't think it's in the cards for us, sweetie," I finally say.

"What does that mean, in the cards?"

"It means I don't think it's going to happen."

"That's okay," he says quickly. "That's fine. I was just thinking. "

I try to point out the advantages of being an only child. The quality time with us. He does not appear convinced.

"It could be fun, though," he says.

"Yes," I agree. "It could be."

*

When we made the move back to the city from the suburbs, part of it was because we realized we weren't going to try again. There are so many reasons, and if I give them, I'm afraid someone's going to pop up in the comments to argue that our reasons aren't good enough. "Oh, you can still have a second even if X!" this imaginary person might say. "My precious miracle came about even though we also thought Y and Z and you might be the same way so keep on trying!"

No. It's not going to happen.

And I am sorry. I am. It's so much more satisfying for everyone else, to have a successful pregnancy after a miscarriage. It's expected. You keep on trying, and then eventually you get pregnant and it all works out and the miscarriage becomes an unfortunate blip in your otherwise upbeat narrative. I realize that this is kind of a bummer.

*

Henry hasn't asked about a sibling for a long, long while--long before I had the miscarriage. It's interesting that it's come up for him now, just as my essay appeared in The Sun and I've been sort of overwhelmed by the feelings stirred up by the publication and its response.

I have to admit, I feel a little strange about all these Sun readers emailing me, responding as if I still feel the pain of the miscarriage as acutely as I did back when the essay was written. I wrote it well over a year ago, and when I finished, I felt like I had exorcised something. I exorcised it and saved it in a Word file and then I was free. And now all these people are expressing their sympathy, when that pain has dulled to an occasional ache, and I feel like I'm pretending to be something I'm not. Like I need to tell them they've made a mistake.

Then as I'm responding to them, something bursts open. All that pain I thought I had purged, that deep, awful well. It's right there, and I want to scream. Then I want to thank all these people who wrote to me, because part of me was afraid it was gone. Nope, still there. I still miss that baby I thought I was going to have. That baby who would have been one year old just a couple of weeks ago.

So many people writing to me want me to know about the children they had after their miscarriages. The happy endings they wish for me. I know they're hoping to make me feel better, I get that, but all I can think is, there won't be a second for me. And then I think: because I'm too selfish.

I am ashamed. Because I've made a decision, and at the heart of it, I made it for me. Scott and I made it for us. And for Henry, but who can really say what's best for him, at this point? I'm afraid we're doing Henry a disservice. That we're leaving him alone as we get older and more helpless, that we're depriving him of a soulmate and ally, someone to build forts with or whatever else I imagine he'd do with a sibling when I'm really beating myself up over my decision.

I wonder if he'll forgive us. I wonder if he'll hate us for it. I wonder if he'll be glad.

Of course I know, rationally, that only children can be happy and successful. I know that Henry's happy and well-adjusted and loved beyond measure. I do.

But it keeps coming up. They think I'm selfish, I think, when other parents ask me if Henry is an "only." Stingy. Not willing to spread myself just a little too thin. I want to give them my reasons. My very good, well-considered reasons. But I'm afraid they'd argue that those reasons aren't enough.

Henry is not an only, I want to say. Henry is enough. Can't that be the question? "So, was Henry enough for you?" I could confirm that without a trace of shame.

Just look at him, I could say.

Look at my boy. Look at all that I have.

at the beach

Reader Comments (245)

I don't usually comment on your site, or other blogs written by mothers because I'm not one and there's really not much advice I can give anyone. But I had to comment here. I'm an only child, my mom had four miscarriages after me. Or maybe some of them occurred before me, I don't like to ask her about that because I feel that it could probably hurt her now, even though it's been more than twenty years since then. Thing is - they really wanted to give me a sibling, but it just didn't work. And in certain ways, I'm kind of happy I didn't have to share everything with some other kid, I got all of my parents' love and I know I've given them all of my love. I feel more connected to my parents than to any other being in the whole world. And when I got older I found amazing friends who I will cherish my whole life, and who have become sort of like my sisters. In a nutshell, I'm happy. And your precious little boy won't feel any kind of void, I know I never did. Just love him and he will love you in return.
December 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJelena
I was happy to read this this morning, I have been struggling with guilt myself at not providing a sibling for my daughter. The thing is, it's rarely our choice anyway. Just because we want it, it wont make it real.

