A couple weeks ago, I opened up my IG stories to quick advice questions anyone might have (saved to a highlight reel here). The most common question was: “How did you know if you wanted a second baby?” I gave a brief answer in my stories, but I thought I’d open the topic here, too, for anyone else contemplating this question or able to share a personal experience.
Much like deciding whether or when to have a baby in the first place, I think a lot of the decision process comes down to listening to your heart, considering your family dynamic and whether you think a baby will add or detract from it, and thinking about timing and long-term goals and plans and how a baby might fit into or disrupt such plans. There’s no real magical formula – especially the “listen to your heart” part – but, obviously, talking it out can help one arrive at a decision. (And it should go without saying that making a decision is just part of the process; even if you want a baby, things may not work out that way.) The most important piece of advice I can give when it comes to having a baby, whether it is a first baby or second or more is:
Don’t do it if you’re on the fence (at least, don’t set out to do it; if you get accidentally pregnant and feel on the fence, that’s a different discussion). (AND if you’ve already decided you don’t want any kids at all and prefer a post about that, you might like this one, “Women Discuss: Deciding to Never Have Children”).
For me, deciding to have a second baby worked pretty much like deciding to have the first: My husband made known that he was very open and eager and that the decision was mine and he would respect it. I was on the fence for a long time (both in deciding for a first baby and then in deciding about a second). I mostly knew I wanted a first baby, but I wasn’t sure when. And then, on the morning of New Year’s Day 2011, when I was 34 years old and Drew and I had been married for a year and a half, I woke up and it was like a switch had been flipped. I went from “not sure” to “sure” – just like that.
The second time around, I was less sure that I wanted a baby at all. Parenting a baby and toddler had been challenging for me and I didn’t know if I was cut out for more than one (truthfully, at the time, I didn’t know if I was cut out for the one I had). But when I thought about not having any more, there was a nagging feeling that our family wasn’t complete – like there was a soul out there who was meant to be with us. I did a lot of soul-searching for a year and talked it out a bunch. One of the friends I talked to was someone I knew from college who was a mother herself and also a therapist (it’s nice to have friends who are therapists!). I laid out my whole thought process and finished with “I just don’t know if I want a second child,” to which she replied, “Yes, you do.”
I didn’t understand what she meant. If I knew, I wouldn’t be talking it out like I was. I wouldn’t be asking for advice. I wouldn’t be agonizing. I would KNOW. You know? I told her all this, and she repeated: “You already know what you want.” And then she explained that I also knew what having a baby and toddler was like and, knowing how challenging those years are – and not knowing what the years after three-years-old might be like – it was exceptionally hard for me to embrace the anticipated stress without proof that the subsequent years might be a little easier as a parent. She was right, but as soon as I looked at it that way, I felt the knowing so acutely. I DID want a second baby; I was just scared to have that second baby. I was confusing fear with indecision.
Drew and I had that second baby about a year after my discussion with my therapist friend. I’m happy to say that parenting a baby and toddler the second time was so much easier, though I think that has as much to do with the temperaments of my babies as my experience level. And the years beyond three-years-old have been so fun and wonderful. My kids are 11 and 7 now and I truly love these ages and the relationships I have with each of my kids and the relationship they have with each other, as well as the family dynamic we all share together (along with Drew, of course). And as soon as Joanie, our second, was born, I made known that I was “two and through,” as the saying goes, and Drew made an appointment for a vasectomy shortly after.
How about you all? Did you ever struggle with decisions around whether to have a baby? How did you handle deciding?
Lady_Red January 18, 2023, 1:04 am
My husband and I agreed on wanting two kids before we were married. But when our second was about 15 months old, I started getting baby fever. I told my husband, thinking he’d be the rational one and shut me down, but instead he said “let me think about it”. We had all sorts of pros and cons for adding another child to our family and just kept going back and forth. What really cemented it for me one day was looking at an ad for a craft store and seeing a sign that said “(our last name) party of 4”. It was a literal sign that said our family should be 4. And it broke my heart. So we’re now a party of 5.
