I had my one-year-old baby on my hip and a positive pregnancy test in my hand and the first words out of my mouth were “What was I thinking?” With my first baby, I had heard about morning sickness, labour pain, sleepless nights and gross diaper explosions, but they didn’t seem real. This time around, though, I knew exactly what to expect. And I was doing it again anyway.
The transition from one baby to two is daunting, but you’re still considering it. Perhaps Grandma has started suggesting it’s time. Or maybe you’re feeling the urge to hold another sweet-smelling newborn in your arms. For most people, the decision starts with emotions that can be hard to pin down. “I guess I didn’t feel my family would be complete if I didn’t try for another one,” says Darcie Light of Richmond, BC.
Whichever way your heart leans, there could still be other feelings to sort out — yours, your partner’s and those of baby number one. Plus, there’s your physical state, and that of your bank account, to consider. Here’s a look at what to expect and how to prepare.
Start with the basics: mom’s body. Is it up to another pregnancy? As doula and childbirth educator Samantha Leeson of Georgetown, Ont., points out, “Your body needs some time to recover before it’s really ready to do it again.”
According to the most recent research, the optimal spacing between pregnancies is between 18 and 23 months. That gives the body time to heal and build up the nutritional resources that baby number two needs. Studies have shown that babies conceived less than six months after the birth of an older sibling are more likely to be premature, have a low birth weight or have abnormalities at birth.
Another physical consideration: having the energy to care for a new baby. For Molly Roberts of Guelph, Ont., that happened when her first daughter, Meredith, was about 20 months old and finally sleeping through the night. “At that point, I felt good to go again,” says Roberts. “In fact, it suddenly seemed like a long time since my first pregnancy.” But everyone’s timing is different. “I think I want another child, but James was colicky and that really knocked the wind out of my sails,” says Kay van Akker of Victoria, whose son is just over a year old. “Maybe in a year, I’ll be ready to try again.”
Mom’s age may be a factor. “I was 34 when I had my first and I had some infertility problems,” says Light. “When I had my second at 38, I wasn’t sure I would have the energy for a newborn!”
While younger mothers might have more energy for two, older moms tend to feel the pressure of the fertility clock. A 2009 US study reported that the average spacing between pregnancies for women in their 20s was 31 months; for women 30 to 34, 25 months; for those 35 to 39, 21 months; and for women 40 and up, 19 months.
It’s the budget, baby
In some ways, a second child is cheaper than the first. You already have the crucial equipment, plus you have the benefit of hindsight. Financial author and broadcaster Alison Griffiths says that with a first baby, so much is happening emotionally that parents often forget about managing the money. Did you buy an expensive automatic swing only to find your baby hated it? Did you buy two dozen undershirts that your baby outgrew in a week? Did you order takeout six nights a week because everyone was too tired to cook? This time you’ll know better.
Planning ahead will prevent stressful surprises. Are you self-employed? You’ll need to design a plan to cover expenses while you’re not able (or ready) to work. Griffiths also says many families are surprised that their maternity leave benefits are lower than they expected. “Figure out your new income,” she suggests. “Start living on the reduced amount, ideally before you even get pregnant.”
Working parents must also consider the cost of daycare. Jumping from one to two placements can be a shock to the budget, and while some centres offer family discounts, it isn’t usually enough to really soften the blow. “In some families, one parent stays home for a few years if their children are relatively close in age,” says Griffiths. “Another option is to space your children so only one is in full-time daycare at a time.”
Keep in mind that money isn’t the whole story. “You don’t want to make decisions about having a baby based only on money,” adds Griffiths. “Yes, it can be harder and more stressful if the money is tight — but people make it work.”
Sorting out feelings
It often comes down to how you feel, but that’s not always clear-cut. And partners don’t always agree.
Alison Stalker of Guelph, Ont., has always had a close bond with her sister and wanted her daughter, Kira, to have a similar experience with a sibling. But Samantha Leeson cautions against having a second child for the first. “Siblings don’t always get along, no matter what you do,” says Leeson, herself a mother of two. “That can’t be your only reason.”
