Sunday, May 30, 2010

The only child

We are coming home today. Is it ever easy to come home after being in paradise? No.

Yesterday my sweet little daughter made a matter of fact statement that has left me staggered. While getting ready for the pool, sitting in front of the mirror looking at herself, she announced "Mama, my children will never have an aunt or uncle will they?" I thought about it for a moment, and realized that was totally correct. The sting of being an only child. I think about this constantly. I am quite the lone wolf in the mother world having made the decision to only have one child. M never really questioned being an only child, but I have noticed in the last six months she has starting making innocent comments about it. Each time it is a sting to my heart. It is a feeling of incompleteness that I never expected. There are many reasons we have choosen to only have one child. One of the biggest reasons is I had pelvic floor damage (nerve damage actually) from my pregnancy and birth with M. Three and a half hours of pushing during labor took its toll. My physical therapist told me there was no way to know if having a second child would make things worse or keep them the same. Then there is the living in the middle of nowhere with a baby and it makes you feel like you are going crazy feeling. After M was born I suffered from post-partum depression. No one I know suffered from depression after their child was born, and I felt very alone. Everyone I know just basked in the glow of their new baby. I did not. I wanted to flee and get my freedom back. I feel tremendous guilt for having those feelings. I live in the ultimate hippy community that has an unspoken code of motherhood I felt I could not live up to. I was not happy spending every single day with my baby with no breaks. I was not happy living 20 minutes away from my nearest friend (40 min. drive to my other friends) and feeling like that was my only life line to sanity. I could not fathom that my dear mother-in-law could only visit me every three months and give me the breath of life and freedom I so badly needed.
These are all the factors that led me to the decision that I was not strong enough or supported enough to have a second child. Physically or emotionally. I was not cut of the same strong fabric other mothers and friends I knew were. I embraced my single child life with gusto, looking at all the positive aspects. She is really easy to travel with. She gets the attention of both her daddy and mother daily. She has a mother who schedules play dates with precision-like efficiency. She has her own domain at home; a universe not required to be shared with anyone but her visiting friends.  And yet, I question it every day. I wonder what it will be like to be old and have the burden of that rest on one child's shoulders. I wonder if she knows that she only has herself while others have siblings.
And now I have arrived to the time in our lives that she too, is questioning.        


Anonymous said...

Please do not question your decision to have one child even tho I know you will contiue to. My mother wanted six and had one, me, due to divorce. When I was M's age I used to pray for a brother or sister but as I got older I realized the benefits of being the only child. Such as the gift of imagination I developed over the countless hours of making up different games by myself. My love of reading that was brought about by uninterupted story time with my mom as well as having the time to read on my own. And most importantly, learning to develope relationships with friends. Who as you know become the family that you choose. It took me a little while longer to learn to share and all the other things that come with having a sibling but there are so many gifts and blessings that come with being the only child. And in the later years it is never a burden taking care of parents. My chosen family always helps me along the way. As I'm sure your chosen family will as well. (Including me!) :-) sending much love, Nikole

Cindy Rowland said...

What a heartfelt post!

I can identify so well with all the grappling. From way over here, all I can tell you is what one of my teachers told her class at Mass Art, "To be an artist is to live with doubt."

I'm an only child. While I'm a relatively self-centered and asocial individual, for the most part I turned out okay and feel just fine about my singular status.

My kids have all kinds of aunts and uncles because my husband has three siblings. Tell M to reproduce with someone who has a big family. Problem solved.

Anonymous said...

that was so touching to read. mae is ever the insightful child. i have lots of aunts and uncles. my daughter calls them collectively, the uncoholics. you can imagine why. they are not necessarily a huge asset, save that one.

Jessica said...

Thanks Cindy and Nikole..really nice to hear your perspective from being only children and how everything turned out ok. Especially having chosen family around you and marrying into a family with lots of relatives. That is what I did too! Well thank you again..that meant a lot. xo

Anonymous said...

i deeply admire your ability to be so amazingly vulnerable and authentic with this post. i was also quite depressed with new motherhood; fearful, confused and very very alone. i too often think of only childhood, as i am an only myself. all i can say is this: many people have huge families and don't even really know their own brothers or sisters, aunts or uncles, nieces or nephews; and many people are only's and have some of the richest human connections i have ever seen. M. is loved and will have the most amazing life via her own manifestations beginning with the extraordinary love that you and D. give her. and mostly, she will be happy because her mama and papa are grounded in who they are, are present and available and have in tact pelvic floors! here's to taking care of yourself while taking care of you wee one. huge love to you my friend. your beautiful words make me adore you even more than i already do.

chrispete said...

I really struggled to decide if I should weigh in on this. If it had not been for your twin, you would very likely have been an only child for reasons other than yours which are not of your choosing. When you were very young I wondered if you should have had a brother. We considered it. Then the two of you were thrust into a single parent lifestyle, which was certainly not what I wanted for the two of you.

