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Telling Our Only Child We Won’t Have Another Baby

So, this blog post is quite a tough one for me to write. But it’s also one I knew I would probably have to write at some point. Little Man is an Only Child, which is something I’ve written about a fair bit in the past. But we’ve never really had to talk about it with him before. I mean, he’s only just turned 5, it’s not a conversation that naturally occurs with a young child. Until today. Today we had to tell him we won’t ever have another baby. And that was unbelievably hard.

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It all started because we were watching Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (of all things). A character in the episode was giving birth and Little Man showed interest in what was happening. So TJ explained to him that babies grow in their mummy’s tummy and then mummy has to push them out. We’ve mentioned this in the past when talking about friends who were expecting, and we’ve even told him he grew in my tummy, but he never really questioned it before. So we didn’t really expect him to do so this time.

But just after the baby was born, he started telling us how cute the baby was. Again, this is nothing new – he often tells us how cute babies are whenever he sees one. (He does the same with kittens, but that’s another story!) But this time he seemed to fall into thoughtful silence. So I asked him, “do you think you’d like to be a daddy one day and have a baby?” And that’s when things got interesting.

Maybe a minute or two later he started pushing down on his belly towards his bottom and grimacing. I automatically asked him if his stomach hurt (as it was less than 24 hours since he had vomited with an upset stomach). But he said, “no mummy, I’m trying to push!” For a moment or two I had no idea what he meant, and then it suddenly dawned on me. “Are you trying to push a baby out of your belly?” The answer was a firm yes.

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, it was one of those moments! My heart practically exploded at the adorable nature of his innocent misunderstanding of what we had told him. I explained that only ladies could grow babies in their tummies and so even when he was grown up he wouldn’t have a baby himself. But he could still be a daddy one day if he wanted to be. And I hoped that might end his confusion. Except I don’t think it was mere confusion, he really did seem to want a baby.

He started trying to pull my top undone to get to my belly, so he could push on that. So I had to explain to him that mummy doesn’t have a baby in her tummy. At which point I think my heart broke in two. As hard as it was for TJ and myself to decide never to have another baby, I always knew there might come a day when Little Man would show an interest in a brother or sister. And I knew it would be difficult to explain why we’d chosen that, not because it was the wrong choice but rather because it was a choice I desperately wish we’d never had to make.

I’d have loved nothing more than to be able to tell Little Man that mummy doesn’t have a baby in her tummy right now but one day she might. But I couldn’t. I had to explain to him that we won’t ever have another baby growing in mummy’s tummy. Only he got to grow in there when he was a baby. He turned to TJ and asked if he had a baby in his tummy, making us explain once again only ladies get to do that. She he turned back to me and said, “maybe there’s a tiny baby!” I told him I was sorry, but no there wasn’t even a tiny baby in there. “Maybe, as tiny as an ant!” he replied. Oh, my poor, broken heart!

There are many, many times when I wish things could have been different. When I see how much Little Man adores playing with other kids at the park or seeing his cousins. When he tells me how cute babies are, or says, “I hear a baby” and looks around for them when we’re out and about. And also when he takes such wonderful care of the numerous teddies and soft toys he takes to bed with him. He hates being alone, in fact his standard response when he can’t sleep or wakes in the night is “I’m lonely”. I wish, more than anything else, we could have expanded our family as I’m sure he’d have loved it.

But we can’t. It’s just not an option for us. It never was. But even in those early days I clung on to the idea that maybe one day we could still foster. I thought if Little Man showed an interest and seemed able to cope with the demands fostering puts on a family, maybe we could do it. But the reality is that I’m too sick to do that. It really is just going to be our little family of three.

And in many ways that’s alright. I love the dynamic we have and the fact that Little Man can have as much attention as he craves. Although, actually, he craves a LOT of attention – because he doesn’t like being alone, remember – so I’m not sure he’d agree he gets as much as he wants! But the point is, he has us all to himself. We’re busy parents, working and balancing our many health issues, and so we don’t have a lot of time and energy to spare. What we do have is all his. And that works for us.

So, yes, my heart feels fragile tonight. This whole thing has reminded me just how much my health has robbed from us, both in terms of not being able to have another baby and in terms of not even being able to think about fostering. But there’s nothing I can do about that. So I’m choosing to see the beauty in Little Man’s hope and interest in us having a baby as something we can cherish, even if we can’t make it come true for him. Because, if nothing else, it shows he is growing into a very loving little boy.

Trish Burgess Mums Gone To

Let’s Talk About… One Child Families: Interview with Trish Burgess @ Mums Gone To…

A couple of weeks ago I started a new series, here at The Patch, interviewing other parents of an only child in the hopes of sharing a wide variety of views on what it is like to raise an only child.

This week I’m featuring Trish Burgess about what it has been like raising her “one and only” and how it feels now that he has left for university.

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Trish is mum to Rory, who is 18.

Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?

Originally from Newcastle upon Tyne, I now live in South Lincolnshire with my GP husband, Dougie and my son, Rory, who has just started his first term at university. My blog, ‘Mum’s Gone To…’ began as a place to write up my holiday diaries and although I write about other subjects, travel is its main topic.

