My one and only

Mine-was-the-only-one

I cannot buy it—’tis not sold
There is no other in the World
Mine was the only one
– Emily Dickinson

One of the first things people ask when they hear your child died of cancer is “Do you have any other children?” Even some other parents whose children have died ask this. Only a few have lost their only child and many of those have gone on to have other babies. Really? I wonder to myself, would having another child make it better?

When Zoe was born I was 37. I thought I might have a shot at another baby before we were done, but it didn’t work out. I was working full time as well as being the primary caregiver and Zoe’s dad was laid off a few times. By then things were not good between us and I didn’t want to bring another child into our marriage, but I hadn’t fully come to terms with Zoe being an only child by the time of her diagnosis.

Once Zoe was diagnosed and her dad had left, I was relieved I didn’t have any other children and could devote all of my attention to her. I felt it was meant to be this way. I know from other parents of chemo kids how difficult it can be to balance the demands of treatment regimes and hospital admissions with the needs of other children. And the bond we developed over this time was something special and powerful that people would often comment on.

That didn’t stop Zoe from asking for a baby brother or sister though. She wasn’t buying my slight obfuscation that you needed a mum and a dad who lived together to achieve this either. Eventually she moved on to asking for a puppy instead. That wish I was prepared to grant when she was a little older.

After Zoe’s death a friend commented that she couldn’t imagine how I was getting through it with no other children. “That’s because you do have other children,” I replied. I couldn’t imagine trying to meet the needs and deal with the grief of siblings when I was barely coping with my own.

A few months after Zoe died, the man I’d been seeing for a couple of years suggested we could try for a baby. I considered it. I was 44. It wasn’t completely outside the realm of possibility and I didn’t really feel like I was done with mothering, I felt like I still had something left to give to a child.

But then; reality check. The chances of getting pregnant with your own eggs at my age were virtually nil, even with medical assistance. And if it did happen, the chances of having a child with Down Syndrome were extremely high. The chances of getting pregnant with donor eggs were a bit higher, but was that really something I could ask of someone? I looked into adoption. Very few children are put up for adoption in New Zealand and we were too old to be considered for overseas adoption (an industry that seems fraught with ethical dilemmas anyway).

We looked into fostering, going to an information evening with CYFs (Department of Child, Youth and Family). That was eye opening and heartbreaking. CYFs receives many, many more referrals than children they have homes for. And despite only about 16% of fostered children being able to return permanently to their parents, the system is set up around this ideological outcome. Most children are moved around temporary foster parents as a matter of course, many of them with significant behavioural, developmental and medical issues that I’m certain aren’t assisted by the unsettled situation.

After all this my boyfriend’s suggestion was that we “just try.” But in my gut I felt that actually I was too old, and my heart was just too broken to deal with disappointment, or in the event of a near miracle, a newborn, especially one with special needs. I was glad I had looked into it, because I had got to a place where I was at peace again with Zoe being my one and only. Shortly after that, I was single again and certainly happy not to be facing single motherhood again.

Occasionally I get a little twinge in what’s left of my ovaries when I hear of others’ babies, particularly after loss. Most recently Anna Whiston Donaldson, blogger at An Inch of Grayfell pregnant at 46, four years after her son Jack died, after not using contraception for four years, but not really trying either. She had assumed she was peri-menopausal, but instead found she was pregnant. My first reaction was a moment of jealousy (“she’s only a year younger than me and already has one other child”, I thought) but on reflection, even though I’m delighted for Anna (and all my friends expecting new babies, rainbow or not), I’m perfectly ok with the fact that I won’t be dealing with toddler tantrums at 50 and a teenager in my 60s.

It doesn’t make the question any easier to deal with. Recently I was invited to an event where I didn’t know many people and they were mostly mothers whose lives and chat revolved around young teenagers. I had perhaps subconsciously avoided situations like this previously and I left feeling a little raw. I had found myself answering the question over and over (because I’ve learned it’s better not to try to gloss over my situation while making small talk), “Do you have any other children?”