Dear Wendy January 18, 2023, 11:30 am
Oh, I love that! When I am indecisive about less important things, like where to go out for a dinner date, Drew will tell me to flip a coin and if I am disappointed by the results, I’ll have a better idea what I really want. It usually works!
scattol January 19, 2023, 11:49 am
And now you realize that the world is made for “Party of 4”.
Turn up 5 and suddenly cars, restaurants, planes don’t have room for all of you in one nice tidy spot.
Ah, well, that’s why they have minivans and restaurant tables are movable.
H January 18, 2023, 2:25 am
Hmmmm. This is not a good story, looking back.
I am extremely close to my sister. We had a difficult and violent childhood but made it through, and I honestly don’t know what I’d do without her.
So, I always had it in my head that if I had one child, then I’d have two, if you see what I mean.
The signs weren’t good. My marriage was already bad: my husband unkind and controlling. We had our first child and then I had terrible post-partum depression. Then my father killed himself and I went to pieces.
Eventually I recovered and my husband agreed to have another baby. After I got pregnant, I realised my marriage was in terminal decline but still hoped somehow I could “change” so that my husband would love me again (turned out that was impossible).
Having a second baby was a delight: no PPD, thankfully.
But our marriage was dead, despite my best efforts.
Having tried everything, and tired of hearing how our problems were all my fault, I left him when our younger daughter was 2.
Fast-forward ten or so years.
I am very lucky. I am re-married to a good man. We share four wonderful children: my two from my first marriage and his two from his.
My husband and I did discuss having a baby when we first got together, but given we already had four kids between us, we got a dog instead.
My thinking may not have been rational at the time I decided to have my second child but I’m glad with how everything’s worked out.
Dear Wendy January 18, 2023, 11:33 am
Well, I think this a good story, actually. There are unhappy notes, but look where you are now. I like to think that its much of life adversities that help us really appreciate the good stuff when we have it (and it sounds like you have it now!).
Lucidity January 19, 2023, 6:57 am
We needed a fourth for board games nights. Most games just don’t work as well with only three players.
In all seriousness, we had more love to give and thought our daughter had love to give too. I think it had a lot to do with the fact that both my husband and I had siblings. My sister was and still is my best friend, and I wanted my children to (hopefully) experience that bond. I wanted them to have an immediate family member besides their parents, to not be so alone in this world.
It seems cold, but a major factor influencing our decision to stop at two is our finances. We can provide comfortably for two, but we won’t be able to live the life we envision with three. I want to hold another baby, but I also want to give my kids extracurriculars, education funds, vacations, and help out when they’re starting life as young adults.
Dear Wendy January 19, 2023, 8:52 am
Well, I have to ask: do you four play a lot of board games now?! 😀
Lucidity January 19, 2023, 5:41 pm
They’re 3.5 years and 8 months so not yet! We do play Candyland, Jenga, and a simplified version of Pictionary with the older one.
Dear Wendy January 20, 2023, 6:49 am
Guess Who is a fun game your oldest might be ready for soon. And my kids loved Hoot Owl Hoot when they were little.
Dear Wendy January 20, 2023, 6:52 am
Just checked and Guess Who is marketed for kids 6+, but both of mine started playing younger than that. Hoot Owl Hoot is for 4+ and I think a smart 3 1/2 year-old could handle it.
SM January 19, 2023, 8:08 am
This is actually a great time for this article. I had my first at 38 and I always envisioned having two. I have a brother who is 3 1/2ish years younger and while we had sibling fights, we’ve always gotten along. He’s someone to go through life with in all aspects even though we both had friends. We can relate to each other so to speak.
However, being a mom is MUCH harder than I ever anticipated. I question every decision I make and its just…hard. I love it and I love being my daughters mom, but feel rushed in my decision to have to have another as I’ll be 40 later this year.
Also, she’s 16 months old now and her dad is just now kind of figuring it out. He was not a good newborn dad. I probably had some sort of post partum-ness that I didn’t realize until about 8 months after she was born and the fog started to lift. And my anger was all at him for not being a great dad. He’s much better now and they have a great relationship, but I did most of everything while working full time until she was about 10 months old.
