42

We are first time parents. Our daughter is 16 months old and we've had a really rough time since she was born. We had no idea what we were in for.

It really has just been a combination of difficult factors, I had a complicated birth, she was a colicy baby, we later discovered she had multiple allergies we didn't know about (We discovered at 11 months she had a dairy allergy, and 15 months she's allergic to wheat, peanuts and egg too), which caused constant discomfort for her and guilt for us for not knowing what was wrong, family being far away with little outside support, difficulty with our mental health, sleep deprivation, lack of her weight gain, repeated infections/antibiotics, hospital stays, etc.

The vast majority of the issues have been sorted out. We are in regular contact with our family doctor and paediatrician, dietitians, etc. We're getting mental health help and generally feeling better supported. We're finally starting to feel like we're not drowning and are getting enough sleep.

All that said, we really can't imagine having another child and doing all this again. We both wanted to have multiple children and this has just completely dashed our dreams of a big family. We really just can't face going through the past 16 months again. I see people with more than one kid and wonder how they do it.

I wonder if everyone goes through this and I'm just weak and bad at coping. I really want to have more children down the line and I'm just so worried that we won't be able to do this again. My husband really is adamant he doesn't want another child, and I am grieving the loss of our dreams for a big family.

How do we get over the bad experience we've had and have other children? How do other people do it?


I've seen some comments about us disagreeing on having more children, or me not respecting his choice, and I just want to clarify that this isn't the case at all. We both wanted to have multiple kids, and we are both reacting to this situation very differently. I am respecting his choice and if it remains that way in the future then so be it. Now is not the time for more kids or fighting over how many we have, and we both know that.

This question really is just about my feelings, coming to terms with what we've been through, and working through our fears so that they don't drive our decision making regarding more children. The relational side of things is not really an issue at play here.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – anongoodnurse Sep 24 at 1:57
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    We had the opposite experience, FWIW - our first was so easy - he wanted to sleep all the time, very mild personality, etc.... then came our second who was, well, more like I was as a child - stubborn, willful, energetic, never wanted to sleep, etc. We kind of joked "we should have quite while we were ahead." – PoloHoleSet Sep 25 at 18:56

14 Answers 14

44

I wonder if everyone goes through this and I'm just weak and bad at coping.

No, you're not weak, and you're not bad at coping. For most parents who have had a traumatic first child, what you're going through is normal. Your therapist and your pediatrician can confirm this.

There are no guarantees in life. Your second child may be just as difficult, but you'll have so much more experience and support in dealing with difficult infants (if that is the case), or your second baby can be a little angel.

I know of a young couple who had a seriously difficult first baby. First, she had intrauterine growth restriction, and the mom had to have weekly ultrasounds from about 20 weeks on. The baby was born, seemed healthy, and on the third day, had three apnea episodes, the third one in the Emergency Room when she completely stopped breathing and had to be coded. She was intubated and in the intensive neonatal care unit for 10 days. She had hyperbilirubinemia which needed to be treated for 5 days. They never found out why she stopped breathing (which is worse psychologically because what if it happens again?), so she was sent home on two different monitors simultaneously, one for 6 months, the second for a year. She was a fussy baby, to put it mildly. Every waking moment for many months, she had to be swaddled to mom (or in an infant carrier on mom.) Sleep was hard to come by.

If I had gone through that, I don't think I could face the possibility again. But accidents happen, and the wife got pregnant. She had a perfectly unremarkable second pregnancy, and the baby was the most laid-back baby I have ever seen (and I've seen many). The pregnancies and outcomes were polar opposites.

I used to do deliveries, so I saw similar situations play out (sometimes worse than what I described). There was only one time the second pregnancy/babyhood was as bad or worse than the first.

My husband really is adamant he doesn't want another child, and I am grieving the loss of our dreams for a big family.

I'm so sorry to hear that. I hope with counseling, he'll change his mind. I understand the grieving you're doing, and you both need to be willing to take the leap. It is not likely that the second will be like the first, if for no other reason, babies are different and you have experience now.

How do other people do it?

