Number 2 – uh oh! (Part 3)

So why did somebody who professed in a series of posts that he didn’t want another child decide to have another child? It’s a reasonable question to ask and certainly requires an explanation – both for my readers and for the little sprog who will one day grow up and read it (who could be here in six hours or could arrive in six days – who the hell knows?).

For those of you who aren’t aware, I was averse to having a second child for a number of reasons – disruption to the first child’s life, not being sure I’d love it as much or be able to give it the same input, the intellectual approach to having the child (how much gap do you want between your kids?) rather than an emotional or spiritual one, and, most importantly, the fact I didn’t feel a pressing desire for one the way I did with the first.

That last one is the most important because it underpins all the others. If you do desire a second child, the clinical discussion of when you want it isn’t nearly so distasteful; you see the disruption to the first child’s life in terms of the positive effects it can bring; and despite a background dread that you’ll someone fail to bond with something new, you move forward with the faith that you will. Which goes to show that, while we see ourselves as rational beings, our arguments and the conclusions we reach are based as much on emotional factors as pure logic.

Why I desired a second child – that’s the real question.

It started at my wedding. Well, after my wedding, if we’re going to be technical, but it began in response to a conversation my mother had with a member of my wife’s family. See, my wife has always wanted a second child – even before the first – and nor is she averse to a fourth, sixth or eighth (however many we have, it apparently must be an even number, because reasons). She wanted more kids because it was unconscionable to her that Izzie should be an only child like she was.

I was always a little dismissive of that argument. Everybody wants what they didn’t have, and while the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, when you get there you find it still needs cutting. Having grown up with a brother, the presence or otherwise of siblings has never been an issue of much importance to me, and so I didn’t really understand where she was coming from.

Until a few weeks after the wedding, when my mother told me of this conversation that she’d had. My wife has always been rather coy about her childhood, and so I had never heard the stories of her growing up alone on her father’s farm after her mother left. I had never heard how she would wake up in a big empty farmhouse, her father already out with the cows; never heard how she was too far from the village to mix with the other kids; of how she’d sit alone as darkness fell, the only sounds the distant lowing of cattle or the wind breathing through the cornfields.

I certainly hadn’t heard that whenever people used to visit, she’d beg them to take her home with them, tell them she wouldn’t make a fuss, she’d sit in the corner and be quiet, if only she didn’t have to be quite so alone.

It was also a very confusing time. Growing up autistic, without being diagnosed, and with a father who, though doing his best, had no idea what to do about it, was clearly an emotionally crippling experience. And without someone to talk to, to share experiences, to discuss how she was feeling, my wife felt the lack of a sibling in a way few people probably ever do.

It was only then that I really understood my wife’s deep psychological need for a second child and her absolute terror of Izzie ever feeling anything like she had growing up. Of course, if we didn’t have a second child, Izzie’s childhood would be nothing like her mother’s, but even so, I started to wonder what she might miss out on.

I didn’t want to have a second child simply to benefit the first – I wanted to want one in its own right. But having a second child doesn’t simply benefit the first – it benefits both. They both get to share experiences, memories, good and bad; they have someone to moan to about their weird parents; and they have someone else who can teach them another aspect of what it is to be human.

And gradually, after having these thoughts, I started to feel a change in myself. I started seeing babies and becoming broody; started seeing families out and about with their little ones and wondering how big a gap there was between their ages; and ultimately started to feel as though I would like to go through the whole terrifying, exciting, exhilarating, life-affirming experience again.

And that is what it is – life. That’s about the best and only reason to have a second child.

I’ll close with the words of Kahlil Gibran:

Your children are not your children.

They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.

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Afraid of Number 2, Part 3

Irrespective of whether you are religious, spiritual, agnostic or atheist, having your first child is an act of faith.

No matter how much you learn or how well you prepare, no first time parent knows what they’re getting themselves into. You don’t know if you’ll make a good parent, or how you’ll cope with the lack of sleep, or the crying, or the screaming, or if your relationship will survive the stress. You don’t know what it’s going to be like changing nappies, or feeding, or bathing, or dressing, or being entirely responsible for another life in its physical, emotional and developmental needs. It’s the equivalent of being led blindfold to the edge of a cliff and then jumping off and trusting you’ll survive the fall. It’s not rational at all.

So why do we do it? Unless we play fast and loose with contraception, we do it because we’re driven to do it, without rhyme or reason. We do it because a couple of billion years of evolution have programmed it into our DNA to ensure our genetic legacy. And we do it because our hearts are crying out for completion, for something more to love.

