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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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At LET'S PANIC ABOUT BABIES, Eden Kennedy and I share our hard-won wisdom and tell you exactly what to think and feel and do, whether you're about to have a baby or already did and don't know what to do with it.

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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)

Not for nothing? I'm a big sister. I love my brother. He's not my soulmate, though. Sometimes, he's kind of a jackass. Lovable and hilarious and a good person, and I'll punch you in the neck if YOU call him a jackass, but...yeah. Family. If we didn't share some DNA and a propensity for grotesquely inappropriate humor, we'd be TOTAL opposites.

My boyfriend's an "only." In all the years we've known each other (and it's a lot), it never occurred to me to ask why...I figured it was none of my business. I think I'll just hold onto that belief...and my rage at "ticking clock" suggestions from nurses and grandmothers.

I wish our culture spent more time thinking about and doing for existing people instead of potential people. Thank you for this post.
December 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterjenG
I am an only, for 29 yrs. now. I agree with previous sentiments. When people find out I am an only child they act surprised by how outgoing and "normal" I am (I have them all fooled). None the less I have a 16 month old son and find myself not wanting him to be a singleton. Truth is I am loved beyond measure and well-adjusted (whatever that means)...but...I was really lonely growing up. My parents were 40ish when they had me. Now I find myself not wanting my career to take me too far from home because no one else is going to be there for them. My Dad's health is failing and really it is all up to me. I don't mind. Even if I had a sibling I would want to be there all the time anyway. There's just something to be said for the pressure of knowing it is all on my shoulders. Can being a singleton be perfectly healthy? Yes. Are there distinct advantages to it? You betcha (um, hello? Only one child to spend your money on, I was spoiled! lol!). Are there a few disadvantages? Sure. You just have to make the decision your heart leads you to. I think someone kind of famous once said something about being true to yourself and the rest...
December 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJen
I'm 6 months pregnant with a baby boy who will be our only child-- a decision we made long ago (and as an aside, he will possibly be named Henry as well). I'm always amazed at those who tell us that we *have* to have a second, we have to try for a girl, we have to do all these things when my son isn't even yet among the air-breathers. Thank you for giving words to what I've been trying to verbalize myself. We're having one son and he will be enough.
December 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCarrie
Well said.

On a lighter note, I am a Sun subscriber and a longtime reader of your blog, and it was so strange to see your byline when the latest issue showed up in my mailbox the other day! Worlds colliding.
December 7, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterjunewell
I just admire your resolve. My husband and I are both "onlies" and it has been such a big decision whether to try for another. I always wished I could be like my friend who has one kid, only ever wanted one, and has never wavered. I think if you have reached a decision, good for you! (Though I'm sorry it has been such a painful journey.)

BTW, while I was an only who always wished for a sibling, my husband loved it. Cool room, cool toys, cool trips, etc. And I always think about how having another limits our chances of living in a more urban setting, as space becomes tighter and rents become higher!
December 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKate
Alice, I just wanted to follow up from my above coment (about my daughter wanting a little sister who's 3). Today (after I'd commented, above), she brought home an "essay" she wrote for school about the best dream she'd ever had--which was that she had a twin sister and a little sister. She doesn't talk to us about it, but writes about it at school. I just wanted to say that I hope that I can come to the same place that you are soon--and that I can do a reasonably good job of showing her just how special and unique she is. Thank you.
December 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterErika
I am an only, and I wanted a sister when I was little. But it was a wish already flawed - what I wanted was a friend and I didn't ask until I was about 9 . . . so you see the problem! Kids ask for things, but they don't really understand what they are asking for. It would have been nice to have a sister, but it was what it was. I am happy with my parents and my life, and it's not my place to question the choices they made about how to live their own life. Henry will be fine, but he won't miss what he never knew. Just the idea of a sibling.

I do feel guilty that I am not the daughter that my mom probably wished for. I live on the other side of the country and we don't talk every day. I do wish that she had another so she had a better chance of having the idyllic relationship she wants. She now wishes she had another, she meant to but it was never the right time. I'm sorry for her that she has that regret.

I remember your post about your miscarriage vividly. My child would have been almost 10 months old this week. And I forget about it and think that it's gone, but then I remember, and think about laughing babies learning to walk. And it's hard. I was never in bad shape when it happened, I just cried, accepted, and moved on, so it's hard to understand why I still feel it so acutely. I just recently realized it's probably never going to go away, not really.
December 7, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterchickia
We don't want you spread too thin. You're thin enough, woman--eat something! We like you nice and juicy, with lots of rasberry jam.

Love, love, love your writing. And the soul that shines through it.



December 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSit At My Table
My daughter is "enough" also. I get asked all the time when we will have another and I've started saying that: "enough". I had an uncomfortable conversation with my daughter's preschool teacher who had a miscarriage 2 months ago. My "enough" reply seemed a little inadequate or harsh, but what else do I have? I agree that giving all the reasons is too much work and never satisfies the inquirer.
December 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMary
This is such a beautiful post... Thank you for sharing this!
December 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMegan
I have never commented before but I had to say Thank you! Thank you for writing everything that has been on my mind since watching my daughter turn 6. She is ENOUGH!
December 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLorie Gordon
I have to add to the load of comments that there are those of us out there who are only children, had a child and NEVER expected to have another. And yet, I'm 8 months preg. By never expected, I mean: never wanted. Yes, I said it. I wanted my daughter to be a singleton like me. But it's not in the cards for us. We resolved ourselves to this- and we're excited (sometimes more and sometimes less). I now have the mantra, "If nearly everybody else can do this, I can do this." It's a bit overwhelming for a solitary only-child like myself to confront!
December 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLaurel
Bravo! I love, love, love the "enough" not ONLY! We like to call our daughter "the jackpot!" :-)
December 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDeb Waldman
I've been agonizing over the same thing after 4 years of "trying" (and failing) for a 2nd. Then my relationship with my own (only) brother seriously hit the shits and I find myself feeling a lot like I did in 3rd grade when half my journal was filled with "I hate my brother I hate my brother I hate my brother".

