One and Only- Some Personal Thoughts

Disclaimer: I wish I was the type of person who had the "I don't care what other people think" sort of attitude, but alas I do not. I know that topics regarding things like family size, fertility, etc... are sensitive; it's easy to offend and easy to take offense. But, I'm feeling daring, so let's see if I can be both honest and respectful. If not, know that's my goal. Also know that this is a long, rambling post that is me explaining a part my life when I probably don't need to, but a lot of people have been mentioning baby #2 lately, so I feel a little... defensive? Reflective? Conflicted? I also know that there are a lot of people who want to have just one child but they're almost afraid to admit it, since there are so many stereotypes out there. So, here I am, putting it out there.

Over a year ago I bought the book One and Only: The Freedom of Having an Only Child and the Joy of Being One by Lauren Sandler and then let it sit in a drawer, out of everyone's sight, until this past week. I had always said that I wasn't going prepared to make any big decisions about having a second child until Sawyer was three, which he turned in April.

The book itself was fine, offering some personal insight from the author (she was trying to figure out if she wanted a second, and also happened to be an only child herself). There's quite a bit of research provided, albeit dry at times. She focuses on economics, parental contentment, child behavior, what it's like to be a grown only child, and some historical perceptions. While it was nothing amazing, or shocking, it was reassuring and very thought-provoking. 

Sandler starts the book off by discussing why her mom only had one child, and what she said echo my growing sentiments. Sandler paraphrased her mother's thoughts that, "To have a happy kid, she figured she needed to be a happy mother, and to be a happy mother, she needed to be a happy person. To do that, she had to preserve her authentic self, which she could not imagine doing with a second child" (Sandler, 1). That, right there, is me in a nutshell. 

I always was pretty sure I wanted to be a mom- to how many kids, that was the question. My husband and I struggled for over a year to conceive, which was very hard, but still so much luckier than many. After an incredibly easy pregnancy and delivery Sawyer was born. He was a happy, healthy baby who didn't really love sleeping in long stretches (still often the case), yet was otherwise flexible, fun, and oh-so-cute. But as a working mom who brings home buckets of work (I am an English teacher, so there are literally hundreds of essays on my plate to grade at a time), an individual with hobbies (reading! running! yoga! writing!), a friend who actually likes to interact in person, and a wife (whose husband worked long hours with a long commute, a fact of life I accept, understand, and am in agreement with), I was falling apart. Every second of every day was accounted for, I was never not exhausted, and I always felt a hop-skip-and-a-jump away from losing my shit (I am fully aware this is normal for a new mom, or even just moms in general). Nonetheless, I was happy. I had a baby, a husband, a core group of loyal friends, and a job I was passionate about. But me? Who I am and what I love, including time to be alone occasionally? I was fighting a losing battle. 

And this is what my life was like for probably two or two-and-a-half years. I always have had very high expectations of myself at work and at home, and I constantly felt like I was failing (and some people purposefully, and accidentally, made me quite aware of my inadequacies). I was constantly sacrificing one thing for the other, and that's not even considering my lack of sleep. Multi-tasking was my norm- that baby on the floor playing with blocks, me on the treadmill walking on an incline reading for work. Or me, in the kitchen uploading pictures, while baking cookies for a work meeting, while playing with my toddler with measuring spoons. I needed more breaks, so much so that two or three or seventeen times I considered how great it would be do have my appendix out so that I would get a few nights in the hospital. 

In the last six or eight months I started feeling more at ease. Sawyer is older and he and my husband have been spending more time together. I got things at work under control with a new organizational system and by being hyper-efficient every second I am there. I purposefully schedule in down-time at home, and I started changing my cleaning/laundry/errand routine. I see friends, I pursue hobbies, I am trying to spend more time with my husband, I am a good mom and interact with my son constantly, I work out, and I've worked hard on making anxiety productive. I am also planning on doing some traveling again soon, hopefully, which is something I have greatly missed. 

But I am still very, very tired. I am happier, but I am so tired. 

I cannot go back. I cannot rewind the clock. I cannot focus more on surviving than thriving. I cannot. 

Let's say it takes me a year to get pregnant again. Then I cook the thing for nine months. Then it takes two and a half more years for me to return to me. That's over four more years. It's easy to say that that's not a long time, but it is. 

And then there's the money. I'll be honest- we paid anywhere from $450-$625 a month for daycare and will be paying $800 for preschool. Times two? Dear God. Then there's college, later. I'd like to help my child get an education but also not go severely into debt (again) myself. 

Some people are good at having multiple kids and looking at life's big picture. Some people are more patient, can survive better on little sleep, and cut themselves more slack. But I know myself, and I know that I just... cannot. And knowing my weaknesses is something I consider a strength. Different people need different things to be happy. 

