When you have a young child with special needs, it is only a matter of time before you are asked a very personal question. Are you planning to have another child?
Some would consider this a straightforward question. Others would call it rude. I’m of the opinion that it depends upon who is asking. If it is a close friend, that’s okay. If it is an acquaintance, then it is presumptuous. (And if it is a nosy, judgmental person, then it is outrageous.) It’s not really fair, I suppose, to accept the question from some but not others. Then again, some people have a key to my house – but not others. Most things in life are simply relative.
It seems like a simple question. People ask it all the time of newlyweds — though they shouldn’t. But, when you ask it of a special needs parent, the question is loaded with implications other than the cost of diapers. In our case, the question is echoed by many other questions — all silent, yet screaming.
Don’t you want to try again for a “normal” child? Don’t you want to give your “normal” child a playmate? Are you going to take a chance on having a child with the same condition? Can you afford another child with the same special needs? What if…?
“What if” indeed.
The decision to not have another child is a very personal one, for all parents — but especially for those with special needs kids. And one that doesn’t come with a correct answer. I wouldn’t dream of suggesting that another parent make the same decision. It depends on who you are, and it certainly depends on your circumstances. Regardless of the choice one makes, it is fraught with worry and the judgment of others.
I always wanted at least three children. Being an only child, I envied those with large families. When Sean and I married, I made certain he was on board with this plan. Even during the worst of two hyperemesis pregnancies, I was still determined.
When my second child began to show signs of autism, however, we put off the decision. Between shuffling our NT child to preschool and ferrying our son to therapy, a third child seemed out of reach. Until now, we just left it as a big maybe.
I turned 39 recently. And, although many women choose to have children later these days, the risk of conceiving a child with genetic abnormalities increases with age. And the current statistics are that a woman with one child on the spectrum has a 1 in 10 chance of having another.
But the truth is that our family – on both sides – is filled with so much “otherness” (ADHD, autism, gifted, mental illness, and more) that I believe the odds are significant that we would have another “other” child – perhaps one even more severely affected by…whatever.
If money were not a factor — say, I won the lottery? I probably would. If I could ensure that, no matter what, a third child would be cared for comfortably and with dignity, then…maybe. But even then, I must consider the needs of the two I already have. One who is already greatly impacted by autism and one that will possibly bear the burden of responsibility for him one day. To take a chance that a third child would not be an additional responsibility for her – simply because I want one – is, I think, unfair to Bronwyn. She deserves to live her own life, have her own children — and not care for mine. No,I don’t consider Callum a burden. And, no, his future is not yet written. He’s beloved, and I wouldn’t trade him. But one person’s adult special needs child is eventually another’s burden. That’s reality. For me, I have decided to stop with two.
But that child I’ll never have? She had a name. Already. I knew she would be a girl, and her name was Kerith Grace. I am sad I won’t have her. Another baby asleep on my chest in the wee hours of the night. Another first smile. Two more soft chubby arms wrapped around me. Another set of pattering feet on Christmas morning. More laughter. More love.
Motherhood has been the greatest blessing of my life.
This isn’t a tragedy, I know. It’s merely one of those things in life I will yearn for and not have. But, unlike going on safari or digging up artifacts in an ancient city, this is a dream whose scent I know. And remember. I can still hear the little coos of my nursing babies and feel their tiny little hands against my skin. This yearning is tangible and primal in a way that other unrealized dreams will never be.
So, yes, I will miss this nonexistent child. As I’m sure do countless other mothers and fathers whose choice to not have more children is a a sad one.
But here is what I do have. And it is already so much more than so many others have. I have had the joy of growing two new lives within me. Nurturing and loving them. Every single day of my life, I get to hear my little girl yell “Mommy!” excitedly at the end of the day and have the exquisite pleasure of snuggling with my little ones each morning and night. That’s no consolation prize. It’s a blessing. Two, in fact.
But having had to make this choice, I am now aware of why nosy questions about future children shouldn’t be asked. Of anyone. There are many reasons – not all visible -why someone might be unable or unwilling to bring a child into the world. Some painful, all private.
No, this question is best left unasked. If happy news is on the horizon, you can be assured you’ll be invited to the shower anyway.