My five year old son is one of those children that is always running around, climbing on things etc. I’ve heard every euphemism in the book – spirited, busy, active.
One time at after school club (where he was particularly “busy”), one of the supervisors came over to me laughing. “Oh, he’s something.” she said.
“You know, if you gave him a little brother or sister he might calm down a bit”.
I laughed and said “Oh, I’ll think about that!” Inside I was screaming “that’s what I’ve been trying to do for the last three years!”. I left feeling guilty, and cried in the car on the way home.
Some people have an only child, and are super happy with that decision. After all, there are a lot of reasons why it’s a good idea. But for many people, myself included, I’m not “one and done” because I want to be.
My son doesn’t have a little brother or sister because I have secondary infertility.
Many people who have one kid are in the same boat as me. Secondary infertility affects 10% of couples – and often there is no reason for it. Some people have their first baby straight away, and then struggle to have a second for years.
When thinking about this blog post, I reached out to some of my friends who also have one child, not by choice. When we talked about things people had said to us that seemed inoffensive questions to them, but were cutting to us, there were a few similar responses. Often these are from people who KNOW that we’ve had trouble getting pregnant, which makes it even worse.
So here are four things not to say:
1. “But you’ve had one, can’t you be happy with that?”
Being infertile isn’t a competition, and yearning for a second child can be as painful as wanting your first. Oftentimes you watch your four year old playing alone, while other kids play with their siblings, and it breaks your heart. If you had a family of four in mind, and you’re only a three, you often feel like you’re missing that other person. The feeling of loss can be as great.
2. “At least you know you can get pregnant. Just be patient”
Although this sounds really encouraging, it isn’t. Especially if you’ve experienced miscarriages in the past as well. Because you have done before doesn’t mean you will again, and telling someone to be patient is infuriating when they may have been trying to get pregnant for years.
3. “Don’t you feel bad only having one? Don’t you think they’ll be lonely?”
This one is particularly cutting, and people say it often. Yes, I do worry about this. Yes, I do feel bad. But this is out of my control. And actually, it’s a myth that only children are lonely children. Oftentimes, only children are more confident, more ambitious, and have excellent self awareness.
4. “Why haven’t you tried adoption/IVF/Fostering/eating bananas/having more sex etc., etc. ”
Please just stop. Maybe I’ve tried all of these, maybe I’ve tried none of them. IVF is hard, gruelling and expensive. Adoption and fostering can be incredibly expensive and heartbreaking in many ways. Suggesting I eat more blueberries or take some kind of weird vitamin combination is not helpful. And the sexual advice is NEVER helpful. Yes, I know how to make a baby. I don’t need your suggestions. Really. Stop.
And, here’s one thing you should say
“I’m so sorry you’re going through this. What can I do to help? I am here for you if you need to talk”.
If you have a friend who is desperate for another child, talk to them. Be there for them when they need to vent. Reach out to them if you think they’re feeling low. In non-COVID times, get them to go out for some non-kid activities, take their mind off what’s happening. Even in COVID times, you can watch a movie together over the internet, zoom chat, or instant message. Be there for them.
And next time you hear someone asking a friend or co-worker “Are you planning more? Why have you only had one?” feel free to butt in with a ‘Is that any of our business?” Or “Maybe that’s something personal they don’t want to discuss”. Your friend will thank you for it!