More Children After the Disabled Child: Is It a Good Choice?

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When my husband and I found out that we were expecting our third child, we were very excited. One of the joys of expecting a child is sharing the news with friends and family. Unfortunately, instead of hugs and congratulations, we received critism and half-hearted blessings. It was disheartening. By the time I shared the news with my co-workers, I was in tears. This baby was making his or her way into the world and we felt very alone in our joy. The scarce number of people who were sincerely happy for us was not enough to extinguish the guilt and sorrow we were beginning to feel. It was not what I wanted or expected when announcing a pregnancy. My husband and I may have took the hard road to find each other but we had a strong marriage, probably because of it.  We had problems concieving our first child but were eventually blessed with two boys. We also worked hard to care for our family. The doubt about our third pregnancy was surrounding our disabled son. We were met with questions and disappointment as if we never considered what it meant to bring another child into the world while navigating the issues related to raising our disabled son. We were treated like the pregnancy was completely unplanned and the decision to expand our family was rash. I will never forget how the reaction put a dark cloud over my excitement.

Our disabled son was two when we conceived our third child. I was told by my doctor that we should consider having another child if it was something we may want to do in the future. I had health issues that could possibly halt a chance to get pregnant again. When faced with this information, we considered all of our options. Yes, raising a disabled child had it’s difficulties but we had decided that we wanted him to be a big brother, even before his diagnosis. We also weighed the risks and benefits to having an infant in the home. We knew we had to be careful allowing him around a baby because he didn’t fully understand how to be gentle and boundaries were something he was struggling to understand. We knew his health issues took our time and resources. We also knew the mutual benefit of having another child in our home would be for our disabled son and another child. I realized with some sorrow that a new child would most likely surpass his cognitive abilities but with that would be a chance for him to have a playmate close to his cognitive level. After discussing and weighing these risks, benefits, and more, we carefully made our decisions based on what we desired for our family. Neither of us wanted to let his disease also take away the joy of expanding our family. It had already taken so much. We didn’t want him to grow up knowing he was the reason we never had more children. How did we know he would not enjoy the company of another sibling? We didn’t. We decided  another little person would join our sometimes crazy, chaotic family and we trusted in something bigger than ourselves to help us if it became difficult. We had to ignore the nay-sayers and be happy about the decision we had made because it was best for us. I wish we would have felt supported in our decision. Instead, we were explaining why we came to this conclusion to people who really had no true understanding of our family. We felt like we were two teenagers trying to explain our unexpected pregnancy instead of a married couple announcing a joyful pregnancy. In hindsight, no one would have got the lengthy explanation we were giving, we would have asked for the respect and support we needed. We would have to let time prove we were strong enough for the challenge.

It’s three years later and we have no doubt that we made the best decison. We were also surprised with a fourth child. We had decided to stop at three and elected to have  surgery to help with my health issues. It was a week before my scheduled surgery date when our youngest daughter snuck in under the radar. We were met with the same skepticism by the same people. Yet another announcement was shrouded in gloom due to the lack of understanding. Most people waited for our reaction because they knew another baby would take more time and resources. My husband and I were once again elated to have the opportunity to bring another life into the world.  I think some people would rather try to be a voice of reason than that of support and it’s sad. Sometimes it’s needed but not in a situation such as this. No good was going to come from criticism. No matter what, the baby would arrive in several months. Sharing doubt and disappointment would only make the critics feel better about themselves. It didn’t do anything but snuff the joy out of our announcement. I would hate for anyone else to feel the way we did.

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I wrote this post because the question of having more children after a disabled child comes up in support pages often. I wanted to offer my advice and share our experience. My husband and I knew we had a strong marriage and we supported one another. We knew if no one else supported us, we were okay with our choices. We did what was right for us. We knew our son’s weaknesses and we knew bringing another child into our family was within our capability and within his capability to learn how to interact with another sibling. Our oldest daughter is now his best friend, she tells us often. She sets up his play bowling set in the hallway over and over because she knows he can’t do it himself. Sometimes he yells at her or gets aggravated but she keeps helping. They are mutually learning something from each other. She is learning tolerance and he gets a chance to socialize. My disabled son has just as much to teach us as we have to teach him. He is teaching my typical children that friendship isn’t based on ability or disability. Friendship is time spent together and learning to love differences. They look forward to doing something they enjoy together, like playing pretend bowling. I can only hope his life with us will effect our typical children in a positive way. Maybe they will choose to play with the ignored child at school that reminds them of their brother or they will stand up for intolerance because they have already been taught to meet disability with understanding. I am sad no one else could see what my husband and I did three years ago. It is sad that I will always think of the disappointment others shared instead of joy when we found out my beautiful daughters were going to be a part of our family. I have forgiven but it isn’t easily forgotten (a subject of my next post). If we had decided to stop having children, that decision would have also been made with love. We would have appreciated the same support and understanding with either decision. Being blessed with a special needs child also means taking extra care with decisions for our future. We did consider both paths before making our decision and we respect anyone who faces the same.