And I remember that for every happy sibling relationship I've ever seen there's an equal number that make each other miserable in that special way only a sibling can. And it's not like good parenting makes you immune - my parents thought they had "raised us" to get along and not be rivals, too. In reality however they had poisoned relationships with their own sibs and were incapable of teaching us what a healthy sib relationship looked like.

No, I don't hate my bro. But it's a relationship that's caused me more sadness and pain than almost any other relationship I've ever had. And family isn't like a bad boyfriend you can easily dump when personalities just do.not.work out. So lately I'm not feeling guilty at all for not being able to provide a sibling. The inevitable, perpetual fighting isn't worth the hoped for "permanent" BFF.
December 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMustangSally
Alice, i have not read through all the comments so If I am repeating something, I apologize, but I had to comment. You mention your fear that you are doing Henry a disservice by not giving him a sibling to be his ally and soul mate. i think this is a very real fear and i used to feel the same wy about my only child. Then I saw the relationsip between my partner and her sister. They are ANYTHING but soulmates or allies and my partners life has been made miserable by her sister. watching them makes me glad my son is an only.

I know that is not the rule where siblings are concerned, but I thought it was worth mentioning that you are NOT selfish. There is no promise that a sibling would be wonderful for Henry. He has wonderful loving parents and a stable childhood and I am sure that will be plenty for him!
Wow, Alice. I loved this post -- that last passage made me well up. I'm a 27-year-old only, and indeed people I meet do typically still ask me if I'm lonely or if I've ever wanted a sibling. My answer is usually akin to an earlier commenter's about not missing what I don't have. :) Life as an only has been great. Also, I always enjoy it when folks are surprised to learn that I'm an only (I guess b/c I don't fit the "stereotypes" -- selfish, self-absorbed, extra-nutty? -- of an only child?). Based on what you share about Henry, I'm sure that's going to happen to him as well.
December 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterChristina
ok i'm crying now, thanks.

i wish for you whatever you wish for yourself.
December 8, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterkat
Lovely essay. I think my boy will be an only, and I wonder sometimes too. All the "but then I went on to have 1000 healthy babies" stories are fabulous, but...yeah. That was right for them.

In today's society it seems odd to only have one (maybe it's just the local forum I'm on where I feel alien not to be aching for another before the first is a year old), but what's best for you guys is what's best for your family. Though it seems way easier to see that for you than for myself.
December 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKatie
It's never selfish to do the best you can for your kid.

(And as an "only" for whom things played out disastrously, I can say that as long as you make sure you always play Adult so he can always play Kid, he'll be fine (and more than fine as he obviously already is).)

I hope to be as thoughtful and as fun a mother as you are.
December 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJessica
My husband is an only child. His mom had a miscarriage with her second pregnancy and for a bunch of reasons (that I'm not entirely privy to, partly because of a language barrier), they decided to just stick with one. I can tell you that while there were times growing up that he felt a little sad/alone, he grew up happy and doesn't feel like he missed out on a whole lot. I just wanted to share a happy story of another family that decided to stop at one. Beautiful post, finslippy, and I wish you well. Henry is darling and I expect he will also grow up just fine.
December 8, 2009 | Unregistered Commenteralissa
It truly isn't anyone else's business. I have an only child and I also know people who have siblings who are estranged. Sometimes siblings die so that a child who wasn't an only child becomes one. Anything can and does happen in life. All that really matters is that it's your life, your choices. Doesn't matter what anyone else thinks, or says. With the best will in the world, I think the lady who suggests adoption has missed the point completely.
December 8, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermaz
Beautiful post. I personally like Julia Hippogryff's response to the "is he your only/are you having any more" question: "It doesn't work that well for us." Gives the facts without being TMI, and also lets the asker know to pull their head in and not make assumptions. Although the selfish judging is probably not really there; mostly people don't know a more tactful way to ask.

FWIW, I'm an only, and my daughter will be an only as well.
December 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterNot My Mother
This post, and your essay, both are beautiful.I'm keeping you and your blessed family in my thoughts.I had my second daughter after a period like the one you're describing. And I know in giving these girls each other I have given them one of life's greatest gifts. I'll be keeping my fingers crossed that in soldiering on you might have a change of heart!
December 8, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterrebecca
Oh, you are ADORABLE. 
December 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAlice Bradley
Alice, I've never commented on your blog before, mostly because I'm a terrible, lazy reader. I love your blog to death and I should click that comment link more often to tell you that. But what made me do it today is the need to thank you for this. I have an only boy who I love dearly and who is more than enough for me. But, I never in a million years thought he'd be an only. He's almost five, and so far he's only asked once why he doesn't have a sibling. To be truthful, he's not very fond of babies and I think he's relieved there isn't one in his house. But I feel all of the things that you do about the future. I have everything I could possibly ask for, and yet I'm sure there will always be a small part of me that wonders what the next member of our family would have looked like, sounded like, been like. And of course what kind of brother my little guy would have been. I don't have any particularly upbeat way to end this comment. I truly just wanted to say thanks for sharing your thoughts about this because it really does help me. Your honesty helps me remember that all of my feelings are, I don't know, reasonable? understandable? fine? Anyway, thanks.
December 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

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