Science shows us that we’re terrible at predicting the future. This is why I decided to share my experience about the decision to have a second child. We put more weight on speculating our future vs the better predictor: listening to others’ stories who have been through it. What do you think is a better predictor of how much you’ll like a new movie? The trailer or a critic’s review? We are more likely to choose the trailer, but in fact the review is a better predictor of how we will like the movie. For more on this science, I encourage you to listen to this quick podcast.
DISCLAIMER: this is my personal experience and in no way suggest others share in my thoughts, opinions, or experiences. Everyone is different, everyone has a different story and a different situation.
First, a little background. Parents sometimes go from one to two children without giving it much thought. It’s in their plan. Other parents are more than happy to stop at one and be able to focus their time and attention on one, and have some freedom to do other things. On the flip side, there’s also a whole community of parents who struggle with the decision to stay “one and done” or to have a second child. The decision can be agonizing and torture parents’ brains every day. Someone may struggle with this decision because they had a difficult pregnancy, birth, newborn phase, or toddler phase. They could be dealing with postpartum depression and/or anxiety. They might not have a supportive partner, might be struggling financially, or just believe they cannot handle a second child. Choosing to be OAD or “on the fence” (OTF), when two was in your plan, is a difficult place to be in. I struggled with this for about a year.
With my first child, I had a relatively easy pregnancy (aside from terrible morning sickness) and birth with my baby girl in 2018. My trauma came with adjusting to being a mom and the newborn phase. My daughter didn’t have colic but was very fussy and would cry for hours in the evenings. I also breastfed for 13 months which was a big strain on my body and mental health. She never took a bottle and was a terrible sleeper until I sleep-trained her at 6.5 months. I had postpartum anxiety (PPA). My husband did everything (cleaned, cooked, worked) aside from the new baby stuff (diapers, feeding, getting up at night, etc). I’m thankful for what he did do but still felt resentment, like I was out there on my own. The idea of being OAD was such a relief. I started my daughter in part-time school at 18 months. It was a relief but I still didn’t feel right. Two months later everything shut down because of COVID and I was home again with my daughter.
I always wanted two kids, but the idea of that was so daunting, and I felt like I would change my mind from 100% on one side of the fence to 100% on the other at a whim. The thoughts tortured me daily and were distracting me from enjoying my life and my time with my daughter. I had also joined a facebook group called One and Done On the Fence. It was all I could think about.
The beginning of summer 2020 is when I sought help in the form of counseling. It was hard for me to take that first step. My counselor suggested I talk to my doctor about an SSRI as she thought this might help with my postpartum anxiety. I started on Sertraline (Zoloft) and did about two months of counseling. I worked hard on getting to know myself and what I wanted, vs listening to all the noise from friends, family, and online. I wrote down a lot of thoughts in a journal and felt okay with being done having kids. I felt much better overall on the Zoloft and also left the facebook group to shut out the noise. What was valuable about this group was hearing the story of a new mom of two. It made me think that it is possible, but I need to quiet my mind and take the time and space to breathe and be alone with my thoughts.
The following January (my daughter was 2.5), I made the decision to start trying for a second. I imagined what I wanted my family to look like in 10 years, after the newborn stage, terrible twos, etc. I wanted another buddy there. I felt that it would be so much hard work, but also felt mentally in a much better place. To prepare for this I made a list of what I would do differently in my pregnancy and newborn phase. There were things like getting a doula, making sure baby takes a bottle, and sharing the baby responsibilities with my husband.
It took us 9 months to conceive (including two chemical pregnancies). Right when we found out we were pregnant, my daughter started preschool again. The morning sickness was even worse than with my first, but I was more adamant to my OB for a prescription for Diclegis which made it so much better. I had to go the ER twice during this pregnancy (which ended up being dehydration) and it was harder being “advanced maternal age” (36). It was a bit rough, but luckily no big issues. And luckily my daughter was in school and loving it. My labor and delivery was very similar to my daughter’s, but he was born one week before my due date. We welcomed a very healthy boy two weeks before my daughter turned 4 years old. My mom was able to stay with her while my husband and I were at the hospital. I felt so relieved once he was born.
I was very nervous about how I thought my daughter would react. We did all the prep work way beforehand so she knew what was coming and what to expect. It didn’t take long for her to step into the role of amazing big sister (sure, she pretended like he wasn’t there at first). She is protective, entertaining, understanding, and sympathetic toward her little brother. She far exceeded any expectations I had for the transition. We struck gold on this 4 year age gap.
Baby is 6 months old now and such an easygoing, pleasant boy. Maybe he’s an easy baby or maybe I’m more experienced and confident. I knew what to expect and always expected the worst, so it turned out to be not that bad. I actually felt like I savored this period way more so than with my first, knowing he’s my last. My husband helped when I asked him to but it was pretty much the same story as with my first. Though this time, he was able to hang out with our 4 year old, which he’s much more comfortable with.
I feel really happy and very much at peace. My daughter is in school from 8:30-3 and I’m a SAHM so I do have time to myself, although I didn’t for those first few months. I’m more creative in getting this “me-time” now, and sometimes I don’t get it.
This might sound like a rosy success story. I’m here to tell you that I went through a lot of mental turmoil leading up to this. I’m fortunate enough to have a supportive partner and be financially stable, which I know is a limitation for lots of parents out there.
If anyone feels like they’re in a similar boat and on the fence, my advice is to (1) turn off the noise (get off social media for a while, take a break from discussing this topic with friends and family). Unfortunately you’re not going to get your answer online or from a loved one. And (2), seek professional help. If these thoughts are torturing you daily, look into counseling if you can. I did mine virtually and only for a couple months. Shutting out the noise, counseling, and medication helped me tremendously. If you seek advice, talk to someone who has been through it. Again, this is my personal story, I know people have different opinions and situations. We’re not meant to do this alone, so it’s okay to ask for and get help, in one form or another. Whether your decision is to have one or more, the most important thing is that YOU feel at peace about it.
When will we learn that we cannot predict our own futures and how we will feel in a hypothetical situation? Read the yelp review of life. Talk to someone who has been through it and know that their successes and struggles will likely be your own.
EDIT: I felt a bit unsettled after writing this as I recognize the contradiction of both listening to others’ stories and turning off the noise. The more I thought about it, the more I realize that it can be both– you just have to find the balance for yourself. Getting into an echo chamber of people in your same position isn’t as valuable as evaluating the experience of someone who has been through it, and not letting your own predictions and expectations dictate your decision-making. Ooof, it’s complicated.