Having a second child is nothing like that. It’s not such a leap into the unknown as you pretty much already know what it is to have and raise a baby. You know how your lives have changed, how your relationship has altered, and therefore how a second baby is likely to affect this fledgling family dynamic. As a result, discussions about a second baby are less to do with the heart than they are with the head.

‘I want Izzie to grow up with a sibling so she has someone to play with, learns to share, and won’t be lonely. I think an age gap of two to three years is best – with Izzie at pre-school there’ll be less disruption, and they’re close enough in age to get along. And I’m better with toddlers, you’re better with babies, so you can look after the new baby while I look after Izzie. It’s the perfect division of labour.’

So says my partner Lizzie. It all sounds very logical, and rational, and clinical, but logic had nothing to do with why I had Izzie. I had Izzie because my entire being was crying out to become a dad. There was a gap in my heart that I knew only a baby could fill.

Izzie filled it. It might change in the future, but right now I feel complete. My heart is whole. I don’t feel the pressing need to have a baby that I did before. So surely, then, it wouldn’t be right to have another baby purely because I can justify it intellectually?

And there are other considerations. As I wrote yesterday, Izzie was our miracle baby, a gift from the gods. How ungrateful would we be to take that miracle and demand another? And the journey to her birth was so long, and moving, and life-changing that how could a second baby possibly compete?

‘This is our daughter Izzie. After years of fertility treatment and events conspiring as though Nature itself determined that we should become parents, we were gifted with her presence. And this is our son Gregory.’

[pregnant pause]

‘We thought Izzie might like a playmate.’

Now I know that our children aren’t meant to compete, and I know that every child is a miracle (No, says the biologist, it’s a natural process resulting from the coming together of two gametes), but Izzie has set the bar pretty darned high. Even the reason for having a second baby – for Izzie’s personal development – means even before it’s born it’s in her shadow, not desired or considered in its own right the way Izzie was. And that’s just wrong.

It’s wrong to Izzie too. I love her so much and we’re so close, I feel like having another baby would be something of a betrayal. It’s like saying to her, ‘You’re great, and all, but we need more. And you can’t provide it. So there. Sucks to be you.’

And, in all honesty, I am afraid of having a second baby. My heart is full. People say that you always worry you won’t love the second child as much as the first, and then it arrives and your heart grows to fit all the love you feel and you don’t know what you were worrying about. You discover your capacity for love is boundless, and blah, blah, bollocks.

But what if you don’t? What if you discover that, heaven forfend, you have a limited capacity for love, and wouldn’t you know it, you’ve just hit your limit? Do not pass Go. Do not collect £200. Go to the back of the class.

I have specific reasons for my doubts. Because of my Asperger’s, I’ve always struggled to manage feelings and relationships. If I had a friend, I couldn’t be friends with anyone else because not only would it be a betrayal (I know it’s not, but I can’t help feeling it is), I couldn’t find the mental space to consider the needs of more than one person at a time. And when I have a partner, like I do now, the very thought of wanting to spend time with anyone else just makes me feel dirty. This is a lifetime pattern of behaviour. I’m a U2 kind of guy (one-love, one-life).

I loved the fish until we got the chickens; I loved the chickens until we got the cat; I loved the cat until we got the dog; and I loved the dog until we got Izzie. What if, by having another baby, I transfer my love to it and can no longer care about Izzie or manage to consider her needs in such a way that I go from being a good dad to merely an adequate one? I don’t want to turn my attention and my heart away from her towards anything else and let her down. The very thought of it is heartbreaking.

This is all a very long-winded way of saying I’m afraid of having a second child. I’m afraid I don’t have enough love to encompass two children. I’m afraid that my relationship with my daughter will irrevocably change. And I’m afraid if I’m spread so thin I’ll lose my ability to be a good, caring, attentive dad.

So in a way, I guess having a second child is a leap of faith. You’re not sure you’re going to love it – you don’t feel that you can – but you have it anyway, trusting that it’ll come good in the end. I said before that you can’t live your life imprisoned by fear, or else you deny yourself the chance of something good, and perhaps this is one of those things.

But not right now. Right now, I don’t feel the desire for a second baby, not on its own terms. My heart isn’t crying out for something to love. And until it does, I can’t even think about bringing another child into this world.

It’s explaining this to Lizzie that’s the hard part.

