There is nothing ‘Only’ about my child
“Family size is one of those topics that ought to be crossed off the list of things you discuss with strangers” – Anita Diamante
I wrote this post for British Infertility Counsellors Association Journal after the lovely Kate Brian reached out to me, after I’d put a post on this topic on my instagram
This is something I am dealing with on a regular basis and struggling with to be honest. Only this morning Phoenix asked me if I was going to have another baby in my tummy. I’m working on my responses. Today I explained how I had to work and so couldn’t have another baby.
What others say
How the narrative about people with one child needs to change. Phoenix is due to start reception in September and I am faced with making new parent friends and constantly buffering the conversation away from ‘Do you only have one child or have you just got the one’ to saying to people ‘Yes Phoenix is my one and only’. I’m yet to work out how to shed the ‘only’ as I loathe it.
We had a relatively straightforward experience of fertility treatment. We were eligible for NHS funding and had success the first time and Phoenix was born in March 2015. Since then however, we have been faced with the ‘what next’ scenario as we have had three embryos in the freezer.
Unlike a lot of the people I see sharing their stories on Instagram who seem to have success with treatment and instantly get themselves ready for the FET for number two, my husband and I hadn’t made a plan of what we were going to do next.
We were just so grateful to have our son and were caught up in the day to day of a newborn and managing our businesses as we were both self-employed, that before we knew it, several years had passed and we were being asked to pay to store our embryos.
During this time we decided to re-located from Hertfordshire to Manchester to be near my parents and also to hopefully get on the property ladder, something we hadn’t yet achieved due to a range of circumstances. My previous line of work as a radio presenter meant I had moved around the country a fair bit and as a result, I hadn’t bought a property. Also being a freelancer made it a trickier thing to do and the pair of us were caught up in renting.
A move up North made sense however it came with all sorts of pressure and uncertainty. Where was the best place to live, how would we make new friends as we were leaving my husbands family, our friends, including those essential NCT pals. Never the less, we embraced the challenged and moved up north and in with my parents for a few months to give ourselves some breathing space and then after a ridiculous situation of finding a rental property and it falling through on the day of our move, we found somewhere and got settled. For a time.
Pretty soon after we relocated, my husband decided he wanted to change career. So, once again, a change in circumstance. The thought of extending our family was totally put on the back burner.
I turned 40 and the idea of being a new mum again, whilst still building a business and managing most of the childcare whilst my husband re-trained to do something different via an apprenticeship had all sorts of implications both mentally and financially.
Again, the letter came from the clinic asking for the storage fee to be paid.
There’s little discussion about frozen embryos, I know there are stories of millions being left in the freezer in places like China. The language around ‘letting them perish’ gives me goosebumps so when it came to thinking about what we were going to do and I gave myself permission to really think about my choices, it opened up a whole host of emotions that I was totally unprepared for.
In May 2018, as the letter from the clinic dropped through our letter box, we finally spoke about what we were going to do. By now we had spent £900 on storing our frozen embryos.
We were happy with our move to Manchester but still not on the property ladder and as we both talked about what we really wanted to achieve buying a home together was our priority and for me to take myself out of work, by having a second child wasn’t really a viable option – we just couldn’t afford it.
Both my husband and I are siblings, both one of three. Both had always assumed we’d have two children but the harsh reality was that it was seeming unlikely. Also from my work within the fertility space, and now knowing of so many failed cycles and so much heartache, which is something I known nothing about when we had our treatment, feels me fear. I don’t want to put myself the anguish of having treatment and it failing, so what could we do.
I knew I needed to talk to someone and reached out to Chana – the Jewish infertility organisation. Being Jewish I felt quite strongly that if I was going to let go of my embryos I wanted to find out if there was some kind of prayer that could be said. Chana put me in touch with a lovely counsellor and we spoke several times about my options. She gave me guidance in the conversations to have with my clinic and once I spoke to them, it became clear there was the option to donate our embryos to science and also to gain access to some implications counselling.
I wasn’t prepared for the grief that I was then going to experience talking to a new counsellor about this decision. However, she was also amazing and has helped me to reframe the decision and to look at the positives of what I could achieve with my work and what we as a family could enjoy in our lives. All I will say is that on working through the emotions I reached a point of being able to sign the form to say we won’t be continuing to freeze our embryos and that we are donating them to science.
This evening we are having a joint session. Which I am nervous about.
I am still struggling to come to terms with this decision and constantly feel guilty about Phoenix not having a brother or a sister, but I refuse to call him an only child. I quoted the author Anita Diamante at the start of this blog, who among her books has written once ‘Pitching my Tent’ with a chapter called ‘One’ talking about her daughter. She says when asked if she only has one child, she sometimes replies ‘I stopped at perfection’
I have also learnt from friends who have commented on some of the posts I’ve shared on my social media about the french term ‘Un enfant unique’ which I much prefer.
The decision to have one child was not taken likely and think is often misunderstood by people on the outside, who cast judgement. I am happy to tell people that Phoenix is an IVF baby and I’m pleased that our understanding of this often means people don’t ask if I will be having another, but it’s when the conversation starts with ‘only’ or ‘just’ that I struggle.
So we really need to be more careful. Have you been dealing with something similar? I’d love to talk more email me firstname.lastname@example.org
Source: The Fertility Podcast