M. is asking questions that are perfectly normal. As the other comments have noted, these are obstacles that are possible to adjust to. The questions are normal. You and D. had to deal with much more, and I think the two of you turned out pretty well, but I am biased.

I really look forward to reading about your journey. You do it so well, you make me proud.

thefeltons said...

Please,please do not beat yourself up, even a little. There are so many ways to be a family. My best friend is an only child and she is the most outgoing selfless person I know. Your child will benefit and not from being an only just as she would with siblings. And if pictures tell a thousand words, she is a happy child. It is really all we can hope for.
Your posts bring happiness and good food to all who read them. Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this beautiful and insightful post. You are able to express so succinctly what I can only allude to.

Although I don't ever question my decision to have an only child, I certainly don't look forward to the candid conversations we'll have when she's a little older. I think I mentioned to you a few months ago that the two biggest factors in my decision to have an only were post-partum depression, and multiple pelvic organ prolapse accompanied by permanent nerve damage.

Ironically, I know that I'd have a wonderful emotional/familial support system if I ever do have another child. However, my decision to have an only is still viewed as a "phase" by both sets of grandparents, and comments about future siblings are bandied about, half-jokingly, in front of Nina more and more often.

My husband understands and supports my decision, which is the most important thing. But as previous commenters have pointed out, having a large family is not always the end-all-be-all. Nina has several cousins who are only children, and also of similar age; hopefully they will remain close friends as they grow up and can work through these questions together, as peers.

Laura said...

This is a lovely post, and as someone who doesn't yet know if she will have children, I appreciate the your honesty about what it's really like.

You know, for whatever it's worth, there's still is a chance that her children will have aunts and uncles -- as long as her future partner has siblings. =)

Jessica said...

Thanks Dad, WindycityVegan, thefeltons and Laura. I really am appreciating how many people are out there who understand, and even are sharing this experience too. Lovely and wonderful expressions of support. xoxoxox

Anonymous said...

some of my favorite people in the whole wide world are only children! it has it's own particular set of gifts. it's exactly perfect for mae.

dreaminitvegan said...

Growing up I always thought that if I were to have any kids that I would adopt and probably only have 1 at that. I had lots of nieces and nephews and with them I loved to hang out with and would babysit them but other kids, no thanks, babysitting was the last thing I liked to do. I didn't like changing diapers or any of that stuff. Like you I didn't like being pregnant, I know there are many women that love it. When I had my son he was everything to my husband and I. We didn't have plans on having another child. We like to travel and such so it was also easier just to have one. It wasn't until my son was about 5 that he started wanting a sibling, my son is now 12 and an only child.

3 years ago I had a miscarriage, I was just at 11 weeks. We didn't plan on that pregnancy in the first place but I had accepted it and actually was looking forward to another one. Maybe because I was older and more mature than my first pregnancy, I had more patience, and the excitement of my son brought tears to my eyes. The miscarriage brought the three of us even closer together as a family. I didn't want to go through that whole experience again and seeing my son go through it as well so we chose not to have anymore kids.

I sometimes sit here and think about my son not having nieces and nephews of his own but I know he will have close friends who will have kids that will be just like his nieces and nephews.

We are raising a respectful, thoughtful and caring son and that's all we can do. I know you are doing the same for your daughter.

Don't feel guilty. Everyone is different and not all couples even have kids.

Ashley said...

As an only child myself (basically - I have 3 much older half siblings who never lived in the same house as me), I can relate to what M is probably thinking/feeling. Those things are only natural. What I will say is that the worst I've experienced of those thoughts/feelings is a brief manipulative streak when I would blame my fights with my mom on the fact that I didn't have a sibling to fight with. (Forewarning.)

That said, there are so many great things I've gained from the experience: I have the most supportive parents in the world who never missed a single important event in my life, I am comfortable living alone, I have an independence I think can only be attributed to being an only child. And like Nikole, I have friendships that are as close to me as family.

From the brief bits I have read here, it sounds like M is a delight. I'm sure she'll be fine in this world :)

Jessica said...

Dreaminitvegan and Ashley, thank you! Reading these comments has brought a deep shift for me with so many of you speaking of your own experiences and how positive being an only child has been and having an only child has been. You are touching upon all the things I specifically wondered about. What a gift everyone has given me!

Anonymous said...

Siblings are neither necessary nor a guarantee of good qualities in a child!

I'm an only child and by all accounts of outside observers I turned out very well. I love working as part of a team and my classmates of 4 years voted to induct me into a medical humanism society based on my personal qualities. I am lucky to possess the quintessential collaborative work style & personality (as opposed to competitive, avoidant, or compromising styles).

I easily & happily put the needs of others ahead of all but my most basic needs. I think it helps that I never had to compete with siblings for resources of any kind, so I grew up feeling that there is (and should) be plenty for everyone.

My only child status probably didn't afford me most of the good qualities I have -- my parents and many other adult role models (I guess you could say in some ways I was raised by a village) instilled them in me. Most important, these qualities allow me to accomplish my goals and also bring me happiness.


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