Monday, February 20, 2012

Thoughts on Having a Second Child


For the longest time, my plan was to have only one child. I was an only child for 15 years, and none of the arguments against "onlies" made sense to me. Because I want to live in a close-knit community, I figured that we could fill our son's life with plenty of close, close connections. The benefits of having an only child (not as much work, cheaper, better for reducing population growth) seemed to outweigh the vast drawbacks (hard/hard/hard, refereeing sibling bickering, saving for two college educations, etc.).

And mainly, I wanted to give birth to other things in my life, like a school and a community. I figured I didn't have it in me to mother Hoss, Henry, a school, a community, and another child. When I told one of my close friends that I only wanted to have one child, she said something like, "That makes sense for you. You'll be able to do more good for the world."

But somewhere along the way, my mind started shifting. I started to see growing a family as one of the most significant ways to tap into our humanity. I started brainstorming ways to work around the drawbacks. I figured we could wait five years before having the next one, so I would have time to start the community and school, and Henry would have time to grow more independent (and out of diapers). I started looking at families who had waited several years in between children for inspiration.

Then I started realizing what my friend Sarah has been saying all along. If you have children closer together, you get the hard parts over with faster. My rebuttal was always, "Sure, but you make it so much harder for yourself in the meantime!"

I started thinking about this idea more. In a way, having young children around is very constricting. To meet their needs properly, you have to shift your life to reflect theirs in a lot of ways. If we waited five years to have another child, we would then enlarge that period of intense constriction from three years to six years (or five years to ten years). And then there's adolescence. Instead of going through 5-7 years of tumult, we'd be looking at 10+.

Even more than that, I'm getting my head out of the day-to-day struggle of meeting someone else's every need and understanding the bigger picture of motherhood. It's not about changing diapers and engorged breasts; it's about nurturing and nourishing another being and helping them uncover their unique place in the universe.

Plus, I just turned 34. Of course I could wait five years to have another child (my mother had her second baby when she was 38), but I'd likely be pushing up against the limitations of my fertility, and the risk of genetic issues grows exponentially after 35.

In terms of my career, now might actually be the best time for us to have another baby. If all goes well, my school will open in the fall of 2014. The application is due February 2013 and I wouldn't interview until August. If I got pregnant sooner rather than later, I could work on the application while pregnant (Henry would be going to a half day of Montessori childcare), finish the application by December, have the baby, and not have to interview until the baby was six or seven months-old. Then I would have to start working to get the school started when the baby was around eleven months-old and could start part-time in Montessori childcare. The second baby would basically have the same solid foundation that I've been able to give Henry.

As I type all of this, I am fully admitting to myself (and reminding myself rather vociferously) that you can't plan when or if you have a baby. I know that. I really do. I can only focus my energy on the things I can control, such as tracking my cycle, getting my body ready for conception, and deciding to try.

I also realize that Matt's perspective has been absent from this discussion. I promise you it's not! It's something that Matt and I talk about a lot. He comes from a family of three, but he knew I might only want one child when he married me. When Henry came (and was hard/hard/hard), he agreed that one was fine. And then we started talking about maybe having two--later on down the line. We've just started the conversation about whether we really want to try for two and when the best time would be.

In a very short span of time, I've gone from, "Definitely only one child" to "Perhaps we could have a second." Suddenly, I'm getting to the point where I think I do want two, and I'd like to start trying for the second one soon. Craziness. I would want to provide the second baby with the same solid foundation that I provided for Henry. Just in case we start trying soon, I've recommitted to taking my prenatal vitamins religiously, strengthening my body with this 20-minute DVD (you can download a single level for $1.99), drinking at least two water bottles of water every day, taking a hard look at my life to see how I could make more space for pregnancy, and de-stressing every night before bed.

We'll see what happens. Matt and I might decide that now doesn't make sense. I just wanted to keep you updated in case we do decide to start trying.

Have any of you read anything about different approaches to spacing out children? If so, please share! I enjoyed reading this article about the pros and cons of various spacings.

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Today on 2000 Dollar Wedding: Plans for the Gourmet Grilled Cheese Bar at Henry's birthday party on Saturday.



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25 comments:

Anonymous said...

Although my husban an I don't have kids and are still "planning" another 8 years for one. I grew up my whole life as an only child. Of course I was and am extremely loved, I still feel like I've missed out on the connection of a sibling no matter what the age would have been. So not that you bee convincing of having a second :) this is how I determined to have 2+ despite my mutual feelings you have with population control, cost, etc. we have decided to have our first naturally (mostly because I want to experience child birth) and to have our second by way of adoption. It's a scary thought for a lot of people and I understand if it's not right for you, but the more I get to know you through your blogging it sounds like you would be an excellent adopted parents! Good luck with your beautiful life, I will continue enjoying it with you!

