I was three months old when my father felt a lump in his groin. His doctors
told him he had stage 4 cancer and would not have long to live. They were
wrong; he fought the cancer off into remission. But just before my fourth
birthday, he had a relapse. This time, the doctors were right. He died a
few weeks later.
I learned early on that there are no guarantees in life. I am relatively
healthy and have already lived past my father's age, but I don't assume
that I will live long enough to see my grandchildren. Statistically, most
people these days reach their 70's, and most everyone else in my family
lives to an overripe age. Yet, I am terrified that I will share my father's
fate and leave my young family behind.
My father's untimely death made me an only child. Through a bizarre series
of events, the sperm bank lost his pre-chemo "deposit", and my mother never
got the second child they had planned for. Growing up, I felt a profound
emptiness, like a twist of fate had left a vacancy instead of a brother or
sister. I had a large extended family and good friends, but it wasn't
enough to fill the void. I yearned for someone who could understand what it
was like to be a child of my mother; no one experienced her that way except
me. I would have also loved for someone to share my childhood talking,
fighting, playing, and living under the same roof together. In the absence
of sibling solidarity, intimacy, and yes, even rivalry -- I felt alone and
adrift in a world that would never understand me.
After I had my son, the painful memory of being an only child began gnawing
away at me. I felt a duty to protect him from the loneliness, the singular
pressure to fulfill our vicarious hopes and dreams, and the future
responsibility of being the sole caregiver to aging parents. I also wanted
him to have a natural ally to share life's burden's and joys with, and I
wanted him to learn some basic life skills that I still struggle with
today, like how to share. Before long, my desire to give my son a sibling
became all-consuming; everything else was secondary to getting pregnant.
With my age, I had a short window to provide him with a sibling, and I
wasn't about to waste it.
My husband didn't quite understand my compulsion, nor did he fully support
the extraordinary steps I took to get pregnant: going to a fertility
clinic, obsessing over my ovulation cycle, taking pregnancy tests multiple
times per day, and talking to other women on fertility message boards well
into the night. From my perspective, having more than one child was a moral
imperative because not doing so would cause our son suffering, and I would
stop at nothing to do what I felt, in the depth of my soul, was right. And
from his point of view, having more than one child when you can't afford to
pay for fertility treatments out of pocket or have a solid financial plan
to save for their college fund was irrational and irresponsible.
Strangely enough, a puppy helped him see things my way. I had given up hope
for another child when we decided to get another dog as a sort of
consolation prize. We already had adopted a rescue dog named Moses a year
before but I wanted him to have a buddy. Molly came home with us one day
and I swear I saw Moses flash a goofy half-chihuahua grin. The dogs chased
each other around, cuddled together, and loved each other immediately. In
that moment, my husband finally understood why I so desperately wanted a
sibling for our son.
Trying to get pregnant was an entirely different experience with my
husband's support. At the very least, conception no longer seemed like a
chore. In a last ditch effort before in vitro fertilization, I called in my
final refill for a fertility drug prescription. With a history of lost
pregnancies, I was cautiously optimistic when the first pregnancy test
showed a faint line that only my trained eye could see. About 31 weeks
later I delivered twin girls.
The girls are 16 months old now. Their first year was so difficult, I feel
like I barely survived. And yet, I don't regret my decision, not for a
second. How could I, when I see my children bonding every day? Those
"moments" I dreamed of happen frequently and each one makes my heart soar
higher than I ever thought possible: the first time the girls leaned over
to kiss their big brother, the first time they each shared toys and food
with the others, and the first time they really played and laughed
together. But I don't have to wait for those "firsts" to see their love
grow. Every day, our son wakes and rushes to see his sisters, smush their
cheeks, and cover them with kisses. I am often overwhelmed by the swell of
emotions and relief that my son and his sisters will never have to
experience the drama of the only child.
(photo: Jose AS Reyes/ Shutterstock)