My friend Ella Ward, who wrote previously for us on “10 Things You Only Know if You’ve Had Cancer…” has agreed to write something else for us – about only having one child. It speaks for itself… take it away Ella.
Spend more than five minutes with me and I’ll compulsively mention the fact that I can’t have any more children. It’s a bit pathetic. It’s also probably why Esther asked me to write this post: to shut me up.
I would tell anyone who’d listen that we tried, we wanted, we couldn’t. Which is all a touch miserable, and pretty offensive to the one excellent child we did manage to have.
It’s just … I didn’t want to be judged for having one kid. I didn’t want to be mistaken for someone who’d chosen to bring one of those weird ‘only-children’ into the world.
But listen to that, would you? The only judge-y cow around here is ME, heaping my own prejudices on perfectly normal parents who’ve actively decided that one kid is enough, thank you very much. They’re almost certainly better people than I am, because they have the balls to be upfront about their single-kid decision.
Up until recently, we sat somewhere in between the two. The wanting, but also – the not wanting?
Primary infertility suuuuuuucks. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. It’s almost worse than cancer (and I can say that now). With most cancers, you get kick-in-the-guts news once, maybe twice, a year. With infertility, you get that every. single. month. For years. It’s a white noise of grief and desperate wanting.
Secondary infertility is different, rather like carrying around a little growl of sadness. Small, but there nevertheless. So although we had a perfectly good kid, we continued to thump along with IVF. While no-one ever said it, I did wonder if after having one surprise baby it was a teensy bit selfish to try and roll a miracle again.
Is that greedy? We both grew up with siblings. And how good are siblings!? It’s very primal to have a genetic buddy with genuine understanding of just how fucking mental your parents are. Also – I was shit at having a tiny baby. I spent the first six months reeling from the pure shock of it all. I was mourning the chance to do it again, properly.
And there’s the true, heavy sadness of knowing my only child will have to handle the depressingly bureaucratic job of managing her (hopefully) elderly mum and dad. It’s a tough job, caring your parents into death. It would have been nice for her to have someone pull a shift every now and again.
Then, with all this whirring around in my head – SURPRISE! Cancer! My lady bits had to be zapped with thirty sessions of radiation therapy, and suddenly babies weren’t on the agenda anymore.
At the time I marvelled at how clean it felt to hear, ‘You won’t be having any more children’. Yes, there was that growly sadness. But also … the relief. No more wondering, no more supplements, no more calendars, and (thank god) no more hormones.
I know it’s a cop-out, but it was a comfort to hand the future of my infertility treatment to someone else. Being freed from the decision-making was incredibly liberating. Someone else made the call for us, and we were allowed to sink into the life I think we’d subconsciously already decided to be happy with.
Because having a single kid isn’t a consolation prize. It’s the best, you guys. The three of us are a tight little club and there is so much love and gratitude for what we have. There are many wonderful things about having one child – the bond feels between us all feels fiercely strong, because we only spend time with each other. There is a focus of attention, time and love that I’m not sure we’d be able to manage if we had a tonne of kids.
Less sentimentally, but just as crucially, I’m also a smug shit because when the kid is out, we are completely on our own. Every playdate or birthday party is a free babysitting pass, which has to count for something, right?
People are nosey, insensitive arses and often point at my daughter and say, ‘just the one?’
Just? Just!? Since my diagnosis, I had been enjoying the freedom to look them dead in the eye and say, ‘We can’t.’ Oh-hoh … that got ‘em! But now I’m rethinking my strategy. Now, I’ve decided, it’s going to be a dazzling smile and a, ‘Yes, one. Aren’t we lucky?’
