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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)

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

Me too.

Thanks.

December 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMimi
I have identical twins girls and I ALWAYS get asked if we are going to try for a boy. We've decided to not try for a boy. I am perfectly content and happy with two girls. A boy would have been nice but definitely not necessary to complete our happiness. Plus those two little yoyos have me wrapped anyway...

Its your decision and Henry seems like a great kid. You've done great work.
December 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCraig K.
I've been reading your blog for a long time, but never commented (though nodded many times as if you were writing from my head).I have 3 girls I love dearly. My second pregnancy resulted in twins (unassisted)....I didn't have 3 children in my life plan, nor did twins run in my family, so it came as a shock (eventually a blessing). My family is very full & complete (enough :) ), but I also morn the days of having only 1 child. For every advantage multiple children offers, there are advantages of an 'only'. There are many things i'd love to do with my children, but it isn't possible because there are 3 of them - time, money, energy don't always permit.Enjoy your family and feel no guilt about the decisions you have made. They are after all, your decisions. Someday you'll embrace Henry's wife/partner/friend as if they were your own and know that he has all he needs.

December 9, 2009 | Unregistered Commenter3Angels&Me
you have a great blog and i love reading it.
December 9, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterprogress lighting
I can't tell you how much I needed to read this from someone else right now. I have a 2 and 1/2 year old son. He is our only. My pregnancy was amazing (I didn't even get morning sickness!) But post partum...it was hell. It's stil hell. I have Poly-Cystic Ovarian Syndrome and a rare thyroid problem. After having my tot...my body just shut down. Seemed like every time I fixed something...another domino toppled over. As of right now my endocrine system is completely bankrupt. I am on hormone relacement therapy, plus additional progesterone, plus amino acides to create the serotonin I am not making as a result of these hormone crashes. My adrenal glands are anemic. And I feel so selfish. I don't want to go through the anxiety and the depression and the pain again. I don't want to give up on our vacations and our way of life. I DO want another child...but I keep asking myself "how badly?" I didn't do well, and I still struggle. Your little one is enough. My little one is enough. There should be no need for a "story" or explanations. What if this is just what's best for everyone? I will always wonder...but for now I feel full and satisfied. "3, it's a magic number". Beautiful post. Thanks for making me feel like I have some company!
December 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTina
I love the way you phrase having one child is "enough", and not "only." Almost every single time I tell people I'm finished having kids, after having one, they being to argue that I *need* to have more, that my daughter *needs* siblings. I feel they *need* to back off of my reproductive decisions. I think I will start using your argument that having one is enough for me.
December 9, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterv
Thank you Alice for your honesty and openness. I only got to read a portion of your essay on miscarriage but I so relate to your story. I am currently almost 5 months pregnant after 2 losses and I think there will always be apart of me that is worried that something might go wrong. And this baby, should it be born healthy godwilling will likely be the only one we have and while there is part of me that feels bad about that decision, I also want what I have to be enough. You are a wonderful woman and writer and I am so glad I came across your blog.
December 9, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterstella
This article made me a bit sad, I must admit. My boyfriend, who is an only child, has elderly parents. One night he had a breakdown and even cried (ive never seen him cry) because he realized that after his parents are gone he won't have any family left :\ I dont want to tell you this to hurt you or make you sad, its because I wish so badly that I could change the situation for my boyfriend, and I hope that you had thought about how being an only child can affect your child. Again, Im sorry, I know its not my place.
December 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSamantha K.
I'm the eldest of three children. I talk to one of my siblings about twice a year and the other one about once every two years. I feel like an only child, and I'd be willing to bet that both of them do too. So while I would have liked to have a second child simply because I wanted one, I never felt I was depriving my daughter of anything by not "giving" her a sibling. It's certainly no guarantee you'll have a friend for life.

My daughter will be 11 next month, and amazingly, the occasional person still asks me if I think I'll have another. I point out that I've been widowed for going on four years now, and they say 'Yes, but if you get married again ...' But even if I did, which isn't likely, I wouldn't want to start over at this point, when I'm almost 40 and she's almost a teenager. And more importantly, I don't need to. To borrow your excellent phrase, she's enough.
December 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterVanessa
Before I read your post I was an only child. Now I'm enough! Thank you. I love it.
December 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMrs. G
Just another well-adjusted only-child here lending a voice to the choir... I had a wonderful childhood and now share an incredible bond with her parents. A closeness and rapport that my husband and many of my friends often find unbelievable and elusive in their own lives. Like one other poster however, I did have a slightly easier time relating to older people than kids my own age.

Family drama is inescapable.

You have a happy healthy son.

