I wish I could say that I deliberately planned my life, but that is untrue. Probably the best choice I made that led to having “some of it” was in the choice of a spouse who is a feminist. I believe my presence in his life also offered him choices.
We did not make the decision for only one child. The decision was made for us, by biology and chemistry. We were grateful to have a beautiful baby, but when he was diagnosed with autism, we stopped with one child.
We talked about adopting. Not knowing the future functional status of our son made the adoption question difficult. Would an adopted child think she came to our family to care for her disabled brother? If that’s the worry, should we adopt more than one child?
In the end, the therapies for our son were expensive and time-consuming. Adoption is expensive and time-consuming. We chose to invest in the child we had, and so he is an only child.
While that soliloquy explains why we only have one child, had I to select “all” again I think I would make the same choice. I was pregnant four times, and only carried full-term once. Miscarriage is its own peculiar hell. But the decision to have just one child enabled me to work in progressively responsible jobs with unusual schedules and travel.
Because our son is an only, we made a special effort for him to spend time with his cousins, some of whom are near his age. While nothing replaces a sibling, it was the best we could do. We took an extra kid, friend or cousin, almost everywhere from camp and spring break to Friday nights out. Our child claimed opportunities we did not have as children because of his only status.
He does not know what he does not know, so he has told me he doesn’t believe he missed out on anything.
Other people seem to have much greater difficulty with the concept of the “only child” than I do. People often asked me when he was younger, “When are you having another one?” That question is almost as insulting as asking the childless about their plans for children.
I grew up in a small family, two adults and two children and two grandparents. My father’s family lived far away, and we didn’t see them that often. We cared for each other, but in terms of having a daily relationship; it was just the six of us.
I also do not know what I do not know.
The happiest day of my life was seven months before our child was born. After several miscarriages, I somehow I knew this day was going to be different when we went for the ultrasound. There in the tiny black and white screen was a dot that looked like a moving hieroglyphic, with the tiny blip-blip-blip of a heartbeat. That was the only thing I needed.
I’m not sure what people mean when they talk about “having it all.” I know that working a full-time professional career and raising a child with autism challenged me. And it challenged my husband.
We do what we have to do. For me, I doubt I would have enjoyed the career success I did with more than one child. Our son is now a college graduate and in the launch period of his career. I wish him a lifetime of choices, born by his background, knowledge and perseverance.
Guest contributor Amy McVay Abbott is an Indiana writer whose column “The Raven Lunatic” runs in a dozen newspapers and magazines. Amy specializes in health writing, with a passion for rehabilitation and disability issues. She also enjoys writing about politics, travel and the arts. Follow her on Twitter at @ravenonhealth, at her web-site www.amyabbottwrites.com or as Bernadine Spitzsnogel on Open Salon. She likes to hear from readers at firstname.lastname@example.org