Lovely. Brilliant. Funny. ❤️ And 👏🏻
Ella Ward says
So interesting. I ‘am’ the only child. And as the child, I didn’t often think about it. I had less people to bicker with at least! Lots of attention. Gave my parents less hassle and trouble. And my friends were my siblings I guess. Strong friendships are born from being an only child. In my life anyway. The bit about parents getting older, yes, in adult life it does occur to me ‘shit. All this lands on me’. But like I said. Good friends. And thankfully good husband. And my own kids around me (2 girls), means I’m not going it alone x
Wonderful and completely right
Lesley Somerville says
I had my one and only aged 40 and in an unstable situation so having more was out of the question. It’s been just me and him for the last nearly 23 years and we’re a team. He’s away at Uni and will not be working anywhere close to me in the future but we have a strong bond that transcends distance. It helps also that I’m fit and independent of mind so I don’t rely on him. I don’t want to be a burden as I get old so am determined to stay that way. Realistically, I’m not going to be around when he gets to his fifties. This is sad for me but at least he won’t have an elderly mother to look after when he’s getting older himself. My advice to just about everyone younger is – don’t overthink it. Just get on with living life, coping with what it throws at you, and enjoy the good times.
This is great. Elaine x
Ella Ward says
I’m an only, and it’s fine. I’m not worried about having the sole responsibility for my elderly parents because my mum has a brother and he did nothing to help in my grandparents’ final years- me and my Mum were left to do it all. It’s not as though he lives far away; he just couldn’t be bothered.
Be proud! I am a stepmum of twenty years. I love them fiercely and my husband and I decided a long time ago they were enough. We’ve never tried to have any more and people have never stopped asking me “did you not want any children of your own?’ I can answer that clearly and proudly. Yet, when people mistake me for their Mum (who’s great) I always feel the need to say I’m their stepmum. They then say ‘oh, but you’re like a real mum to them’, because to be a stepmum somehow isn’t enough and I mumble and explain, endlessly, about how long I’ve been in their lives, but how they’ve got a perfectly good Mum of their own etc etc. I’ve talked to the kids about this and they, quite frankly, don’t give a flying feck what people call me but I feel shame at the awkwardness of it all. So this year I have decided I am going to reclaim the word stepmother. I’m not going to justify or explain, I’m going to just say ‘I am their stepmother’, with pride and in a way that stops any further discussion, because it’s enough. And I’m going to start that by posting anonymously, here, on the spike! 🤣🤣
Ella Ward says
I have (had? it’s complicated 🤪) an excellent step-mother and I am proud to call her that. Pride beats shame any day.
I’ve got a 17 month old and won’t be having another because she’s my finest work and that’s that. As with a lot of things that surrounded child having and rearing, I expected people to be endlessly questioning that choice (just like I expected people to be aghast at my breastfeeding in public or having an elective c section, because that seems to be the rhetoric around both). But that hasn’t been the case. I do wonder whether we are having outdated arguments in our heads that actually nobody is having in real life much any more.
At 17m people probably only expect you to have one, I imagine you’ll get the question more the older your child gets.
Cathy m_b says
Completely brilliant and on point. We have one IVF miracle who turned six on a Christmas Eve. We are a fiercely proud three and I’ve gone from feeling sadness she won’t have a brother or sister to revelling in our perfect-for-us unit. I’m now going through a premature menopause at 43 so I also know This Is It. We’ve got what we’ve always wanted and for that we are incredibly grateful.
Also great to hear from grown up only’s that it’s not the worst thing that can happen to a child!!
Ella Ward says
I love our perfect-for-us unit too. Aren’t we lucky?
Exactly. You’ve achieved perfection the first time round. You don’t need to have another. I would say that, I’m an only child. I’ve seen an array of sibling relationships and only very few genuinely close ones. So it’s no great loss to me being an only child. Plus your daughter will inherit everything when you go and not have to share it. (Ok that last bit was a tiny bit jokes).
Ella Ward says
I didn’t really think about the inheritance bit until I read the comments on this article, but you are totally right! Ka-fucking-ching! 😂
Annette Hardy says
Another Only says
I’m an only too and have always felt completely positive about it, even though in retrospect, growing up in a rural community in the 70s/80s, I really was the only “only” I knew or ever met. My parents must have copped a lot of “weird/spoilt” only child mumbling behind hands. I was oblivious to that. I also had an isolated upbringing on a sheep farm – so no neighbours or siblings – it was great being able to play undisturbed and I read A LOT. I now have two children, but my husband and I had zero issue with stopping at just one (the second was actually a bit of a whoopsie). Ella I loved this article, thank you, it reiterates to me what my Mum and Dad must have gone through in the 70s with eight miscarriages, one lost baby at 20 weeks gestation and the subsequent stigma of raising an only child back then.
