How do you know if your family is complete?
When you have a child with special needs, do you dare try to conceive another?
When life is so abnormal, does another baby throw life into more chaos?
Over the years of being a parent to a child that is autistic and medically fragile, these questions have consumed my brain. The topic of family planning is a hot topic in most online forums dedicated to parents of children with special needs. Mothers carefully weigh the pros and cons of adding another member to their family. Most mothers that are balancing the needs of their unique child have so many things to consider that other family wouldn’t even think about twice.
Will the next child have special needs?
What if they carry a gene that caused the medical issue?
Will the new child be loved and cared for in the same way?
Will the new child feel like they have no place in the family?
Can the mom manage the needs of an infant and the high needs of their child?
There is already so much stigma to having a child with special needs. For many, the thought of having two children that require extensive care can make them feel suffocated. Not to mention that many of us have heard from strangers, family, or friends,
“You won’t have another? Will You?”
The dagger goes deep with that comment. I can assure you most families in our position have been asked that very question. The implication is high that we carry genes that are faulty. Given those defective genes, why on earth would we subject another child to this fate?
The guilt runs strong.
Since Genetics is a pretty new science, there are is a lot most families don’t know about their genetic lineage. While some children have identified genes that cause their disease, the majority of children diagnosed don’t have a known source of the anomaly. For those of us in the former, it can be challenging to navigate the choice of adding another child with the unknown looming.
My husband and I faced the same issues as we discussed family planning. Both of us knew that our son had extensive needs, and we also knew that my own pregnancy history would make the decision very complicated. We prayed, talked, contemplated, and went through all the scenarios of what another child would mean. Many friends and family encouraged us to consider having another child. Ultimately, our choice came down to the needs of my son, my ability to manage and cope with his ongoing care, and the financial implications another child would bring. I wish the choice would have been a lot less practical. However, practically speaking, having another child just didn’t make much sense for our family.
Every family that is in this world has to answer these tough questions. Most of our children are facing lives that will include care coordination into their adulthoods. When you have to consider long-term care for a child, it does complicate the choice to add more to your family.
Planning is complicated by the fact that there is the additional stigma of only children. There is an unnecessary reputation that only children can be spoiled, socially awkward, selfish, and bratty. None of these are accurate portrayals of all only children, but the stereotype seems to prevail in our society. These stereotypes can put pressure on families to expand even if they feel they are already overextended. We are told things like:
“All kids deserve a sibling.”
“You don’t want your child to be an ONLY Child do you?”
“Only children are weird!”
Obviously, these comments can cause us unneeded stress and pressure to expand our families. Some families will choose to have another child after having one with special needs. These families may want a larger family, want a sibling for their child, or want their child to have a family member with them after the parents die. The choice to add more members to the family is personal, difficult, and complex for everyone involved.
My husband and I dealt with those same questions in terms of our son. He was our firstborn, and we did have tiny strings tugging on our hearts to give him a sibling. I hate to admit it but I also googled statistics on behaviors of only children. No part of our planning for our family was easy, and over the years it was easy to have other opinions infiltrate our minds. Ultimately, we realized the opinions of others should never be a factor in making the choice to have another child. We realized as we evaluated our happiness and our family that we felt totally complete with our family. When we had confidence in that choice, we took steps to ensure we could not have any more children.
Whether your child with special needs is your first, second, third, last or only, planning for more children with their needs in mind poses challenges. All I can share from my own experience is to take careful thought and consideration into your plan, and then just go with whatever you chose. There is no right or wrong in this thing we called life. What will work for one family may not work for you. If you want more children, have more children. Don’t ever let something like a child’s disability hold you back from the dream of having more children. What other people think about your choice is totally irrelevant to your life, your happiness, and your ability to be a great parent. If you decide you only want one child, only have one child. Your only child will still have an amazing life that is full of people, experiences, and a whole lot of love.
Children are an amazing blessing. Family planning is a wonderful gift we are given, and no matter what you chose – I promise you-you can’t go wrong. Take the time you need to navigate your choice, explore your heart, and work with your spouse to find the right fit for your family. The only people that you need to factor in your choice are you, your partner, and your child. The rest of the outside chatter is simply noise, unimportant, and inconsequential. Follow your gut, and never look back.