Female

She’s been told she doesn’t have a ‘proper family’ and was even accused of ‘child abuse’. Now, a furious JO ELVIN demands… why should mums like me have to defend our decision to have only one child?

My kind and caring doctor carefully explained the options open to me. Although I’d had my daughter, Evie, pretty quickly when I was 35, having a second baby wasn’t proving to be as easy.

By then the grand old age of 39, I’d been trying unsuccessfully for nearly a year. The reason? It turned out my fertility had taken an almighty nosedive.

‘We can get you pregnant,’ the doctor reassured me. ‘But just not naturally.’

As he broached the subject of IVF treatment, an unexpected feeling crept over me. Relief. Because honestly, I’d already mentally checked out of the conversation. The second he’d told me my womb had put up its own ‘closing down’ sign, I’d made up my mind.

Jo Elvin had her daughter Evie at 35-years-old and says she felt with every fibre in her that having one healthy child was her life’s story

Yes, I had booked the appointment with the view to giving our daughter a sibling — something everyone around me seemed adamant I should do.

But in that moment, I felt with every fibre in me that having one healthy child was my life’s story — and I was happy with that.

Dress it up as ‘destiny’ or just call it ‘getting old’; either way, the decision had been taken out of my hands — and I was at peace with it.

What I didn’t foresee, however, was that so many other people would not be at peace with it. Not at all. Throughout Evie’s childhood — she’s now nearly 19 — I was regularly challenged with judgment-loaded questions and truly outrageous sweeping statements about my one and only.

There was the colleague who told me that one child ‘isn’t a proper family’; another who declared having one child was ‘a form of child abuse’.

There were also endless inquiries about whether we’d have more children or, more startlingly, ‘Why do you only have one?’ and, ‘Couldn’t you have any more?’

For all anyone knew, I could have been grappling with the pain of multiple miscarriages, or a serious illness. I wasn’t, but that still does not make these questions and judgments OK.

‘Why do you only have one child?’ — as though my daughter’s existence is not valid until we have another human in the house? The audacity.

Some of these comments did make me wobble from time to time. Was it wrong to have only one child?

I thought about my own childhood. I have two brothers and a sister and I love them, but we’re not exactly The Waltons. We do get on very well — my sister visited from Brisbane only last month — but we are wildly different and not particularly entwined in each other’s lives.

When my husband, Ross, and I met in our 20s, we both saw children — one or two, but I hadn’t fixated on a number — in our future.

But as both of us were focused on our journalism careers, we were in no rush. In fact, we dithered until our 30s, when we realised we should possibly get on with it.

When we first decided to try for our daughter, I remember Ross joking a lot about all the ‘practice’ we’d need to put into reproduction. But it took only four months to conceive Evie; instead, poor Ross was in for many months of me being nauseous, migrainey, bloated, gassy and in no mood to so much as hold hands.

We fought then more than at any other time in our marriage. Pregnancy was not the euphoric wonderland that had been described to me in those infuriatingly disingenuous baby magazines.

One night, when I was about six months pregnant and nailed to the couch, Ross went out with entertaining, non-pregnant people — and I ugly-cried while watching ET . . . like, racking sobs, as though ET was real and he was my dog or something.

But we got through it. I was excited to meet my daughter. So I sucked down the Gaviscon, ate the 24-hour nausea away with white bread and Marmite, and slept every spare second I could, because when I was asleep I wasn’t uncomfortable or annoying Ross.

It was, of course, all absolutely worth it. The second Evie was lifted out of me, via emergency C-section, the sick, heartburn feeling was gone.

But, like all new mothers, I was in for a few challenging weeks.

I needed medication for alarmingly high blood pressure caused by gestational hypertension. Add to that sleep deprivation and the ever-present anxiety that I was doing everything wrong.

Why is she crying? I’ve fed her, I’ve changed her, I’ve winded her, she’s slept, I’ve done it all again, and she still will not stop crying.

Does she hate me? I’m an idiot who doesn’t know what they’re doing. Why have they let me, of all people, bring this tiny person home to keep alive?’

And yet, amid it all, when Evie was mere weeks old, people started asking when I was planning to have another.

‘Let me get this one out of nappies first!’ I told my mother, trying to make my frustration sound like a joke.

From then on, all I heard from friends and relatives, even random strangers in shops, was that this baby was not a proper baby without the addition of another baby.

