When Having an Only Child Is The Only Choice

In reading Dr Borba’s post from last week (July 25, 2011) on raising only children, it brought back my own experience. I have an only child, but not by choice. I was caught by the trend in delaying childbearing – due to an earlier focus on education and career, and marrying later.

Why Have Another?

When my husband and I first got married we weren’t entirely sure we wanted any children, let alone more than one. But we did finally decide to start a family and were really happy with our little guy. When it came time to consider whether to have more, what Dr Borba highlighted as the benefits of an only child did figure in our thinking. We both had hectic full-time careers, so dividing our attention amongst multiple children seemed like a disservice to our son – and we enjoyed the close parenting relationship we had with him. Plus, having more kids might have meant not working so much, so finances were a concern.

However, there were powerful arguments in favor of having more children. We fell so much in love with our first baby that we really liked the idea of having a second. Plus I am an only child and I always wanted siblings when growing up. In fact, even now I would like to have a brother or sister – for my own benefit – but also for my son’s.

At the end though, one of the most powerful drivers was that he was always asking for a sibling – just like I did.

Our Sibling Odyssey

Getting pregnant the first time was fairly straightforward, even though I had already reached “advanced maternal age”. We decided to try for a second when Elliott was three and I was nearing 40. Since it was so easy the first time, we thought it would be fairly easy the second time – and it more or less was – until we discovered it was an ectopic pregnancy, resulting in emergency surgery and the loss of one tube. So, with my chances of getting pregnant halved – and now informed of the significantly reduced fertility at my age – we embarked on a series of IVF procedures. Clearly we had no idea of the journey yet to come.

Mistake #1: Despite my age and the statistics, we were over-optimistic about our chances of conceiving through IVF. Since I’d gotten pregnant twice, and carried a baby to term, it seemed like just a matter of time. Which might explain our second mistake.

Mistake #2: We were much too open and optimistic with our son about trying to have another baby, especially at the beginning of the process. Eventually, we had to start managing expectations since several months of IVF procedures went by without success. Finally one succeeded…but this resulted in ANOTHER ectopic pregnancy (very rare with IVF). And it was a huge saga as it was discovered on an overseas trip and involved emergency surgery in a foreign city, 3 days in hospital, a week in a hotel waiting for the all-clear to fly home, wheelchair transport through airports on the way back, and 2 months recovery off work. We managed one more unsuccessful attempt a few months later, and finally gave up – leading to our final mistake….

Mistake #3: We avoided telling our son we had stopped trying to have another baby. It was just too painful. I couldn’t talk about it – or even see a little baby on the street – without crying, and I think the idea of telling him made the decision feel so irrevocable. Unfortunately one evening on the way home from friends with a house full of kids, we accidentally let it slip out in conversation. But he picked up on it right away – and what an UPSET!! There was so much crying going on in the car that we had to pull over for a while. That night is still very clear to me.

Helping Our Son (and Us) Adjust

After making the decision not to keep trying for another child, and despite our mistakes, we did take some steps that helped everyone adjust to this new and initially painful reality:

Talked about the benefits – Once everyone had a chance to calm down, we sat with our son and talked about why we wouldn’t be having another baby, and about the benefits of being an only child, in a way he might understand: having his own room, getting to spend more time with Mom and Dad, and no one to steal or break his toys.

Got a surrogate sibling – Yes, we got a puppy. And for the next few years, Nelson (the dog) was his brother – four legs and fur notwithstanding. This worked very well, until Elliott’s school class learned about family roles and he insisted his dog was a brother…while his teacher insisted this wasn’t possible.

Found social opportunities – Due to our dual-career life Elliott had always been involved in external social settings with other kids. But now we had even more reason to sign him up for sports, clubs, summer camp and Cub Scouts.

Created a “flexible” family concept – Soon after our painful odyssey we had the opportunity to become god-parents to the daughter of a dear friend. We embraced this new responsibility and more or less “adopted” my friend and her family. This gave me some consolation – both for my loss and my son’s. Elliott became a “god-brother” and Nelson, a “god-dog!” While it’s not exactly the same – and he really only started enjoying her once she turned three – he is experiencing many aspects of being a brother: her adoration, looking out for her safety, playing with and performing for her, and protecting his possessions from her. And on a recent shopping trip he picked out a pair of pajamas for himself that proclaimed “big brother” on the front. There’s definitely more than one way to “make” a family.

About the Author

Audra is an experienced pharmaceutical marketing professional, aspiring writer, and mother of Elliott, a high-spirited twenty-year old. Frequently tired but never bored, she has a strong interest in public health fostered by numerous years implementing global oncology education programs as well as by her twenty-year crazy (wild? amazing?) adventure in parenting. She recently earned a Masters in Public Health to augment her expertise in health policy and health promotion. Audra is a founding member of the PedSafe Team


2 Responses to “When Having an Only Child Is The Only Choice”

  1. Momswhovax says:

    This was just beautiful. Beautifully written and handled with such grace.

  2. Kathy Kestin says:

    I married and divorced in my 20s and never thought about children. Remarried at 35 and still ambivalent. At 38 i decided I was ready and got pregnant immediately. One miscarriage, 2 and finally 3. Each time it took longer to get pregnant. In fact, the 3rd was under the care of a wonderful RE.

    Finally, with the aid of an RE and some drugs conceived my DD and gave birth to a healthy full term baby in 1999. After my last mc I yelled out my window to G-d, “all I want is one healthy child”.

    After Julz was born I wanted her to have a sibling. I have no first cousins, my husband is an only and my brother unmarried with no children.

    When she got to 2 I really was hoping to get pregnant again but would not invoke science since I had begged G-d for just one healthy child. Needless to say, it did not.

    Would I have liked another child? Yes. Does she ask why there is none? Yes and I have answered honestly much to her dismay.

    My line to people is, I might not have as many partners at the dance as I would have liked, but at least I am dancing.

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