I’m not bothered by my parents getting old. Many people have siblings who can’t and won’t help and at least I’ll get all the inheritance. Which is jokes – I’m completely financially independent – but also a point worth making because I guess it might help to know if you give up your job to help your elderly parents at least you’ll get 100% of the inheritance rather than share it 50/50 with brother John who did diddly-squat.
So in summary to all of you raising an only, it’s a great way of life and not at all bad for them – ENJOY! xx
Ella Ward says
Thank you for sharing this perspective. Sometimes I think it’s taboo to acknowledge how no-siblings can actually be better than some-siblings …
Love this piece….we had secondary infertility and it is such a mixture of emotions…utterly blessed we got to have my daughter, heart-sinking guilt that we’ve given her a sibling-less upbringing, marvelling at the bond we have as a family of 3 (it is INTENSE and amazing – her auntie recently said she was jealous of our relationship with our daughter as her children run off and play constantly and she feels on the perimeter of them mostly), certainty that we can raise her with the skills to make cousins and friends her family as she gets older, amazed at how confident she is because she has no sibling to fall back on when entering a room/party/school etc, deep sadness that we only got to do it once and every first is also the last time we experience it. I have got to a place where as the piece says, I carry a shadow of sadness always but I have realised that I am not desperately craving another baby now, I am sad that it didn’t happen when the time was right.
I was talking to my friend a few years ago and describing an incident that happened with my sister which cut me to the core that my daughter wouldn’t have. I turned up to a family gathering (big extended family) and despite being 40 rung my sister who was already inside, to come and meet me so I could walk in with her for moral support. I wept as I said ‘she will never have that person to call when she feels like that’. My friend (who was an only child until the age of 10) said ‘I’d never even THINK of calling anyone in that situation, I’d just rock up and get on with it’
Another Only says
Love this Claire xx
Ella Ward says
“I am sad that it didn’t happen when the time was right.” That is such a crucial shift in thinking – and so healing, too.
Loved this – so well written xxx
Excellent! I’m going to start doing the same. It’s baggage you just don’t need to impose on yourself.
Yes, we went through endless cycles of IVF striving for that elusive sibling our son could share us with. My relationship with my sister is awful, my husband’s with his sisters – a bit distant but not bad. For years I have been in equal measure terrified of a cancer risk that hormones bring and cross that I wasn’t given something I wanted so much in equal measure.
Thanks for writing this, Ella. Much of it resonated with me (except for the added layer of f*@kery in having to deal with cancer too… you have my respect and admiration).
My husband and I went through four difficult years before we conceived our daughter, with multiple heartbreaking miscarriages along the way. We consider her to be our miracle baby. In the months after her birth, I was amazed at how many people, including those who knew of our rather fraught fertility history, asked us when we planned to give her a sibling. It was as though having this baby had somehow wiped the fertility slate clean. If only it was that easy. Our daughter is now three years-old and we’ve been trying to add to our family for over two years. Realistically, given my age and our track record, it’s unlikely to happen at this point. So I’ve tried to focus on how bloody lucky we are to have her at all. We could’ve had a very different outcome. Although I’d have loved to have given our daughter a little partner-in-crime, I do know that — as families go — she hasn’t exactly drawn the short straw in life. We’re a tight trio; she gets our undivided attention, all of our resources, and heaps of love. My hope is that that will be more than enough to see her through life.
