I'm a mother of an only child (MOC). Being such, I know that a lot of women like me are plagued with guilt, just as I am. Guilt for not having more children. Guilt for not being able to bear more children, given my fertility issues. And most of all, guilt for being okay with it.
To be honest, the way I feel about this situation sits on sand, always shifting, trying to balance and find firm footing. There are days when I'm perfectly at peace with where and how we are, and there are days when I still wonder and hear the faint echoes of a desire I can't fully entertain: that of having another child.
For the longest time, I've been perfectly fine with our situation, arguing that I'm definitely not in the minority group. I saw that I was surrounded by families with only one child.
Then all of a sudden, I noticed that these same mothers started abandoning ship. They were all getting pregnant again! I thought to myself, 'What traitors!' Though I wish them well, I won't deny that sometimes I resent them for making me question my resolve to live the rest of my life as a MOC.
I didn't always feel this way and certainly didn't plan it. In 2010 I chose to go through the whole process of in-vitro fertilization a second time. We were optimistic given how lucky we felt about our success the first time, four years earlier.
Well, I did get pregnant again for a while, until I lost her at seven weeks. I was devastated and vowed that I was done. She would've been three years old now if she had made it and admittedly, I do wonder about the life that could have been. We found out that she had trisomy 22, a chromosomal disorder which caused her early demise. With this knowledge, can you blame me for my fear of trying to conceive again?
I'm 40, have always been reproductively challenged and have aging joints, eyes and other health issues I'm sure. All these factors decrease my chances for another successful pregnancy and, might I add, a sane family life ahead. I also still remember the grief I went through when I lost my daughter and I don't think I can handle ever going through that again.
Sometimes I imagine how different my son's life would be if he had a sibling. They say that the choice to have a child, your first one, is for you. But the choice to have another is one you make for your existing child/ren. My son doesn't ask for a sibling. As a matter of fact, he's always been vocal about loving his situation as an only child, with 'no babies around the house to mess with my Legos and topple the towers I build', he argues. I'm pretty sure he's just glad that he has a monopoly of all the hugs going around in this household.
But I'm also aware of the gifts of having siblings, having two myself, and sometimes I wonder about the life I'm depriving my son of. Whether it's by choice or not is a moot point. The fact is that he'll never know how it's like and that he just has to find a way to navigate this world without the kind of love, support and bond that only real siblings share. This is why I always pray that he be surrounded by souls who will let him experience a similar kind of love and deep connection, in spite of not sharing similar life histories or genetic makeup. Maybe he'll experience it with his cousins, or maybe with true friends. What brings me comfort is that I know it's possible. What my womb cannot give him, I am almost certain another womb can or already has. It's only a matter of time.
It's true that self-knowledge is a double-edged sword. It's good to know what you want and what you're capable of, but it also gives you knowledge of what your limitations are and what you can be rationally afraid of.
Some parents can handle a lot of children. Some parents can honestly say they love equally. I'm not so certain I can do the same. With another child, would I be able to love and give it my ALL with the same level of intensity that my son is now able to receive from me? I know I'm incapable of being happy if I'm not giving my all to someone I love, so do I really want to disturb this status quo? Would it be fair to the next child, or to my son if things changed?
Some parents can embrace child illnesses and disabilities with calm and positivity. I know I can never be that parent, and I have to respect that. You can say that I'm afraid but fear is sometimes a gift too. It's like not wanting to walk into a dark alley not knowing what's on the other side, or what lurks in the darkness. I would rather stay on this lit end. It doesn't matter if you tell me that I could be missing out on something or depriving my son of a different kind of life and future. I simply don't have it in me to wager everything I have now for an unknown life I'm not quite sure we'd all survive.
I don't know what's in store for our family. Maybe fate would intervene and bless me with another child naturally, without any need for hormone shots and a million other medications and tests.
Or maybe this is it: one child, one soul so wonderful that his father and I could never imagine life without him, always leaving us feeling helpless when it comes to loving him and showering him with all the hugs and kisses we have in us. My heart overflows with gratitude for this beautiful boy. I really can't ask for more.
*This essay was previously published on Catharsis and has been modified for this post.