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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)

Alice, I am always so sad that you don't post more often, but when you do, you write so incredibly well.I understand completely what you say in your Sun article about the 2 timelines. I have the same experience -- but from my son's diagnosis of autism. A part of me died that very day and has never been the same. My life is often BD and AD (Before and After Diagnosis). So I totally understand where you are coming from. Some decisions in life are very hard. You often feel that there is no right choice. But, in the end, we have to make decisions for ourselves and nobody has the right to judge them.
December 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKate
Just beautiful. And I love your son's jams!
December 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJenny
Henry will be great without a sibling. Everyone says that to me about my miscarriages and just having one and all that.

Other people and what they think? Wow. I never even thought about that. All I could think about was the other people at work who would criticize me for having more than one kid. Hah!

I know for sure, FOR SURE, that no one is harmed by being an only child. And I also think we don't have to give our kids every single thing that might (keyword is MIGHT) to be good parents.

But I still feel guilty for the exact same reason for not having a second--even thought I've been trying for years, am definitely infertile and have had two miscarriages. I'm going to adopt and just pray that's not a total fiasco that my kid will hate me it for some other reason.

Anyway, Henry's going to have a great life, with or without a sibling. There are drawbacks to siblings.But it is strange that feeling like--you coulda, so you shoulda. And like the nonexistent person you never met is almost like a real person.



December 7, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterozma
I am an "only" and I am incredibly well-adjusted if I do say so myself. :) My parents tried for 10 years after me, back when IVF and surrogacy et all were still experimental and way too cost prohibitive. They tried to adopt but were too "old". I love my parents and have a great relationship with them - yes, sometimes I wish I had a sibling, but I wouldn't trade all the books I was read, the undivided attention I received, the FREE college education that I was privy to - that I might not have enjoyed had I had siblings. I'm not saying that's a consolation prize, I'm just saying my childhood was tops. Even "ALONE!" with that STIGMA that only children are selfish, lonely, socially awkward, spoiled little brats. I have had bosses tell me that because I was an only child, I had to be "heard" and "get my way" but I think it had more to do with the fact that I was a young woman, but whatever.... If anything I have become MORE outgoing, MORE friendly, because I never had a built in playmate growing up. I have surrounded myself with friends that are like sisters to me. Friends that have sisters, who they don't get along with! Just because someone has a sibling does not mean they will be allies, soul mates, best friends. Sometimes I do ache for a sibling - someone to help me when my parents get old, but I have other people in my life - CHOSEN family that will fight for me and with me just like a sibling would. Better than a sibling would, I think sometimes. I've chosen a partner with an amazing set of siblings, and that's one of the reasons I fell so in love with him. People say to me "what's it like to be an only child" and I say "What's it like to have a sibling??" I do not really know what I am missing; I do not feel like I have missed anything at all.
December 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCecelia
You've got a few of these "only" perspectives but i wanted to throw my two cents in that i'm an only and it was my reality. Like the other posters i thought about having siblings-- but only in the sense of an alternate reality-- not in any kind of deep longing. I had a wonderful upbringing and part of it was due to being an only-- certain perks afforded that just aren't possible with siblings.

I have two so i see the pluses and minues of onlies as well as sibs. But your family is what it is. Enough. I always want to reassure people struggling with having an only-- take your child off your worrry list. Just process your own emotions. They'll be just fine!
December 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTallis Ford
During 2009 I had my first miscarriage and then my first child (born a scant nine days ago now; I'm still reeling.) After the miscarriage and before the pregnancy, I shared a collection of poems called "Through" at my blog -- they are the work I crafted out of the miscarriage and its aftermath. Sometimes now I get comments from people on them, and it is so overwhelming to remind myself of the mental and emotional place I was in after the miscarriage -- especially now that we have a son. But the existence of our son, who I love beyond words already, doesn't mitigate the sorrow of that loss.

Anyway. I just wanted to say that much of what you say here resonates for me. Thank you for writing it.
December 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRachel Barenblat
http://www.chicagotribune.com/health/chi-still-missed-07-dec07,0,1318765.story

Researchers working to understand the grieving process for miscarriages.
December 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJill
Well, damn. I read your post in The Sun yesterday and emailed you before I read this post. Sorry for being one of "the ones". Feel free to delete my email. No reply necessary. Just wanted to say thanks for saying it.
December 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBromac
Perfect.
December 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMBSmith
Hi Alice.I've read your blog for a while now, but I don't think I've ever commented.I can't empathize completely with your post (I'm 25 without any kids) but I just wanted you to know:it is one of the most beautiful pieces of writing I have ever read.I am sorry for your heartache. Truly.But thank you so much for sharing your story.Warmly,Megan
December 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMegan
I get it too. My son, my only child, is more than enough for me And a better person I can not imagine.