They take a leap of... faith, I guess. Faith that they can do it. They love having the first child enough/want a larger family/want a sibling for the first/whatever to take a risk. Some don't, and only have that one child. But most do take the leap.

I wish you the best as you work through this.

25

I upvoted @anongoodnurse's response, I think it covers this question brilliantly, so I won't comment on the parts of your question that would just be a repeat of their words. I just want to expand on a few things concerning your husband's attitude.

My husband really is adamant he doesn't want another child

This is the bigger obstacle in your question. We can't say whether your next child will be as difficult or less, but you obviously need to get him on board in order to ever find out. And you need to get him on board enthusiastically. If he goes along with getting another child just to cater to your desires, he'll likely be less prone to split the burden if your next child does turn out difficult. You always want to make sure you're having children with someone who wants to have children. To that end:

  • Consider giving him more time if he needs it, now that things seems to run a bit smoother. With time, memories of the worst experiences will diminish, and what's more, his relation to the child he does have should convince him that however rough, it was certainly worth going through.
  • You say he wanted to have multiple kids going into this. That ambition is probably still within him, somewhere. Get him to mentalize an ideal future. Surely there'll be siblings? That seems to me to be one of the greatest gifts you can give a child (and anecdotally, I know of many single-children who would agree).
  • If I may go out on a tangent, there's a statistical phenomenon called regression to the mean. Simply put, it states that extraordinary events are, well, extraordinary, and that usually plays tricks on our perception of the world. For instance, say a company looks at their sales for the past year, and identify the single worst performing area, and radically changes their marketing in that area. Upon evaluation, they'll likely find that the intervention worked, regardless of what that intervention was, because they picked an extreme measurement as their baseline, and by pure chance alone it was unlikely that the next year would be equally exceptionally poor. The same applies here. In general, nobody can say whether your next child will be more or less difficult to handle, but if you're comparing to something that was difficult in the extreme, then statistically, again by chance alone, it's more likely that your next sample will be less extreme.

All that being said, again don't convince him to take a leap based on your faith, but get him to invest equally. You don't want to put yourself in a situation where he might say it was you who wanted another child, so you should take most of the nights awake or whatever the discussion may be about. Because even the least difficult kid in the world will occasionally wear you out.

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    I love your point 3 which explains why it's actually statistically more likely that a very difficult child is followed by an easier one. The rest of the answer is spot on, too. – Pascal Sep 23 at 10:35
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    @Stacey: Point 1, time, can make all the difference. Once the difficult times are just memories and the first child starts being more than a huge amount of work, your husband might remember he wanted multiple children. Assuming you're still young, you're not in any rush; there's no problem if you wait for another year or two before you decide to make the next kid. So... tell your husband you understand for now, but you'd like to revisit the question of more children later on, so both of you know that this isn't resolved yet. This also means you don't have to grieve for the big family just yet. – Pascal Sep 23 at 11:05
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    Thanks a lot for your advice. We've discussed it again and it really seems to be more of a "not right now" thing than "not ever", so perhaps some misunderstanding on my part. We have decided to wait a couple of years and see how it goes. We definitely wouldn't try for another without both of us completely on board. – Stacey Sep 23 at 14:49
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    @Pascal It works the other way, too--I know someone who's first child was abnormally well behaved and easy. Kid two came along and he's not bad, but he does normal kid things like test boundaries and maybe not sleep 100% perfect, and the parents are super traumatized and unable to cope... I guess they thought they had the best parenting skills ever. – user3067860 Sep 23 at 18:11
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    @user3067860 my new theory is that people stop having kids after the most traumatising one! – Stacey Sep 23 at 19:30
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Our eldest child has severe cerebral palsy. We adopted our middle child, who turned out to have extreme behavioral issues. We had a lot of fear about having another child, but she happened "by accident."

Our youngest probably saved our sanity. We have literally said to each other, "Oh, this is why people don't understand how difficult our parenting job is." She has regular challenges like any child, but she is an order of magnitude easier to parent than the other two, and we finally felt like maybe we aren't such bad parents after all. She is also an outstanding sister.

Yes, you might have another difficult child, but the risk of that is low and you've already shown you can handle it. My point is that there is a significant potential upside you shouldn't neglect.