Am I depriving my son of a sibling? Yes. Saying no would be a lie. It would also be lying if I said that I'm worried what will happen if he needs a kidney later in life. But is that an acceptable reason to bring a kid into the world? 

"Hey kiddo, you're super cool and all, but I was just worried about Sawyer's renal future, so thanks for the potential spare parts that you will hopefully match for, if so needed." 

(Sawyer has no renal issues, I am just being hypothetical). 

So yes, I'm not giving my son a sibling, a live-in playmate, and he might be sentenced to a life on dialysis, but I still feel like I am giving him a lot. I am prepared to spend countless hours with him playing with LEGOs, taking him to parks, visiting museums, and signing him up for summer camps so he can hang out with other kids during weeks off. And I totally volunteer my husband to take him to every single super hero movie that comes out, ever (by the way, my husband is not even close to begging for a second child; if he was then I'd have to do that thing you do in marriage when you consider the other person's desires and opinions). It cracks me up when parents of only-children are accused of being "selfish." There is nothing selfish about having a child, even if it's only one. I spent forty minutes the other  morning involved in a conversation about Mama Batman and Baby Batman going to Target for apple juice, thankyouverymuch. 

Am I 100% sure? No, but closer every day. Could something in me snap in a year and make jump back on the multiple-child train? Maybe! There are plenty of things in life that I said I wouldn't do and then decided otherwise. But sometimes you need a book to help you articulate what's going on in your head and your heart (and your ovaries). So, here we are. 

Families come in all different packages, and at the end of the day, I really truly think that there are so many ways to raise a good little person (or good little people). Maybe you and your partner are lesbians and you have five kids of all different ages and colors you've adopted. Maybe it's you, your husband, and your two dogs (pets are family members too). Maybe it's a husband, wife, a daughter, and  a son. Maybe you live in wealth. Maybe poverty. Rural? Urban? Stay-at-home-mom? Two working parents? Divorced? Remarried? The possibilities are endless. And that's good. 


  1. Family size is a deeply personal decision - I'm constantly amazed by the number of people who comment on my 'big family' (I have four kids and all were amazing sleepers as babies...which is why I have four!).

    I think the main thing is that you and your partner agree (I have two friends who changed their minds about having one child and in both cases the husbands were adamant that they "only signed up for one", which has caused tension).

  2. This was so eloquently written, and I could relate to a lot of the same stuff being intentionally childless myself. A lot of the same thoughts apply. You are so refreshingly honest. I've NEVER understood the "you're selfish" perspective towards the childless... how can you be selfish towards an entity that never existed because it wasn't conceived in the first place...? Anyway... thanks for a thought-provoking read.

  3. You are right that these are sensitive topics, but thank you so much for your honesty and thoughtfulness in sharing. I am truly amazed by people who have bigger families (even just 2, since I only have 1 right now!) and frequently wonder how they manage things day to day. I always think they must have something figured out that I'm still missing. I am so very, very tired too and I'm not even working full time!

  4. It is a sensitive topic, but you've handled it really well whilst sharing your own personal thoughts in the mix.

    We have one child, a son who is currently 3 a and half, and have no intention of another child. We are happy as a family of three, and despite expressing this on numerous occasions, we are constantly asked about when baby #2 is coming along. It gets frustrating. We have our reasons for our size family - I don't go asking people with 5 kids why they have that many, y'know.

    For most of the reasons you've mentioned, we're sticking to one child, although for us there was a mildly difficult pregnancy, hospital drama on delivery, and also recovery from a C-section that didn't exactly go well.

    I also feel like having the one child means I'm able to put more time & energy into him - he has our full attention. I don't think I'm depriving him by not having another child... If anything, I'd feel like I was depriving him if we were to have another child. With attention, and sadly money, being the reasons for that.

    (Sorry, long comment!)

  5. Late to this but at 40 weeks pregnant, this was very helpful to read. I think it's good to know your own personal goals and capacity. I'm pretty sure we're one and done - I've got a chronic illness which pregnancy can either improve or exacerbate, we don't have any local family, and while we're on decent salaries (government and academia), I don't know how we'd manage two nursery fees (about £1000 /month each for full-time care).

    I do want a busy house though, particularly as I'm an expat and do sometimes feel the absence of an extended family. I've been thinking about how I can facilitate that with Sunday night dinners, kid friendly spaces, an open door policy for holidays, etc.

  6. I have one child, a daughter who is now 17. We had originally planned on two, but the delivery was just awful and I was not going through it again. Turns out 1 was the perfect # for us anyway. And she has never wanted a sibling, even when she was little.