My friend and colleague, who writes over at Spewing Mummy, has just written a blog post about only children. The reason behind her post being that a fair number of women who suffer from severe Pregnancy Sickness and/or Hyperemesis Gravidarum find themselves having to seriously consider whether they are able to face another pregnancy to provide a sibling for their child.
You may remember that TJ and I made that very same decision ourselves this year. Even though we knew pretty much from the moment my sickness first kicked in that we couldn't go through it all again, we still took a long time to feel okay with that decision. And when we did, I decided to collate a load of information, blogs and Twitter accounts of those who had made the same decision. You can find all of that on my "Just The One" page.
Reading Spewing Mummy's post reminded me that a lot has happened to our little family since I wrote all of this and it was about time I provided an update. As Spewing Mummy's post aimed to dispel some of the myths around being an only child, I thought I would complement this by sharing some of the very many ways in which having an only child has been a truly positive move for us...
I'm not sure what the common thoughts are around parenting an only child, so what I am going to do is put the thoughts and fears that I personally had about this in bold and my actual experience so far below each one to show how inaccurate they really were!
You will ALWAYS yearn for that second (and third) child you always dreamed of having...
This was perhaps my biggest fear of all. When I first decided I couldn't go through another pregnancy I grieved so much for all the things I would miss: finding out I was pregnant; seeing baby for the first time at our scan; feeling baby kick inside; choosing a name; giving birth; breastfeeding... and then of course all the really big stuff like raising another child and having chance to share my love with yet another person. And I really feared that this would always linger, no matter how much time went by. I worried I would get into my 40s and regret not having had another child. And until a few months ago it was a very real concern.
But over the past few months many, many things have occured which have changed my heart bit by bit until I found that actually I was not only okay with having an only child but I honestly didn't want to break up the beautiful little family unit we have by adding another child into the mix. I have no doubt that the addition of a new child into the family would be both a wonderful blessing and an awful lot of adjustment and for the first time ever I felt that what we have now is perfect and I didn't want to change that.
Nobody was more surprised by this than I was - I mean my aunt once told me she thought I'd have 6 kids, so strong was my maternal instinct and overwhelming broodiness. But more and more I am finding a real pleasure in having a beautiful little boy who steals my entire heart and has it all to himself. Do I think I will never yearn to hold a newborn in my arms once more? No, I don't... I think there will be moments when I think "man, it would have been nice to do that all again". But more importantly I feel that they will only be very fleeting moments and in actual fact I shall be glad we stuck at one.
You are selfish to think of yourself first. You should be able to put up with a few more months/years of difficulty healthwise for a lifetime of joy from a larger family.
I'll be the first to admit that I am not very good at accepting my limits. When my body plays up and tries to make me slow down I generally speed up and add more balls to my juggling act just to prove to myself that my body will not win, that I can achieve anything I want to despite the obstacles in my way. But as I grow older this is getting harder and harder.
In my teens, I could keep going because a) I had youth on my side and b) I didn't have huge amounts of pressure upon me (I didn't have to work or feed myself etc). In my twenties it all got a little harder, and when I went through a really rough patch with my health it no longer affected just me but also my husband. And now, as I am about to reach 30, it seems harder than ever. Gone are the days when I can sleep for 12 hours solid to recover from whatever ails me. Now I have two jobs, a toddler, and a husband to think about. I need to work so we can afford to live. And I need to have enough energy left at the end of the day to be there for the two people who mean the most to me: TJ and Little Man. That's not going to happen if I push too hard, and is most likely going to get harder the older I get!
Accepting my limits means I give my family a better me. I still push too hard an awful lot of the time, but now I only do what is absolutely necessary for us to survive (i.e. I have to work, what I don't have to do is survive another 9 months of sheer hell and the many, many months of recovery afterwards in order to provide a sibling for Little Man!) The truly selfish thing to do would have been to expect those in my life to support me through another pregnancy because for me it is FAR more than 9 months (which is long enough), it's all the hormonal changes that mess up my body for far too long afterwards.
Choosing to invest the time and energy I have into the one child I have (and my husband, of course) is the most selfless thing I think I have ever done. I put aside my own selfish desire to raise another child in order to give the best of myself to the family I already have. Had our lives been different, this decision would probably have been different too. But it isn't - the decision we made was the right one for us and I am proud that we were able to step back from our emotions long enough to make the best choice for us.
No matter what the benefits are to having an Only Child, are they really worth more than the 'little sacrifices' needed to have another child?
This was another thing I struggled with: how could I value the addition of another child to our family against benefits for me. How could I feel good about thinking we'd be better off financially and have more time to do the things we wanted to do when that meant giving up on the idea of another child?
But whilst this was a big one for me, what I came to realise was that it was perhaps the easiest one to overcome.
By only having one child I am able to work 32 hours a week (12 out of the house and 20 from home). The reality is I need to work as near to full-time hours as possible because we cannot afford to live on any less. That is just with one child. Were we to have another, the additional costs of childcare to enable me to work would go through the roof. But we also wouldn't be able to afford for one of us to stay at home. Having an only child may seem like it just gives you a bit of extra cash, but actually for us it means the difference between having money in the bank at the end of the month to put away for emergencies (and the odd treat) and not. If we added another child into the family, we just wouldn't make ends meet. And that would be awful. So in this case, financial security really does mean more to us than having a second child.
But more than this, the work I do means an awful lot to me. I am incredibly lucky to have two jobs which I feel really passionate about. The first is as a PA to a company that provides training to childcare professionals. The place I work is set in the woods, and is a beacon of best practise in the Early Years. Having worked in childcare and now having a child of my own I feel hugely privileged to work with people who inspire those who care for our children on a daily basis. This is especially important with all the changes the government keeps proposing! I wouldn't want to be anywhere else right now...
Except maybe in my second job which works beautifully around my first. As the Volunteer Co-ordinator for Pregnancy Sickness Support, I am in daily contact with women who are both suffering from severe sickness or who have previously suffered and desperately want to make a difference to the lives of others. I match Volunteer Peer-Supporters with women who request one-to-one support through some of the most traumatic days of their lives. Last week I got to go to the Royal College of Midwives Annual Conference and talk to midwives about how they can help support these women too. Yesterday I talked to the Development Officer and a Trustee about the way forward for our network. Today I spoke to a new volunteer. Honestly, being able to devote 20 hours every week to support a charity that means so much to me (and who I have gladly given so much of my time freely as a volunteer since I found them last year) is like a dream come true. And yet, had I not known for certain that we were "done" with babymaking I couldn't possibly have signed up for a 3 year contract, because I'd have had uncertainty over our future.
By choosing to stick at one child, I have freed myself up to do more, give more, be more for so many others. I have limited energy due to chronic health issues and so had we had more children I'd have just never had the time or energy to devote so passionately to these things. Supporting women who are suffering in one job and supporting those who are caring for our children in another means the world to me and it is so worth giving up that dream of a second child. At first I saw it as a "trade-off" but now I see it as a true gift.
I feel I have to stop now, before I wander too far into the realm of overly emotive blog posts!! But I want you to know that absolutely everything I have written above is true, from the fears I initially held (in bold) to the amazing outcome that actually occurred. I honestly couldn't be happier or more confident that we made the right choice for us as a family. Parenting an Only Child isn't for everyone, but for those of you who may be faced with that decision and unsure about it I do hope that this post offers a bit of hope that maybe it is a choice that you too could make and be happy with.