What’s most important to me…hmmm…that’s a no-brainer: being my baby’s mom. Not just A mom, but MY SON’S mom. So, here goes:
“What do you do all day? Why haven’t you gone back to work? Why’d you waste your law school education? You need your own identity.” – all things I’ve heard and continue to hear on a regular basis. But I also hear “when are you having another kid? Your son needs a sibling. If you’re staying home, just breed a whole bunch of little Vlahoses! One isn’t enough. Hurry up…you’re not getting any younger!”
Again, I can’t fault you for not knowing why we only have one child. I’m not naïve to the social norms: I’m in my mid-thirties (proud of it!), married, with one young child and expected to have more before I hit 40 (by the way, for purposes of health care insurance in the United States, women 35 and over are considered “high risk” and are treated in Maternal Fetal Medicine). But here’s the truth: I won’t have more kids. Not CAN’T, but WON’T.
Physiologically, I can have more kids. My reproductive organs are all intact and healthy. My menstrual cycle is healthy (now). I delivered my son very easily. I CAN have more kids from a biological point of view (and my husband is A-OK in that department too, just FYI). But here’s the kicker: I take a lot of VERY toxic medications. A lot of them. Every day. Forever. Some of them have extreme side effects (more on my GI complications at a later date – that’s fodder for a very lengthy blog). I cannot take a 9 month hiatus from taking those meds. The potential risk for my body to reject my new lungs within that 9 months is HIGH. And more importantly, the risk to a fetus if I continue to take those drugs is also HIGH, even though it’s not absolute. I’ve done my research, I’ve consulted with fertility doctors, my own pulmonologists, etc. and I’ve concluded that I won’t risk birth defects and potential complications to a baby just because others think I should have another kid. That would be selfish.
The other options: surrogacy and adoption. In my opinion, adoption is one of the most noble things you could ever commit to. You are effectively saving a child’s life. Again, I’ve done my own research (being an attorney does come in handy, even though I’m “wasting my education”) and consulted an adoption attorney too. Besides the exorbitant cost, here’s the kicker to that option: adoption applicants are vetted, A LOT (I think ALL people should be approved before they’re allowed to procreate, but I digress…). The odds of me being approved since I could drop dead at any moment are questionable. Would I be able to travel to 3rd world countries (if that is what we choose) as many times as necessary and endure the stress of the entire process while still raising my son? My husband would have to prove that he is capable and willing to be a single father to an infant and a young boy. Our entire life would be consumed with having to ‘pass the adoption’ requirements for a long time and the possibility of us being disappointed at the end is real. So, again…we decided not to undertake that road.
Surrogacy, well, for us, it’s a matter of trust (again, this is a VERY costly option as well). Both my husband and I have healthy ‘ingredients’ and it’s proven we make great kids. My best friend has time and time again offered to be our surrogate and I would have absolutely taken her up on her offer, but she’s in Toronto, so that brings the whole Canadian/US health care & immigration policies into play complicating the matter way too much (I just can’t turn the “lawyer” off!). [Side note: she is the penultimate example of what a friend should aspire to be. You could only dream of being so lucky to have a friend like her, but again, material for a future blog…]
So, here we are. An upper-middle class, almost 37 and 40 year old couple with a 5 year old son that should, by all identifiable social expectations, have more. But we only have one child. ONE. And damn proud of it. Now. It’s been a long road of guilt for me though – very long. Kids for me have never been a stressor. I was raised in a family where it did ‘take a village’ to raise all of my nieces and nephews and I’ve helped raise them all since I was 10 years old, extremely involved with some, each and every day (shout out to my siblings here, you know it’s true!). I would have had 4 or 5 kids and loved every minute of it. I repeat: kids are NOT a stressor or burden for me (and yes, I do know that for a fact, so don’t come back with “babysitting isn’t the same as having them so you don’t really know how you’d react” because I do. Don’t deflect your parental anxieties onto me, thanks). People that know me would confirm that fact. Now, my baby is at an age where he knows what’s going on and he asks me all the time about another baby brother or sister. His friends and cousins all have one, or two, or three. He wants one. And it gets me emotional each and every time he brings it up (which he does…often). My husband and I do a great job, in my opinion, of devoting a ton of our time to him. All of our free time is reading to/with him, playing sports, learning, wrestling, experiencing new places, theaters, museums, etc. I’d say, on average, after dinner on weekdays we enjoy ‘family board games’ 3-4 nights a week. We don’t just pawn off his time to others or ask him to entertain himself very often because we genuinely love hanging out with him. We are extremely committed to his happiness. And I know for me, I try to overcompensate for not giving him a sibling.
