By Kelley Allen
My husband and I have started talking about whether or not to have a second child. I have to believe that it’s a hard choice for any parent given the work involved in raising more than one human being at a time. With or without postpartum depression and anxiety, parenting is tough. The biggest fear coming up for both of us is postpartum depression. After being hit so hard in the year after our daughter was born, we are both terrified of experiencing it again. I wonder if I could survive it again. I wonder who would take care of our daughter and also a new baby if I were not well enough to do it. We don’t have any family nearby to help. My husband did the lion’s share of the work during my hardest time last year and the thought of him having to do it again, with two children in addition to a full-time stressful job, is almost too much for me to bear.
When we first started talking about it, he said he wasn’t sure if he could see me go through it again and didn’t want to have another child. At first, I was angry with him for this reaction. We had always talked about having two children and I felt he was setting me up for guilt with whatever decision we chose – guilt at only being able to have one child because of my PPD/A, as well as guilt if I do experience it again after having a second child. But I know that wasn’t his intention and we have continued to talk about it since. I now see that he was placing more value on me and my mental health than the possibility of another baby.
I know there are things I would do differently regarding prevention and support if we were to have another child. But I have to be realistic about my increased risk of PPD having already had it once, as well as a history of depression. My experience is still so raw. So the questions I ask myself are “Does this fear ever go away? At what point will we know whether or not we should try to have another child?”
For some reason seeing mothers with more than one child during my PPD/A was the hardest. The thoughts going through my head included “I don’t have what it takes to be a mother.” “Why would you ever do this again?” “Why am I not enjoying this enough (or why am I not good enough) to WANT to do this again?”
I have met a lot of other parents through my experience who have decided that the experience and risk of PPD/A is too high. A decision to care for a mother’s mental health is very rarely discussed. Finding women who have decided that one child is enough, whatever the reason, is rare, but there are stories out there. I recently came across a post here of a mother talking about this decision for her and her family. I fear there is a sense in today’s world that having only one child is bad. My husband and I have certainly heard our fair share of “When are you having your second?” or “Your daughter needs a sibling.” There is no right number of children to have. Every family is different. Every child is different.
For us, we recently met with a reproductive psychiatrist who spoke about prevention with regards to medication and therapy. She spoke of the risk of recurrence, about patterns repeating themselves. I feel “recovered” to a certain degree and now have some distance from the worst part of my PPD/A, however hearing this from her spiked my anxiety. I keep trying to remind myself to expect the worst, but hope for the best. She also spoke a lot about how everything is manageable. It may happen again, but it can be managed and we will get through it. My concern with this is how will we get through it with a very aware 3-year-old? How do we continue to parent her while going through it again?
We get help. If it happens, we get help.
We are to the point of thinking we will try again. And here’s why – what we went through will always be worth it because of what we came out with – our daughter. We can’t remember life without her, and I didn’t understand the concept of unconditional love before I became a mother. I am certain this would be the case with another child, if we have another one. With that being said, I also know that our life is quite full as it is now. We have an amazing daughter and we are all together and healthy. We aren’t going to try again because we feel pressure to have another, or because we think having only one child is bad. It is because we want to and it feels right for our family. I have many days where I worry that I am risking my mental health and the health of our family by trying again. But for us, after a lot of time and a lot of discussion, it is a risk we are going to take.
With that being said, I can not emphasize enough how important it is to really look at how you are feeling, what you want long-term, and what kind of prevention and support you have in place. This decision isn’t about what other people think or are telling you to do. It is you and your family’s decision. It has taken me nearly 3 years to get to the point of even considering the possibility of it. So if you’re not there yet, or you decide not to, accept that it is okay. You are important enough and know yourself and what you can handle best. Work to take care of your family, whether it be one child or ten, and work to take care of yourself.