If you are reading this and are on the outside watching a family with a disabled child decide whether or not to welcome a new family member, be supportive. Offer an opinion only if you know the situation is dire or if the family asks your opinion. If you are a family member or friend of a strong family who decides having a baby is a good choice for them, don’t be the gray cloud lingering over the parent’s joy. Chances are, that disabled boy or girl will be a pretty awesome big brother or sister and those babies you aren’t sure about will grow up to be tolerant and loving children because of those special circumstances. There is a lot of love in a big family, especially in a big, special needs family. If you have been told that having another child is not the best choice for a special needs family, offer the same amount of support and understanding. Be a comfort if needed. Sometimes deciding to stop having children is a difficult choice and if circumstances were different, the family would love to grow their family. These parents have plenty of variables that weighed in on a their choice. It may not be the choice they envisioned but it is the best choice for them and their special needs child.

In the end, there is no cookie cutter decision that suits every family. There will always be strong opinions on the subject but families have to decide what is best for them. Bringing a child into the world after a special needs child can have good and bad points but it is a choice parents need to consider carefully. Chances are, if another child is announced in joy or a decision has been made to stop having children, they have thought about all the possibilities and it’s best to share in the joy and/or offer your support and leave the criticism for another subject.

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Reply by ~L~

I know I am guilty of the knee-jerk negative reaction and I know that you know that I apologized because after I thought about it,  knew I’d hurt your feelings with my thoughtlessness. Not all people are willing to see something from someone else’s perspective but I always try to make sure I at least give it a shot. I didn’t immediately realize that I wasn’t considering it from your angle.

And you couldn’t be more right about the benefits and I know you would never need a lecture about the hardships of adding another child to a special needs family. If everyone had a disabled sibling to grow up with, the world would probably be an exponentially better place instead of the judgmental, intolerant place it can often be.

Your kids are loved immensely, taught well, and being brought up in such a way that they will be good human beings. To me, that’s what really matters.

Diary of a Mad Allergy Sufferer

I’ve been up since 4AM. My husband gets up that early to go to work and I don’t know how he’s still standing at 9PM. My allergies have been nasty this winter. It probably has something to do with the house being all shut up and there being an extra cat (one of my worst triggers) here with Granny. So, I was awakened several times last night with that annoying little tickly cough and finally jarred completely awake at 4.

I’ve had allergies as long as I can remember and if you suffer too, you know the struggle is real. No, really. It sucks. Try going anywhere and staying overnight with your friends in a hotel. When you wake up in the morning and you’re hacking phlegm all the way up from your toes in that super echoy bathroom making your friends swear a 65-year-old lounge singer who’s smoked her whole life sneaked into the room sometime in the night and is using the bathroom. Like nature? Not since I’m allergic to air. Even though I have an admiration and respect for the flora and fauna that grace this planet, I catch myself leering at the fields of corn, soybeans, wheat, flowers…well, you get the idea. I love animals but when I look at them, all I see is the near future consisting of a box of tissues and itchy eyes. I think a combo of being a cleaner and allergic to everything makes me see things like intricate, ornate woodwork, ledges along high ceilings, or lots of knickknacks as an evil conspirator with dust. It also makes me dumb. Or just very unlucky.

I’m really good at cleaning so it only makes sense that my body would react to the activity like it was trying to put out a fire with my draining nose. It’s a cruel joke, in my opinion. But it doesn’t stop me from cleaning. If anything, I clean harder. Most of the places I clean I’ve been doing for long enough that the dust is under control. However, as I’ve mentioned before, I’ve faced a problematic job since the end of last summer. With three people and five large breed dogs in the house, the dust is never under control. It’s dust chaos. If I were to try and remove it from every surface, I’d be there the rest of my life because as soon as I got through the house, which is over 3000 square feet, I’d have to start over again. The dust settles so quickly that each week, it’s like I never dusted at all. With my OCD, the part of cleaning that is so satisfying is seeing the difference I make. It makes my mind happy and all the physical work worth it. I see a sliver of it when I’m done for the day, but I know it will only last a matter of hours and that almost hurts. This is just proof that my love for cleaning is a mental disorder.

So, I decided to quit. I need the money but as I’ve mentioned in the post Open Doors and Benadryl , it’s not worth it. I’ve also lost numerous Fridays of possible productivity because I simply am too sick to get off the couch. The allergic reaction from being exposed to the dust and dog hair lasts into the night and often leaves me feeling horrible the following morning. I’m tired of losing time because of it. It would be one thing if I felt like I made a difference but I don’t. Not only is the dust always back, my hard work goes unacknowledged and even disrespected at times. It wasn’t until the day I decided to quit the first time (I got a temp position and thought I could quit cleaning), that I was told that I was doing a good job. I don’t expect to hear it every time I clean, but I need to know that I am meeting expectations. It’s necessary to know what I need to do better. I don’t like taking people’s money and not giving them what they pay for. It also lets me know that what I’m doing is helping them, and that’s the core of why I do what I do. I’ve had more than one occurrence of the family walking right over my wet floors as I mop. In the beginning, things were picked up so I could do my job, but as time went on, less and less was put away, causing me double the work in the same time frame. I’ve never gotten out in the agreed upon 4 hours. It was always 20-45 minutes longer and that’s time I was never paid for. I could’ve said something, but I was afraid to lose the job by asking for more money. Now, the money has become a secondary issue to my health.

Two more weeks, and I can walk away. I’ll be devoting my free time slot to my writing and my new job. Both of which give me more validation and respect. I wish the family the best and hope that they might realize they need more than a weekly cleaning lady. They need a full-time housekeeper. And that definitely isn’t me.

~L~