Grace said...

This is such a personal decision that I hesitated about commenting, but decided that more information is always better, even if you choose not to follow it.

It is very bad for the health of both mother and baby to have closely-spaced children. In fact, nonprofits like US AID strongly encourage at least three years between births. Here's a brief on the subject: http://www.usaid.gov/our_work/global_health/pop/news/issue_briefs/healthy_birthspacing.pdf

Children in the US aren't as likely to die from close spacing, but it still has significant negative effects, including lower birth weights, an increased risk of autism, and worse school performance. It even hurts the oldest child's academic achievement, perhaps because parents aren't as available. I wrote a post about this with links here: http://opinionationblog.blogspot.com/2011/11/dont-have-children-close-in-age.html

Good luck with whatever you decide.

Colleen said...

I just found your blogs recently and love it. Thank you for writing it.

Like you, I am also a TFA alum and have a very driven personality. I always thought I would would work right after having kids(if I had them at all). Funny how these little ones change our perspectives and plans :)

Anyhow, I'm currently pregnant with #3 (our last) and when he is born I will have 3 under 3. This was very much on purpose, due to many of the reasons you stated. I value spending my children's early years at home with them and thus have putmy career off for a couple years. On the other hand, I deeply miss working and want to get back to the special education advocacy work I cherish so much.

So, I feel you. And I think you'll make the right decision :)

Also, Ive had no health complications, full term pregnancies, fine birth weights, natural/vaginal deliveries, etc. no doctor/midwife has ever made me feel like I made a dangerous decision. Just FYI.

Kelsey said...

This post was really exciting to read! Sometimes I’ve thought that I might only want to have one child, for the reasons that you stated. But then I think of the relationship that I have with my sister and the relationship that my husband has with his siblings. Or I see my niece and nephew together. A sibling relationship is like none other – no amount of time or distance can separate the bond of a shared childhood, shared parents, or the family memories. My sister and I are incredibly different people and for a long time were not very close. But as she gets older I see that we share something that I never can with anyone else. We laugh about ridiculous things that no one else would find funny. I also think that when my parents get very old that it will be comforting that my sister and I will care for them together and make decisions about their care together. Of course, I know some awesome only children and if a person doesn’t have siblings they can definitely rely on their spouse and close friends so there’s no right or wrong. It is a very big choice, thank you for sharing!

cicile said...

I do have a brother... but my relatioship with him is not that great. I mean, we like each other, and that's it. We are not *close*. I am much more closer to my parents for example. Or my grand mother or my best friend etc.

So I don't see "making a play mate to the first child" a priority... !

To me, the only reason to make close babies is because... you want many many children. Like if you want 5 or 6 kids, you start only at 30... then you have to hurry up to have the rest.

This is not the case with you. So do what you want !!

Shawn said...

Thanks for posting this discussion - I know that how many and how to space will be an issue for me down the road as I try to juggle my career, paying my school loans, my age, etc. We have so much on our plates these days as women that it can be so tricky to fit it all in. It seems I know wonderful families where the children turned out happy and well-adjusted with each of these scenarios. I know great people very happy to have been only children, siblings that are close in age and those that are more spaced out and that are still close. I know you guys will go with what is right for you and what feels good for your family - be true to that and you won't go wrong. Thanks, as always, for sharing your journey!

Rachel said...

Definitely enjoying this discussion. We went for close together, and hope to add a few more babies in the upcoming years if possible (and yes, our midwife recommended not aiming for under 2 years in spacing because of the wear and tear to my body but was adamant that the baby would be fine no matter what because they are so effective at leeching nutrients from your body. I also nursed through my pregnancy and loved it).

I understand the argument that not all siblings are friends, but I really firmly believe that we put SO much attention/pressure/expectations on our children that it's nice for them to have a sibling around to take our focus off of them for a bit. I say this as a mother fully committed to opting out of academic pressure, etc. but I have seen so many toddlers who are so micro-managed, lovingly but intensively parented, that it's absurd (I know this is in part due to our current neighborhood). My daughter is the only one of her close friends who will ever have a sibling and it's tough to watch those parents focus so much on their kids in a way that I simply can't because I already have 2 kids. I love both the independence and patience she has already developed because she knows that I won't jump up from nursing to get her a snack, for example, so she'll either have to get one out herself or wait a few minutes.