‘Oh, you’ve got to give her a brother or a sister.’

‘She’ll be spoilt if you don’t.’

‘She won’t know how to socialise.’

‘I was an only child, and I’ll never forgive my parents for it.’

‘She’ll be that kid who doesn’t know how to share and who no one will like.’

‘She’ll be lonely when you die.’

‘She’ll be weird.’

I could have heaved them all through a window.

By the time Evie was a year old, I’d started to dread being asked whether I had kids.

I’d take a deep breath, fix a grin and simply say — to invariably puzzled faces — that I had one child and no, I wasn’t going to have any more, and no, there wasn’t really a ‘reason’.

That said, by the time Evie was about 18 months old, and I felt slightly as though I was being allowed back up from my new life under the sea to take a few gulps of air, I did present the idea of another child to Ross.

He was not totally against it, but he was now a man who’d seen things — like rivers of diarrhoea at 3am and Pregnantzilla Wife. He was perfectly happy with his one beloved baby girl and wasn’t in a rush to add to the chaos.

Curiously, no one had ever sidled up to him to whisper about the terrible evil of having ‘just the one’ child. Absolutely no one. Of course, I had way more normal reasons for wanting to have a second child. I loved my baby girl so much that I was excited to see what else we might be able to magic up.

I did think it would be great for her to have a sibling to love and be loved by. With my 38th birthday looming into view, Ross gave one thumb up to the idea (note, not two).

I consulted the ovulation kit once more and we got busy. Cut to ten months of nothing happening and me sitting talking to my doctor about what it would take to get pregnant again. Now, everyone must make their own choices in these matters, and I would probably feel very differently if we’d been discussing me trying to have my first baby.

But I knew, in an instant, that IVF simply wasn’t a path I wanted to walk. I wasn’t up for the physical regime. I wasn’t up for the emotional lows I’d seen so many disappointed couples experience. And, frankly, I was not up for the expense.

Jo says Evie grew up with her two parents' devoted and undivided time and attention ¿ not to mention finances

Jo says Evie grew up with her two parents’ devoted and undivided time and attention — not to mention finances

You’ve probably already guessed that Ross took no persuading on giving up trying for Baby Number 2. He nodded, shrugged and said how much he loved our little family as it was. And I couldn’t have agreed more.

I didn’t feel heartbroken by this turn of events, which speaks volumes in itself.

I genuinely had an overwhelming certainty that the universe had made a decision, and I could now get on with parenting my one, precious child — a privilege, I know, that has eluded many people I care about. Unbearably, there are two families in my own life who have buried children.

So Evie grew up with her two parents’ devoted and undivided time and attention — not to mention finances.

As to the notion that her only-child status has left her a wilting wallflower or spoilt brat, she was always the kind of child who would race to the kids’ club on holidays; at seven years old, she told me she could ‘make friends in minutes’.

I did not have that confidence at the same age. It fills me with pride to see her hold her own in conversations with adults she’s just met, and I’m convinced it’s because she’s grown up around a lot of adult company.

To my relief, she was never one of those kids who begged for a brother or sister.

‘I like that it’s just us,’ she told my father when he asked whether she ever wished for a sibling. And yet the critique continued — for me, and mothers like me.

A fellow ‘one and done’ mother I know was once told it would have been better for her to have had no children. Which I’m sure would make the women who are child-free laugh, given the onslaught of judgments that never stop coming their way.

I also have friends who’ve been chastised for having three or four children. ‘Really selfish’ and ‘ecologically irresponsible’ to over-populate the world thus, apparently.

So if you want a little pat on the head from society, or simply to go about your business without inviting any unsolicited comments about your procreational status, you’d better make sure you have a respectable, neat two. Preferably one of each sex. OK? Good.

In terms of ‘sliding doors’ moments, of course, I do occasionally wonder what another mini-me or Ross would have been like. But it just wasn’t meant to be — and that is fine.

Now I’m 54, people have only to look at me to know I’m too old to pump out any more kids. So at last, I’m relieved to say, they’ve stopped asking.

As for Evie, she’s kind, she’s smart and the one-liners she serves me are often vicious, but so funny that I can’t but be proud. She is weird, the dissenters got that one right. And thank God, because all the best people are.

She is my favourite person in the whole world and I would run in front of a bus for her.

I love my one and only girl.

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