“Is he your first?” the mom at the park asks me.
“Yes. Just the one,” I reply, already cringing inwardly at the question I know is coming next.
“Are you trying for another?” Her tone is casual, not nosy, despite the very personal nature of this inquisition.
No, we aren’t having another child.
Why do complete strangers think it’s ok to ask about your reproductive plans? If you ask me that loaded question, be prepared for the honest truth.
“Not anymore. My wife and I tried for 18 months. I had a miscarriage, then was having endometrial issues, so I tried Chinese herbs and acupuncture. Now we have moved away from our donor, so that has ended that.”
I respond, matter-of-factly and with intimate info on purpose so she feels uncomfortable for asking.
“Oh, I’m so sorry…” she says with a pitiful pained look on her face.
A year ago, I miscarried, at home. We didn’t know then that it would be our last chance for a second child. We continued trying, and I kept conceiving, but without successful implantation. Thankfully, my wife and I were using a known donor so we weren’t racking up bills, but hosting “the guy” a few times every month to no avail was… frustrating and increasingly awkward.
The saddest part was that we had already told our son about our plans, so for many months afterward he kept asking if there was a baby in my belly. Talk about heartbreaking when we had to try to explain where the baby “went.” When he would throw a coin into a wishing well, he would wish for a “healthy” baby brother or sister. *sniff* Thankfully that phase passed and he seems indifferent now. He wants a cat more.
I, on the other hand, have been grieving. Letting go of the future I imagined for myself. Letting that dream die. Making peace with our family of 3.
The grief of a miscarriage is strange, because in some ways it feels like you’re mourning an idea; something that wasn’t ever really there to begin with. Yet it is there, and much larger than that lentil-sized blastocyst are the hopes and dreams that have fully formed in your mind.
Waiting until my later 30’s to start my family was my choice. Mother Nature took away my chance for more. And I was not at all prepared for the guilt that would accompany my grief like an unwanted guest that arrives unexpectedly with a friend you invited to dinner.
Heavy guilt over not being able to “give” my child a sibling. Guilt over the disadvantages that would cause him. Guilt over the feelings of loneliness and being different that would surely plague him in life. I mean, he already comes from a same-sex family. The least I could do was provide the normalcy of having a brother or sister to vent to about his Moms.
I’m currently reading One and Only: The Freedom of Having an Only Child, and the Joy of Being One by Lauren Sandler. I’m being comforted and entertained on every page. Turns out our collective disdain, distrust, and fear of only children stems from our not-so-distant past when we needed children to be our workforce to survive. Abstinence was the only birth control, and large families were encouraged and celebrated both socially and religiously. Plus, in 1800, only half of us lived past age 5, so plentiful procreation was just a given.
Add in a few early psychologists who had a personal preference for large broods, and their “findings” on the anti-social behavior and disadvantages of only children have stuck in our collective minds.
Things sure don’t look like I thought they would when, as a teenager, I imagined my future life: a university degree, a husband, and 2 kids. Um, nope.
I grew up with a brother and parents who were together until after I graduated high school, so I based my child rearing expectations on my experience of the modern classic of a nuclear family. I just naturally assumed I’d have two kids, too.
Now that I’m not, I feel guilty not only for my kid, but for being ok with it! There’s a strong social bias against choosing to have one child. Think about it, it’s typically either none, or two or more.
Not only do we pity and/or stereotype onlies, I will now be subject to the assumptions that I am selfish. The mean whispers echo in my own head: “Tsk, tsk. Poor boy. No father or a brother or sister.” Or, “Well, I guess some women choose their career over their families.”
Well, yes, some do. And there ain’t nothing wrong with that.
I’m moving through my grief, freeing myself of the useless guilt, and facing my future with an open heart and curious mind. I am thrilled with the life I have led so far and am very grateful for my blessings. I feel lighter and freer the more I let go of how I think things are “supposed to be.” I believe that we can all let those expectations go, don’t you?