Ms. Beltran said...

Dear Sara -
Your post made me smile. I feel as if we are very similar in outlook and I felt exactly as you did about one child. I have written to you before about pregnancy/motherhood. I experienced severe postpartum depression and I was convinced that the same would happen with a second child. In a word, I was scared. I also argued that the world was already full, the money, the time, etc. Then, in an absolutely absurd moment, everything changed. I was watching the Texas Rangers in the playoffs and I called my sister.(She is two years older than me.) I simply said, "Bleacher bums". She knew exactly what I was talking about and in that instant, I knew I wanted my daughter to have a sibling - someone she could have a shared history with. Obviously, the universe is in charge, but we had our intentions set. My second daughter was born just 5 weeks ago and though it is difficult, it is worth it for us. They are two years and 4 months apart and I didn't have any physical complications nor PPD. I am also 35. :) I'd say, go for it. People like you and Matt should have kids - the world needs more of you!!

Carissa L. said...

Sara,
You are a brave and honest women to share such personal thoughts for all the world to read and comment on :) Thank you for sharing. It is always so helpful to hear the emotion and logic that smart women have about all of these issues we are trying to navigate. Good luck to you and Matt in what you decide for your family. Whatever the decision may be, I'm sure it will be one that you own and feel good about and bring you peace and joy.

Gretchen said...

I find it really interesting to hear your thought process on this. I can only imagine what it was for your first child! Though this totally makes me able to relate since my husband and I just started discussing when we want to have our first child.

Rachel said...

I chose to space my kids 3-4 years apart. When I told my son's pediatrician that we were thinking about a second child, she recommended that we put 2 years between the birth of our first child and the conception of our second. She cited the reasons that Grace gave above.

Nevertheless, I wish you the best with the baby making.

Sarah van Loon said...

Thank you so much for sharing your intimate dialogue about having another child with us. My husband and I are years away from thinking about having children (although I am kind of baby-crazy. It doesn't help that I'm a nanny. Sometimes I really want a child(ren), other times I think I just like the "idea" of child(ren)). My husband, who doesn't really 'want' children, is open to having one, but doesn't want more than that (for the above reasons you listed), but I feel 'iffy' about having "an only child" - so your discussion about it really helps me think about it on both sides.

All that to say - thank you for always being so open and honest on your blog, and sharing your innermost thoughts. I always take so much away from what you have to share!

Isa said...

I'd argue for fairly close--at this point you're not talking about having them back to back, and 2-3 years is a nice spacing. My sister is 28 months younger than I am and we've always been relatively close (different personalities, but we liked playing together as kids and have a good relationship as adults). My wife and her brother are 5 years apart and although they like each other they aren't really close--she was just too far ahead of him for them to have much in common as children.
Good luck deciding what to do! There isn't really a 'right' answer, so whatever you decide will be the right choice, but it's hard to come to a decision, I know.

Carrie said...