I can see in their eyes that they want the answer to be yes, because otherwise I would just be too sad. But I’m not. I’m sad my one and only died, but I am not sad that Zoe was my one and only, that my mother heart belongs only to her.

15 thoughts on “My one and only

  1. Mmm. Crass. “Do you have any other children?” It might be making small-talk. I don’t know what to say, so something pops out of my mouth.

    Whatever our relationship might be- we have never met before and just meet at a social occasion, or we meet and like each other and are building a friendship- I would want to take a lead from you, to offer support without demanding the chance to give it- for, well, I like feeling I am “Doing Good”, and it is tempting to push into such a conversation, where you share your woes and I give Comfort. Communicating the offer without the demand is delicate.

    And- us queers, we Come Out, to ourselves, our families, the world- and then each time we meet someone new there might be the question, do I come out here or not? Do I use the pronoun “she” about my partner, or not mention her? Coming out is a long, difficult process. I hope you are mostly supported, when you come out; and I hope you can let off steam when someone is peculiarly gauche.

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    • Ah yes, the offer without the demand, that is delicate, and sometimes we screw it up because we are human! Even when approaches seem crass I try to look for people’s intentions, not their words.
      I have always found skirting round the edges and not saying anything can become awkward, but I don’t want it to suddenly become the centre of a conversation I was contributing to. I imagine you would sometimes feel the same in some instances? “Lets just clear this up and move on.”

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  2. This post has left me feeling stunned. I want to respond to it coherently, but I’m not sure I can. It is sad of course, and yet beautiful, your love for Zoe is there in every word.

    I love the way you show your perspective, but also that of other parents, such as your friend who couldn’t imagine getting through without other children, whereas for you the time with Zoe was more precious because you didn’t have another child to tend to or go support through grief afterwards.

    I’ve never had to go through the terrible experience you did, and pray I never do, but my second daughter was born very prematurely and was seriously ill few times, so I spent a lot of time in hospitals when our older daughter was a young toddler. I agree with you that having another child does make it harder to focus on the one who is sick (though looking back now, it is our older daughter who ultimately was more affected by it.) Yet, having another child to tend to also somehow kept me grounded I think, which I hadn’t really thought about before.

    I feel so sorry you went through the death of your child. It must be a hellish experience, whether you have other children or just one.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Yvonne, it’s always nice to hear that my writing has caused a reaction and for someone to reflect on their own experiences. I’ve had other parents tell me that their well child has been affected by the time they have had to spend with their unwell child but at the time you do have very limited choices and just have to do the best you can. I’m glad your preemie is healthy now 🙂

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  3. Hi Kiri, this really expressed a lot and I am touched by the situation. The most painful thing in this world is losing someone knowing you’ll never have a chance of holding or seeing him/her again. I know, I’m also going through that journey. Just stay in your faith and befriend with time. Though time heals, it will never change the fact that your heart belong to her, only to her. You have the most beautiful heart in the world, the heart of a Mother. 🙂

    See you around! 🙂

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    • I’m so sorry to hear that you are also going through losing someone close. It is a shared human experience that can connect us to others and for that we can be grateful. I’m enjoying your beautiful photographs, I read a lot and always like to come across someone who can express themselves so beautifully visually.

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  4. Oh, my heart went out to you with this sentence, “I can see in their eyes that they want the answer to be yes, because otherwise I would just be too sad.” That, my friend, is an amazing insight and perspective, and a beautifully crafted sentence. Zoe is so real and so vibrant through your stories, and I’m so glad you got to be a mom, and just her mom for Zoe’s whole life. As a momma of an only myself I can only start to imagine the bond and the love that you two had through her treatments and until the end. We all make our own path through life and from my perspective yours is filled with love and bravery. Thank you again for sharing your stories.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you so much. I’m going to suggest something here for your post today that you might want to like about yourself… that you don’t hesitate to reach out and offer your heartfelt thoughts to people you know only through blogging. Just a suggestion!

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