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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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« 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)

Beautiful, inspiring post. Thank you.
December 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSarah
A beautiful post, Alice.

I'm an only child and when I asked my mom (who was unable to have kids and adopted me) if I could have a sister, she told me "Yes", but I'd have to share half my Xmas presents. I stopped asking.

Being an only child is a pretty good racket, at least when you're young. And even though the vague idea of a sibling is attractive, Henry will spend most of his school days listening to his peers rag on and on about their siblings. As I remember it, all my friends had lousy brothers and sisters who used to pummel them and steal their stuff when their parents weren't looking. I was free of this burden.

That said, I see my two girls and how close they are. I try to instill a sense of "being there" for each other and I hope they are each others best friends through life. But in the end they could just spend the rest of their lives making each other miserable or stealing each others boyfriends. Who the hell knows.

Anyway, I'm sending you my warmest thoughts. Henry, it seems, is already well taken care of...

Kim



December 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterThe Yummy Mummy
My first time here, loved what you wrote, its stunning. I also think someday Henry will read it and thank you for your courage.
December 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBeth Mancuso
Alice I too get every word you said. I was told I probably could not have a child but I got pregnant, had a healthy pregnancy and a healthy and incredible son. The tag line on my blog is "because one is enough" - referring not only to his single dimple but that for me - Robby is enough.

Some days, I do regret having my tubes tied and I miss the little brother or sister that could have been. At the end of the day though - One is Enough.
December 12, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterdimplecheek
I'm an only child, and was about Henry's age, maybe a little younger, when my mother had a miscarriage and made the same decision you did.

Certainly there were times when, like Henry, I'd ask for a little brother or sister. But really, I've never felt deprived or that I've somehow missed out.

And I've never hated my mother for her decision.

20 years from now, when Henry is my age, I am sure he will be able to say the same.
December 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBianca
Without reading all 200 comments, I'm sure I'm echoing what everyone is saying here. You are wonderful, brave writer. Whatever decision you and Scott have made together will by definition be best for Henry, because it is what's best for you as his parents.

I'm an only child, and not by my parents' choice -- my mom had a miscarriage when I was 6. I grew up loved, and the closeness I feel to my cousins may be stronger than many feel toward their siblings. My parents are getting older, and yes, I'm very aware of my "onlyness" when I think about that too much. But I'm surrounded by family...the family I grew up with, and the one I've created with my husband. "Only child" doesn't mean "alone."

Henry sounds like such an incredible kid.
December 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAsha Dornfest {Parent Hacks}
Five miscarriages later, we said fuck it, we'll stay childless. Three months later a family member dropped her two children off and never came back. Forty one weeks later our adoption was finished. We'll still never try again for a pregnancy. I can't do that again. But I can't imagine never being a mother.

Henry is enough. My girls are enough. If another child, or another five children, land in my lap, they'll be enough too.

You made the very best choice you could have. Henry will respect that.
December 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKait
you are a true and honest person putting yourself out here...you are helping yourself, cathartically it seems, and us through your words. You rock the house girl, don't ever forget it. Merry Holidays to you.
December 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLynn
I also have one child. I feel solid in my decision that one is enough for us, but it is easy to get wrapped up in the what ifs, especially when the "norm" is not to have one child. And so many people feel like it's their business to point at that they think the decision to have one is wrong. I don't know why that is, but I liked reading your post. Even though I know my family is complete, I like knowing others have one child and are just as happy as can be.
December 14, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLori
Bossy thinks trios make beautiful music together.
December 14, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBOSSY
Alice - this was a beautiful post and I always am so drawn to your writing - maybe because my son Miles shares his middle name with Henry. Maybe because I too had a miscarriage at 10 weeks that tore my world apart. Then I had another one much earlier but still I nearly died of sadness. Now I am due with my final baby in January. I will not risk another miscarriage. I so know where you and Scott are coming from. I think, maybe if I had taken the time to fully come to terms with my grief, my decision to try again would have been different.

I think Henry seems happy and full of the joy and love that you guys provide and I love hearing about your exploits! I am jealous of the amount of time you get with him as an only or an enough. I find it hard to spend 5 minutes of alone time with either of my kids. You will know him SO well. And he will be fine.

I am sorry all the emotion is coming back again. I have been trying to write about my miscarriages and I know it just tears you apart. We still think about our angel babies all the time, especially around their due dates. The pain gets better but it does not go away. Thank you for sharing your feelings. Makes me feel like I have anotehr friend who knows what it feels like. And more friends is always good.
December 14, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBrittany at Mommy Words
I'm thinking of taking your piece, and some of the responses, and printing them on a card to hand out, to folks who ask about our only. It is that perfect. But I had never considered, til reading Aimee's post, that asking if she is an only, may simply be a conversational gambit - it always feels like an accusation... Because sometimes I do feel selfish, after all "X had a baby after Y"....But I'm not that somebody, neither are you. And our children are enough, more than enough, so thank you.
December 15, 2009 | Unregistered Commenternina
so sweet, so true & so right...
December 15, 2009 | Unregistered Commenteremily ruth
I am an only. My mom was often asked if I was her only. She was always slightly offended by that question. My parents felt the same way as you. I was enough. I grew up to be a happy, normal adult. Henry is enough and will be just fine.
December 15, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer
As so many others have said, I thank you for such a wonderful, lovely piece. Not many people can bring me to laughter and tears as quickly as you can with your writing. My daughter is an "enough", too... not by choice, but because I'm physically not able to have another. She's also the exact same age as Henry (to the month). I feel a kinship with you because of that... plus there are not a whole lot of us parents of onlies (especially where I come from), so I definitely can relate. And that photo... well, suffice it to say you have me in tears. Thank you.
December 15, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTH
I don't usually read blog comments, let alone 215 of them. But I've been beating myself up over the decision to stop at one for over a year now and reading these insightful words has truly been therapeutic.