Rachel really nailed it for me as to why I would NEVER have an only child--too much pressure on educated men and women these days to do everything "right". I have absolutely NO desire to raise a kid "perfectly" (whatever the heck THAT is), and I think the lessons to be learned and the family times to be shared by having more than one child are immeasurable and wonderful. If you decide to have a second, you will absolutely THRILL at watching Henry with his little brother or sister. The relationship that we created by having a second is a source of great, great joy for me. I love hearing my 10-month-old son SHRIEK from excitement when he sees his 3-year-old brother. Do I think there will be tough times between the two of them and with the logistics and expense of two? Absolutely. But I cannot FATHOM not having my baby. He was meant to be. Grace's opinion is interesting, but not the experience I have had thus far (baby #2 was 7 lbs, 7 oz--plenty big enough, nobody is showing signs of autism or anything, and kid #1 is actually starting to read). Based on my experience and discussions my husband and I have had about whether we want a third child, I would also point out that you should play out the hypothetical schedule of "life" for your two or more children (and you--you are VERY VERY busy). For example, in the immediate sense, our baby naps at 10 and 2, and our big guy naps at about 1. So someone is napping from about 10-3:30 on Saturday and Sunday (they are in day care M-F). Family activities are limited due to that schedule, but it won't last forever. I predict the baby will be on one nap in a couple of months, so the situation will improve. But do we want to add another baby, especially when at least one (or both) of the currents will be done with naps? Then look to the future--what happens when one is in school and one isn't? What happens when there are competing after school and/or Saturday activities? Think of the driving, attendance by parent(s), etc. Will family activities be fun for both kids (ie, the petting zoo is fun for a 3 year old, but would an 8-year-old want to do that)? Anyway, this type of decision is 100% personal and fact-specific.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing this!! Wonderfully put.
I'm currently pregnant with my first and what could be my only child. I was a nanny for several years so I know what it's like to care for more than one child at a time as well as those close in age. 2 years difference was the closest I ever cared for and it can be a handful.
When it came to the decision on whether or not to have one or two kids, it was somewhat of an in depth conversation for my husband and I.
I am one of 3 girls, and my husband is an only child. So he knows the benefits of being a singleton while I love that my parents gave me my sisters, one whom I am extremely close to.
Ultimately, we came to the same dilemmas as you. Multiples are more work, more money, more time, etc.
I've always said I don't want more than one kid spread apart by many years. My oldest sister is 12 yrs older and I see her as less a sister, more an older mentor, someone I just look up to. My little sister is 5 years younger and she was just too many years behind me and too much of a pain while growing up. Now that the gap isn't such a big deal (elementary vs middle school, middle vs high school) we are finally best friends. I'm using this to justify why I wouldn't want kids more than 3 years apart.
Plus my parents have been parenting for 36 years!!! Imagine that. They are just now enjoying having an empty nest.
My husband and I finally agreed to leave it to fate. After our first is born in May, we will try for 24 months to get pregnant again. If not, June 2014 my husband will go in for the big snip snip. His idea on that not mine.
Of course everyone feels differently about the subject. As long as you're happy with your decision that's all that matters! Some people are meant to have a ton of kids (aka parenting for many years), while others aren't.
-Ashleigh

Beth said...

Great discussion! I grew up an only child and never felt lonely, loved it, etc. But, as an adult, and I understand the relationships that my mom has with her four siblings and my husband with his two sisters, I see that a sibling is a gift that will out live me. I regret nothing about my only childhood, but I think a sibling would have only added.

I had my first son at almost 32 and once we had one, we knew we wanted a second child. We didn't think much about when. I was one of those people that got pregnant without having a period and still nursing almost full time. We call it the immaculate conception. Adam is 20 months younger than Luke, and yes, it was tough at first, but now, at ages 5 and 3.5, it is pretty smooth sailing. As I type this response, my two boys are pouring over a Star Wars LEGO book and have been running around for the last two hours with no intervention from me. The way their birthdays fall, they will only be 1 year apart in school. The bond they share is something I could have never imagined, and I know not something that can be planned. What I do know is that they have something that I never had, nor will have, and once my husband and I have passed on, they will have each other.

As for having children close together health wise, the doctor never said a word to me about that, but why would they once I was already pregnant and there was no turning back. I had no health problems during the second, he was born later than the first, was bigger, and a lot easier to deal with, so you never know. As long as you are healthy and feel good, I don't see the issue.

One other thought. Of course you will not be able to give the same amount of attention to two as one, but what they lose from you as a parent, they gain from their sibling. Also, I think about my mom who had four siblings growing up. The one's close in age were her playmates and the oldest one helped her get her first job, so while the relationships were different, they were all fierce and loving.

Kate said...

I'm only 25 so I have more years of fertility, but where I am in my career, I need to wait at least 3 years between my first daughter and my second theoretical child to get through Grad School and have a job with maternity benefits.

This is an interesting discussion. I was hoping that you might have some insights into a second child. I'm still years away from baby two, but I want to take the purposeful conception course sooner than later (maybe this summer, when I'm not in school), because I REALLY want to avoid preeclampsia this time.

Anonymous said...

I was like you for the full first year of my daughter's life; I felt I could never "do" two properly! But then someone shared with me that her eight (yes eight!) siblings have been so close since her parents died... and it hit me. Having one and being the "only family" (of course there's grandparents and aunts but that's not the same) is just not okay with me. When my husband and I die, I want my daughter to have other family in her life, someone close in age, someone she can turn to and be friends with. And I don't want her to have the pressure of having to marry to have a companion in life; I want her to have a sibling and I want their friendship with each other to be a BIG priority in terms of my nurturing. So, along came #2. They are 22 months apart and I LOVE it. My daughter was not old enough to get very attached to "her stuff" before having to begin sharing it. There's been a little jealousy as she adjusts to one-on-one time being two-on-one time at times... but overall it has stretched her and her social growth since the baby's birth has been amazing!

My story for what its worth!

Jennifer said...

