“Why Do You Only Have One Child?”
“Wow, that’s really rude, ma’am.” For the first time this spring, I finally said the words that have teetered on the edge of my lips since becoming a mother in 1999. People have asked in many different ways why I only have one child. Sometimes, the question is straightforward. Other times, it starts as a concerned inquiry about my reproductive health or my priorities in life.
I had imagined being bold dozens of times before it actually happened, so I was disappointed by the response. In my fantasy, the offender always apologizes and promises to be more sensitive and then her mouth disappears. But in reality, my comment left her unaffected. Even the addition of the word “ma’am” didn’t have the desired effect.
“Well, I’m sorry if you’re sensitive about it, but you really should consider having a spare,” the woman continued.
“A spare? Like a tire?” Clearly, I have a problem with knowing when to disengage.
“No, silly, a child. It’s really selfish to put all of your hopes on an only child. What if she can’t live up to your expectations?”
I wanted to tell the woman that my daughter, Cal, has already fulfilled all of my greatest hopes as a parent. She can do single digit addition and subtraction in her head; she whips up tasty, somewhat nutritious snacks using five ingredients or less; and she understands my complicated laundry system that involves three different detergents. Instead, I shrugged my shoulders and walked away. I felt my insides boiling, and it would be a pyrrhic victory if I had broken through to this woman.
As a teen, I wrongly assumed that peer pressure exists only in the microcosm of high school. The desire to fit in led me down a dark path when I experimented with alcohol and drugs and boys. It didn’t really matter that I didn’t like what I was doing. I ignored the parts of my core that were my own personal truths and sacrificed what I believed in because I didn’t want to be different. The most valuable lessons I learned from those poor choices were to do what was right for me and to make important decisions based on my own timetable.
The peer pressure I feel from Occupy Uterus campaigners makes me doubt the choice I’ve made to focus on Cal for the time being. Doubt then spurs guilt and shame.
I bet your daughter is lonely. Our family didn’t feel complete until our second (third, fourth) child. You’re too young not to have more! Don’t you want a buddy for her? Are you afraid you won’t have enough love for two kids? Don’t you want to know what it’s like to have a son? Are you at least trying? Are you infertile? Is he infertile? Are you having problems in your marriage? Do you not like children? Are you afraid your body won’t snap back into shape? What if something happens to your daughter?
Since my husband adopted my daughter after we got married six years ago, I also get asked, “Don’t you think your husband deserves a child of his own?” It’s difficult for people to digest that Harv feels a deep connection with Cal and is perfectly content with our daughter being his only child. “He may just be saying that to take the pressure off of you, you know.”
Silence has become my companion during these awkward moments. I no longer offer excuses or an explanation. Restraint isn’t easy, especially during rough moments like my miscarriage, when I wanted nothing more than to say, “You don’t know anything. Be quiet.” But those who offer judgment often tend to be the loudest because they want to be heard; they need to feel heard.
I wish I could say that it doesn’t bother me at all when people make assumptions based on just one or two facts. That might not ever be the truth, but I can say this with certainty: There’s no such thing as the “right” number of children. We can only do what is best for our own family, and it’s okay if that vision changes along the way.
Also, it’s important to mind our own damn business.