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Stopping at one child: 'Every parent feels there's more they could give' | Life and style

It’s strange to not give your own child the things you loved yourself growing up. A loud, suburban house stacked with kids, laughing, punching, squealing for food. Dirt mounds and swing sets and Mr Whippy vans twinkling in the distance.

Having an only child just kind of happened. When we had our daughter, we lived in Paris, where life was so cramped and nuts the thought of adding another human into the mix was inconceivable. It simply didn’t come up.

But now we have moved back to Australia, the place seems empty without more children. Australia is wider, we live in a house, there’s more space to fill. But I don’t want another child.

My husband and I were never fixed on the idea of having children at all, though we had a hunch we might like one. We said if it didn’t happen, we wouldn’t force it. We were happy to wander through life together, gently, like old people, doing crosswords. I know it’s easy to be zen about how cool you’d be if you didn’t have a child once you have one. I guess what I’m saying is we weren’t glued to the idea of being parents, and we were lucky enough that one just happened.

And she is lovely. She is all I wanted. She filled me up to overflowing and I never got back on my feet. She’s eight now and I’m still learning to accommodate this new love and responsibility in my life. She wants a dog. It’s more than I can take. She never says she wants a sister or brother, she’s spared us that pain. But guilt still keeps me awake at night.

“What if she’s lonely?” I pester my husband in the wee hours. “What about when we die?”

“We’re all alone,” he mumbles. “She will be surrounded with love.” I know only too well that when loved ones die, no matter how many siblings we have, we’re inextricably alone. But still. But still…

Only. It sounds like lonely. Like something’s missing. In French they say ‘unique’, in the sense of singular, unitary, individual. It feels more intentional, empowering even. But you can’t respond when someone asks, as they so often do, if she has any siblings, “No, she’s unique.” I wish there was a positive way to express it in English. Self-contained? Unrustled? Natalie Portman?

I wonder if I’ll only stop thinking about the possibility of another once my childbearing years are well and truly over. As long as there’s a tiny window of possibility, I’ll always in some way be actively denying her a brother or sister.

Jayne Tuttle, the author, with her daughter on her shoulders in Paris

Jayne Tuttle, the author, with her daughter in Paris. Photograph: Jayne Tuttle

But then, it seems too cruel to think of it that way, not only to her, but to myself. One day on the highway a few years back, my husband and I had this epiphany. Instead of “waiting to see what happened”, we’d actively choose to have just one child, be grateful, and revel in it; live happily within our capacity rather than doing something we felt we “should” do. Taking our destiny into our own hands like that was exhilarating, but for me didn’t last longer than the run time of Little Women. You want to give your kid everything.

I think ultimately what I’m choosing to do is to give her me. It feels selfish and mean, and the world is only too quick to tell you this with its eyes. What’s wrong with you? I chose my book. I chose myself. It wasn’t as clearcut as that, but I did know that, physically, having another baby would break me.

Pregnancy was an early nightmare – morning sickness all day long – and a late crisis – premature labour at 25 weeks. The last four months were spent in bed with my legs crossed. My memories are branded, deep. I may have the strength to overcome them – as so many women do – but I’m not sure what would be left of me.

So she doesn’t get a sibling. But she does get a mother who can do cartwheels, spend long hours in her room, read entire stories, just for her.

I bet every parent feels there’s something more they could be giving. A second sibling, a fifth, a dog, a trip to Bali. Perhaps this is the condition of being a parent, and that once the choice is out of my hands, there will be something else to feel guilty about. I don’t know. I desperately want to give her everything. I just hope that in choosing not to give her more than I can give, that I have given her my best.

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