Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Are you having another one?

Apparently this is the default question to ask anyone with a child once said child is past the age of about 18 months. So I've now had 21 months of being asked the same question. I'm beginning to wonder if there's an upper age limit, either for me or LittleBear, when that question will stop. When he's 5? 10? 20? When I'm 50? 60? Or perhaps I need to get a sign printed to hang round my neck saying "I'm only having one child, so don't ask".

Why does it bother me? Other than the repetitive nature of the question, it does touch a nerve. It touches such a nerve that it was one of many things that I tried to sort through during my sessions of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. I felt judged for only having one child, as though people would think I was selfish, or unloving, or (here we go again) a failure for only having one child.

Surely if I loved him I'd provide him with a sibling to play with?

Surely, if I loved him, I'd want to do it all again?

Surely if I was a good enough parent, then I'd be a parent to more than one child?

The absurdity of these thoughts is that they weren't things that I thought about parents of single children. Nor were they things that anyone had ever said to me. They were things that I thought about myself and assumed others thought of me. My "homework" from CBT was to ask people what exactly they did assume about someone with only one child. The answers were probably no surprise to most normal people:

"Huh? I don't think I assume anything"

"I think if you've only got one child you're probably a better mother as you can devote more time to just one"

"Why would I think anything about someone with one child rather than two?"

"I'm a bit jealous of you only having one"

So it looks as though nobody is secretly judging my family, or at least not about how many children there are in it. We'll draw a veil over everything else. I really don't want to know what anyone thinks about the things LittleBear says really loudly on the bus about other passengers...

I still haven't really got to the bottom of why being asked bothers me have I?

Before we started out on the deranged plan of having children, BigBear always said he only wanted one. Obviously, as I always know better, and I wanted two children, I was completely convinced that I'd be able to change his mind. Quite sensibly really (BigBear tends to be the sensible one, though I'm the one who's always right) BigBear pointed out that the path to two children generally starts with one, so perhaps we should just start with one, and we'd see how things went.

Everything about giving birth to LittleBear went smoothly, and then... well... despite the fact that he was a perfectly normal little baby who did all the things that little babies do, I didn't exactly cope very well. He was tongue tied, which made feeding difficult, and he wouldn't take a bottle (expressed or formula) and I was stubborn and persisted with breastfeeding. So I had 8 or 9 weeks of agonising feeding, until his tongue tie was snipped and he got the hang of feeding. And obviously, being a little baby he woke at all hours of the day and night to feed. And I'm generally rather an anxious person, and I don't function well on a lack of sleep, and one thing led to another and there I was with post-natal depression.

And it was a deep, dark pit with no perceptible way out. I couldn't imagine or believe that life was ever going to get easier or better or happier. No rational talk, or theoretical understanding got through to that primitive part of my brain that just couldn't see a way out. Fortunately, BigBear was wonderful, and we had a wonderful doctor, and health visitor, and family support worker, and parents and friends, and passers by in the street. Basically if anyone so much as looked at me kindly I sobbed on their shoulder. And between them all I got the help that I needed and ended up on anti-depressants and managed to crawl back out of my deep dark pit.

But EVEN once out of the deep dark pit, I didn't exactly enjoy the first year with LittleBear. It was exhausting, anxiety-inducing, emotional, and in many patches actually quite boring. Babies really aren't that interesting you know. Not until they start talking. Then they turn into actual little people who are so much more interesting than pink, squirming, crying things.

And even today, if I have a disturbed night, for whatever reason, I become PhysicsBear With a Sore Paw. I'm just not nice. I'm not nice to BigBear, I'm not nice to LittleBear, I'm not nice to anyone. I'm cross, I'm impatient, I'm horrid. Me and sleep-deprivation are not a good combination.

So now, when people ask me if I'm having another, the answer is a flat-out "No!" I couldn't do it to myself. I cannot face even the possibility of ending up in the pit of post natal depression again. I couldn't do it to BigBear. He deserves to have a wife who functions, who is human, and loving and present. I couldn't do it to LittleBear. He deserves a Mummy who is patient and loving and interested in playing his wonderful, bizarre, imaginative games. And even if I weren't catastrophically tired, even if I had one of those mythical babies who sleeps through the night, I wouldn't be the Mummy that I can be now. I wouldn't be able to devote endless hours to snuggling up with my boy and reading as many stories as he wants. I wouldn't be able to charge around the house playing dinosaur-chase whenever he wants. We wouldn't be able to sprawl on the floor with teeny tiny pieces of Lego spread around us. I really genuinely love the time I get to play with LittleBear when there are no other demands upon my time. I don't want to give that up, and I don't want to take it away from him.

That still doesn't entirely explain why being asked bothers me does it? OK, I admit it, I really hate being wrong. And I have to confess that this time BigBear was right and I was wrong. One child is the perfect number for us. But there's still a little bit of my heart that's mourning the two-child family I always thought I'd have. And there's a little bit of my head that tells me it's all because I'm not good enough. That I failed. That "everyone else can cope, so why can't you?" I guess I haven't quite finished the work that the CBT started have I?

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