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Photographed by Maria Del Rio

One and Done: 10 Women On Raising A Single Child

Written by Sara Langer

Photography by Megan Papay, Photographed by Maria Del Rio

The average size of the nuclear family is on the decline. Just forty years ago, the most common number of children in an American family was four, with only 11% of women having just one child. In the decades that followed, family size decreased to two children, on average, a figure that held steady until last year (2016), when the average number of kids per U.S. family dropped to an all-time low of 1.86 children. There are many reasons for this decline: cost of living, people having children later in life, more mothers working outside the home, and parents becoming more aware of the environmental impact of having children. For some parents, having fewer children is a calculated decision and for others it is a decision that was made for them, whether they liked it or not. Today we bring you the stories of 10 mothers, whose ages and experiences of having one child are as varied as the women themselves.

“I am an only child and I loved my experience growing up in a family of three. I never felt the need to have a sibling because my parents often allowed and encouraged me to invite and include friends on vacations, celebrations, and everyday family activities. I am really close to my parents and I always envisioned myself having just one child as well. My experience as an only child may not be the norm, but I think my parents were really intentional about providing me with opportunities and helping me form close relationships with friends and cousins and I hope to do the same for my daughter. My husband had a rough childhood as one of four children and didn’t want a large family of his own. When we started talking about the family we saw for ourselves in the future, we both felt like one would be wonderful. Five years after having our daughter, we still feel like our unit is complete and it was the right decision for us.”
-Taryn, mother to Lily, 5

“I always knew I only wanted one child, which was not the norm in the 70’s. As a feminist, I wanted to experience all parts of being a woman, but I didn’t want to succumb to the life of a housewife with 2.5 children, a golden retriever, and a white picket fence in suburbia. I didn’t want to give up my career or city life. Today, this may be normal for a woman of child-bearing age, but it wasn’t always that way when I was younger. There was definitely a negative stigma with only-children like it was a disease and the child was sure to turn out spoiled rotten and selfish. I think if anything, being an only child was an asset to my daughter. She was given all of our resources as parents and has always been very independent. Now she has three children of her own, which she assures me is not in a revolt of her own childhood.”
-Diane, mother to Emily, 40

“As a same-sex couple, we were faced with the obvious challenge of conceiving a child naturally. When we started talking about having a child, we thought adoption would be the best path for us. Ideally, we were hoping to adopt two children from the same family or country. As we started down the road of international adoption, we were hit with obstacle after obstacle and a lot of heartbreak. At the same time, my partner started to feel the desire to experience pregnancy more and more. After comparing the costs, we decided to try a few of rounds of IUI. We were so lucky and on the first try, we conceived. We decided to quit while we were ahead and instead of investing any more money in growing our family, we were going to invest in our daughter’s future and our retirement. We’ve talked about fostering children when our daughter is older and we’re thinking about getting a dog for her 10th birthday.”
-Kelly, mother to Cooper, 7

“It was simple for me and my partner. We wanted to experience being parents, but we definitely questioned whether it was the right decision to bring children into this crazy world. Ultimately, I really wanted to be a mother, but I’m socially-minded and I knew that experiencing motherhood with only one child was the most environmentally (and financially) responsible decision. I know I learned a lot from my relationship with my siblings, but those lessons can be learned through relationships with friends, peers, and other family members. I think making the conscious decision to only have one child has helped me stay more present as a mother.”
-Megan, mother to Felix, 18 months

“Having an only child was not an intentional decision in the beginning. I was twenty-two when Sean was born and the pregnancy was not planned. The early years of motherhood were a total blur. They were some of the hardest years of my life, but they were also immensely rewarding. As a single mother, I was everything to him and he was everything to me, and I had to work my butt off to provide the best life for him that I could. It has always been just the two of us and I really couldn’t imagine it any other way. I did my job, and at 18 he left for college. At first, I felt alone, but soon after I felt this huge sense of accomplishment and freedom.”
-Monica, mother to Sean, 19

“People may call me selfish, but that’s the surface level reason I’ve decided to have one child and I am totally okay with that. I like my alone time, girls’ weekends, international travel, and driving a compact car. I can rattle off all of the reasons why I think having only one child is the way to go, but ultimately it is about happiness and what effect that has on the world around us. I know I will be the happiest mother to just one child and that will have the most positive impact on those around me.”
-Jody, mother to Elijah, 4

“I had an emergency hysterectomy right after I gave birth to my first child. Initially, I was devastated. My husband and I are both from families with three children and we thought we would have two or three of our own. In addition to the hysterectomy, I suffered from postpartum depression. I was grieving the loss of a life that never existed and it was taking me away from my baby in the present moment. I was exhausted, but I couldn’t sleep and found myself falling into the deep, dark holes of the internet. In the same night, I watched a clip about a mother losing her three-year old to cancer and another video on the power of meditation. The next day I committed to 5 minutes of daily meditation and slowly my perspective began to shift. I am so grateful for my healthy boy and wonderful life. And I probably wouldn’t have time to meditate if I had a second baby!”
-Sheila, mother to Henry, 2

“I was 37 when Leah was born. We were open to having more children, but it just didn’t happen for us. Leah went through a period late in childhood where she wanted a sibling so badly that it affected our relationship and she really resented being an only child. Like all the difficult seasons of life, they are just that, seasons, and they pass. At the time, I felt like a failure for not providing her with what she wanted. Now, however, I see this compassionate, hard-working, smart, and beautiful 25-year-old young woman that I raised and I feel proud of myself. I know, even if we had more children, there would have been times that I felt like I wasn’t able to provide them with exactly what they wanted and needed, which is an important lesson for both of us to learn. We don’t always get exactly what we want in life, but we can still appreciate and cherish what we’ve been given.”
-Lisa, mother to Leah, 25

“When my son was two years old we started to get a lot of questions about having another child. We weren’t set on the number of children we wanted and we were feeling really happy as our family of three. So, we made a list of pros and cons of having one child vs. having two. We realized, for our life, one child was best for us. I would be lying if I said it was as simple as making a list and I’ve always felt great about the decision. I wavered a lot in the beginning, and even today, I still get a bit of baby fever whenever I hold a newborn.”
-Bonnie, mother to Andrew, 12

“I had four miscarriages before I had a successful pregnancy. During my pregnancy, my anxiety was through the roof, thinking I could lose this baby at any time. Once I had a healthy baby in my arms I knew she was all I needed. All of the suffering from losing the other babies had brought me to her and my heart felt full. I could not stand the thought of the possibility of losing another baby or the anxiety that came with pregnancy and birth again. My daughter is my rainbow and even though she is my only baby on Earth, I see the four babies that came before her and I know they are a part of me, too. I wanted to be a mom so badly, it didn’t matter how many babies I had.”
-Angela, mother to Sydney, 7 months

Want to keep reading about this topic? Check out the moving essay, In Praise Of The Only Child, and Going From One To Two Kids—What You Should Know.

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