Just the One

When I was pregnant with my first and only child someone I didn’t know very well tried to give me a double stroller.

“no thank you” I laughed, “I only have the one.”

Confused she sputtered “but you’ll need this? Eventually? it’s a really great stroller.”

“No I’ll only have one but thank you!”

She was confused into silence, the look on her face conveying that it had never once occurred to her that you could choose to have just one child.

I was relaying this story to another mom friend who was slightly ahead of me in the game and was already pregnant with her second.

“Isn’t that funny? Why would she think I need a double stroller? Why does everyone assume you’re going to have more than one baby?”

And she countered with “Well you really should you know. I mean what if something happens to one of them?”

This conversation happened 15 years ago, and I still think about it all the time. Particularly these days. What an absolutely fascinating take. What did it matter how many children one had? It didn’t matter if you had 1, 2, 4, or 6. If something happened to one of them it would be utterly and completely devastating.

As I write this my one and only child is very bravely and pragmatically fighting a very scary diagnosis. They are 14. They are kind, thoughtful and talented. And they are sick. Sick with a thing that can kill, sick with a thing that may come back over and over again no matter how hard we fight.

I am afraid every day. Afraid I won’t get to see this amazing human fall in love, afraid I won’t get to see them get married and have my grand cats (they do not want kids, for which I am very grateful as this disease has most likely made them infertile, at least that is a loss we don’t have to mourn)

But every day when I start to panic, or rage, or sob about this liminal space of moving forward anyway – without knowing if it will matter, while fulling understanding that one day it will be over, and that over might be pure joy or it might be the worst thing that has ever happened.  Everyday, regardless of how positive I feel about the treatment, regardless of their numbers or their energy or how many times they roll their eyes and declare “I’m FINE mom.” Everyday, I am grateful I don’t have another child. 

This imaginary other, the but-what-if-something-happens-to-one-of-them back up plan, I’m sure they would be funny and kind and talented and wonderful in many different ways, I’m sure they would give great hugs and make us laugh and expand our hearts three sizes. But there is no remedy, no medication, no self-care practice, no professional, no other person alive or dead who can do anything to make this better.

And right now this poor imagined other would just be as traumatized as we are along with us, and maybe even worse because I couldn’t give them my full attention, I can’t even give myself my full attention because my first and only child has everything I have to give. I must pour every ounce of love and goodness and light I have into them, praying to every god I’ve ever heard of, repeating the mantra their doctor gave me the first day I met him, go away and never come back. Go away and never come back. Never come back. Never come back. Never come back. 

Would my imaginary 2nd repeat this mantra with me? Would they light candles and set the puja like me? Would they scoff at my hybrid witchcraft religion like their atheist dad?

While I chant and cast bones, Mr. Pragmatic reads research in medical journals.  He shares things he learns, and they do not make me feel better.  Never tell me the odds, I say.  Don’t quote star wars at me, he says. Then – I’m grateful we didn’t have another child. 


We hold hands and stare into the middle distance. What strange gratitude. 

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