It's all good.
December 10, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterClaudia
you made me cry and you made me look at my only child very differntly and for that i thank you.
December 10, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterchris
Yes, yes, yes. I am a mama to my precious "only" child. I second guess myself and wonder every single "what if" you listed and more. Am I selfish? Will she be lonely? Will she be adjusted and be socially developed? Will I regret this decision? Again, am I selfish? Then I look at my little 6 year old baby girl...who is perfect in every single way and I think for a moment that yes, I did make the right decision. Hopefully. You know what I mean? ;) ((hugs)) Thanks for letting me know that I'm not alone.
December 10, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMelanie
It's never even crossed my mind to think of someone that has one child as selfish. It's just a choice. And it doesn't need reasons!
December 10, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBelle
Coming at it from the other side, I'm an only. I am not a mother nor will I ever be one, but I can tell you being an only child of parents that love you is the most awesome thing in the universe. There is nothing in the world like knowing that your parents loved you so much that you were enough.

Although, hopefully Henry won't take the crazy ego route I did as a child when friends would tease me about being spoiled because I didn't have any siblings. I told my friends, "At least *my* mom and dad loved me enough to stop at one." I kinda got in trouble for that, but deep down, all my friends knew it was true.
December 10, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJane
Alice--

It's been so long since I visited your site (I hate the term blog, it sounds scummy and smelly). As I read through this essay I wondered why I had been away so long. By the time I got to your "no mercy" ending I realized why. The last place I should be reading you is at work, which is where I do most browsing to pass lunch time, because dammit, you get me every time. I don't think even Dooce's writing has managed to make my eyes and nose run as often as does yours (laughing or crying).

In spite of having missed so much of your writing the past year I feel confident in stating IMO this is the most beautiful piece you've written yet. How could Henry be anything other than the luckiest of little boys with so much love so close at hand?
December 10, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterNeoCleo
I read your piece in The Sun and since I had read your blog off and on, it felt more personal. But it was hard to read. Much harder to live, I'm sure. But I enjoyed it. I don't know if that's the right word---enjoyed. I appreciated it, I guess. I felt something. It made me think, and imagine. And I think that's the best we can hope for, for writing. I'm sorry you went through that and I'm sorry people give you grief about not having any more children. Such a personal decision, miscarriage or not.
December 10, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterApril
My answer, to people who are nosy enough to ask, and to my kid, is this:

"We got it right the first time."

And we did. Our family felt complete with just one. The one we have is a doozy, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

(I'm also an only, as is my mother. So you could say it's something of a family tradition.)

December 10, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterm
My daughter is an "enough" child. The reasons for that are several and personal, but I struggled for years with a lot of heartache over the fact that I would never have another baby, never give her a sibling.

She is now 9 years old and a superstar social butterfly with a rich social life, tons of travel under her belt, and the ability to get along with pretty much anybody.

I asked her recently if she felt sad or disappointed that she would never have a brother or sister, and she looked at me in sincere surprise. "Why would I feel sad?"

I realized at that moment that I had been projecting all of my grief onto her, assuming she was somehow devastated or deprived over a supposedly "ideal" reality she would never know.

The fact of the matter is she has never known any other way. She never will. She is okay with that. I need to be, too.
December 11, 2009 | Unregistered Commenters
My one is enough too. For many many reasons. This was beautifully said.
December 11, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermagpie
you're an amazing woman. and i don't mean it as that default, overused adjective. i mean it sincerely.
December 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTerri Fischer
FWIW, I have many many siblings. And there was a time where I felt unseen by my parents. B/c there literally was not enough time to go around.

I have only two kids, and I worry constantly that I'm short-changing one or the other, and that they aren't getting enough one on one time.

What I'm trying to say (I think) is....you're bound to worry whether you had too many or too few, regardless of how many children you actually had.The best you can do is make a decision that works for you, and yours.And right now, it sounds like you have.Much love and luck to you guys, Sorry for the rambling novel!
December 11, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterthepsychobabble
I'm an only child. (Saying just "only" sounds kinds of ridiculous - like people make it up for some kind of...what...OFFSPRING slur?) My mom's motto is "One and Done." I'm pretty sure she was wary of having one kid let alone multiples. Being an only child was great. Were there times when no friends could come play that I wanted a sibling? Sure. But not when it came to Christmas morning! Or getting a car. Or going to college. Or going to Europe. I fully believe I had more opportunities because my parents didn't have to pay for double of everything. And now I'm married (to another only child) and we're expecting our first child. But as for us, we want two. Just because we never experienced it. I think only children are awesome. And, as you go through life and meet them, you feel bonded.
December 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLiza
I adore the picture of Henry. He is very lucky to have you for a mother.
December 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterNatalie
Thanks for this. It echoes our story. I read something recently that helped me to both explain it to my daughter and make peace with it myself. I now just tell her (following in the steps of the writer who did something similar) that she is more than we ever could have imagined or wished for, and we are complete. When I first said it, she looked at me with eyes wide and blinked a few times and then rushed at me with the biggest hug. I could not have imagined how much it would mean to her, to hear that she is all we need. The questions about a sibling stopped. And it doesn't seem selfish. It seems just right for us.
December 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKaza

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