Can you explain how and/or why you decided to have an only child? Was it something you always planned or did some circumstance force you to make the decision?

It wasn’t a planned decision. We had some fertility issues which meant it took four years before Rory came along. There followed a miscarriage two years later. After that, my husband and I decided we didn’t want Rory’s childhood to be affected by us constantly pursuing a wish for another child. We were so grateful that Rory had been born, we wanted to just love him and accept the dynamics of our little family.

Do you know other parents who have an only child, or are you the only person in your group of friends/colleagues who has stopped at one?

Yes, I do know one or two parents who just have one child although most of our friends have more than one.

Did people often ask you, “so when are you going to have another?” If so, how did this make you feel and how did you respond? At what point did people stop asking this question?

I was very relieved that people never asked me if I was going to have another although, interestingly, in the early years, my husband used to get a lot of queries from people, something he found very frustrating.  However, as Rory grew older, and the number of photos on his desk of Rory at different ages increased, people thought our family was larger than it was!

Can you share some of the best things about being a parent to an only child?

We have had lots of time to give to our child and, in return, he has been very close to us. He has been content in his own company from an early age, although very sociable outside of the family. We breezed through the teenage years. However, I’m not sure how much of his personality has been affected by being an only child and how much is just in his genes. He may have been the same child even if he had been part of a larger family.

And what are the hardest things about having an only child?

When he was growing up, unless he had pals round, his dad and I were his friends. It would have been great to be able to say, ‘Off you go and play with your brother/sister.’

I do worry about the future and the fact that he will have to deal with ageing parents alone. However, my husband is an only child and although his parents are elderly, he has me by his side to support him.

Did your son ever ask about siblings? If so, how did this make you feel and how did you respond to his questions?

I don’t think he ever asked about siblings. He has cousins, although they don’t live nearby, but it doesn’t seem to have been an issue.

What are the best and worst things that people have told you about only children? Did people tell you they will be “spoiled” or “lonely”? Or have people been generally positive about your decision? Has this changed as you son has grown older?

Not so much what people have said to me but I have read articles over the years which would suggest an only child could be lonely or introverted. I don’t think people consider him ‘spoiled’ but they have teased me recently because I have had to start teaching him how to cook and iron before going off to university. I think I mothered him a bit too much but would I have been just the same if I had been the mother of more than one child? Probably.

Did/do you worry about any of these things, or were/are you confident that your child will thrive as an only child?

I did worry a little when he was younger but my husband never had any concerns, reassuring me that Rory was content and that, just because he enjoyed his own company, this wasn’t something to be seen as a bad thing.

If you could offer some advice to someone who was considering raising an only child, what would you say?

A family is a family whatever its size. Try not to be overly concerned about him or her being an only child and, instead, go with the flow. Don’t force your child to have company all the time. I used to try and encourage him to play with friends, which was great, but sometimes it was all a bit too much and he preferred the peace and quiet once they had gone. Not every ‘only child’ is going to be the same.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

When your only child does leave home, the nest becomes empty straight away as there are no brothers or sisters staying at home to ease the pain: that’s quite tough.

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I’d like to thank Trish for taking part in this series and answering all my questions so openly and honestly. If you’d like to find out more about Trish then you can find her on her blog, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, and Pinterest.

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Let's Talk About... One Child Families

This post is part of my “Let’s Talk About… One Child Families” series. If you are a parent to an only child and would like to take part, please get in touch using my contact form.

Let’s Talk About One Child Families

There’s been a fair amount of media coverage this past week regarding “one child families”, which seems rather timely for me as I have recently been coming to terms with and even finding peace with the idea of joining this part of society and remaining a “one child family” rather than adding to our little brood.

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I never thought I would have an only child. It just never entered my mind. I considered the fact that we may not be able to have any children, but never that we would stop at one. That was, of course, before I discovered how truly awful pregnancy is for me and how to go through another one would be to seriously jeopardize my relationship with TJ.

I’m not exagerrating, and I’m not saying that we don’t have a strong relationship. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. In the 6 years I have known TJ we have been through redundancy (for TJ) and subsequently two career changes, two chemically-induced menopauses (for me) and surgery for my Endometriosis, several relocations, and a pregnancy complicated by Hyperemesis Gravidarum and Cholestasis. Not to mention that in that time both of us has suffered from depression as a result of the strain from all the health issues. We wouldn’t have survived this long if our relationship wasn’t strong.

But, I know we have found our limit. We both do. In fact, TJ knew it long before I did (or rather he was able to admit it long before I was!) To face another pregnancy would be devastating for our relationship and it is that knowledge which helps me put to rest those maternal urges that make me think “I want another baby”. I have wrestled with this a lot over the past 18 months, but I finally feel like I am getting to the point where jealousy no longer creeps in as soon as I hear of someone else adding to their family. In fact I had cuddles with a friend’s newborn a couple of weeks ago and there wasn’t even the teeniest pang of jealousy at all… and that took me totally by surprise!