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    While I fully agree that its the most likely outcome, one shouldn't discount the possibility of having a second problematic child. Being too optimistic could be dangerous too. – JRZ Sep 24 at 2:58
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First off, know that you are not alone. We'll come back to that.

My wife became pregnant with twins (our first). Unfortunately they had twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome and we ended up losing one of them. The other was born at 30 weeks weighing in at less than 2 kilos (3 lbs 6 oz).

She spent 48 days in the NICU before coming home with a clean bill of health. But after two months of a rigid schedule where the difference between night and day was nonexistent, we knew we were in for a challenge with sleep.

We were right.

The setup we settled on after some trial and error was that you slept every other night. On your night to sleep you got about 6 hrs of straight sleep, on your off night you got what you could when you could in little fits and starts that rarely added up to much over 4 hrs. She also was colicky, and keeping her asleep frequently meant sitting in a recliner with her on our chests. Then came the onslaught of ear infections and two rounds of tubes.

I think I can count the full night's sleep (8+ hrs) in the first 18 months on my fingers. I'm pretty sure adding my toes would get me close to her second birthday.

But it got easier: as horrible as that time was it didn't last forever, and by about 3 or 4 years old we had a wonderful child who now at almost 10 years old is a huge joy in our lives.

So know that it will get better: life will be ups and downs, not just downs. Some things that helped us:

  1. For children with health problems there are often support groups available for parents, especially online. I know the TTTS group was critical for my wife during the pregnancy and first few years.
  2. If you don't have anyone else in your social circle going through this or who recently went through it, I've met lots of parents at the gym (dropping kids off at their daycare to go to work out), church, full-time daycare, etc. Some people have it easier, but most parents will have at least experienced a taste of what you're going through.
  3. Get a sitter and get out. If you're already doing this, do it more. Go sit at Starbucks with your partner and stare at the wall for 2 hours if it helps.

Having a child, especially a difficult child, can be isolating. I can't stress enough how important it is to engage with people, especially other parents who can be mutually supportive with you.

Don't make any decisions about future kids until you get past the hard part, and it will pass. As for a large family, part of that depends on your ages and how long you can realistically wait. We ended up waiting 5 years before jumping back in, but we knew almost as soon as we got some sleep that we were going to try again. We had a completely normal second child and now have a happy 4-person family. I don't think we'll be growing it more, but that decision is no longer coming from a place of fearing a repeat of that first experience.

5

How do other people do it?

We had a very difficult first child, too. He did 7 months of non-stop crying for pretty much all his waking hours and never slept for more than 2 hours. We were exhausted all the time and probably looked like walking zombies to other people. Things started getting better after those first seven months, and we recovered. It took some time until we could contemplate going through all that again, but not too much later, my wife got pregnant again. You know: If your horse throws you, get right back on before you lose your nerve, that kind of mentality :-)

Then we saw the twins on the ultra-sound image.

Turns out the twins were actually easier than our first child. Not easy, but easier, even though there were two of them.

We never figured out why the first one was so difficult. Point is, just because the first one is hard, doesn't mean the next ones have to be. Also, by the time number two comes along, you know what lies in store for you, and it's much easier to deal with because your life doesn't change so radically any more, it's just more of the stuff you already know how to do, minus all the obsessive worrying about whether the baby will survive if you get something just a little bit wrong. Also, you know deep down that the difficult times will end. That's something you need to experience to really believe it.

So how did we do it? We both didn't want a single child (Both of us grew up with sibblings). My wife had doubts after the first one (difficult birth), but once life with our first child got a bit easier, we just didn't think about the past and went ahead. As I sit here and type this, our fourth child is now in second grade. Everything gets easier with every year that passes. Don't dwell on the bad stuff. Be proud that you managed to pull through a tough time - if you managed to do that, you could do it again, but chances are you will not have to because no two kids are ever quite the same.

I should know. Remember, twins.

4

I can remember cuddling our second kid so many times between 2 & 4 in the morning while pacing the kitchen getting him to settle when he was ill.

