Four years ago, I gave birth to my little boy, Elliott. When I saw his tiny and wrinkled face, complete with squinting eyes and flailing limbs for the first time, I didn’t feel love. What I felt instead was an overwhelming urge and knowledge that he was mine and I would protect him, whatever the cost.
In the four years since, Elliott has shown me why sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture, how the person closest to you can push your buttons the hardest and that I will have to live with a certain level of guilt and worry for the rest of my life.
In the four years since, Elliott has also shown me why it’s important to slow down and look for ladybugs in roses, how tight cuddles and sloppy kisses from a little person can make you feel better immediately, and that I should laugh with more abandonment for the rest of my life.
And that love that I didn’t instantly feel when he was born? It’s not only developed, it’s grown, multiplied, flourished and wedged itself firmly into the core of my being definitely and immovably.
It’s been four years since I first became a mum and if I were like most others, I would be a mum the second time over by now.
Most of the women I met from my mothers’ group when Elliott was born are now juggling two children under five. Many of my other friends who had a child a few years before or after Elliott was born are either pregnant or have become mums again.
The inevitable questions have come—in fact, they came mere weeks after Elliott was born: “When are you going to have another baby?”
Sometimes, it comes in the form of a directive: “You need to have another one.” (They try to soften it first by saying something like, “He’s so cute!”)
And always, I brace myself for what comes next, in response to my answer.
“I’m not having another one.”
“Oh, you’ll change your mind,” is a common reply, as if they know me better than I know myself. (Coincidentally, when I was pregnant, I was also told I’d change my mind about returning to full-time work after I had my baby. Nine months after Elliott was born, I returned to full-time employment.)
“You need to give him a brother or sister or he’ll be lonely,” is another one, as if there aren’t families out there with siblings who can’t bear to be in each other’s company.
“Don’t worry, you’ll love the next one as much as you love the first,” others have told me, immediately assuming they knew the reason why we’ve stopped at one child.
“You need a spare.” (Yes, someone actually said that, as if we were the royal family and Elliott was heir to the throne.)
And inevitably, I also get a follow-up question: “Why not?”
Do I really have to explain and justify to you how difficult I found my pregnancy and the permanent toll it’s had on my body?
Do I really have to admit how sad it makes me feel sometimes to know that I’m not giving Elliott a sibling? I’ve seen the gentle and loving way he looks after our friends’ babies and I know he’d make a good older brother. The sensitive and tender soul in him makes him a perfect nurturer.
Do I really have to tell you about the times when I’ve had to hold him in my arms, heartbroken myself because he’s sobbing, devastated that he “won’t have a baby”?
If I told you just how difficult I found raising a newborn and that I really didn’t want to go through it again, will you label me selfish?
If I showed you the final numbers my husband and I have arrived at, the ones that made us decide we can’t afford to have another child if we wanted to give Elliott a good education, and a safe and secure financial future, will you label me tight?
If I said only children don’t grow up to be loners, socially inept or constantly craving company, because I have friends who are only children and they aren’t like that, will you believe me?
Just because I chose to only have one child doesn’t mean I’m without a heart. I too keenly feel the loss of my cuddly, wuddly baby. I miss the fact Elliott no longer sleeps with his arms splayed out and bent at an angle of 90 degrees. I miss that I can no longer carry him off the ground without bending my knees first or grunting.
But that’s something I can live with, especially since I’m filled with immense joy about the wonderful young man he’s rapidly growing to be.
A year or so ago, I came across this response another mother of an only child received and it warmed me to my very being.
“That’s great. I love it when people recognise what’s right for them.”
My husband and I have recognised that being parents of just one child is what’s right for us. I shouldn’t need to explain and I most certainly don’t need to justify our decision.
And while I know Elliott will have a very different childhood because he won’t have any siblings, I firmly believe it won’t be subpar. We live in an apartment block with four other children very close to his age and they play with each other all the time. He’s learned how to take turns, he knows how to share and he certainly experiences his fair share of conflict.
But you know what? I love the fact that at the end of the day when Elliott comes home and we close the door to our apartment, the squabbles cease and peace and quiet reigns. That is what’s right for me.
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