Siblings: To Have or Have Not?

June 5, 2013

Finally complete!

Are you thinking about having another child, but not sure it is the right decision? This is how I wrapped my head around having two more children after having a child with severe cerebral palsy.

When our oldest son suffered a significant birth injury which left him with moderate brain damage, a g-tube, seizures and a very grim prognosis, the last thing on my mind was having more children. In fact, the idea of it was terrifying.

Before he was born, I had always thought I would have three children. It was clear in my mind that three was the perfect number. My husband felt two might be more reasonable, but it was up for discussion. The first year of my son’s life was tumultuous. I learned about subjects I did not know existed and was thrown into a culture that I could not fully embrace. I honestly felt that there was no possibility of me having another child because of the demands I was facing with just one. Additionally, when you are in the world of special needs, people feel obligated to tell you about every birth tragedy they have ever known. For a long time, I wondered how any babies came out unscathed.

A “support person” was sent to my house to counsel me through our new reality, and the first thing she told me was to have more children. I was baffled. How could I possibly bring another child into the world when I had one who needed so much? Where would I find time to take care of another child? But her saying this gave me permission to be open to the possibility. Inside, I truly did want to have a bigger family, but didn’t know how it could work. Through that first year, I spent a fair amount of time in a therapist’s office working through my feelings, emotions, marriage, etc. Through this important step in my healing and becoming a “real” person again, I came to the reality that I NEEDED to have another child. In fact, I needed to have at least two more children.  This decision did not come without some very serious contemplation and conversations with myself and my husband. So, when people say, “I don’t know how you do it. I don’t know if I would have had the courage to have more children,” I tell them it was the best decision I have ever made. And this is why…

I realized that part of my healing would come from having more children. Being able to balance the terrifying feelings of a birth-trauma experience, with a non-traumatic event was imperative. As a parent of an only child with special needs it is very easy to perseverate on that child and everything that surrounds their being. It is easy to get lost in how to help, what therapies to try, and the endless cycle of following up with doctors, therapists, equipment/supply providers and insurance companies. This day to day reality is extremely draining, and that was all I was living. I spent the first year and a half of my son’s life driving him from appointment to appointment trying to help him, while feeling frustrated, helpless and a bit resentful. Having a second child would allow me to focus on something else, while still providing for my first child. So, 27 months and two miscarriages later, we had another son. I won’t sugar coat things, those first six months were extremely difficult. I was tired, stressed and worried that we had made the right choice. We knew that having more children would mean we were choosing a different path for our first son. With our attention, resources, and time divided, we knew there would be things we would not be able to do for him. Although, by providing a sibling we would be giving him something he could never get from just having us.Fast forward 13 months, and we found out we were pregnant with our third child. This was an unplanned pregnancy, and the only one that was not completely saturated in stress. Up until this point, my husband and I had not decided whether or not to have a third child. He was completely satisfied with our two boys, but I wasn’t sure. I really felt that we needed another child to be a support for the second child. To be the only sibling of a child as involved as our first would be challenging. A third child could share some of the weight of having a brother with special needs.

When she arrived the feeling of completeness in me was overwhelming. Perhaps because she was a girl, or maybe because I had realized my long-time vision of having three children, or possibly because I realized that life with a special needs child does not have to limit your family dreams.

Sibling Pirates

Sibling Pirates

My children are now three, four and seven years old. I cannot imagine life without each one of them. Not only are my younger children enriching their older brother’s life, but they are becoming compassionate, loving little people by having a big brother like our son. My daughter snuggles with her big brother and brings him toys to play with, and my four year old son blows “raspberries” on his brother’s cheek every night before bed. There are days, and sometimes weeks that I think I might go crazy, but it’s the best crazy you’ll ever know.

Each family has a perfect number that will work for them; it may only be one. Some parents know instinctively that one is best, but I want to assure anyone who is considering more children that it can be a wonderful blessing for the special child in your life.