It's always tough, but kids are not the same... The first and third were "normal" (if there is such a thing as a normal kid... :)

You have the skills for so many other aspects : feeding, looking after, playing, changing nappies etc etc

It's not about the bad parts.

As they grew up we had to sort out sibling fights / arguments and that has now passed... It is all about remembering the best bits and there are / will be so many of those.

Best wishes with your decision.

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    Thats' almost scary: Our answers are barely a minute apart and match each other almost perfectly in the relevant points... – Pascal Sep 22 at 20:43
  • @Pascal So funny (only looking back tho'), but when you get to work and colleagues say "why do you look tired" and when they find out it's "Oh yes, done the same, visit to the hospital at 2AM 'cos they can't breathe etc etc Just raising a beer, Cheers. – Solar Mike Sep 22 at 20:46
  • @SolarMike We had such an awful hospital visit along that line... She was a week old, worried about the newborn breathing, etc, typical new parents. The doctor berated us for wasting his time because there was absolutely nothing wrong with her. We felt absolutely awful and left feeling like naughty schoolchildren again. It was only later we found out that our worries were completely normal. – Stacey Sep 22 at 20:50
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    @Stacey I had my daughter with False Croop and took her down at about 1.30AM. Doctor said "Brilliant, we will have this sorted in under 10 hours, and they did. He also said if I had waited longer it would have been a week or more. He also said "We would much rather see you and turn you away, than not see you when the kid really needs us", so perhaps your Doc was tired or rushed. Chin up, sounds like you are doing fine. – Solar Mike Sep 22 at 20:54
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    That doctor was an idiot. Any doctor doing pediatrics should recognize that parents who've experienced a difficult first child need extra support from them. It's expected and it's OK. – anongoodnurse Sep 22 at 23:37
3

Every parent goes through this in some fashion. My oldest was exceptionally colicky and I will never forget one night where she screamed for some 4 hours straight. It's enough to drive you mad. Our second was a bit of a surprise, so we never had to consider "Do we really want to do this again?"

The greatest secret of parenting, hands down, is that it gets easier as you add more children. Your first child puts an enormous strain on you and you have nothing to compare it to (especially if you're an only child). It's easy to think "They will all be this bad!". They most likely won't. In fact, you'll have a second and wonder if they're even related to #1 sometimes. And then #3 is nothing like #1 or #2. By that time, however, you've grown as a parent. Maybe they're not the same in every way, but they're alike in some key ways so you can apply what you've learned over time. Oh, and you now have some older kids to help out some. The cost (financial and physical) of each child decreases significantly after the first.

Incidentally, my #2 and #3 never had a problem with colic.

2

I wonder if everyone goes through this and I'm just weak and bad at coping.

No, not everyone goes through what you've been through. Of all the people saying how much they love having a big family, either (a) they had an easy delivery and easy child, (b) they're lying, or (c) they've managed to blank out of their memory how bad it actually was. Every last one.

My husband really is adamant he doesn't want another child

Then you really need to listen to him. Over the last 50 years, it has become expected that fathers should take an active role in raising their children. At the same time though, at every point in society, the father's contribution is either ignored, ridiculed, or criticised as being harmful. We're not seen as suffering from post-natal depression, when this is massively tied up with the sleep deprivation and culture shock which both parents face equally. We're actively excluded from "mother and baby" groups. And good luck getting equal treatment when it comes to time off work in most countries.

If your husband is 100% sure, then you really do need to respect that. Grieving the fact that you won't get what you'd originally wanted is fair, but please do ensure he knows you respect his decision, just as he'd (I hope!) respect yours if you said you couldn't handle having another child.

I really want to have more children down the line

Do ask yourself first why you want that. Sure, you had dreams of being the Waltons - but you've discovered that having children is really really hard.

The other false image that we've been sold since forever is that a woman's role is to have children, and a woman who doesn't have children (or have as many children) is at best worth less or at worst worthless. The incitement for girls to become this uber-mommy is the idea that children are just like dolls, and they need no more extra care than you'd take when you play with dolls. Of course this is hateful beyond words.

