When I spotted the July 19, 2010 edition of TIME magazine sitting on the coffee table at my in-laws’ house this past Saturday, I was instantly drawn to the cover and the title of the feature article “The Only Child: Debunking the Myths.” The intro lines of the article really grabbed my attention, with the typical setting that for some reason seems to be a common setting that kicks off many articles, both printed and on the web. The setting is a supermarket. Sometimes the exchange is between two women standing on line. Sometimes it’s between the cashier and a customer. In this case it was the latter–a mom, minding her own business, with her adorable, pink-cheeked baby seated in a grocery cart–and the cashier. Usually, questions asked at the supermarket pertaining to babies usually have something to do with the age of the baby, and if there are no other children present, whether that is the first baby. Well, in this article, the cashier starts off the conversation with the latter. If the answer to that question is “Yes” as it was in this case, then sometimes, the conversation steers toward comments suggesting that she ought to work on the next baby real soon, so that this one isn’t lonely and has a little brother or sister to play with, and to avoid the “single child syndrome” — the belief that single children end up spoiled rotten because their parents lavish all their attention on the one child, lacking social skills and selfish because they don’t have any siblings with whom to interact (and therefore no “sibling rivalry” experiences) and with whom to share their toys.
In all honesty, I didn’t finish the article because I already got what I needed from it, which is inspiration to write a post and share my experience with others who care to listen. Then, I was inspired even more to make this post a priority when, on Sunday, I saw a tweet from @ArmsOpenGrace where she was saying that she was at a BBQ and couldn’t help but to compare herself with everyone else who all had 2+children, and she’d just had her first child not that long ago. I tweeted to her: “I can’t help but wonder what it’d be like to have 2 instead of 1. I don’t even compare myself with others anymore. No point.” So I proceeded to tell her that the TIME article inspired me to write my next post. And here we are.
For strangers to be prying for this kind of information is a bit much, I have to say. And it’s all based on this societal pressure to have more than one child, all thanks to Granville Stanley Hall about 120 years ago. But I’ve learned to come right out with the truth just to cut the exchange short. That really stops the conversation from getting further than it really has to.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to experience the following exchange, similar to the one in the TIME article, from the time my daughter was an infant til now (and she is now 5-1/2).
Acquaintance/Colleague/Stranger (A/C/S): “What a beautiful little girl! How old is she?”
Me: [I would tell them my daughter's age at the time]
A/C/S: “Do you have any more children?”
A/C/S: “So, when are you going to have another?”
Me: “I’m too old.”
A/C/S: “Nah, you’re not that old.”
Me: “I’m a lot older than you think. Did you know I was lucky to have her on my 2nd IVF cycle?”
A/C/S: “I didn’t know that! Well, why don’t you give it another try?”
Me: “I can’t.”
A/C/S: “Well, you succeeded before….”
Me: “I mean, I really can’t.”
A/C/S: [not wanting to give up]: “But you’re not that old. Why not?”
Me [just so I can stop this exchange before I start to get nasty]: “Because I’m missing a critical body part.”
A/C/S: [not getting it but curiosity has gotten the better of them]: “Um, not sure what you mean.”
Me: “I. Have. No. UTERUS.”
A/C/S: [face falls after a few seconds, realizing finally what I've been trying to say]: “Oh, I see. I’m sorry.”
A/C/S: [conversation taking a sudden turn]: “Well, you are blessed with this beautiful girl. You are really lucky to have her.”
Me: “Yes, I know. She’s my one and only.”
A/C/S: “You can always adopt, you know.”
Me: “Yes, I know. But I am happy with just the one.”
And then, depending on who this person is and how comfortable I am with sharing my postpartum depression (PPD) experience with him/her, I may go on to tell him/her about my childbirth complications that resulted in my lengthened hospital stay, followed by PPD that started 6 weeks later. A couple of people asked me if they thought that it was the realization that I could no longer have children that led to PPD. I told them it was one factor, but definitely not the only factor.
Would I have wanted another child? Absolutely! When I was younger, I dreamed I would have four children…one more than me and my two brothers. As I got older, I would have settled for three. That was, after all, more than two…and two at the time just didn’t seem enough. But then I got married late because it took me a long time to find “the right one” (and he was worth the wait!). Not long after we got married, I had to get surgery to remove a dermoid cyst, which my OB/GYN recommended to prevent pregnancy issues. We got pregnant after months of trying, but only to have it result in an ectopic pregnancy that had to be terminated. Then, after many more months of trying to conceive, we were encouraged to undergo IVF treatments. After our 2nd IVF cycle, which thankfully succeeded, and we were well on our way with the pregnancy, I was praying deep down inside that I would be fortunate enough to succeed just one more time. I was willing to endure one more, just so I could provide one sibling for my child.
When I woke up from my emergency partial hysterectomy, I felt so incredibly sad. I was sad that I could not have another child. I was sad I couldn’t provide my daughter a sibling. I felt unwhole. I was essentially missing an important piece of me. A piece of me that would enable me to bear children. It was so final. Before, I had all my parts but they just weren’t working quite right. There was a breakdown somewhere in the complex process that occurs behind the scenes–starting with the sperm swimming and finding a good egg to hook up with all the way through the time that there is a viable pregnancy. And all I needed was some help (in the form of IVF) to prime up the process and improve my chances for a viable pregnancy that would carry to term.
In the hospital, after hearing the terrible news, I couldn’t help but cry. But I couldn’t just wallow in my grief. I now had a baby to take care of. Since she was my only chance at having a baby, despite my pain and exhaustion, I was determined to do the best I could at breastfeeding her, changing her and holding her. I was fine until my first PPD symptom, insomnia, appeared during the 6th week. But in between childbirth and that 6th week, my body and my psyche had to endure so much fatigue and anxiety. Six weeks of non-stop fatigue and anxiety finally caused my body to shut down. I’ve endured a lot of challenges and anxiety in the past, but nothing that could compare to such a life-altering experience as childbirth and the weeks of adjustment that go with it. And I was already starting in the negative, after having gone through what was referred to as a life-threatening procedure in which I hemorraged and lost 4 units of blood, on top of the following chain of events:
- traumatic delivery experience that resulted in a partial hysterectomy resulting in loss of ability to have any more children
- negative experience in the hospital–e.g., constant sleep interruptions in the hospital, constant moving from one room to another and changes in hospital staff, multiple attempts to replace IVs in my arms/hands, food deprivation (I only had about 2 meals the whole week I was there….otherwise what I had were ice cubes for the most part, plus an occasional broth or jello), below-par treatment of certain hospital staff, searing pain (felt like someone was burning me) in my abdomen that came & went for 2 days after the surgery
- constant sleep interruptions from the noises the baby made throughout the night, plus night feedings
- baby’s bad case of eczema and cradle cap
- baby’s one week colic