Couples regret having too few children

By Pham Nga   June 22, 2023 | 03:28 pm PT
Thu Ha wants to have a second child at age 50, but doctors say she won't be able to.

Ha and her husband are the same age, and both of them pursued studies abroad. Like other young modern women, she prioritized her career more than anything else when she was young.

She had a plan to have a second child when her first child turned six, but decided to postpone it after being informed that she was about to be promoted as deputy head of her department. After discussing it with her husband, she fully concentrated on working to establish her position at the company.

Two years later, she was promoted to head of the department. As her career was blooming, she delayed having a second child even further because she knew her maternity leave would destroy the efforts she had made over the previous years.

She thought about having another child again when she was in her 40s. Her first child turned 12, and she felt stable financially and socially.

She and her husband decided to do in-vitro fertility as they were aware of the challenges of their age. However, after completing their health check-ups, they were informed that Ha had missed the opportunity to be a mother again.

"We encouraged each other by saying that having one child is already enough and we would be able to support him better," she recalls.

But things have turned out different than Ha thought.

The older she gets, the less interested in work or travels she becomes.

"I spend more time with myself and my family, only to realize how lonely I am."

After growing up, Ha’s son spends less time at home and with her. Her husband is still busy with work and often arrives home late in the evenings. So Ha often finds herself alone in her house, spending a lot of time and effort cooking but then not even bothering to eat.

She sometimes invites her friends out for a meal or a coffee. But the invitations are rarely accepted because her friends are all busy spending time with their children and grandchildren.

Ha has begun to regret spending too much time working and too little time on her family.

Couples that have few kids will be the first ones to bear the consequences, not society. Photo illustration by Freepik

Couples that have few kids will be the first ones to bear the consequences, not society. Photo illustration by Freepik

In a VnExpress survey of over 4,000 people, some 51% responded "Yes (given a stable financial situation)" to the question: "Do you want to have a second child?"

Despite that, Vietnam is experiencing a declining birth rate. In 2022, the annual birth rate was 2.01, the lowest figure since 2018. The 2020 Next Generation study conducted by the British Council in Vietnam showed that Vietnamese youth are prioritizing careers over families and marital matters.

This has led to them to marrying later in life on average, according to the research. And they’re also having less children, the study said.

Pham Thi Thuy, professor at the National Academy of Public Administration, says there are two groups that mainly contribute to the country’s low birth rate. They are those who do not want to have more children, and those who are too afraid to have more children.

The former group is comprised of two sub-groups: one has achieved financial stability but does not want to lose further career opportunities, and the other doesn’t have access to quality living conditions or education systems.

The latter macro group is comprised of families under financial pressure.

Experts have pointed out various consequences of the declining birth rate, including negative effects on the national demographic, economic, and social developments. A declining birth rate also adds pressure to the social welfare system and the country’s human resources.

One is the loneliest number

Hanoian Nguyen Thi Trang became aware of the negative consequences of having only one child at age 75.

When she was younger, Trang and her husband decided to have only one child despite pressure from their family, because they worried they didn’t have enough money.

"I have spent everything I have on my son, but he has always blamed me and my husband for leaving him alone."

She admits that her son holds the "only child pressure," though she and her husband have never expected too much of anything from him.

Trang’s husband passed away over 20 years ago, making the family "emptier." Her son turned down a job offer to relocate to work abroad because he did not want to leave his elderly mother behind alone in Vietnam.

He has argued with his wife many times because he has been insisting on living with his mother, while his wife has been against it. Every time Trang gets sick, her son and daughter-in-law have to take turn on leave from their workplaces to care for her.

"If only I had two kids, both I and they would have had more choices," Trang reflects.

Trang’s emotions have been almost obsessively revolving around her only son and his family. Sometimes her son accidentally says something offensive and she will stay up all night thinking about it.

Trang once told her son that she wanted to live on her own for a while to relax, but she soon realized she had nowhere to go.

"My next-door neighbor has three kids, and visits each of them in turn," Trang says.

"Even if I had more kids and each of them lived in a different place, having a phone call would give me comfort."

According to experts, couples should be aware of the responsibilities as well as the joy of having kids. Couples that have few kids will be the first ones to bear the consequences, not society, some say.

Hong Ha and her husband, of HCMC, have Trang, 25, as their only child. They doted on her, and now Trang is selfish woman.

Having graduated from a top university and being fluent in foreign languages, Trang expects to find a good job with a high salary. But she has not found it despite having applied to many companies.

She decided to stay at home and use her parents’ money until she finds a satisfying job, but she hasn’t managed to do so.

Last year, she borrowed money from her mother and claimed that she would use it to launch a business of her own.

Glad that she finally thought about working, Ha withdrew VND 200 million (around $8,500) from her savings account and gave it to Trang. But the money ran out instantly. Ha suggested that she should go to work, which Trang declined, saying: "You have the ability to support me financially."

Ha believes if she had more kids, she would not have pampered Trang that much. On the other hand, Trang would not have relied on Ha and her husband because she would have had to consider other people.

"I’m still taking care of a kid at age 50," Ha says.

Thuy suggests couples have two kids if their financial ability allows, in order to prepare for their old age.

The recently publicized story of a woman in her 50s giving birth to a healthy child thanks to in-vitro fertility made Thu Ha’s relatives suggest she should retry. She’s considering it, but also worried that if any pregnancy or birth complications arise, they’ll just add to her list of late-life regrets.

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