When Mary was growing up as an only and sometimes lonely child, she wished more than anything for a twin sister, "like Hayley Mills in the movie 'The Parent Trap,' " she says.
Be careful what you wish for, the saying goes--you might get it. Out of the blue, Mary acquired a surrogate sister. "When I was 11 my 13-year-old cousin came to live with us for a year," she says. "I hated it. We fought all the time, and it was really difficult for me to be with someone all the time and have to share everything."
By the time her cousin left, Mary had concluded that being an only child wasn't so bad after all.
More than 20 years have passed since then, and both the movie and Mary have produced offspring: "The Parent Trap II" and 2-year-old Taryn, respectively. Even before her daughter was born, Mary and her husband, Robert, who live in Fountain Valley, already had decided not to have another child.
"It wasn't anything we sat down and decided," Mary says. When Taryn was a year old, Robert had a vasectomy. "It was a big step," Mary says. "After it was done, I thought, now it's for sure."
Shortly afterward, Robert's sister gave birth to a boy, and Mary went through her first and only period of doubt. "Then I held my sister-in-law's baby, and I thought, no, I'm glad I can hand him back and leave."
Mary knows from her own experience that there will be times when Taryn will long for siblings. But she's also confident that the decision she and her husband made is the right one for everyone involved.
"We are able to give our child all of our attention, love and financial security," Mary says in a letter to Family Life. "She doesn't have to compete with anyone else for our attention. Friends who have two children admit that it is difficult to give equally to both, especially when you are tired--which is a chronic condition when your child is under 3."
Mary and Robert are hardly alone in their decision to stop at one child. Although the post-World War II baby-boom generation is now producing a noticeable echo in the population statistics, the number of children being born to each mother is at its lowest level in history, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. A third of the subscribers polled by Parenting magazine in 1987 had only one child, and only 32% of all respondents said they planned to have more children.
In China, the one-child limit has been in effect for 10 years, although the government has had trouble enforcing the rule and recently started a crackdown to prevent unapproved births. But in this country, the choice is still an individual one.
Here in Orange County, the decision is often made for practical rather than sentimental reasons. Andi, who lives in Irvine, says she and her husband are considering moving out of the county "because it's the only way we'll ever be able to afford a second child."
Finances did figure in Mary and Robert's plans, but that wasn't the only reason. "We could not afford to do a lot of things if we had two children," Mary says. "Looking ahead 15 years, I feel we will be able to provide her with a college education, something we could not guarantee if we had two children. Just yesterday I signed her up for skating lessons--that was $60. If it had been $120 for two, forget it."
Even before they conceived Taryn, Mary and Robert were apprehensive about the whole idea of becoming parents. "We wanted children, but it was sort of a scary proposition," Mary says. Robert, who was one of three children, already was convinced he wanted only one. "Then I had pregnancy problems, and it was very definite we didn't want any more."
Mary, now 39, suffered a miscarriage at 31 and had a "very difficult pregnancy" with Taryn. Because of the complications, "I was in bed for 6 months, in and out of the hospital. They said I had only a 40% chance of conceiving and a less than 70% chance of carrying her full-term. She's my miracle child," Mary says.
Although she feels comfortable with her decision, Mary says she can see that "maybe a second child could benefit from what I know now."
"But I haven't really regretted it. A couple of months ago, I thought I might be pregnant--you know, sometimes vasectomies don't work. I was terrified. That gave me a chance to go through all those thoughts and feelings all over again. I was so relieved when it turned out to be a false alarm."
Mary says she compensates for the lack of siblings in Taryn's life by "making sure she has opportunities to play with other children on a weekly basis. I don't feel she is missing out."
Kelly, 29, who lives in Tustin, can offer a long list of reasons for her decision not to have a second child. But the most important, she confides, is that "I just hated being pregnant. That was the most miserable time in my whole life."
Kelly's family now consists of herself and her 2-year-old daughter, Kate. Divorced for a year now, Kelly expects to eventually remarry. And that's another of the reasons on her list.