Friday, May 7, 2010

Lonely Onlies. Yeah, Right.

I just read this extremely touching article in The Guardian, about secondary infertility. It's an interesting, although difficult, read.

But typically, I can't just leave it there, I have to go and weigh in.

Families who suffer from secondary infertility have so much pain to contend with, that I can't bear the thought that they may feel guilty for leaving their first child without siblings.

I was raised as an only child. My father married twice (my mother is his second wife) and I have a half-sister and two half-brothers from Dad's first marriage. But they were born and raised in the UK, and are quite a bit older than me, so although I get on great with them, I tend to call myself an only child because I grew up as one.

It was brilliant.

I know that if I'd had siblings growing up, I'd probably love them. My friends who aren't only children are all very fond of their siblings, naturally, and wouldn't like to be only children because it's hard to wish someone out of existence (they have to be pretty rotten).

But being an only child, I don't know what having siblings is like. I just know that growing up, I got as much of my parents' attention as I wanted. I was never compared to anyone (and kudos to my father for that, because he had three other kids he could have compared me to, and didn't). I had plenty of my own space and came to value my own company a lot, which I'm thankful for now. I never felt I had to compete, and I never had to put up with anyone for longer than I wanted to. That rocked. Oh, and no one messed with my books either :)

No one is entitled to a certain kind of family. Yes, if your child wants siblings it can be hard, but no child gets everything they want. Most people I know, regardless of the composition of their family, recognise that their unique familes did the best they could, and made them the people that they are. If the family you can offer your child is sibling-free, or enormous and sprawling, or even if it just consists of one person - who cares? Just do the best you can. I'll lay money that if you're intentions are good, they'll turn out fine. Not every kid gets a twin, or younger siblings, or two parents, or a protective big brother, or even to meet any of their grandparents (I only met one of mine). Instead, we love the people we do have.

This isn't in any way intended to belittle the pain of secondary infertility (or indeed any infertility), which I can't even begin to imagine. It is just intended to say 'don't blame yourself'. And don't feel bad about not being able to 'give' your child siblings. Being an only child is fine. And if you have a judgemental pain-in-the-arse neighbour like Maggie O'Farrell's, please direct a nasty comment to her with my compliments.


  1. That is very touching thanks for sharing Ellen. I wasn't even aware that this existed so thanks for upping my awareness too.

    I was a middle child with two sisters so my family was pretty much awesome, but I can see how being an only child would rock too.

    Today's guest bloggers are Lisa and Laura Roecker!

  2. I had heard of this before. I whole heartedly agree with you though. A family consists of the people you love and who love you regardless of the dynamics. I do feel for women who want more than one child and are unable to have them.

  3. Hi
    Very difficult article at the Guardian's. There are so many emotions involved and very interesting too. I do sympathise with Maggie O'Farrel's heartache at this condition but I can't still understand why she feels that her family - her husband and her beautiful son - as somehow incomplete. I know it's not helped by her neighbour's indelicate remarks thrown at her - but even without said neighbour, she still feels this incompleteness. That's what I find really interesting here. Why does she feel so incomplete even with her beautiful baby boy?

    Very very sad.

    Take care

  4. Hi Ellen, I grew up number 6 out of seven and as a small child, I spent a lot of time writing stories about myself being an only child. I agree with Ann, a family is a family regardless of numbers.
    My eldest child was an only child for 5 years and I did tire of the comments about when I would produce a sibling for her. I think we should be grateful for any child we can have.

  5. Great post.
    What matters is that children are cherished, whether there is one or twelve.

  6. Hi Ellen: I am the mother of an only child, girl, who claims she wants only an only. She has tons of friends and is super confident and my house is a cookie jar.

    I never experienced secondary infertility. I had the first kind--painful and I didn't want to detract from my joy in having her so I stopped trying after my "one good egg" was brought into the world.

    Another friend of mine experienced secondary fertility and we talked about the grieving process involved. Now she's thrilled with her "one" and past that time, but any loss of a baby, even the hope of one, is difficult to bear. I know.

    I am glad you turned out so well and so happy. I hope my darling daughter continues to grow and mature the same way :-)

  7. I know some amazing only children. One is a dear lifelong friend who was indeed cherished by her mother and father. I guess it comes down to enjoying what we have.

  8. Agreed, everyone! Ultimately we all end up appreciating what we have.

  9. Ellen, well said! You're so right - we appreciate what we have, because we don't know any different. Hope you're having a good weekend!

  10. When I was a small child quite swamped by an unending swarm of brothers, adults would tell me cheerfully "Oh, you'd be lonely without them." I always retorted that I was lonely ANYWAY, and would prefer, on the whole, to be lonely by myself, in peace.

    I do appreciate them more now, in fairness.

  11. I am in total agreement with you - we give ourselves such needless heartache about the environment (incl family) we create for our kids or kid. I grew up with 3 brothers and although I loved them and we get along fine now - they were less than useless to me growing up. It was me and them. I longed for a sister. As a result I have been blessed to now be a mother to 3 daughters (no sons thanks God)... and I am sure that they will grow up wishing they had the protective and useful older brother!

    Yep - families come they way they come... and that's that!


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