Stretch marks

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 April, 2012, 12:00am


I am an only child born in the first wave of China's controversial one-child policy. From the minute I was born, I was inundated with attention from two loving parents and four doting grandparents.

I grew up amid a sea of other only children. When I had my first child, I knew I had to have another. I understood just how spoiled only children are and I didn't want my child to be a little emperor. Never having to share your parents' affections is strange, and it affects you in life.

But having that second child was not easy. Even with just one child, I struggled to balance working with motherhood. I feel the wave of guilt every morning when heading to work. Some days, it's difficult closing the front door behind me.

My second pregnancy was the kind you read about - not as in What to Expect When You're Expecting, but more like in What to Expect When Everything Goes Horribly Wrong. At one point, both my baby's life and my life were in danger. Still, I soldiered on.

Towards the end of my pregnancy, when I lay alone in the hospital separated from my family for a month, what kept me going was the thought of all those people in my life who at one point or another hissed at me with 'you're so selfish because you are an only child'. I hated that they put in that last part, hated that I couldn't argue with it.

I was determined not to let my older son down as I clutched my pink Queen Mary maternity ward pyjamas, pyjamas I was practically swimming in because my baby bump was so small. Many people in Hong Kong, when they heard of my second pregnancy troubles, simply shook their heads and said, 'But you already have one. Why can't you leave well enough alone?'

They had a point - having two children takes parenting challenges to a whole new level. That's twice the tuition, twice the diapers, twice the breastfeeding and twice the doctor visits. And as a working mum, that's half the attention, half the time, and half the patience.

But look at me, I wanted to say - I am lonely. I can't leave well enough alone because my parents left well enough alone and now I'm all I've got in the world. It shouldn't be this way.

In the end, not leaving well enough alone was the best thing I ever did. Suffice to say, my younger son has inspired everyone in our household - most of all, his older brother - with his patience, determination and perseverance. Suddenly, there was competition. Someone else was willing to step up. My older one quickly got the message that the world no longer revolved around him.

I can understand the concerns Hong Kong parents have towards having two or more children or even having any at all. Having more children definitely means fewer resources for each. But who decided that parenting is an arms race of resources? I don't think it has to be.

Splitting myself into two so that I can be shared doesn't hurt my children. It helps them. I am giving them both more by giving them each a little less.

Kelly Yang is the founder of The Kelly Yang Project, an after-school programme for children in Hong Kong. She is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, and Harvard Law School.