The question, of whether to have a child, followed by of whether to have another child, is a question with which most women (and men) wrestle. As one Mom put it:
“I was newly married and it suddenly became very clear that it was time to try for a baby. The fear that I’d held onto for so long had simply evaporated and I found myself eager to take that path and meet my baby. My husband and I conceived right away…I think I have been waiting for that kind of clarity ever since, and I am starting to realize that it might not come.”
One reason mothers (and fathers) often state to have another is “I had the first one for me and the second one so they would have a sibling.” Research shows there are actually some benefits to having siblings. According to Colin Brazier, author of the book Sticking up for Siblings, having a sibling while growing up can help:
- Resist allergies, obesity, and depression (As an eating disorder therapist, and someone who recovered from disordered eating, I would dispute the reasons stated for resisting obesity, as his research shows that parents are more likely to be aware of kid portions if they have more than one child, and serve adult portions if they have one child. I don’t imagine anyone recovered from an eating disorder would make this mistake.)
- Be the antidote to helicopter parenting. Siblings can teach each other how to take risks, help with language and social skills.
- Make it easier to look after an elderly parent, deal with parental divorce, or cope with death of a parent if shared between siblings. (1)
On the other hand, there are many myths about only children that simply aren’t true. Lauren Sandler, an only child and mom of one and the author of One and Only: The Freedom of Having an Only Child and the Joy of Being One states:
The three biggest myths, she says, turn into one word — lonelyselfishmaladjusted — when people talk about us, despite the hundreds of studies that show only children are no different than people with siblings. She shows how only children are not lonely or maladjusted and actually have some strengths that siblings don’t.
“Only children become generous and respectful people. We put a lot of weight on our relationships. We tend to be very giving friends, and we are no more narcissistic than anyone else. For some reason, researchers cannot believe this, and just keep testing it.” (2)
And all of the data around that shows us that as long as kids go to school they’re socialized. Only children tend to have higher achievement, intelligence and self-esteem. Raised in a “rich verbal environment” they talk a lot — and with depth. (2)
It is interesting to note (as most research is “Me-search”) that the authors of each of these pieces are not only citing research, but sharing from their own family of origin and now parental experiences (of having siblings or being an only). In other words, there is no right answer, only living your way into the question. Here are some interview questions I asked three fellow “Recovering/Recovered Mama’s” and their unique answers to the process of deciding to have a child/children:
1. What made you decide to have one/more than one child?
“We always wanted a big family.”
“We went back and forth with the decision of another after our first was born. Before our first, we were certain we would have more than one but then after we were in the REALITY of what life was like as parent (CRAZY) we were back and forth. When I wanted a second child, my partner said no. When my partner wanted a second child I said no. Ultimately, we had our second child when we somehow both landed in the world of yes.”
“I have been sitting with the question of whether or not to have another child for some time. For a number of reasons, mostly to do with completing graduate school, starting new careers and a couple of inter-state moves, we have chosen to wait until things settled down…My son starts kindergarten in two weeks. Our life is good. And we’ve begun discussing the possibility of trying for another baby. Most of the time, during the day, I am feel positive and excited about the prospect. Then night arrives and my son has fallen asleep and I get my downtime. I generally sleep through the night, but when I wake up I often become anxious and overwhelmed with thoughts of all that could go wrong and by the idea of sleepless nights, breastfeeding challenges, and a few more years away from my career path. I’ve been having a difficult time getting clear about whether to try for another baby, or simply be grateful for the family that I do have and accept that we are enough. We are enough.”
2. What went into the process?
“I interviewed a handful of friends who grew up as single children about their experience. A lot of them shared feeling lonely and wanting a sibling but it also helped them find deeper connections with cousins and friends. Both [my partner] and I grew up with siblings and although there were challenges and frankly still are, we both agreed we wanted our first to have a brother or sister with whom she could connect on having the same parents. We joke about them saying ‘our parents are nuts,’ which will create a bond for them.”
“We were originally planning on having 3, possibly 4 children, but baby #1 took us years to conceive due to (a medical condition). After that resolved, we got pregnant 6 months later. However, it was 3 years after we began trying, so we felt that our time was running short. We started trying when I was 34 and my husband was 36…But our first baby came 3 months before I turned 38 and so the idea of a big family with our ages into consideration was not as strong.”
