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Making Peace With A Tough Choice

I am participating in the 2012 Wordcount Blogathon, which means one post every day for the month of May.

When I went for my six-week postpartum checkup after George was born, my OBGYN raised the question of whether my husband and I were going to have more children. We stared at each other in a perplexed kind of way, shrugged our shoulders and said, “I dunno.”

It was a question that we had honestly given no thought to. George had been an extremely welcome surprise, but he had been a surprise nonetheless. Family planning hadn’t exactly been a key feature in our lives.

When we did talk about it – this topic that we had simply never thought to discuss – we discovered that both of us had always envisaged life with three children. This was good. I thought it was a positive sign that I was with a man who wanted the same number of children as me.

When we decided to try for Baby Number Two, I got very serious about it. I downloaded those free online calendars that tell you what the best dates are to – well, you know. I was going to chart my cycles and keep track of my temperature to tell when I was ovulating.

As it happened, I didn’t need any of that stuff. Just six weeks after we decided we were officially trying to conceive, we got a big fat plus sign on the pregnancy test. Several months after that, James came barreling his way into the world like a cannonball.

Two down, one to go.

By the time we were ready to try for Baby Number Three, though, things had gotten complicated. James was almost two, and George, who was four, had been diagnosed with autism. We were recalibrating our lives after discovering that we were special needs parents, and I was still trying to find my way out of the terrible darkness of postpartum depression.

What if our third child had autism? Would it be fair for us, knowing that we weren’t going to be around forever, to leave James with the responsibility of having two siblings with special needs?

We were so conflicted about whether or not to have another child that we went to see a geneticist. The DNA testing did not confirm a genetic link to autism, but it did not rule it out either. The geneticist turned to the very detailed questionnaires that we had completed. Based on my own developmental history, which was almost identical to George’s, it seemed not only possible but likely that I was on the spectrum myself.

The geneticist advised that in spite of the inconclusive DNA test results, there was reason to believe that George’s autism might be genetically based. We were looking at a 12-15% probability that any other child we had would have autism.

This created a problem. My husband and I found ourselves on opposite sides of the fence. He was very concerned about the 15% probability. I, on the other hand, tried to focus on the other percentage: the 85% probability that the child we had would not have autism.

We flip-flopped back and forth for several months, torturing ourselves with possibilities and what-ifs. We were torn between doing what was right for the kids we already had, and doing what both of us had always wanted. We really could have done with a crystal ball at around that time.

In the end, it was more than George’s autism that made the decision for us. I was already at an age where there’s a higher risk of having a baby with Downs Syndrome. I was finally starting to see a pinprick of light at the end of the postpartum depression tunnel. We had just successfully potty-trained James, and I wasn’t sure that I wanted to start a new two-year cycle of diapering.

Most importantly, I realized that I didn’t need more children. The two that I had were absolutely perfect. When I came home from work at the end of each day and hugged them, I felt complete. I did not feel that there was piece missing – a piece that would be filled by another child.

When I am sitting on the floor in my living room, with one kid on my lap and the other jumping on my back, I know that we made the right choice. I know that my family is whole.

Have you had to wrestle with the question of whether to have more children? What was the deciding factor for you?

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/joehowell/2282930348/. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.)

Comments

  1. I’ve always wanted three or four children. I tried, in vain, to conceive with my ex husband. When I did get pregnant it was with a man who left me before I was even 2 months pregnant.
    I would still love at least one more child – whether I have a partner or not. I’ve managed almost 4 years on my own with my son, so I am pretty sure I could handle another child. So what stops me from just shopping around for the “ingredient?”
    1. finances. Feeding, clothing, housing, and providing child care for one child on one self-employed budget is incredibly difficult.
    2. my son was premature. I had gestational diabetes, my son was 2 months premature, and I have been told that the odds of having another preemie are incredibly high.
    3. my age. At 35 I would have an even more difficult pregnancy, which could risk my health even further. I can’t do anything that risks leaving my child without a parent.
    4. my mental health. I’ve had depression and PPD that I’ve never come out of. The newborn to 6mos stage is a nightmare for sleep deprivation and I’m not sure my mental health could take it again.
    I could adopt, and that is likely where I’ll start to explore… if my finances ever get under control…

    • Kirsten says:

      As a child who was raised by adoptive parents, I am a huge fan of adoption. I hope it all works out for you. I think your little guy would love being a big brother!

  2. After having 5 children with special needs, we thought we were done and the doctor who delivered Nathan by emergency c-section took it upon herself to decide to tie my tubes – neither Jon nor I gave permission. Now almost 10 years later, I am killing myself hoping for a miracle to have another baby. A reversal at my age doesn’t present very good odds of getting pregnant, so we have decided to try to adopt a special needs child from the county system. Cross your fingers that we can finally complete our family.
    ~Mimi

    • Kirsten says:

      It is scary that a doctor could exercise such blatant abuse of power over your body. I hope the adoption process goes smoothly for you. It would be hard to find a better mom than you for a child with special needs.

  3. Jacquie says:

    You know my story, Kirsten, but I thought I’d share it here anyway. :-) My older son, Eric, was born autistic. From the moment he came into this world he battled sensory challenges that made it difficult for him to even be held and given a bottle (FORGET nursing!). Given that, we knew without question that the chances of having another autistic child were high. After many years we decided that we couldn’t have another child and then watch and wonder if he or she was autistic, waiting to see signs and portents that would announce another autistic child. We knew we wanted another child, and seeing as we knew our own would more than likely be autistic, we chose to adopt an autistic child who didn’t have a home, whose parents couldn’t handle the challenges he presented.

    There are so many kids with autism who are considered ‘hard to place’ – it just seemed right that, if we were destined to have another autie, we should have one who was already out there needing a family like ours, rather than make another one! LOL.

    • Kirsten says:

      George was diagnosed about a year after James was born, and we had a very nervous couple of years as we waited to see how James’ development would progress, so I totally understand your concerns in that arena. Adopting a child with autism is really admirable. It’s people like you who make the world a better place!

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