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You see, for a long time I thought that even if I couldn’t expand my family through another pregnancy, then we could look into adoption. But the more I really thought about this the more I realised that it wasn’t just the pregnancy that was an issue for me, but the overwhelming exhaustion that comes from looking after a child. I am exhausted all the time, and though this was true before my pregnancy (Endometriosis and side effects of the hormonal treatments to try and control the Endo symptoms will do that to you) it is most definitely true now that I have Little Man to consider.

Just this past month I have been battling a horrific cold. I’ve had cold after cold since last September, but this one has been a killer. In fact I am now on antibiotics because of the fact that 3 weeks later it has developed into a chesty cough, sore throat, and completely blocked sinuses. And today is the first day that I have dropped Little Man off at the childminder, called in sick at work, and had a day to simply rest on the sofa and try to get better. Gone are the days when a cold could be fought by plenty of rest… it just doesn’t happen when you have a toddler.

And therein lies the key to my thinking… Little Man won’t always be a toddler, he won’t always need this much energy and attention. But do I really want to get to a point where he is becoming less demanding and then go straight back to square one with another child? Unbelievably (to me, at least) I don’t.

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For many years I have dreamed of having 2 or 3 kids. I looked forward to those few years when I would be surrounded by all the things that come with young children. Having just one child means that those years are going to be much shorter. And for a long time that was not okay with me. No siree.

But suddenly, I realise that this is something to be enjoyed, not grieved. When those around me are still changing nappies and dealing with childhood illnesses, my little boy will be a much bigger boy and we’ll be saying goodbye to the difficulties of these early years. Sure, we’ll miss out on the fun bits too (I don’t need reminding of that!) but there will be so much more we can do with our only child…

I’ll have time and energy to devote to him that I wouldn’t have were I the mum of a second or third child. If he needs taking to a social group several nights a week it will be no problem, as I won’t have to work it around the whole family, just him. If he wants a big party for his birthday, or a random sleepover, that will be fine because I won’t have to worry about how the other kids may feel left out. And if he needs me to sit with him every night of the week and guide/encourage him through his homework then I can do that, because my time won’t be split between several children.

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This isn’t to say that I think having one child is better than having more than one. Had things been different, I would have loved to have a second or third child. But as it stands, this is a positive choice for our family and I am relishing in the positives that come from this choice. It is no longer something I choose out of necessity, but something I am beginning to embrace.

Once Little Man is at school, if we want to up our income I can take on more hours. I’ll not have to take time out for maternity leave or pay for further childcare. We’ll be financially better off and that special trip to Disneyland for Christmas that I dreamed up for Little Man may actually come true!

And looking way into the future, TJ and I will still only just be hitting 50 when Little Man is ready to leave home – that gives us plenty of time to enjoy life as a couple again while we’re still young and (hopefully) healthy enough to make the most of the extra free time we’ll gain.

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There are fears, of course, aren’t there always? What happens if Little Man desperately wants a sibling when he is a little older? What happens if he never wants kids of his own and we miss out on being grandparents (this is, of course, his choice entirely, but it would be nice to think that one day we might have the priviledge of being somebody’s grandparents). And what happens when we’re old… will all the pressure rest of Little Man and will he be left with no-one to share his grief with when we die?

But all of these, like most fears, are unfounded.

If Little Man wants a sibling, we will reassess the situation. We are pretty sure that adoption isn’t right for us as it stands right now, but that doesn’t mean we might not change our mind in the future. If it turns out that adopting is a better option for our whole family instead of remaining a one child family then we will look into it. And we certainly haven’t ruled out fostering as something we might like to do when Little Man is older – after all, what better positive could come out of having an only child than having the extra time and energy to give to someone who truly needs and wants that love and attention?

And if Little Man doesn’t want (or can’t have) children of his own, then we will accept that. As I say, it would be nice, but it isn’t something I want him to feel pressure over. I can quite happily be the “honorary granny” to all my friends’ children’s kids and those of my nieces and nephews.

And as for Little Man being alone – well, that is still a worry. But he has 4 cousins on TJ’s side and 1 coming on my side, so it’s not like he’ll have no family his own age around. At the end of the day, having siblings doesn’t always mean having someone around. I know only too well how distanced siblings can become, having seen it happen to others. I truly hope Little Man will never feel alone, but it’s not something I can guarantee by giving him a sibling, nor is it really the only reason to have another child. So it becomes a bit of a moot point.

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For all the positives of having more children, I am actually glad that I have found peace in my heart about remaining a one child family. I am somebody who loves to give… all I have to anybody who needs it. I have been frustrated this past year and a half when I have been unable to do more for charity, or when someone has had a baby or been going through a rough time and all I’ve wanted to do is sit and crochet them a little gift to cheer them up a little or celebrate their new arrival. By having an only child, not only will I have more time and energy to give to him (without totally exhausting myself and my limited energy reserves) but I will also have more time and energy to give to others. Of course it would have been nice to give this to another child of our own, but when balancing it all up, I feel that this is a true positive of this choice.

And that’s where I’m at right now, learning to love the idea of being a one child family. It’s not what I expected to find myself saying, but it is all exactly what I’m feeling right now.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, if you fancy sharing them.