During Michael’s first year I remember my most frequent two thoughts. One was – I have never loved anyone as much as I love this little kid. When he smiles or laughs, it makes me happier than I’ve ever been. The second thought was: oh my god, why do people ever have kids? This is the most horrible thing that has ever happened to me, why did I do this to myself? Yes, I’m sure hormones had a hand in this. And of course, Michael was a particularly difficult baby. But here I am, thinking about trying for a second baby next year, and doing it to myself all over again.
To tell the truth, it’s probably a stupid idea. A ‘normal’ person (not us) has a roughly 1.5-2.5% risk of having a child with autism. With us, or anyone else that already has one, the risk increases about tenfold. We spoke to a geneticist who said our risk is about one in eight. This will vary depending on whether we have a boy or a girl but it’s a real possibility either way.
I know at this point there will be keyboard warriors out there warming up their typing fingers. ‘My six sons both have autism,’ they will write, ‘and I am a single parent, and my life is so much harder than yours. So stop complaining.’ Someone else will comment that by admitting fear I am somehow saying I don’t love my son as he is. I get enough parents (usually of very high functioning kids) attacking me for doing any kind of early intervention with my son. Apparently I should just leave him alone and let him do whatever he wants.
That’s ok, I suppose that publicly blogging about things means that I have to be prepared to have people disagree with me. But I’m always honest about the hard decisions that we have to make as the parents of a child with special needs. So here it is. My exploration of why I’m terrified of having another little one, and yet totally going to do it anyway.
Looking After Michael and Someone Else is Impossible
Every time I think about having another baby, I think – how can I do that? How can I handle what I’m already doing, and have a newborn? What resources will I have left to give another little one?
It’s like a bad pop song, where the chorus just keeps coming back and it’s getting all whiny and annoying. Everything I do, I think about how this will look like once I have two children. With a one in eight chance that the second one will also have autism, that second child might be just as difficult as Michael was. And frankly I don’t take sleep deprivation well. I really like sleeping. How do I keep going with the therapy hours, the endless paperwork, make those interminable flashcards, do the housework, and look after a new baby?
Even now that Michael’s team has been built up, and there are technically four therapists on it, there are many days where it is just up to my husband and me. I can’t even imagine taking Michael to the shops with another little one in tow. How can I physically do it, when Michael won’t walk five meters in a direction that I want him to go in? He won’t be in a pram forever, and he’s getting very strong and fast.
Unlike all the other little kids whose mums I see at the plaza, he doesn’t quietly run in circles around me. Michael runs straight as an arrow, and right towards the busiest street with all the cars. I have no idea how I’m going to take him out if there’s a newborn coming along as well. I have written previously about how autism parenting is olympic level. What about autism parenting with two children?
My Little Newborn Will Get No Attention or Sleep
And even if I figure all of that out, what about the baby? Little One Number Two (also known in my head as LONT) won’t get the attention that Michael got. No other baby in history probably gets the level of care Michael got. But LONT won’t even get the level of care a usual second or third child gets.
She’ll be lucky to get breastfed the way Michael was, and is unlikely to get much sleep. Michael can be very vocal when he has trouble falling asleep, and these days he always has trouble. He probably wakes every baby on the street. At the same time, the tiniest peep from her might wake him up for three or more hours. I have actually considered renting a small apartment near our house where I can take her to sleep at night, if things get rough. Yes, I’ve already gone insane and I’m not even close to being pregnant yet.
Having Another Baby Will Make Me a Nutcase
I’ve read that women have a special hormone that enables them to forget that awful pregnancy stuff. And the first year stuff. And I guess it makes sense that we would have one – otherwise why would anyone ever have more than one child? But I think my body has decided to skip that hormone. I can remember everything! Cooking dinner (when it happened) with a baby hanging off me. At one point I slept upright on the lounge because Michael refused to sleep anywhere other than the sling.
I remember going to the hairdresser and crying because I was away from my baby for two hours. And crying again if someone took him for a walk and he was away for too long. Or crying because I had spent all day with him, he wouldn’t stop whingeing, and I wanted to kill someone.
I’m pretty sure my husband concluded in that first year that he had married a maniac. Possibly because of that time I left Planet of the Apes ten minutes early (during the dramatic finale) because I had a feeling Michael needed me. Turned out, he had just woken up and wanted his milk, so I was right. Still a nutcase, but at least I’m a nutcase with good instincts.
And I think I’ll still be that nutcase the second time around. But the thing is, I won’t have the chance! My instincts will be telling me to be with my little one all the time. And my supervisor will be telling me to practice PECS with Michael, all the time. Unfortunately there’s only so many things you can do while breastfeeding, so something will have to give at some point.
I’ll Miss My Cuddle Time
The hardest thing I remember was the change in our relationship with my husband. How we really had to decide between sleep, a shower, and five minutes of cuddle time. Even now we take turns with Michael, and luxuries like eating food and going to the bathroom. I guess with a second little one we might see each other even less. Everyone goes through this, I know it all goes back to semi-normal in a few years, but I don’t want to lose my cuddle time. I need my cuddle time. Yesterday, my husband and I went out and danced together for the first time in ages. It was wonderful. Sigh, I’ll miss it. Maybe when we’re fifty we can do it again?
Will They Like Each Other?
The thing that really scares me though is the future sibling relationship. I know, thinking about a relationship between an existing two year old and a baby that isn’t even close to being real yet, is crazy. That’s ok, I have made my peace with my insanity – as has my husband (I think). But will baby number two understand why Michael always gets all the attention? I have never had a sibling with special needs, so naturally I have no idea what LONT will have to go through. It probably won’t be easy. Will there be enough love and understanding between them that they will get through it all? Or will it be resentment, and jealousy, and ‘why me?’ Probably a bit of both. Hopefully, more of the nice things.
Common Sense is For Wimps, I’m Doing It Anyway
Now I know what you’re thinking. OK, you’ve convinced me, you don’t have to have any more kids. No one is making you!
I think that when parents of a special needs child have another one, it is a supreme act of love and faith. We cast aside (like all parents, actually) all reason, logic, and sense of self-preservation. And instead of that we think of how much love we feel for the child we already have, and have faith that we will have just as much for the next one as well. That because of this love we will be able to get through the difficulties and still give each one the attention they need.
If we get grandchildren out of this, and someone to guilt trip into driving us for our endless medical appointments when we’re (hopefully) over 70, all the better. Odds are, we may not get either of these things. But I for one don’t look at my child, or a future one, as an achievement trophy to show other parents. ‘See, she gave me three grandchildren’, ‘see he’s a famous lawyer’. It really is just another human being to love. The world needs more love.
So I will try to only think about that newborn smell, the first smile, the first laugh. How beautiful he felt nestled into me when I was feeding him. Little babies are the most kissable objects on earth. And I have come really close to running away with other people’s babies recently, so I should probably just get my own.
I want to see another human being take form and grow. And I want another source of hugs and kisses. You can never have too much of that.