Yes, I’ve cried over it – A LOT. A LOT. My husband is the kind of guy who tries to always look at the ‘silver lining’ (even though that bothers the hell out of me sometimes and I want to smack him back into reality). But in this case, I agree with him: look at what we’ve created! Some don’t even have the blessing of having one child, let alone a perfect child! The proof is in the pudding, as they say! Our kid is perfect…for us. He’s intelligent and wise WAY beyond his years, funny, super clever, caring, loving, sympathetic, personable, well-mannered, respectful, active, inquisitive (aka doesn’t stop talking/asking ever…really, ever), courageous and so damn cute, among everything else he is. Yeah, I said it and yeah, I’m proud of it (I’m so great at setting up future blog topics, aren’t I?! Look out for an upcoming blog entitled ‘I’m a perfect parent’ …).
But it’s taken me awhile to come to terms with our situation. And I can’t even promise that I’ll ever come to terms with it completely. I can’t see a time where I don’t harbor the guilt of not giving my son a sibling at least a little bit. But I can’t let that taint how present I am for my son now and I have to keep reminding myself of it all the time. Every single night, before our prayers and before we talk about our day, I tell him “you’re my angel, my blessing, my breath. I love you and I’m so, so, so proud of you.” That’s the truth. I don’t need another child. Another kid would just pale in comparison to what my baby has been and continues to be for me. He’s my side kick, my best bud, my everything all the time, including through the toughest times in my life. The best compliment I’ve ever received is when a friend said (unaware of my situation at that) “you and your son have such an amazing relationship. I can’t explain it but it’s different than any other parent/kid relationship I’ve seen. You’re such buddies, with respect, openness and fun. I can definitely tell that you guys love hanging out with each other.” That made me cry. Because I do. I do LOVE hanging out with him. He has never been a burden to me. Before he started school (and even now when he’s not in school) he’s come with me to run every errand, every appointment, every test or procedure, every… everything. Everywhere. I don’t have the ‘village’ help in raising him and nor would I want it if it was available to me every day anyhow. He’s quite literally, been my mini-me (yeah, much to the protest of my husband, he DOES look like me! Honey…you’re welcome!)!
But I can’t help but think: what will my baby think of this endeavor? When he grows up will he resent me for putting our family business out there like this or will he be proud that his mother has shown her strength? Will he feel judged by his peers and even the adults in his school/social circles as “the son of that sick woman who blogs about it”? I wrestled with that the most when thinking about publishing this blog. I also considered the ramifications for my husband (professionally and socially) but he’s a grown man. He can handle the whispers, criticisms, praise…whatever. Αnd plus, he understands what this means for me, for us. We’ve discussed it ad nauseum. My baby doesn’t know our family’s situation to be odd or outside the norm. But when people bring it to his attention I don’t want him to feel judged for it. Sure, we’re different than most families. But I want that to be a source of strength for him. I always tell him to be a leader and not a follower. Who cares what people think of you? That’s all cute in theory though. It’s so much easier said than done for adults let alone kids.
So while I sit here crying as I type, I have to take a moment every once in awhile to be grateful for the perfect little boy that is my son. We’ve intentionally written ‘the story of one kid’ into our lives and when I get wrapped up into what everyone else thinks I should be doing with my life, I have to sit back, close my eyes, remind myself that the triangle is the strongest shape found in nature (a “Boss Baby” reference from the movie we just saw!) smile at the funny things my baby says and just… breathe.