Get ova it: Having 'only' one child isn’t a curse - but busybodies are
To the well-meaning people who ask if we are 'thinking' about having another: I assure you, I have no regrets
I keep meaning to have another child, because as a 38-year-old mother of one – only one! – that is what I am supposed to do. I think.
I can’t be sure, of course, but if I read the cues coming from ... well, just about everyone, this seems to be my purpose in life – as well as doing a job, paying a mortgage and fighting the patriarchy. And that’s just before breakfast (joke! It’s just a joke, honestly. This isn’t going to be a column about how much we women do, while men just lie around watching sport, I promise. Okay, maybe it will be a bit, but I mean it in the nicest, warmest way possible).
Not a day goes by without someone or other asking me if I am going to have a second child. I’m standing there, at my desk, trying to make a nativity play costume out of an old T-shirt and 500 packs of cotton wool, while simultaneously writing a 1,200-word feature about mental health and responding to texts from my husband asking if I could just remind him again where it is we are spending Christmas this year, when a well-meaning colleague, usually male, passes by and says: “Oh, how is your daughter? Are you thinking of having another one yet?”
And I want to say: “Another one? Am I thinking of having another one? I already have two children, if you include my 38-year-old husband who, in stark contrast to his five-and-a-half-year-old child, seems incapable of writing down simple instructions and memorising them. I wonder, are you thinking about taking on another job and sacrificing your weekly visits to the golf course? No? Well, there you go then.”
But I don’t say that, of course, because I have learnt from experience that this is viewed as passive aggressive, when as a woman I am just supposed to be passive.
Was I surprised to read, this week, that one in five mothers stop after “just” one baby, in contrast to a decade ago, when it was one in eight? No, I wasn’t. I was just relieved to know that I wasn’t alone in my apparent parental laziness. “Oh, you’ve only got one,” people say sweetly, and I swear what they really mean is, “wow, that poor kid, stuck with only its parents for company”, as if we weren’t emotionally on the same level as a primary-school child.
According to the Office for National Statistics, which analysed the figures, “increasing childlessness may be due to a decline in the proportion of women married, changes in the perceived costs and benefits of child rearing versus work and leisure activities ... and the postponement of decisions about whether to have children until it may be biologically too late”.
Which brings me to what I really want to say to well-meaning people who ask if we are “thinking” about having another child: “Yes. Yes, I have thought about having another. I have tried to have another. I have been trying so damn hard that a few months ago I found myself in an opulent clinic, my legs in stirrups and a probe inside me checking out the state of my eggs.”
“Poor me,” I thought. “Poor, geriatric me with my withered old eggs that fall out of me each month, instead of becoming the beautiful, bouncing babies I am supposed to be having!”
But then, the next day, I had lunch with a dear friend who has just gone through her fourth unsuccessful round of IVF, and I thought that I should probably be a little less self-pitying and a little bit more grateful. I thought that perhaps I should stop focusing on the children I don’t have, and start paying more attention to the one I do have. Because the fact she exists at all, that any of us exist at all – that our parents had sex at the precise moment they did and not 10 seconds earlier or later, potentially creating a completely different outcome – is a miracle in itself.
I have a brilliant friend who laughingly tells me that most mornings she has wiped three bums before 7am, none of them her own. I am in awe of women who have more than one child, just as I am in awe of the women who, for whatever reason, have no children.
“You’ll get to 45 and regret that you only have one,” is something I have been told. But I think the thing I would really regret is bringing my daughter up to believe that the only value she has is to be found in her ovaries.
– © Telegraph Media Group Limited