Last week the Duchess of Cambridge, a.k.a. Kate Middleton, gave birth to her second child, Princess Charlotte, the “spare to the heir,” as the royals call it. As her first, Prince George, is only a month older than LM, the timing of it all renewed my longing for a second. If it was time for a second for Kate, isn’t it time for me, too?
In a strange way, it was fun to be pregnant at the same time as Kate – we had some sort of connection, which is cool for me because I’m obsessed with all things English. But when the prince turned one, it seemed that the clock was ticking for the royal couple to announce number two. This is the same thing that, I fear, will be happening soon among my mom friends. And I will be left behind, again.
I know I should be grateful to have just one. There was a time when I would have wished for that and nothing more. And as I have said, the longing for a second is not nearly as painful or debilitating as the wish for a first. If LM does end up an only, I think I’ll be able to become OK with it, in time. Side note: I hate the term “only child,” as if “only” is not enough. Why not “one and only?” That sounds special and unique.
But, you see, like the royals, I need a spare, although I’m trying to understand my own reasoning for why. This saying, “an heir and a spare,” confounds me. In some ways it’s insulting, to think that one child can replace another. Or to think that royal women exist simply to pop out children to continue the line, which may have been how it was in the past, but haven’t we moved beyond that? Maybe the monarchy is just hopelessly (I almost wrote “hopefully” – Freudian mistype?) stuck in the past.
In terms of succession, though, in years gone by it made sense. Many children didn’t make it to adulthood. Even a king who took the throne could die an untimely death and need to be replaced. Wars have been fought over this stuff. In our current world, though, why wouldn’t it have been OK for Prince George to be an only? Why did they need a spare? Well, for starters, maybe Kate and Will just wanted to have more kids.
As do I. But my reasoning for needing a spare, although morbid, also falls along the old rules of succession. What if something should happen to LM? If he was all I had, I don’t think I could handle it if I lost him. If he had siblings, it would be horrible, but I would still have something to live for and someone to be strong for. I would still have graduations and weddings and grandchildren to look forward to. If my one and only perished, I would have nothing but empty years stretching before me until I died alone with no one to take care of me. See, I told you it was morbid!
I suppose I should be worried about the effects of being an only on LM himself. Will he miss not having a sibling? Will my care in old age be a burden to him with no one to share it with? Somehow, though, I think he could handle it. He has lots of cousins and baby friends. Every only child that I’ve known as an adult has been perfectly well-adjusted. And I’d do everything I could to prepare for my elder care ahead of time.
No, it’s me I’m more worried about.
On one of my FB groups, one for women who have families post-infertility, a mom of an only lamented that she was feeling left out because of all the other moms she knows who are pregnant with their second and thirds. Other women who also have just one, agreed, saying that they frequently wondered, “Where are all the other moms of onlys?” It seems that we, and our children, are the odd ones out. Maybe I should start a club.
I’m happy for Kate and Will. But I’m also jealous. I want my heir and my spare (and maybe another spare after that). And damn, I want to look that good after giving birth, too.
Are you a parent of an only child? Did you ever feel the need for a “spare”?
Last weekend at the morning-after brunch of a wedding we attended, I was sitting at a table with family members and two friends of the bride’s parents, a couple who I’d never met before. This is the conversation that followed our initial meeting (actually, we were never formally introduced):
“Is this your first?” the man asked my husband and I, as my mother-in-law took our crying son from the room.
“Yes,” we said.
“So what’s the game plan?”
“What do you mean?” I asked, confused.
“How many more?”
“We’ll see,” my husband and I both answered, hoping that would bring an end to this line of questioning.
But the man pressed the point. “Are you going for a baseball team? A football team?”
Dumbfounded, we repeated, “We’ll see,” with some nervous laughter as the man made more sports metaphors in reference to our reproductive plans.
As he left the table a few minutes later, he brought it up again. “Five,” he said. “That’s the number.”
Five. This man had no idea that I had five miscarriages. Five miscarriages, six years and seven IVFs. That’s what it took to have our son. We’ll be lucky if we will have a second child. Five children, despite my obsession with large families, is not in the cards for us.
I continued to think on this bizarre conversation all day. As I fumed over the offense I had taken against this man, who unknowingly made feelings of inadequacy and hurt about my infertility and losses come to the forefront of my mind yet again, I wondered: Is what he asked inappropriate? Or was I just being sensitive?
I recalled a conversation along the same lines that I had with the colorist at my hair salon a week before. I had just met her. We were talking about our kids, and she also asked me if I had only one. When I replied that yes, I did, she said, “Do you think you’ll have more?”
Same question, but I was not offended at the way she put it. Instead, I replied, “I’d like to, but we had a lot of trouble having our son.” She then commiserated with me on that point – she’d also experienced some issues with polycystic ovaries.
Maybe it’s basic human curiosity to ask about someone’s family planning. If my son does end up an only child, I see a lifetime of such questions in my future. I don’t know why having one isn’t a valid choice. In my situation it’s not really a choice anyway, but is that really anyone’s business? And why is it so weird to have only one? Are only children missing out on something because they don’t have siblings? No only child who I’ve ever known as an adult has said that – they all seem to be perfectly well-adjusted and happy.
But it’s not the norm, so we question it, just like we question anything that’s unusual or different. I wish, for my son’s sake, that we could just accept “one and done” as something that’s just fine, that’s normal, that has its own advantages.
And asking the question presumes a lot. It presumes that the woman is not currently pregnant. It presumes that she is not currently experiencing a miscarriage. It presumes that she’s not experiencing postpartum depression and is emotionally ready for more children. It presumes that if the woman is considering future children, she’s not wondering how on earth to accomplish that – another IVF or two? Adoption? Which option will be less emotionally and financially taxing? – questions that run through my mind whenever anyone brings up having another.
In short, it presumes that the woman is able and willing to have more children.
I am still analyzing, however, the differences in those two conversations. Why is it that one offended me and one did not? Well, one was asked in a less confrontational manner – “Do you think you’ll have more?” comes across as if arisen out of curiosity, whereas “What’s the game plan?” is in-your-face and demands a satisfactory answer.
Also, the non-offensive conversation occurred in the privacy of a one-on-one interaction, and hair salons are traditionally a place where women go for girl talk. We spill our secrets in that chair. The other felt like an interrogation shouted across a table filled with other people. It assumed that we would, in fact, be having more – it was just a question of how many. I could have answered the man’s question the way I answered the stylist’s – with a brief history of our difficulties – but it wasn’t a place where I felt comfortable getting into that.
So if you’re going to ask the question, a question which is really NOYB but is somewhat human nature to wonder about, please make sure it’s phrased in the right way and asked in the proper venue. Please do not shout it across a table.
And please, don’t use sports metaphors.
What do you think of asking someone about their child-bearing plans?