Thank you, commenters. Thank you, Alice.
December 16, 2009 | Unregistered Commenteramy
I'm an only child...and I don't resent/hate/want to punch my parents for it. As long as Henry is loved. Which he is. That's all that matters. :)
December 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterStacy
Brilliant, thrilling, gasping for air astonishment of wonder. My daughter is "enough", and my favorite response as to why we aren't having more/another/whatever is "how many Mona Lisas do you see around? Perfection is enough!"
December 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAnne
So incredibly well written. I sincerely hope the feeling of being selfish fades. You're making fabulous decisions every day for you and for your family.
December 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCalamity Jill
My husband and I have gone through the same thing, should we try for a second child, are we leaving our son lonely or all on his own when we're older and he has to shoulder the burden of our care alone, all of what you said much better than I ever could. And though I still worry if I'm being selfish and what would be best for my son, we are so utterly happy and content with him, sometimes it's hard to imagine sharing that. He is more than enough for us. Thanks for writing so honestly and so beautifully.
December 17, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterlesli
I'm an only. My mom has always said it's because she didn't think she could love another baby as much as me. I'll take that to mean I am enough. And with the way I rebelled in high school, I'm sure they'd agree.

I have two offspring. But have had 4 pregnancies. I lost twins with my first miscarriage and then had one more with my next pregnancy. The third time was a charm I guess. But it wasn't easy. I was filled with fear the whole 9 months. I hated it. And I hate that I hated it.

I recently wrote about this experience on my blog. I thought it was a wound that had healed. But going back, remembering those raw times opened a flood gate. Again.

No. You don't ever forget. You just deal with it.
December 17, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterdani
Some people I once knew got tired of other people constantly asking when they were going to have another...they would smile sweetly and say "We're not, we got it right the first time."
December 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLillabilly
This post made me cry. For two very specific reasons. First of all, it made me feel guilty, because I am married to an only child...and I have often, and probably still do, at times, wonder this very thing about my in-laws. Why did they only have one child, my husband? Were they worried that he would be lonely...detatched from a built-in soulmate in a sometimes vicious world? Did they consider that he would one day probably have to take care of them? Would he be ready to go out into the world? I have had all of these thoughts, and every time I have them, I realize that it is I who is selfish! I've wanted him to have a sibling so that I could have a more exciting ride...a sibling in law, something I had always looked forward to as a young unmarried woman dreaming about my future mate. But he, my husband...he is fine. He's 100% ok being an only child and I can honestly say that I have never met a more well adjusted and contented person in my entire life. So, when you worry about Henry, just maybe take it from this random reader (one who lurks often and thinks that you are one bad-ass lady) that your sweet boy...your only child will be an amazing man one day, and he will undoubtedly go on to make some silly girl and fantastic husband, if for no other reason than he has lots of love to give and has a heart that is bigger than most and maybe just a little less used than average. Does that make sense? Anyway. Henry sounds like a fantastic boy, and I am sure that you and your husband have more than filled his needs! You are one rad lady, Alice!
December 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBethany Coffey
Thank you, Alice, for this wonderful post. I have an only child and miscarried in June 2009. The feelings that I felt. I could not explain it for the longest time, but I feel like you put them into words for me through your post. I am not 100% sure if my husband and I will try again or not, but for now, I am OK not trying. Through the experience, I was reborn and it was a hard and arduous process. I had to learn to be happy again, and I don't want to go back. You are right-- the happy ending of trying and trying again and having a child to blip out the miscarriage is not for everyone. It certainly is not for me.
December 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJisoo B
Alice, this is a question just for thought and possible discussion. This is NOT meant to be a "it could be worse" scenario, nor is it meant to invalidate your pain in any way.

Millions and millions of women have miscarriages and I don't envy any of them one bit. On the other hand, do you think the woman that can't even get as far as having a miscarriage, who can't even get pregnant in the first place, suffers a loss too? Can one suffer the loss of something they never had in the first place? This idea also sort of ties in with Henry's only child status.

I am also an only child, and my mother had a miscarriage when I was 10. She was shortly thereafter diagnosed with MS, so trying again was out of the question. Being an only certainly had it's perks, and there were so many kids and playmates in my neighborhood I never felt lonely. It is only now as an adult that I vaguely miss the person that was never there.
December 21, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBeth

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