I’d like to think a second time would be different as he’s realizing his interaction with her helps their relationship immensely, but I’m just so torn for multiple reasons. I can’t imagine life without a sibling, being the main one. But my friends that are an only child seem find without it because they don’t know that life. Ugh.
Dear Wendy January 19, 2023, 9:05 am
Having a newborn can be so hard, especially when it’s your first and especially if you have any kind of postpartum stuff going on. That was my experience with my first as well (I was never diagnosed with PPD, but I was very anxious and my dr prescribed Xanax, which helped a little). My first baby was also neurodivergent which I didn’t know until years later (I mean, I knew it but it wasn’t confirmed until later), and that made things very challenging too. He had different needs that other babies and how could I have known what those needs were when I barely knew what a typical baby might need? My second baby/ experience was just LOADS easier. Oh man, what an umcomplicated child she was. She slept 22 hours a day for the first few months of her life, which was great because, again, I was still trying to figure out what my older child needed to thrive and I was still years away from getting close.
Anyway, all this to say that the experience you have the first time around does not necessarily repeat the second time. You’re the same mom, but your children will likely be very different, and you’ll be different too just from the experience you have. Same with your husband.
But if you decide to stick with just one, that’ll be fine. Your child will likely thrive as an only, enjoying all on mom and dad’s attention. Here in NYC, the capital of only-child families, all the kids I know without siblings seem perfectly happy.
Anonymousse January 19, 2023, 10:02 am
I didn’t really. That sounds terrible, and we were actively trying, I just wasn’t expecting to become pregnant so quickly after the first. The first, I had bought like, 400 ovulation and pregnancy tests on Amazon and was dedicated trying to become become pregnant. So I was surprised when it didn’t take much planning the second time.
And although the timing wasn’t ideal for me, in a way maybe it was? I had my kids exactly 17 months apart to the day. The early years had been difficult for me. Joyous, loving, life affirming, but hard.
I also got through the baby years faster having them so close together, rather than spreading them out. Was it worth it with the extra stress (and maybe PPD although I was never diagnosed?) yes. To have it harder then, and be out of it now, I say it was worth it for keep and our family to have them closer together than I’d maybe would have chosen.
Anonymousse January 19, 2023, 10:04 am
Wendy, I’m just blaming my misspellings on my general disregard, care for quality work like that old woman on HONY this week said. I just can’t be bothered because I’m the digital generation.
Dear Wendy January 19, 2023, 10:09 am
Dear Wendy January 19, 2023, 10:11 am
Drew’s niece and nephew are 15 months apart (the older one born a few months after drew and I started dating so I’ve been around for their whole childhoods), and boy, those first few years looked really hard. But once the younger is six, it gets so much easier.
Anonymousse January 19, 2023, 10:55 am
Yeah, she’s seven and I really feel like we hit the fun part. It’s pretty fun!
Ettakit January 19, 2023, 1:54 pm
I decided I was one and done early on. I had a very easy pregnancy and a super easy baby. She’s now 2 and we’re just now hitting a time where I feel unsure of what I’m doing. I don’t want to jinx myself by trying for a second!
Also, I love my fairly low-paying job in education and I wasn’t willing to give it up, but having a second baby would’ve meant almost my whole take home pay in daycare costs. If we had delayed until my daughter was in kindergarten, I would’ve been in my 40s and my husband would’ve been pushing 50.
My husband also has a son in his 20s, so while I have a step son, he’s off doing his own thing most of the time. I grew up similarly with much older half siblings and never felt like I missed out.
So, for us to keep the lifestyle we enjoy while also adding to our family, we kept it at one child and have no regrets.
Anonymousse January 19, 2023, 10:52 pm
Honestly, you’re smart. Two nearly killed me and were not through it yet. 😂 I swear it’s more than twice the cost. You cannot ever buy one kid a thing, it has to be fair. I don’t even shop with them.
Dear Wendy January 20, 2023, 6:49 am
Sounds pretty great!