As one of the comments said, there is always a story and mine is a long one, but despite the feelings of guilt, I just think I'm done. Not because I want to be, but because I just feel like she was my miracle and sometimes you only get one.

She is more than enough for me and I have not pictured my family any differently. Just his morning she told me I am her best friend. Moments like that are priceless.

I totally loved your post, it did bring me a degree of peace. I was wondering, if you have the time, would you let me know if you still, despite being ok with your decision, feel resentful when your friends of family keep falling pregnant at what seems like a whim?

Thank you for sharing such a deeply personal experience with us, it has really helped me.



December 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDianne
I am in week 28 of my second pregnancy. My first pregnancy was easy breezy, not a single complication, producing the most perfect baby girl! This pregnancy has been much more difficult. I had a few scares, and was afraid of loosing this baby (still am) The baby is healthy inside, but my body wants to have him or her exit early.Anyway, my point is, that I totally understand your point of view. I don't thinkmy heart and soul could bear the loss of this baby. Just the thought of it brings me to tears. I keep praying that this baby will make a safe entry into the world.

I love this baby in my belly.. and will always consider myself a mother of two, regardless of the outcome. I know after this pregnancy, I can say with some certaintly, that this is it. Two is enough. Enough because the hard parts are too hard for me.
December 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda
I love the "enough" part. I will have to use that with my "only" soon. Thank you for a beautiful piece.
December 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAshley
There is nothing wrong with trying again. There is nothing wrong with not trying again. For you to raise a happy healthy little person is more than enough. And for you to want to focus all of your resources on him is wonderful. Good for you.
December 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLeslie
That last sentiment was beautiful.
December 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTara Black
Alice, thank you for this. One of the reasons that I connect with you so much- besides your obvious talent and wit- is that I too have an only child, a boy, just a few months younger than Henry. And, we tried for years for our second. I think I had about six miscarriages. And then two years of nothing. I turned 40 last month, an age when I'd always promised myself that we would stop. But I know in my heart that I was done this summer. You hit a point when you just can't take it anymore. And yes, my son is enough.

I could go on about how I'm an only child and I'm ok. How I know my son will be fine for various reasons. But I know that you already know all of that. And that you probably tell yourself the same things that I do all the time to reassure yourself.

So, I just want to say thank you. Thank you for expressing so eloquently over the years many of the same things I have wanted to express myself. I truly appreciate it.
December 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterHolly
When I feel guilty about not being able to give my daughter a sibling, I just remind myself that siblings are not necessarily good, and not necessarily there forever. And yes, I know this.
December 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTracy
All of the "only children" I know that are grown now are some of my smartest, most successful and well adjusted friends. Henry will be all of those things and probably already is.
December 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAmie
Alice, I frequent most of the Momversation Gal's blogs and I must say that yours is my favorite because I feel a certain kinship to you. Our story is very similar as we have an only son, 6, and have experienced several losses. We came to a peaceful place in our 'decision' to stick with one a few years ago. We struggled with all the same thoughts, worries, unwanted opinions of others, etc. I read many books, articles, blogs, etc. about only children - actual studies/interviews/ets. (not speculation and heresay that you often hear). I have several friends that are only children ... some who love it, some who wish they had a sib, and some who really don't give it much thought either way. We finally decided that We're Ok! And You, Scott and Henry are ok too! :)
December 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLou
I remember sitting in the fertility specialist's lobby playing with our first while my wife was getting treatments that produced our second (three miscarriages in between) and wondering if we were being greedy to want a second.

