Wednesday, November 25, 2009

No Regrets, but Thanks For Your Concern

Around the time I was a few months pregnant I came to realize that I wasn't averse to only having one child. I don't recall my husband and I ever really discussing how many we would have, I think it was a one at a time sort of plan. He is one of four siblings and I am one of two. I'm sure we expected that we would have two children. I don't know what it was exactly that got me thinking about only one; I remember having a cup of tea at my parents' house one day ( they live in the same town as I do) and discussing the subject with my Dad, who is himself an only child. Something in me must have know, must have sensed what my future would hold.

I am a person with limited energy ( and currently have lived ten years with a diagnosis of chronic fatigue syndrome) and high expectations of myself. My list of I should as well as the list of I want to is long. My son is fifteen, I had no such diagnosis back then but I knew that I couldn't be the kind of mother I wanted to be, in all honesty the kind of mother I think every mother should be, to more than one. My husband worried about financially supporting children in the lifestyle we wanted in addition to saving for post secondary education. This was a personal decision, based on what kind of parents, what kind of family we wanted to be and what we wanted give to our child, physically, emotionally, materially and what we wanted left over for ourselves.

If we happened to mention o people that we would probably only have one, they smiled indulgently, said I would forget all about the discomforts of pregnancy and soon be ready for another. We didn't mention it much. It has to be said that my pregnancy was not difficult but I would not say that I loved it. The childbirth part did not go well, but I only know that with hindsight really. At the time I had no idea that most women don't push for six hours before the child is pulled from their body with forceps. I'd had no sleep in over forty hours, but the moment I saw my son the adrenaline rushed in and I thought I would never sleep again. Who could sleep when the most beautiful creature you have ever seen is right there beside you, and he smells so good and his fuzzy little head feels so warm and soft under your lips.

The next few weeks were bliss and torture combined. There are war stories to tell that is for certain, but I would do it all again to have this wonderful human being in my life. The memories of the last fifteen years can bring me tears of joy. I miss my baby, my little boy, but the young man now living in our house is a wonderful person of whom I am so proud. He is kind and gentle and funny and smart. He is handsome and athletic. Some day he will make a very loving husband and father if that is in his future. He hopes that it is. He has such a nurturing instinct that he is now wishing he had a little sister. Why a sister? He has two good friends who have little sisters and he has always been intrigued by their relationships. He wants a very little one, no older than eight. He knows this is not really going to happen and that a sister is not like a pet. He and I have talked about it often. He wishes we could adopt and he's willing to share his grandparents, his belongings, his parents, his bathroom and even the guest room, which he has taken over in addition to having his own bedroom. What a thing to long for! Not a playmate, he has those. Not a dog, he isn't that comfortable with dogs. He wants a little sister to look after.

While I was still pregnant I read a book I found in the library that reassured me it was fine to have only one child. Only children have often been stigmatized, much more so than youngest, middle or first-born children. I don't recall the title or the author but she had credentials enough to give me reassurance and she quoted studies that showed only children were no more likely to long for siblings ( and yes they will sometimes long for siblings) than children with siblings were likely to wish they didn't have them. I read about spoiling. A child is spoiled if you give in to demands in order to stop temper tantrums. A child is spoiled if they are in control and you, the parent aren't. There is a difference between spoiling and indulging. Indulging might not do the child any favours in the end, but spoiling results from ineffective parenting and creates an unpleasant child. I knew we were not going to be ineffective parents.

So we raised a child who was loved and adored by a small group of adult relatives. He had not siblings or cousins, and spent most of his time in the company of adults. He knew love and security and has a great relationship with aunts, uncles and grandparents. He is mature and responsible because he talks about life with adults. He was always shy as a young child but made some friends and has three close friends he has known since their days together in pre-school. He is like his mother and grandmother and can be a loner, easily spending time by himself. He loves to do things with his family such as family movie night or family game night. He hangs out in the living room with his parents while listening to his favourite music, rarely shutting himself away in his room as many teens do. I have no regrets, I am proud of the mother I have been and continue to be. It hasn't always been an uneventful ride, and if I know anything about being a parent from watching friends and family I know that I am forever a parent.

Early in my son's life people felt it was their duty to tell me that it was time to have that second child. Never our closest friends and family, they are far to intelligent and much too good to ever be so rude. Still I am amazed at what acquaintances and neighbours believed it was appropriate to say. Perhaps it is unfair to suggest they thought it was appropriate. I might assume that they never thought at all before they spoke. For how were they to know that it wasn't impossible for me to have another child and that I wasn't daily shattered by this reality, barely finding the strength to go on? Regardless, I regularly fielded comments like, "It's time you gave that boy a little brother or sister." Well, Shawna, isn't it time for the next one? Come on." Shocking really, and if I were able to cry at will I would love to have burst into tears and told that that I had suffered bloody miscarriage after miscarriage and that I was so internally damaged I would never have another child. I felt they deserved that, but although I am actually a pretty good actress, I'm not a good liar.

The most astounding lecture came from an acquaintance who is both a teacher like myself and married to a co-worker of my husband. I have forgiven her because she had consumed a few drinks by then, but while she elaborated on her own style of mothering, which quite frankly I did not agree with, she also told me that I would probably be psychologically damaging my child. In her professional opinion she had seen many only children at school, she said, and they were always odd. She went on to explain how they expected adult conversation and wouldn't just go away and play with the other children. And usually the parents are a little odd too, tending to be indulgent and fussy. Believe it or not I just listened and stated only that I disagreed. If I had wanted to criticize her mothering I certainly could have. Sometimes I am surprised at how nice I am.

I am quite confidant that I have proven her theory wrong and that my son is not psychologically damaged. She probably has her own opinions still. People amaze me sometimes, especially with what they say while smiling at you and pretending to be your friend. Actually I'm sure this woman does believe she is my friend. All I can do is shake my head. The neighbours finally figured out that no second child is coming. And I am grateful to have true friends and family surrounding me who never judge or criticize. I am thankful everyday to those dear people who provide love me unconditionally. I may be struggling with my energy level, I certainly don't meet most of my own goals for getting things done in a day, but I always have a heart bursting with love for these people who make my life so wonderful. I have one child at home and nearly thirty when I go to work each day. I love them too, with all the love they deserve and all that I have to give. Criticize my choices if you must, but don't think for a minute that I regret them.








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