Afraid of Number 2, Part 1

No, this isn’t a post about poop – I’ve done enough of those. And I’m not afraid of poop anymore – I’ve changed so many nappies now that I’m the poop master. Well, maybe not the master – after changing Izzie and washing my hands, I quite often look down half an hour later and think, ‘Why on earth is there poop on my knuckle?’ – so maybe I’m more like the poop first mate. Or at least the poop deck hand. But that’s by the by.

Instead, this post is about baby number two.

With the little sprocket now being nine months old, the same amount of time she was in the womb, the subject of repopulating said womb has been raised. Actually, it was first raised when Izzie was five weeks old and her mother informed me she was desperate to be pregnant again. So in truth, the subject is not now being raised so much as I’m being beaten repeatedly over the head with it.

Trouble is, it’s an entirely cerebral conversation – how much of an age gap do you want between the kids, do we wait until the first child is at preschool or go for it as quickly as possible, how many kids do you want in total? This has prompted Lizzie to suggest we start trying for a second baby in October. Rather, she has tried to suggest it – I have recently developed a serious medical condition where I go deaf whenever the subject is broached. Shame.

People seem to think that second babies will be easier than the first, and I guess that’s true in the same way that the fire that sweeps through the ruins of your house after it’s been knocked down by a tornado isn’t that bad because you’ve already lost everything anyway. But don’t forget that alongside the new baby you have a toddler. As hard as it is with one, it’s going to be exponentially harder with two. It’s like a man hanging off a cliff with a brick in his hand suddenly deciding he wants to hold a second brick in his other hand and hang on by his teeth – it’s doable, I suppose, but good golly gosh you’re making things difficult for yourself.

And I’m not sure I’m capable of planning my reproductive future with anything even approaching logic. ‘How many children do you want?’ asks Lizzie. How could I possibly know the answer to that? I have no idea what our lives would be like with two kids, let alone three, four, five. It’s a totally abstract concept. It’s like asking how many hairs I’d like in my eyebrows – um, a hundred? A thousand? I don’t have a freaking clue.

This could be because I’ve never given the possibility of a second child a moment’s thought. Bizarrely for someone who has taken hold of this parenting thing like a drowning man a lifeline, I spent all of my life up to fifteen months prior to Izzie’s birth not wanting kids – gritty, snotty, smelly little things that would take up my time, my energy and my money. But something happened to change all that.

Around four years ago, Lizzie’s mum asked when we were going to make her a grandmother. Cheers for that. I told her that I didn’t want kids because I always thought I’m too selfish for kids, I never wanted to pass on my depressive mindset to another generation or inflict my bullshit onto anyone else, and I wouldn’t be a good role model, not to mention that it’s a shitty, overpopulated world filled with misery, despair and an aching sense of ennui, and what possible right, or rhyme, or reason did I have playing God and bringing a little person into it? Frankly, the thought of a little version of me running around, blaming me for forcing it into life, was the worst hell I could imagine.

Her response was: ‘Well, that doesn’t stop Lizzie having children.’ And before I knew it, donor sperm had been imported from Denmark and some random fellow named Jan was going to impregnate my significant other.

It was, without a doubt, a game-changer. But since Lizzie acquires pets like a successful zoo then leaves me to look after them, I figured it would be something like that – I would help her raise the unholy affront to nature, but without any responsibility for deciding upon its future or blame for giving it faulty genes. In short, I would be uncle dad, mummy’s partner, and nothing more. Hardly ideal, but it was that or leave. And truth be told, I was looking forward to the Facebook update – ‘My girlfriend’s pregnant.’ ‘Wow, congratulations, you’re going to be a dad.’ ‘I never said I was going to be a dad. I said my girlfriend’s pregnant.’ Ouch…

So we embarked upon a journey of IUI treatment (intra-uterine-insemination) involving blood tests, internal and external ultrasounds, dye injected into fallopian tubes, hormone therapy that turned Lizzie into a snarling, vicious animal, daily injections, suppositories and counselling. We watched follicles grow day by day on her ovaries but never get large enough to pop. She became a medical object that had to be scanned and poked and prodded and studied, month after month after month. Not good times, for sure.

But then, amazingly, one of the follicles grew. And it kept growing. And it reached the right size. So we gave her an injection to release the egg, and a day later Jan came out of the freezer and his seed was separated from his juice (the womb is designed for sperm; semen irritates it), and he was placed into a long transparent tube and off he went.

Then something strange happened. I discovered in that sterile, unromantic hospital room that somewhere between watching the follicle grow on the ultrasound screen and repeatedly injecting hormones into Lizzie’s belly, her journey had become my journey. And good gosh I hoped that Dane’s alien sperm knocked up my girlfriend…

Continued tomorrow…