You know that feeling when you use to think one thing and suddenly because of what becomes your lived experience you start to think differently?
Yep, I do.
What feels like a lifetime ago, but was only two years ago, I wrote a blog post called “I have one child, not an only child.” It was mostly about how at peace I was at having just one child, that I was grateful to have a child when the alternative would have been unthinkable and pretty shitty.
My position hasn’t really changed except that there a lot of newborn babies on my Instagram feed messing with me.
New mothers I don’t know, sharing photos of infinitely sweet beings that I will never hold.
My existential crisis about being the mother of one child was further heightened last week when Charlie, blissfully unaware that he was about to send me back to therapy, said “I would have been a really good big brother.”
Nice one kid.
So there, for a brief, slippery moment I felt it. Motherhood has the capacity to serve up your fears on a platter and on this occasion I got the side serving of guilt that I don’t recall ordering. But rather than take a deep dive into this expansive sea of guilt beneath me, I dipped my toe in to see what it was that I really felt. Guilt is complicated you see and I needed to feel it, to decanter it and let it breath. In doing so, I realised it wasn’t guilt after all but this weird wistfulness that made me feel a bit off-balance. I think about the missed opportunity for Charlie to not have a sibling to play with, to torment, to wrestle with and to share crazy and ridiculous ramblings with, to build Lego masterpieces with and a sibling to grow up with as life progresses and in decades to come, someone to argue with about my care and wellbeing. Nursing home versus a granny flat. Those kinds of life decisions.
It’s not actually me that I worry about, because the thing is I love our unit of three, from the moment I fell pregnant to the instant he was born, it was always and only ever going to be three. The sum of us is the essence of my being.
There is the pre conceived notion that only children are both spoilt and deprived. It’s a notion that is subjective and if I’m completely honest, by some definition Charlie is a bit spoilt in the way that he gets all of our attention and probably doesn’t want for anything but he’s not going about shouting “I want it now” like a scene from Willy Wonka. He knows that when gifted with a new toy, for absolute no reason other than I wanted to buy him one, that an old toy goes to the “charity bag”. This, by the way is a fabulous idea and is mostly unsuccessful at execution. But Charlie is not a brat and we don’t give into his demands, of which, at nearly six, there are many.
Then there is my anxiety which will often send me down the rabbit hole of what ifs….
What if he is all alone? What if he doesn’t have a partner? What if he doesn’t have children? Who will be his family? Will he be lonely? Will it be my fault? Am I a terrible human being and was bringing a child into a world where he would only ever be an only child and where Donald Trump is a world leader a selfish thing to do?
Right now, his sibling status does not define him. He is sociable and friendly. He is like the colour of sunshine and he is kind and “off the Richter” funny. I watch him at parks and he will happily and easily engage with other children. I watch him as he seeks them out, eager and ready to play and interact. It’s fun to watch but then I think is he doing that because he simply wants to play or does it go deeper – is he lonely for the connection with another little soul? I listen to him play independently, the voices of his characters, the storylines, I can’t let him see me watch him because then suddenly I will be roped into being one of his minions. He is sensitive and not shy and he seems to make friends easily but I worry if this will always be the case and I worry that because he doesn’t have anyone to fight with at home he will not learn conflict resolution and resilience.
I recently had some crappy stuff happen at work and I didn’t ring my mum. I rang my sister.
Before you become a parent you are warned about the lack of sleep but no one warned me about the worry, the endless, relentless worry.
Yet on the other hand, I’m oddly reassured that one child families are on the rise. In fact there has been a 19% surge in one child families. Maybe all the only children will become their own tribe.
Back on Instagram, as well as the beautiful babies, I see posts from those I still follow from the infertility fraternity. Posts I see about cycles, two week waits, injections and failed attempts. Posts that are filled with loss and grief, desire and despair. It’s a community you don’t want to be a part of where embryo quality is discussed and debated and peeing on a stick is a crazed obsession. These posts remind me of where I’ve been and where it is that I could have landed and I feel immense gratitude and relief at the reminder that my one child is the happy ending that through the darkness I could only dream about.
But the biggest lesson I have learnt is that I can’t allow myself to feel guilty or bad about something that I could never control and being a loving mother has absolutely nothing to do with numbers and family is whatever you want it to be.