Ella Ward says
The shift from trying to being thankful, is a hard but rewarding one xx
Another Only here. I am delighted to be an only. My mother was the oldest of four, but her three brothers had cystic fibrosis and none made it to early teens, so when she had me, and I was healthy, she stopped there. When I was about thirty she told me that she had got pregnant again after me, but had felt unable to cope with even the possibility of a cf child, and terminated the pregnancy. I was not in the slightest but sad for the sibling that wasn’t – this hasn’t come out quite right, I’m trying to say I am so completely at ease with being an only that there was not a jot of wistfulness for what might have been, and was and still totally concur with my mother’s logic.
Do let your only child be bored, we are perfectly happy with our own company. As mentioned above, we will make some sibling-like friends who are there for the long haul. We will have to shoulder the burden of ageing parents but we won’t have to defend any of our choices/face any unsavoury backlashes to a sibling who has been free with opinions but not time or effort. And yes, ultimately, we hope we will inherit it all, and that will be quite nice, actually, but to me that is more about not fighting over favourite books/pictures/furniture (I will have to have Negotiations with my husband which will be quite enough, thank you) than collaring every last penny.
To my surprise, various people over the years have asked how many brothers I have. I take that as a huge compliment!
A truly thought provoking and moving post x
Ella Ward says
Such an interesting and thought provoking piece. As someone who had fertility issues before having our one year old via ivf I’ve thought a lot over the last year about the prospect of her being an only. On the one hand I feel like I want to give her a sibling so she’s not ‘weird’ and so that I can experience this again, but in the other hand I’m fearful of starting the TTC journey again with the monthly grief it brings. The mental anguish of infertility isn’t wiped clean after being lucky enough to have a baby, it’s waiitng just beneath the surface ready to become all consuming again if I start TTC.
So reassuring to read this and hear from onlys who are perfectly happy as they are. I’m not even close to my brother so I don’t know why I think a sibling is so important anyway!
I’m an only child too! I’ve found much of the above to be true, you find a few friends who are sibling-like, with a great bond. But I also am more than happy on my own – unlike many of my friends with siblings I don’t really get lonely and am happy pootling around by myself. I’m currently pregnant with my first and don’t know whether I’ll stop there – I certainly wouldn’t feel bad if I did, I know I can give the baby a happy life whatever, siblings or not.
I too have an only child – I had a brain haemorrhage while pregnant and had to have neurosurgery to remove an aneurysm I didn’t know I had. I haven’t officially been told I cant have anymore but it was kind of assumed I wouldn’t and I’ve been too scared to risk it. Your words definitely strike a cord! I have hated the sympathetic looks and comments over the years as if my daughter is so hard done by for being just one. I am also going to skip feeling the need to give out my medical history as a justification and just be proud!
Thank you Ella, thank you for the forum Esther and thank you everyone else for these thoughts. Secondary fertility can be very isolating and it’s important to remember I’m not actually alone and to enjoy all the good things about having one child xx
Ella Ward says
If this past year has taught me anything, it’s that we are not really alone in any experience (be that a good or bad thing!) The world is filled with little sadnesses that disappear when they’re shared x
I’m an only child with an only child! Both mum and I struggled with our fertility but we both got our awesome kid! Mum used to say that she didn’t think she had enough love to share with any other children, I get that, my son is my everything, I just hope we maintain the unbreakable bond I had with my mum.
Sadly my dad died of cancer 11 years ago and my mum devastatingly died 8 weeks ago…. Whilst I’m broken, I am organising everything, sorting out Probate, property transfer, belongings, inherited whippets and the million other things there are to do. However I get to make all the decisions and choose what I want and what she would have wanted. She brought me up to be a strong independent woman who is capable. She even introduced me to Esther’s Instagram!
She would read her daily emails and often bought Esthers suggestions. I’m wearing her Dinny Hall gold hoops now!
I guess my point is, I was lucky, I had honestly the best mum in the world and couldn’t have grown up with any more unconditional love, support and friendship. If I can be half the mum to my son that she was to me, he’ll be a very lucky boy.
Cherish what you have – balls to anyone else’s opinion xx
Your Mum sounds wonderful, Fran, and I can really feel your sadness and your love. I’m sure your son will have the same close relationship with you. xx
Ella Ward says
I’m really sorry to hear about your Mum. She sounds like a ripper x