“My mother’s first child, five years before me, was born with a chromosomal abnormality and only survived for a few hours. The experience was traumatic, her baby girl was instantly whisked away and she was left alone (my father was in the waiting room) to wonder what happened. Her first birth experience had a significant impact on her second birth experience. I was born into the emotional baggage of that earlier trauma. I carried the remnants of that trauma with me well into my 30s. I was terrified of being pregnant, terrified of giving birth, terrified that I would be unable to birth a healthy baby.”
3. Did you do fertility treatment, adopt, have more or less difficulty with pregnancy?
“We did several fertility treatments the first time around, none worked until we found out the true problem, which was [something else]. After we got that fixed, we got pregnant quickly. The second baby was conceived on the first shot, as soon as I thought I was ovulating again, in fact, I never even got a period. ”
“I have had 5 pregnancies and 2 children. I had 2 miscarriages before [my first] and one before [my second]. I used acupuncture to help me in the pregnancies with both.”
4. How was your experience with having one child vs two children? What was the same /different?
“It was and is very difficult. More difficult than I thought. I wanted to bond with my new baby but my 22 month old still very much needed me and it was hard for him to see me with the baby. I had a hard time nursing the baby in front of the toddler because he would cry for my attention and climb all over him. He was very distressed for awhile. I found the newborn stage to be so much easier the second time around, it was my toddler who I found difficult. It was also difficult not to be able to take naps with the baby because when he slept, I still had a toddler to tend to, so I was extremely tired. I also had a harder time healing from my C-section which caused me a lot of pain because I was holding both a 9 pound infant and a 28 pound toddler.”
5. How was food/sleep/sex/self-care/work load/work outside the home/childcare with one vs two?
“I don’t know what any of those things are. I am hopeful though that eventually I will be able to integrate more self-care when my children are a little more independent. Right now they still need so much from me. The one thing that changed a lot was my body image. My body changed a lot after baby, lots of loose skin and dark circles under my eyes and much higher body fat– and I don’t care one bit. I feel in awe to have a body that can make, grow, and nourish two children. The way my body looks is so low down on my list of priorities that it’s felt like a giant relief. Food has been different too, I’m less aware and careful about what I’m putting in my mouth, which has also been a relief. I think that there were times that I was too cautious despite being ED free, I still thought about it. Now, I just eat lots of food whenever I want it to keep my energy up for breastfeeding and toddler chasing and playdates.”
“OMG, it is ALOT of work with two. Not just two times the work, but more like ten times the work. It is intense. The biggest challenges for me right now is competing needs. Whose need do I tend to first? How do I keep my patience when they are both screaming for me? They are in different developmental stages and need to do different things to occupy their day/time. They are starting to play together at moments which is great, hoping that increases as they get older. With a second, we had the stuff we needed with and were seasoned with the car seat, diaper bag, snack bag routine ect… We had adjusted to life with a child, which I think is a bigger transition than adding a second child, as there is so much personal sacrifice in life to be a parent, especially an older parent. Both my husband and I had LIFE experiences before having kids. We knew freedom really well. Our experience of having a child was transformative. When [our second child] came into our lives, there was not as much transformation as the stress of caring for two children vs. one child.
“We were starting to feel some more freedom when I got pregnant with our second, which led to more date nights, connection, some ease. But once the second came, it felt intense for the first year. This second year has been intense due to my Dad’s passing, moving, and buying our house. A lot was on our plates along with having two kids. So my perspective might be different if we had just had two kids without all the external stresses.”
“Sex we are working on. Mostly we are TIRED. But I think regular date nights would help.”
“We keep food simple. I feel like I ate better before kids but I also had more time to experiment and play. AND my kids are picky eaters like most kids. I have food in the house I would not eat prior to kids… ”
“Childcare has been stressful to figure out when it changes, especially balancing our older child going to school, while the younger stays with the nanny. And it is EXPENSIVE!”
“Self-care is always a work in progress.”
“I am still learning to balance it all. But I feel like that will always be the case until they leave home!”
