Only children, and our families’ choices

After so many years of making small talk with strangers, I can subconsciously rattle off those introductory and intrusive getting-to-know-you questions, mostly about how to pronounce my name and “where I’m really from.” But eventually, the stranger will ask if I have siblings and I’ll respond: “No, I’m actually an only child.”’

Ninety-two percent of the time, this person that I will barely met will ask, ‘Why didn’t your parents want more kids? Did you ever miss having a sibling?’ Five minutes into this conversation, I find myself explaining my family’s right to reproductive justice to a stranger.

Sometimes, I’ll joke back, “Well, it was never really my call.” Other times, I’ll tell the truth: “Well, my mom and I almost died when I was born.” People often seem taken aback when I directly answer their question, but hey, I get a little touchy when folks ask intrusive questions about my mom’s reproductive choices as an “ice breaker.” Only children like me are flippantly characterized as being bossy, needy, selfish, and spoiled. But as I have gotten older, I see my only-childness not as a shortcoming, as the title itself suggests, but as proof that, when given the chance, women make the best decisions for themselves and their families.

Aside from asking for a twin as a 7th year birthday present, I’ve never questioned my mom why she decided to only have one kid. To me, it seems obvious. She knew what she wanted for our family, and she was able to enact those decisions. My mom made choices about our family based on her rather dangerous birth experience, what she and my dad envisioned as our household, and probably more factors that are none of my, yours, or anyone’s business. To be sure, there are other women in my family who decided to have one child for non-health reasons that are equally powerful: they wanted to travel the world, to be bad-asses in their careers, or whatever other reason was their decision. We have been lucky to have a family culture that believes in our women.

With the holiday season approaching, we can all be a bit more thoughtful about the types of assumptions and reactions we make when asking about each other’s beloved communities. For example, being an only child has shown me that friends and wider community members can have more of a positive impact in our lives than our blood-family. I’ve learned to be aware that some folks aren’t the biggest fans of their family for some reasons that they might not want to share with you. Ideally, we can ask each other questions about our loved ones without implicitly prioritizing one type of family over the other, especially as family topics so often intersect with issues about reproduction, sexuality, and sometimes abuse.

Realistically, I know that these questions about why I don’t have any siblings will come up. It’s weird to have to answer for my parents’ reproductive choices because, hello, do you ask your parents about their sex lives? But hopefully I can also use these questions as to remind the newly-introduced that the autonomy to create families of whatever size, type, dynamic is really frickin’ awesome.

We experience the impact of reproductive justice every day.  Without meaningful access to comprehensive health services, people aren’t able to make the kinds of decisions my mom did. Holiday questions about family size may not be as politically explicit as debates about abortion in congressional hearings, but its effects are felt in everyday conversations. Imagine what it would be like to have families introduced without immediate evaluations or questionings, but until then: Hi. It was nice to meet you too.

Featured image credit: Logan Chadde

San Francisco, CA

Suzanna Bobadilla is a writer, activist, and digital strategist. According to legend, she first publicly proclaimed that she was a feminist at the age of nine in her basketball teammate's mini-van. Things have obviously since escalated. After graduating from Harvard in 2013, she became a founding member of Know Your IX's ED ACT NOW. She is curious about the ways feminists continue to use technology to create social change and now lives in San Francisco. She believes that she has the sweetest gig around – asking bad-ass feminists thoughtful questions for the publication that has taught her so much. Her views, bad jokes and all, are her own. For those wondering, if she was stranded on a desert island and had to bring one food, one drink, and one feminist, she would bring chicken mole, a margarita, and her momma.

Suzanna Bobadilla is a writer, activist, and digital strategist.

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