It's been bugging me a lot lately, and it seems to be the theme of my life at the moment, so I decided to write about it. This is in part about mother's guilt, in part about parents judging other parents and in part about internal doubts.
Where to start? Maybe with a question - Why do some people think it's okay to make comments about your family size? And why does it even upset me?
To explain... I often, (especially now that Sam has started school) meet new people and they always ask "So, you have just the one?" or "Is Sam your only child?". And I find myself fluctuating between the standard response (that doesn't make people feel uncomfortable) which is "Yup, just one lucky little boy" or the more honest but sanitised version of the truth "Yes, we had another baby but we lost her before she arrived, so it's now just Sam".
And then there's the other question, which follows the first response:"Do you plan on having any more?". And really, when that rolls around I think I should have just stuck to the second reply and dealt with their discomfort because a "No, Sam's going to be an only child" doesn't seem to cut it with some people. There's raised eyebrows, or just an "Oh" or even an uncomfortable silence. And with each version there seems to be a vibe that having one child is selfish or wrong, or that you aren't really a proper parent if you aren't juggling the needs of more than one child. And for me, my response about only having one child doesn't honour any of our journey and how we've come to this place and it doesn't acknowledge our much-wanted daughter. It also makes me feel inadequate each time.
So, second question - why do I feel inadequate for only having one child? I've been pondering on this a lot lately. For the last three weeks or so I've been focusing on my mental health journey and the counselling and hypnotherapy I'm doing are making me confront some darkness I was sub-consciously trying to suppress, meaning these uncomfortable questions are coming out all over the place. And if I don't answer them, I might find myself in a worse place than I was before.
So, why? Why do other people's seemingly harmless questions provoke a response of guilt, sadness, anger and inadequacy? I think it's in part because of societal pressures. Yup, I'm going to blame society. But seriously, there's this unspoken expectation for you not just to breed, but breed to create a brood. A single child family in our corner of the world seems to be the minority and I know this isn't just my skewed view of the world. If was to do a poll at Sam's school, my guestimation would be that single-kid families would make up less than 10%. In fact, I can't think of one other kid in Sam's class who doesn't have siblings.
So, society, and more specifically, my own community, is making a one-child family different, outside the norm. Is that why I feel inadequate? I guess, yes, that's part of it. Every time I answer the "just the one" question, every time one of the kids in Sam's class asks when I'm going to have a baby, every time I watch Sam's school friends play with their siblings, part of me feels like I've done something wrong.
And then there's my own family dynamic. As one of three children, I am the odd one out. My brother and sister both not only have three children, but also bonus step-children. Every time we have a family occasion and I watch my nieces and nephews together I see Sam as the odd one out. I feel guilty that he doesn't have a brother or sister and I feel sad. My hypnotherapist believes that part of my feelings are due to an innate childhood need not to be left out and left behind. Something to do with me being the middle child and feeling like everyone else has the ideal family and I got left out. Maybe there's something in that too.
And then there's the guilt I feel for Sam on a daily basis. For not providing someone for him to play with, someone to share adventures with, someone to be there for him if something happened to us. The reality is that even if we did decide to have a child now, the age gap would mean they'd be at such different development levels they probably wouldn't play that well together anyway. And let's face it, my body couldn't handle a pregnancy any time soon, and by the time it gets better (because I have to believe it will) I'll be nearing 40 and would I be able to conceive anyway and if I did what complications would I have? And then there's the mental health question. I had prenatal depression with Sam, and post-natally wasn't exactly a breeze. I'm suffering PTSD now and I have anxiety issues. What effect would hormones have on my mental state, let alone being sick again for 9 months?
So I keep going back to the reasons we agreed to take the question out of the equation and decide to be a one-kid family. I still stand by all our reasons and believe we made the right decision. But it doesn't mean I don't long to hold my own baby again, to feel a baby kick inside my belly, to see that first newborn smile, the first roll, see them crawling, taking their first steps... It doesn't mean I don't constantly question my decision.
And I think the reason for that is constantly feeling the need to justify our decision, constantly having to acknowledge that we have "just the one". And I wonder if it's chipping away at my sanity every time. Will I ever feel good about our one-child family? Will I ever stop feeling guilty? Will I ever stop asking what if?
The reality is that the decision has been made, Nick had a vasectomy to take away the option because it wasn't right for us. So it's bloody unfair for me to keep thinking about it, keep beating myself up about it. That's life though isn't it? Constantly listening to that internal voice and either letting it take you somewhere dark or letting it lead you to a better place.
What do you think? Can I put this behind me and accept and celebrate our family for all the benefits of a one-child family? (the ability to travel easier and cheaper, less living expenses, more quality time with Sam without another child splitting our focus, easier childcare if we need to go our or away etc etc).
Or will I always feel a little piece of my soul being crushed every time I have to tell someone we"only" have Sam?
We are a family of 3. This blog is the story of how we almost became 4, why we didn’t, and what we are doing to recover from that experience.