Every parent of an only child has a serious reason why that child won’t have siblings, whether that reason is biological, economical, or philosophical.
Here is the story I want to tell you: I found a new primary care physician and went to her for symptoms—heart palpitations, anxiety, diminished sex drive, fatigue—and I asked if I might be perimenopausal. Then I wept openly in front of her because I had hoped to have a second child. I told her I wanted to be a statistical anomaly, but I knew it wasn’t going to happen. I told her I did not want to pay thousands of dollars, could not pay thousands of dollars to some mercenary fertility doctor. She said, you’re not perimenopausal, you’re depressed. And I started a prescription for Welbutrin.
Which meant that I stopped drinking too much wine every night. Stopped crying in front of the computer all the time. Stopped wanting to sleep all day. Stopped snapping at my special-needs son. I became capable. I wrapped up my desire for a second child in plain paper to be set upon the cluttered shelf of regrets. I was finally getting ready to move on.
But then my period was late. I assumed it was the new medication. Yet each day it didn’t come, I wondered what kind of irony the universe had in store for me. A test revealed it: I was pregnant at 44 years old.
I told a small group of friends the news. Scaled way back on coffee, stopped drinking, began with prenatal vitamins, tapered off my antidepressant. I did everything right. After the first trimester ended without incident, I spread the good news for all to hear. I shouted it from the rooftops: I’m going to be a mom again! At 44! Can you believe it?
The pregnancy and birth proceeded without incident, even at my advanced maternal age. I had a daughter, named her Wiley Hope, and her older brother doted on her. At the park on weekends he pushed her on the baby swing while I sipped morning coffee and watched him blossom, the role of part-time caretaker offering him just the right amount of responsibility.
My son no longer needed to say to me, Mama, I want a baby. They’re so cute. He no longer needed to call his best friend his brother, though he still did. After all, his desire for siblings was not satisfied with just one.
But I can’t tell you that story.
I mean, the first half is true. All the way up to pregnant at 44 and sharing the news with a small group of friends. Instead, what I have to tell you is that on the way to one of L.A.’s outdoor malls to meet a friend, my son in tow, the cramps began. By the time we sat down for ice cream, the spotting started. By the time I laid down in my son’s bed and he said to me, I don’t want to sleep next to a crying mama, I was no longer pregnant. Thus an old wound became fresh hell again.
I had told myself the chance was slim that the pregnancy would stick because, after all, I miscarried at 42. I told myself that the chance of a viable fetus was slim. I said to myself, Don’t! Don’t get your hopes up. But each day the ovum stuck, my mind became wild with possibilities. I picked out a name. I played out stories in my head, like the one where my son pushes his baby sister on a swing.
The reason I’m telling you these two stories—the fantasy and the heartbreak—is because I want you—casual friend, work acquaintance, well-meaning lady at Target—to stop asking me when I’m going to have another child. I want you—casual work friend of my husband—to stop asking him when he’s going to give our son a sibling.
Because every parent of an only child has a serious reason why that child won’t have siblings, whether that reason is biological, economical, or philosophical. Do you, practical stranger, want to hear those truths? Do you want to hear about failed fertility treatments? About broken marriages? Death of a spouse? Lost jobs? God forbid, the death of siblings from disease or accidents?
For us, age won’t allow it. That’s our story. But don’t just stop asking us. Stop asking such personal questions of casual intimacies unless you want to hear the truth: Well we would have given our son a sibling, but by the time we were ready it was too late. Would you like details about my miscarriages?
Sonia Greenfield was born and raised in Peekskill, New York, and now calls Los Angeles home, where she lives with her husband, son, and slightly feral dog. Her poems have been published in a variety of journals including The Massachusetts Review, The Antioch Review, and Rattle, and her work can be found in the 2010 Best American Poetry. She also writes fiction and essays, and her prose can be found in Mamalode, PANK, the Monarch Review, and the Bellevue Literary Review. She teaches writing at USC.