Having a kid is the most selfish thing you can do. It's also the last selfish thing you can do. There are no "right answers." You pays your nickel, you makes your choice.
December 7, 2009 | Unregistered Commentered
I have a brother who is wonderful and perfect and I love him- heck we are roommates. However, my mom is my best friend and my dad is my greatest mentor. Having two happy, healthy, loving, supportive parents I didn't much need a sibling to lean on for support or companionship. I would not have been upset to be an "enough" child. Henry is enough for you. You and Scott are enough for Henry.
December 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCasey
Your writing is beautiful, as always, and the subject so timely as I'm struggling with whether we can handle having a second child. It's great to be reminded that if we choose not to have another (and/or biology gives us a big fat NO), our daughter will still be enough, and we'll be enough for her.
December 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJenny
Look at all the people here who have felt a measure of peace, or who have looked at things from a new perspective, because of you, Alice. Great writing does that.

What you wrote here was both brave and generous, and I am in awe of you.
December 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSheila
Alice, your writing is so beautiful.

It took me about three years after making it to finally own our decision to have an only child. After Beloved got snipped, I knew it was really always going to be that way -- and I let myself relax into our decision like a hot bath.

I hope you will feel that relief, too.
December 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRita Arens
You are absolutely not being selfish. Would you say that couples who choose to be childless are selfish? I have 3 kids and supposedly, that's not a good number because someone is always left out. I'm supposed to have 4 to make everything even. Would you say I'm selfish, because we're not having a 4th? You want what you want, and you make the decisions you make based on the information and feelings you have at the time. NOT SELFISH.
December 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSheryl
I'm an only too. My mom thought she wanted six children and then she had me...and I was enough.

As an only child, it chafes me that there are people out there who pity people like me or judge our parents. Yes, I know that there are things I missed out on that my husband got to experience with his 3 sisters, but I also know that I got all the parental attention, and, frankly, resources that in his case were spread over 4 kids. Even though we didn't have much money when I was little, I got to try whatever I wanted, take music lessons on multiple instruments, and have a truly full childhood. I didn't end up spoiled and awful. (I do like to get my own way, I admit, but I try to hide it!)

From where I sit, it is not only OK to be an only, but it is special in its own way.
December 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterR
This made me tear up at the end. Beautiful writing. An exquisite way to think of your blessings. And the perfect picture.
December 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJewel
My mother said very similar things about life after her miscarriage, when I was three years old. She didn't feel like she wanted to try again. I'm an only child and love it. When people asked her why she hadn't had another, she just said, "I haven't found anything wrong with this one yet."

I would be a different person with siblings. Not better, not worse, just different. I like who I am, and I like my family.

Thanks for posting. :)
December 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJenn
Well, that was beautiful and perfectly put. And yes, he is enough. We are so often seeking for something, but almost always, we had it all along.

I'm happy for you, and for the blessings that you have and have shared with us.
December 7, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterelise
I love what you said. I have one as well, and that is the best way I have ever seen it said. My one is enough as well.
December 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKatie
This is wonderful. I am an only child, and the parent of one daughter. I struggled mightily with my decision to only have one. (Yes, I considered "selfish" factors like financial sacrifices and the cool vacations I want to take.) How might her life, or mine, have been enriched by siblings? We'll never know. But there are always a million paths not taken in this life. No matter which one we take, there are regrets and unanswered questions. As you expressed so beautifully, the best we can do is to be here in this moment, enjoying (or sometimes just surviving) what we do have.
December 7, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterspoiledonlychild
yes.
December 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterQueenSarah
People, unfortunately, are judgmental no matter what, as the other commenters pointed out: having 0, 1 or 6 children, someone will have something to say about it…. It’s a shame, really. It is nobody’s business why someone does or does not have children, or has “too few” or “too many.” What is “not enough” for one is “all I need” or “plenty” for another. In my opinion, I think people need to take such a decision seriously and make the right one for them at the time. Or sadly, many times, the decision is made for them (by God/fate/science, whatever).

I am an only, and I love being an only.I have an only and would have liked to have more, I think, but at this point that does not look likely due to my circumstances.I feel blessed, either way; in all ways.

And you owe nobody an explanation or “justification” of your very personal decision.

December 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAnn


As so many others have said, this is a beautiful and powerful piece, Alice.

It floors me that anyone would consider your family choices to be "selfish." What a hideous thing to think about something so intensely personal. You don't have to have any reasons at all, but whatever reasons you do have are enough, because they are yours and this is your life and your family. And your life and family are perfect just as they are.

December 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLawyerish

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