1. Brazier, Colin, (2013), Sticking Up for Siblings
2. Sandler, Lauren (2013) One and Only: The Freedom of Having an Only Child, and the Joy of Being One.
Body image can be a source of distress and/or relapse trigger for recovering women. This is not a superficial issue, but a deeper question around identity transition and transformations that happen for moms-to-be. For more on body image during pregnancy and postpartum, see “Does being a mom make me look fat?”
Fertility and secondary infertility can be challenging for women with histories of disordered eating or drug/alcohol use. Many women have damaged their fertility due to the eating disorder and can be challenged at becoming or unable to become pregnant. According to one study (Sterwart et al, 1990) “a total of 16.7% of infertility patients were found to suffer from an eating disorder. Among infertile women with amenorrhea or oligomenorrhea 58% had eating disorders. Because women often fail to disclose eating disorders to their gynecologists and may appear to be of normal weight, it is recommended that a nutritional and eating disorder history be taken in infertility patients, particulary those with menstrual abnormalities. It has previously been shown that disordered eating and nutrition can affect menstruation, fertility, maternal weight gain, and fetal well-being.” (1)
Along with the choice about whether to and if so, how long and to what extent do fertility treatment is the often grueling process of trying successfully or unsuccessfully to become pregnant. Therapy can be helpful in this process in dealing with all the complicated issues and feelings this can include. One recent blog resource by Susan Allen, who is a LMFT in San Francisco, is: coping skills to center yourself through infertility
Family of origin attachment patterns can be deeply imprinted in the way we parent. This is something to be mindful of in not repeating past traumas and being conscious of what patterns we would like to keep and which we would like to change. Therapy is the most helpful resource in this regard.
Childcare Support from their families may be closer geographically or more emotionally available to women from families without eating disorders, alcoholism, or depression/anxiety. Building an “attachment village” of fellow mom friends and/or professional childcare support like nannies, babysitters, daycare, preschool can be an important part of keeping recovering moms sane and supported if the grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc aren’t available to help. One local mom resource is: Golden Gate Mother’s Group
Self care practices like getting enough sleep, the right kind of food, and not using/abusing substances such as alcohol, caffeine, and other drugs that can be difficult to maintain become excruciatingly during pregnancy and postpartum. Night doulas can be a helpful support resource for some moms. In the bay area, one such resource is bay area night doulas.
Many 12 step meetings also have phone support meetings for those people (like new moms) who are having trouble getting out of the house. Here is a link to phone meetings for Alcoholics Anonymous: aa phone meetings, and here is one to eating disorder anonymous phone meetings.
Perinatal mood disorders (ex Postpartum Depressiona and Anxiety) are common for women in recovery, as these are often what were beneath the disordered eating or alcoholism. Having a treatment team (Psychiatrist, Psychologist, support group specializing in perinatal mood disorders) ready and in place can be a crucial part of prevention and treatment for ongoing recovery. Postpartum Support International is a wonderful resource for moms and families struggling with perinatal mood disorders.
Survivors of abuse are often triggered at many points during the labor and delivery as well as breast feeding process. Many aspects of feeling one’s body is not your own or physical experiences that mimic what happened in abuse can be confusing for mothers who have abuse in their history. When Survivors Give Birth is a book published this past year that provides survivors and their maternity caregivers with extensive information on the prevalence and short- and long-term effects of childhood sexual abuse, emphasizing its possible impact on childbearing women. For more information: Penny Simpkin’s website
Being “Advanced Maternal Age” (or over 35 years old) is becoming more common for many women during pregnancy, especially those that have chosen to solidify their own recovery and/or career path prior to having a child/children. Being an older mom brings with it potential medical challenges and choices during pregnancy as well as postpartum. The “advanced maternal age” project is a resource of information and stories: advanced maternal age project
1. Stewart, Donna, Robinsonm Erlick, Goldbloom, David, Wright, Charlene, 1990, “Infertility and Eating Disorders,” American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Volume 163, Issue 4, 1196–1199.
This blog is not to be used to diagnose or treat eating disorders, alcohol use problems, or psychological illness. If you would like to schedule an assessment for treatment, including a perinatal mood disorder, you are welcome to contact Dr Linda Shanti at Linda@DrLindaShanti.com.
For immediate assistance/crisis, call 911 and for a National Suicide Prevention Hotline and Website: 1-800-273-8255 www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org