I know for me going off birth control changed my entire view on motherhood and life in general -- those fakey hormones are powerful, at least for me. I had some unrelated issues and went off birth control, and it had really done something artificial to who I was naturally supposed to be.

I don't think I would have even known I had this maternal instinct and DRIVE in me. When I was on birth control, I just couldn't relate to it. And that's OK, it's OK to change your mind. And it's OK to want something you didn't before. Especially after you know the joy of motherhood, you see why lots of people make this choice.

Anonymous said...

Hi

Your blog is unique!
I did my reasearch on this topic as well...the best is speaking to other moms who has been there and done that.
The issues taht stood out for me was definitley have another one, as having one child means alot of entertainment from your side.
I wouldnt suggest having them closer than two yrs as your body needs to recover from the stress of teh 1st crazy yr plus b.feeding which also is at times tiring.
So after weaning take a good coupla months of time off before having another.
I have read a 3yr gap diminishes teh sibling rivalry issue but who knows.
Good luck..

Jenny said...

I've had many mothers tell me that more than one child can actually be easier (once they get a little older) becasue they always have someone else to play with so you don't have to entertain as much. Something to think about. I have one daughter and I was very hesitant to have another until I started thinking about my family (I have 4 siblings) and realized that I don't want my little girl to grow up alone. I know she won't be really "alone" because she has extended family and friends, but you know what I mean? (and that is not a knock on only children) We've since started trying for a second child and more and more I feel like our family isn't complete, like there is another little one waiting to join us. This is such a personal decision, it is comforting to read of other parents going through the same choices. After all, family is more important than anything right? :)

Anonymous said...

I would strongly encourage you and any mother to read the book Our Babies, Ourselves by anthropology professor Meredith Small. It's a refreshing multicultural view on how we raise babies. Two major points that I think might get you thinking and help you to make a decision:

1: Only in the industrialized West do we define children as deficits to our resources as opposed to assets to our families. Poor families in undeveloped countries continue to have babies because they view children as an addition to their 'wealth.'

2: In cultures where women breastfeed 'on demand,' the natural birth control effect of breastfeeding is effective for 2-4 years. Small suggests that this may be our natural birth interval and it's actually bottle feeding and/or scheduled breastfeeding reducing the birth control effect and shortening the interval.

I'm not saying I subscribe to all of her ideas, but I still think this book would make any mother think differently about her babies - in a very positive way!

Sara E. Cotner said...

@ Anonymous: Point #1 shook me a little bit on the inside. Of course they are assets to our family, and yet it is so easy to look at the day to day through a deficit lens. Thank you!

Nora said...

I liked reading this post a lot, and I appreciate how you share the struggles you go through in balancing life. I especially admire how you are both pragmatic and take a holistic big-picture view in your writing. I wanted to join the discussion about child-rearing from a multicultural view. While the comment from anonymous made me really stop and think, I also find it potentially over-glorifies high birth rates in underdeveloped countries, making it seem as if somehow the altruistic strand in humanity is lost through industrialization. I mean, that's partly true perhaps, but overgeneralizing it gets away from the reality that most people everywhere think pragmatically about how they'll get food on the table for themselves and their children (and more, also achieve other plans in life beyond having offspring). Sure, what's pragmatic looks different in different parts of the world. But in many cases, having more children directly translates into material wealth for families living in poverty (as extra hands for labor, or more future earning potential for security). It's true that countries with a high rate of professional career women have a low birthrate. It's worth noting that it's not just the "West" where this happens -- Japan and Korea currently have some of the lowest birthrates in the world, and college educated women in ALL countries also tend toward very low birth rates. Women's education and birth rate have a direct correlation. And there are many cases where family planning options are not available, especially to women without education. Also, compared to other industrialized wealthy countries, the United States has a significantly higher birth rate, and notably college-educated women in particular have relatively high birth rates in comparison to women in other countries. So in terms of ideologically thinking about children as adding to wealth (even while they materially do NOT, no matter how you do the math), the United States may in fact rank the highest.

All this to say -- your considerations are pragmatic, and your care for your family shows clearly. You obviously place intense value on children. You don't need to feel bad by comparing yourself to an idealized woman in the generalized "non-West." Whoever she is, whereever she is, she's trying to balance her hopes and dreams (and food on the table) with those hopes and dreams (and hungers) of the little ones she brings into the world. And doing so takes pragmatic contemplation for us women of the world.

Sara E. Cotner said...

Thanks for your smart contributions to the conversation, Nora! I feel so fortunate to be able to tap into the insights of so many thoughtful people on this little blog.

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