December 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBake Town
I've never posted on your blog before, but I enjoy reading it. I loved this post. My husband and I have 95% decided that our first child will be our only child. I had a terribly difficult, near-death kind of delivery (um, is emergency c-section really a delivery? isn't is just surgery?) and my husband says he can't do it again. I get that. It was terrifying. But I worry about my daughter, when my husband and I are both dead and she doesn't know who to have Thanksgiving with. Or when I am old and she is the only one to take care of me.

Choosing NOT to have any other children is just as hard, if not more so, than choosing to have another baby. It is so hard. So very very hard. Thank you for your post.
December 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRachel
People used to question my then-staunch position that I would never have children. Then, I had Lauren and I made it clear she would be an only, and people criticized me for--as you've noted--being stingy, selfish.

I grew up never feeling like I was enough for my mother. I am adopted. And she chose to have a "real" child, thereby diminishing me forever.

I never wanted my daughter to feel like she wasn't enough for me. She gets all of my love, every last drop, that I would inevitably have to ration between multiple children because I don't know of any other way.

As for Henry, there is no guarantee that a sibling would be a soulmate. He could hate his sibling, as I have my sister for my entire life. And then what have you done?

Regardless of why you choose the size of your family, it's your choice, and you have absolutely no reason to defend it.

Best defense if outsiders ask if you're having more children: And you want to know because ... ?
December 7, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterlynn @ human, being
You made me cry.My daughter is 6 months younger than Henry. What she wants more than anything is a "little sister who's 3." My husband doesn't want more.

My heart breaks for her.
December 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterErika
Thank you for sharing that. We have one son, and I have that inner-conflict all the time. It's fading now, that he's ten and I'm 43, but I still wonder if we've made the right choice. I feel ashamed (why?) and selfish (why?) every time someone says "Is he your only child?"

I've never asked that of any person, why do they ask me? It's like they're trying to shame me, even if I know it's not necessarily so.
December 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJ
I'm with you 100%. I have one. I will most likely only ever have one. My one is fantastic. What more could I want? A number of other reasons have brought me to this decision. Finances and city living as well as schools are among the reasons. The rest I will spare you as they are too damned personal to post as a comment on a blog, but I totally hear you. And frankly, I'm getting a little tired of having to answer questions about when our long overdue second child will make an appearance.
December 7, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterkate
I just want to say dude no way. My husband, best friend of 30 years, other best friend of 16 years, two amazing ex-boyfriends and lovely mom are all only children and they are all AWESOME! Also, as a person with multiple siblings I say with conviction, the presence of a sibling does not mean that all the responsibility will not fall to one person. You can not guarantee close and compatible sibling relationships and I know when my parents get old I will be caring for them alone. So, good on you for having an only, I am sure that it will stand Henry well.
December 7, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterbee
Wow. I also just took time to read the comments--they were so thoughtful and kind.
December 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJ
Beautiful post.

My partner and I are struggling with whether to have any.

None of the choices are easy.
December 7, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterwonderer
Oh Alice. Screw anyone who would dare give you a hard time about your decision. The only people whose opinion matters there are the three of you, and frankly, Henry's lucky to have such a marvelous set of parents. He is enough - and I bet you are, too.
December 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBrooke
Also, your post is completely beautiful. I wish I lived next door so I could be both outraged on your behalf AND deliver you some homemade muffins.
December 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBrooke
Alice,

I had three miscarriages. Then I decided to stop trying to give birth, perhaps for reasons similar to yours.

Now I have two daughters, both of whom we adopted. They are the light of our life.

Just saying. You might want to consider adoption. Maybe less heartbreak and a great outcome.

All the best to you, whatever you decide.

Elizabeth
December 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth
This made me cry. Such a beautiful, eloquent post.
December 7, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterlinsey
I was an only, it just never worked out that I had siblings. While growing up I was able to do a lot of really neat things that wouldn't have been possible if I had siblings. I've never been angry at my parents or questioned their judgement. I have an amazing relationship with my parents and there is a lot of love in our family. Both my parents have 3 siblings each but they joke I taught them the ways of "being an only". Henry will be fine, he is growing up in a home with so much love and that is what is most important.
December 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAN
I had a miscarriage around the same time you did, and while no one's experience of it is the same, it's wonderful that you're writing about something so often not talked about.Families are made in lots of different ways, and having another baby is not the only or best way to do it. Keep on doing what's best for your family.
December 7, 2009 | Unregistered Commenteranothermama

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