Anonymousse January 20, 2023, 8:54 am
My sister is technically my half sister, eight years younger than me. She’s my best friend. We text all day, everyday. That space but also shared upbringing can be a great tie that binds.
allathian March 16, 2023, 8:09 am
I was never particularly interested in the idea of being a mother as a kid or as a young adult. I didn’t define myself as childfree but I never had any yearnings to be a mother, either. I definitely wasn’t interested in becoming a single mom on purpose although I was open to the idea of having a kid if I met the right man.
I met my husband when I was 33, and he was the first man I’d ever dated who made me feel like he’d be a great dad to any kids we might have. We were LDR for the first three years of our relationship but then he got a new job so that we could live together. I was 36 at the time, and we agreed within 4 months of moving in together that if we wanted kids we’d better start trying. I got pregnant on the first cycle we stopped BC, much to my surprise. We got married when I was 8 months pregnant. Our son was an easy baby to care for, rarely cranky without an immediately discernible reason. I’m in Finland, and our maternity and parental leave’s a lot more generous than in the US, so our son was 2 years and 3 months old when I returned to work. When I was on maternity leave and my husband had gone back to work after his two weeks of paternity leave, my retired MIL visited almost every day to help care for our son while I got to do some chores, take a shower, sleep, etc. I’m grateful for all the support I had, but even so I was exhausted most of the time and have almost no memories of our son’s first year, but I’m glad that we took lots of photos. I’m also very grateful that my MIL’s a great person who respects our parental choices. He was sick only once before he went to daycare, but after that I had to take a lot of time off to care for him (we have a separate bucket of leave to care for a sick child). I’m not in an at-will environment, so I couldn’t be fired just because our son was sick all the time, even if it impacted my performance and I wasn’t eligible for a raise that year. I was also working 30 hours a week until my son’s 3rd birthday, so I took the vast majority of time off when he was sick, although it evened out a bit more when he got a bit older.
When our son was 2 years old, we also started building a house. So my husband was mostly either at work or supervising the construction site, and later painting, installing floors, etc. while I took care of our kid and did most chores at home, as well as adjusted to being back at work. I was in no state to even consider having another kid at that point.
Once we’d moved in and got our new house more or less in order and our yard done, I stopped BC again and we decided to give a second pregnancy a chance when I was 40. Nothing happened for two years, although we weren’t trying in earnest, just not doing anything to prevent it. Then I got pregnant and miscarried at 7 weeks. When I had a second miscarriage 4 years later and found that I was more relieved than upset by it, we decided to stop trying.
I have a sister who’s 2 years younger than I am. We get along great now as adults and we’re quite close, but I don’t remember much from my childhood other than fighting with my sister. This was particularly bad when we were teens and lived in a small one-bedroom apartment and my sister and I shared the bedroom while our parents’ bed was in the living room. This was normal for us, but I suspect that with a bit more space and privacy we would’ve fought a lot less, and while we hung out with friends at their homes, we almost never invited anyone over. I’m introverted enough that I sometimes had nightmares about siblings constantly fighting when I was pregnant the second and third time.
Our son’s 13 now and doesn’t seem to regret the sibling he’s never had, although when he was 7 and his best friend got a baby sister, he was a bit wistful about that. Now he’s a reasonably contented teen who enjoys reading and playing board games with his grandparents when he isn’t playing on the computer or his phone… I sometimes worry that he spends too much time with us, but he has a couple of pretty good friends to hang out with occasionally. He’s introverted enough that he doesn’t want to play team sports after school, and we haven’t forced him (partly because both my husband and I are relieved to avoid the required volunteering stuff and all that driving), although he seems to enjoy his coed scout troop’s activities well enough. I’m happy that he seems to enjoy cross-country skiing (200+ miles so far this winter) and running with his dad, and we also go on bike rides together as a family in summer.
I don’t regret having only one kid, I’m happy we have him. I do suspect that if my husband and I had met even a few years earlier we might’ve tried for another more seriously, in spite of my misgivings about raising siblings.