By Hayley Doyle
Too many people I know are feeling it. The pressure.
They have a baby.
Or a toddler.
Or a ten year old.
And yet, they’re still getting asked, “So are you having another?”
The question is usually asked quite innocently. Almost a knee-jerk reaction to seeing a family of three. Like when somebody says, “Hey, how are you?” And - even if you feel utterly dreadful - you respond with, “Fine!” People can’t help themselves. They ask the question because it feels like a good icebreaker to have with a mum pushing a pram. Surely, once you have a baby, you just keep on having them? It’s the done thing.
Well. It was.
And times must - and always will - change. So, how about done at one?
It’s such a strange world you enter into once you get over the major hurdle of giving birth. Before that, you’re just pregnant, and if it’s your first baby, it can seem like the entire world is fighting your corner. I was showered with excitement and good wishes everywhere I went, proudly waddling with my bump, enjoying the lovely comments and care. A baby! Oh! A miracle! Precious! In hindsight, I do wonder whether the kindness overload for first-time mamas-to-be is to soften the blow of what’s to come; the absolute shock of how chaotic your life becomes once the baby is out of the belly. Onwards and…forever. Hmm. Because when I did have another baby, of course people were over the moon for me, but they gave me that look as if to say, “You’ve got your hands full now, eh?” I was no longer naive. I knew what I was letting myself in for.
And hey. Some folks just don’t want to do that again.
And that’s okay!
Child birth is traumatic. My son was in NICU for 4 days after the emergency team were called to - quite frankly - suck him out of me. When I got home from the hospital, I bled so heavily that I had to u-turn and go back for another day. I was less than a week into the long journey ahead of cracked nipples and sleepless nights, and I cannot tell you the amount of times I said, with relief, I’m so glad I don’t have to do all that again.
The response I got was mixed. Some laughed, gave me a high-five. You did it, girlfriend! However, many said, “You’ll have to, though.” Have to. Because how could I just stop now? I was on a roll. So what if I was feeling eternally grateful for the one baby I had? Forget about the former miscarriage. The anxiety over whether I’d ever fall pregnant again. The terror every time I went to the loo, worried I’d see blood. He’s here now. And if there’s one thing that baby needs, it’s a bunch of siblings!
Now, I did want another baby. It took a while to be ready to try, but it’s what we wanted for our family, and what we felt we could manage. Going from one to two babies was a gigantic jump. Nobody seems to talk about that. All the focus is on having the first baby…and then, bam, you know what to do now. Deal with it. Oh, and have another while you’re at it.
I admire parents who say they’re done at one. As individuals, we know our limits, we know what’s right for us, whereas in the past, we would have conformed and lived a pretty miserable existence. For many modern parents, gone are the days of The Village. Remember when all the women stayed home with babies and the men went out to work? Well, they also used to live within a close support network of family to help raise the children, too. Now, women have careers. We are making bold life decisions and breaking further away from what society once expected of us. We can flee the village. Follow our dreams. There are lots we want to do before children might come along. So this way of life has changed the course of how couples start their journey into parenthood. Last year in the UK, teenage pregnancies fell by 30% and the increasing rates of women getting pregnant in their 40s has more than doubled since 1990. One in five women who give birth are over 35.
The cost of having a kid ain’t cheap, either. When you factor in the lack of village support, new parents who have settled far from “home” will have to pay out for childcare. For full-time workers, this cost can double the family outgoing per month, but what’s the alternative? To move closer to the old family support network and pack in the career? It sounds like a simple solution, but realistically, it’s not possible for a myriad of reasons. Then, what about school fees? Rising costs of living? Climate change? “Having a child is seven times worse for the climate in CO2 emissions annually than the next 10 most discussed things that individuals can do,” analysts at Morgan Stanley said. Although climate scientist Kimberly Nicholas has argued that having less kids is not going to save the planet. Still, when data is released like this, it’s going to influence young people into thinking twice before having a brood.
Ironically, your kid isn’t alone being an only child. In 2017, the Office for National Statistics stated that 40% of married couples had a single child, predicting that this figure could rise to 50% by 2030. So it’s an old-fashioned stigma to think that being an only child is sad or selfish, creating a lonely human being who lacks social skills and acts like a spoilt brat. Last year, a study from the Shaanxi Normal University in Xi'an, China, revealed that “only child syndrome” is actually a myth, and those without siblings are in no way more selfish than those who have them.
Having one child can make for a wonderful family dynamic. Holidays and travelling are less stressful, not to mention cheaper. The child has their parent’s full attention, and while cynics might speak negatively about this, I don’t think anybody suffers from getting enough of the good stuff, the right kind of love and attention. I have a cousin who’s an only child and his relationship with his parents is second to none. They have shared marvellous adventures. Their bond as a team of three is strong. Quality versus quantity; it’s the upbringing and nurture that matters. All you need is love…
…And for people to mind their own damn business.
Oh, but society has always loved to presume, hasn’t it? A couple who desperately want another baby get judged from afar, being called selfish for not wanting to give their child a sibling. Then, those who are happily done at one can be on the receiving end of pity, when people gossip about them experiencing problems conceiving. And we all know, speculation is wasted energy. Not everybody has chosen the family path they’re on. Their deepest wishes might not have ever come true. There are childless couples who would give anything to be done at one. A parent who struggles with the responsibility of having too many children. And many more who grieve for the babies they’ve lost. So let’s be mindful. Not everybody’s life choices are in their own hands. We live with what we’re dealt. And we can only do our best with that.