How We Made The (Hard) Decision To Have Only One Baby

mother with her only child in her lap

“When am I getting a brother?”

It was a reasonable question, and one my son started asking when he was 4 years old. After all, siblings seemed to be an inevitable rite of passage. Both my husband and I grew up with them. Most parents he saw at drop-off had a baby or toddler in tow. When was it his turn?

“You already have so, so, so many cousins,” I’d say to him. This includes my sister’s son, who is two and a half years younger—approximately the age of a little brother, if I had had another child. My nephew, who lives just 10 minutes away, wears my son’s hand-me-downs, plays with him, and fights with him too. Sometimes, when his parents are out on date nights, he even gets tucked in with my son, and they fall asleep together.

But eventually his almost-brother always would go home to sleep in his own bed. “It’s not the same,” my son would say, more defiant than forlorn.

He was right, of course. It’s not the same, but I figured it would be okay anyway. My husband and I are extremely close to our extended family, which means one of the main reasons why people have a second child—so that the first one won’t be alone—doesn’t apply to us. My son has aunts, uncles and cousins, people who live nearby and who are blood; people he’s seen almost every week since he was an infant; people who will be there for him when we’re no longer here.

Besides, even singletons without the luxury of a close-knit extended family turn out fine. Blood is important, but so are the deep friendships that come to resemble family units of their own. The adults I know who grew up as only children absolutely cherish these relationships. And instead of the selfish, socially inept people that they’re often accused of becoming, these only children are among the most thoughtful, lovely people I know.

Yet for the longest time, I couldn’t help but feel a strange mix of disappointment about not having a second child and envy for those who do. These emotions annoyed me, especially since this nonexistent child wasn’t part of my plan in the first place. Did I suddenly want another kid because everyone else seemed to have one? (More than once, I scolded myself:? “A child is not a designer handbag!”) Was it maternal instinct, a need to give all that’s available to your child, including another human being? Maybe.

This new desire to have another baby also surprised me, because before I was married I didn’t even like kids; they always seemed too messy, too loud. I had no patience for them. But still, I knew I wanted one—just one—because, frankly, I was afraid I’d regret not having one once it became too late. But why would anyone want two? Another nine months of pregnancy, breastfeeding, washing bottles and changing diapers seemed exhausting, expensive and, on top of all that, a superfluous experience.

And then there was the issue of my age. By the time I had met the wonderful guy who would eventually become my husband, I was already well past 35. It’s the age at which doctors consider you to be of “advanced maternal age”—or AMA, in medical-speak, which means, compared to younger moms, you’re at greater risk for things like high blood pressure and gestational diabetes when you’re pregnant, and your baby has a bigger chance of being born too soon or having chromosomal abnormalities. That’s why we got right down to business. Within a year and a half, I gave birth to my baby boy—just squeaking by before the door slammed shut, and I felt…

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