[This is a post written in two different eras of our lives. It's about the question we wrestled with for so long regarding whether to have a second child, which I thought of as "Two Be or Not Two Be?" The first part contains some thoughts I wrote in 2009 about three weeks before Dale Jr. was born. The second is reflections of where we are now.]
April 17, 2009
One of the most complicated and difficult decisions Mary and I have made together is whether and when to have a second child after our J-Man. We knew from before we got married that we wanted two kids. We understand ourselves well and accepted that our ability to provide the kind of attention we wanted to our children would drop exponentially after two, so that would definitely be our limit. It also felt like a nice, round number to us since, at least in theory, it meant that each of us could give one-on-one attention to our kids at any given time. Theory and practice often diverge someplace, but there is still value to us in the idea.
That sounds dynamite in theory until you add having a child with autism into the mix. It’s oddly common among parents I know that they have two children with their youngest child being autistic. It’s not much of a sample size for sure, and I’m not advancing any sort of theory here. For whatever reason, that just seems to be how it happens with parents around us. We have until now been the exception, and one that more people than just us have noticed.
One even more common trait that parents don’t really like to discuss is that for many of them their last child – no matter how many they have – is autistic. It’s not a dirty secret; it’s just something you quietly nod your head about and accept as an understandable decision. The time you invest in your children’s growth and well-being is immense. But it’s this particular issue that has piqued the curiosities of parents – with or without autistic kids – with regard to our decision to have another child after the J-Man.
Thankfully no one, at least to our faces, has questioned our judgment, though I imagine a few may have amongst themselves. But as with many things, we acknowledge the opinions of others and just move on with our lives. They had nothing to do with our decision.
I don’t recall us ever seriously considering not ever having a second child. There were a number of times we uttered, “I don’t know whether we can do this again” during the five-therapies-a-week periods. I know in deciding the timing of when to have a second child, there were plenty of days, weeks, and months where we quietly acknowledged that it wasn’t time yet.
Then there’s the thought no one is really proud of but every parent of an autistic child considering having another kid thinks about. Might as well be honest about it.
What if we have ‘another one’?
Obviously, parenting an autistic child is not some sort of disqualifier in having more kids. Plenty do. But you do have a huge decision to make with so many variables that it becomes an almost unsolvable equation. Studies are indicating that if you have an autistic child, you have somewhere between a 1-in-10 and 1-in-20 chance of having another. How do you feel about this? Will you be able to keep the level of attention going that your autistic child needs? Are you concerned about your ability to devote enough attention to each of your children? Can you afford care for each of your children? How will our child react to a new baby in the house? The list of questions can go on and on. You can paralyze yourself with them. And there are no clear answers. And I hate to disappoint you, but there never will be.
For us, I think it became a statement of faith in our relationship. Little did we realize how almost prophetic our wedding vows would become.
We shall keep together what share of trouble and sorrow our lives may lay upon us, and we shall hold together our store of goodness and plenty and love. When our way becomes difficult, I promise to stand by you and uplift you, so that through our union we can accomplish more than we could alone. I promise to honor and care for you, to speak the truth to you in love, and to cherish and encourage your own fulfillment through all the changes of our lives. I will stand beside you in joy or in sorrow, in ease and in conflict, putting the commitment we make today above any obstacle that we may face. This is my solemn vow.
We declared that day that we believe we can meet any challenge, and we realize now that our belief in that is stronger still. We have become pretty good parents when faced with a huge challenge. We’ve overcome and even thrived because we’ve discovered the frequent joy in these challenges. Most importantly, we’ve discovered that our J-Man is perfect the way he is and so full of love that it amazes us that his little body can hold it all in. And we believe our love for him can transcend those challenges and help us regardless of what comes next.
We did decide to have an amnio this time around. I was a little hesitant about this because while I know the risk to the baby in an amnio is very low, I’m not one who fully appreciates those kinds of statistical nuances. It was quick and fairly easy and we had the preliminary results in a couple of days – negative for all the quick and obvious stuff. We received the full report a few days after that, negative for everything they can test for. I must say that I liked having the amnio done more than I liked the idea of doing it beforehand.
We know there’s no test for autism, nor are there tests for a host of other health issues that might be part of his life. Life has few guarantees, and waiting on them will just do you in. It is nice to know certain things, however, even though nothing the report could have said would have affected us having the baby. Our rationale was that if something came back positive, we’d have time to prepare. Given how most of our lives are shaped by autism and the J-Man’s many needs, if the arc of our lives was going to have to bend toward another direction, we needed to know.
I am certainly not saying everyone in this situation should decide to have another child. This is simply how we arrived at our decision. We are nervous and excited, but most of all, we are deep-down at peace with our decision and can’t wait until we get to welcome our new little wonder into the world.
March 13, 2011
Dale Jr. is almost two now, and we have long since passed the point where we remember much about life without him. So much of what we worried about then seems like a distant memory now.
We got off to a sometimes rocky start, and our J-Man did regress pretty significantly for most of a semester at school. But we were determined to get us all out the other side, and we did that with the support of so many wonderful people. That’s as much a testament to the J-Man’s courage and determination as anything.
Is life with two challenging? You bet, but whoever said ‘challenging’ is by default a negative we should all avoid may not understand the concept very well. Great challenges often produce even greater joys.
Dale Jr. is pretty easy-going, has a wonderful sense of humor, is kind and loving, and is adored by everyone who meets him – just like they should! Many days feel like we have to relearn parenting, but that’s to be expected. Both our kids grow and change quickly. Every day brings a new discovery.
Life is often far more chaotic than I would prefer, but that’s largely about me and my still developing skills at coping with unpredictability and time management (such as that ever can be managed). But we’ve learned that we can fly pretty well by the seat of our pants and figure out much of what we need as we go. It calls forth the best of who we are and can be, and that is a wonderful thing.
We made the right decision for us at the time in which it was right for us. It’s important to keep both those things in mind as you think about having more children. This is true whether your children have autism, something else, or are considered ‘typically-developing’. I believe we do have a responsibility to our children to make decisions that are right for them. I definitely don’t think it should matter one bit to you what we’re doing or what anyone else decided to do. You have to look at your own relationship to each other as spouses and to your children as parents, your children and where they are in their lives, and the time and circumstances of life you are in right now, and then make the best decision you can based on that.
This is likely not the straight answer you were hoping for, but there’s never going to be an easy answer. If I have any guidance from there it’s to say, acknowledge those feelings of discouragement, uncertainty, overwhelm, and fear and patiently look for those more quiet moments where reflection is possible. I know in our chaotic lives that those can be very rare, but even a few seconds here and there can be enough. In time, you can gather up enough of these bits and pieces of reflections out of which the insight you’re looking for will arise.
Trust that you will make the right decision for your family, and I believe that will put you in a frame of mind where you will.