All the same, Stalker admits that’s how she talked her husband, Mario Bourque, into having a second child. For him, the decision was tough. “Kira was about two when Alison started talking about having another,” he says. “I felt we were just getting back into our normal routine.” He became convinced, though, that it would be good for Kira to have a sibling — and so baby boy Rune joined their family.
It isn’t just partners who sometimes need a little encouragement. With a second pregnancy, you have a task that you didn’t have the first time around: preparing your older child. Says Leeson, “I like the analogy of a husband coming home and saying to his wife, ‘It’s been so great being married to you that I decided to get another wife. This is Suzy. Isn’t she cute? I know you two will be great friends.’”
Start talking to your older child about the new baby after you’re visibly pregnant, says Leeson. Otherwise, the wait is simply too long. Involve her as much as you can: Bring her to prenatal visits, take her with you when you go shopping for the baby, read her books about welcoming a new sibling. My doctor drew outlines of the baby on my pregnant belly with a washable marker so my toddler son could see how she was curled up inside me.
Stalker heard several second-time mothers talk about the challenges. “They’d say how tired they were. So I did a lot to prepare,” she says. “I had so many muffins in the freezer, we got sick of eating them!” Stalker’s biggest challenge was accommodating her eldest child’s schedule. “When Kira was a newborn, I mostly stayed home,” she reflects. “But this time, I had to take her to school, so I had to fit Rune’s naps and feedings around Kira’s day.”
A common pattern when the second baby arrives is for dad to spend more time with the older one so mom can focus on the newborn. It seems a logical arrangement, but it can cause problems. For Mario Bourque, Stalker’s husband, the lack of baby time means he doubts himself more the second time around. “I’ve had to force Alison to go out so I can be on my own with the kids and get closer to Rune,” he says.
And don’t be surprised if, despite all your preparations, your older child starts acting like a baby again. The best advice I received when I had children who were 20 months apart was to pretend they were twins. That’s not easy because the toddler who seemed so little before you went into labour suddenly looks all grown up. You might expect him to act grown up as well — he won’t. Three- and four-year-olds tend to regress most; they may want a bottle or the breast, or ask to wear diapers again. These desires rarely last long, and giving your older child extra attention (more cuddles, perhaps an extra story at bedtime) can help.
So, are you ready for a second baby? You might be surprised just how ready. “When I had one, I didn’t know how anyone could have room in their hearts and lives for a second,” says Melisande Neal of Millbrook, Ont. I felt the same way. But when my second was born, I was reminded of the scene in How the Grinch Stole Christmas, when the Grinch’s heart “grew three sizes.” That’s what happened when I felt my baby’s body against my chest and gazed into her deep blue eyes. I found I could, indeed, love another child just as much.
Stuck on second
You decide to have a second baby, stop using birth control and then, month after month, nothing happens. It’s called secondary infertility and it’s pretty common. “About half the couples with fertility problems have had at least one previous successful pregnancy,” says Ed Hughes, a professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at McMaster University in Hamilton.
Sarah Johns of Toronto conceived her first child a month after she stopped taking the pill. When he was two, she wanted to try for a second, but her periods had not returned.
“I knew something was up,” she says. After six months, she went to her family doctor who ran some blood tests, then referred her to an obstetrician. “I did about six rounds of Clomid (a medication to induce ovulation), but none of them was successful,” she says.
Then she was referred to a reproductive endocrinologist at a fertility clinic. The recommended treatment was fairly complex and required multiple visits, but Johns conceived on the second cycle. Unfortunately, she miscarried a few months later.
Hughes says that the most common causes of secondary infertility are irregular ovulation, abnormal sperm, and tubal disease or damage. Cervical problems, endometriosis and unknown causes make up the rest. Often there’s more than one problem.
Fertility declines with age, adds Hughes. “If you are over 35, ask for a referral to a fertility specialist after six months,” he recommends. “If you are over 38, go right away.”
If you are younger, but have signs there might be problems (for example, your menstrual cycles are irregular), get help early, says Hughes. “Younger couples with no obvious problems could continue to try for eight to 10 months.”
Secondary infertility can be a shock to those couples who conceived easily the first time. For Johns, it helped to talk to friends. “I really put my infertility out in the open, and they were very supportive,” she says. “I also took people to task when they said things like ‘If people would just relax, they would get pregnant.’”