Some women genuinely want to be mothers, and want the experience of caring for lots of children regardless. Some don't. Both ways are right, but don't fall for the false advertising and think you're any less of a good mother if you don't have a big family. You've been through all that stress with your daughter, and you're still standing. You're righteously awesome. Don't forget that, or let anyone tell you otherwise.

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    While I understand where you're coming from, the vast majority of this answer just doesn't apply, really. You're making assumptions about our reasoning behind having/wanting/not wanting kids and they're for the most part wrong. I do respect my husband and his desires, and my identity doesn't revolve around being a mother. We were married for 9 years before we both decided to have children, and have respect for eachother and healthy identities outside of being parents. We'll only have more kids when we both want to. I understand this is a problem for some people, but it's really not for us. – Stacey Sep 23 at 17:38
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    To your "of all the people saying how much they love having a big family": a) We didn't. b) I love having a big family and I'm not lying about it. Yes, having several kids is hard sometimes. But it's also good. c) I remember very well. It was difficult. It's just that it lies in the past and as such is over and done with. – Pascal Sep 23 at 20:35
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    @Pascal my rebuttals to the items above are the same! Ha! Except I did have ONE easy delivery. One. And it is hard raising kids no matter if they outnumber you or not. It’s just a matter of logistics. The whole world seems set up for the 4 person family, but ours has 6. And no, I haven’t entirely forgotten how hard it was either (except the “amnesia” ALL women suffer from that enables us to give birth again.) The important part is the growth we’re capable of as a result of these struggles. No pain no gain, right? – Jax Sep 24 at 1:23
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    "Of all the people saying how much they love having a big family, either (a) they had an easy delivery and easy child, (b) they're lying, or (c) they've managed to blank out of their memory how bad it actually was. Every last one." I had difficult pregnancies, and my first was awake every 45 - 60 minutes to nurse for months. Yet never once did I not enjoy parenthood nor did it stop me from having cgildren (plural.) I'm not lying or forgetful, and you're not omniscient. -1. – anongoodnurse Sep 24 at 2:04
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    You were downvoted for being the only answer to suggest respecting the father's view rather than just gaslighting it out of existence or "correcting" it. So I balanced it with an upvote – benxyzzy Sep 24 at 20:34
2

Joined this community specifically to throw in my anecdotical two bits.

So much in your question reflects how our fristborn was: Restless nights, tummy aches, discovering after a year that this is caused by no less than 8 food allergies. We felt so incredibly guilty at practically poisoning our kid for a year; we immediately cut the allergens from his diet; learning a year later that they were only 'suspected allergies' until confimed in a hospital (we had done a blood test only, but that only implies a suspicion for any given allergy, apparently) and that gave us another wave of feeling like we had no idea what we were doing. All of this was excacerbated by the sleep deprivation that comes with this all.

But as you mention yourself, you find your way around with the GP, dietary advisor, pediatrician and come into balance. This made us feel ready to try again, knowing full well how the past year(+) had been. also, we had split the night-care between us: on one night I'd get up and take care of our kid, onthe other night my wife would.

We were fortunate to conceive pretty quickly again and already during the pregnancy my wife began to prepare for what came ahead by holding herself to a strict diet: by avoiding the allergens our first one did receive, our second child woudn't be bothered by the same reactions should he also be allergic. Luckily, our second child did not suffer from the same allergies as did the first.

In summary:

  • First child (especially with allergies) can be overwhelming.
  • You do find a balance though, and bring all this experience with you going forward.
  • You are not alone, and you seem to have found a good support structure for future care for your child and any more that may come.
  • Take care of each other, so you are better prepared to take care of the child(ren).
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    Welcome to the site, and nice first answer - I hope you'll stay around! – Pascal Sep 25 at 14:00
1

Believe me, I get it. We had a similar situation but it was reversed. Our first was no problem as far as her health was. My wife was a little unstable because she had a bit of a hypochondriac mentality and thought everything was wrong. But we always knew we wanted her to have a sibling, so about the age you're at now we had another and she was born with all kinds of issues that took years to sort out. That did not help the hypochondriac situation much but as the issues were sorted, and the support groups she joined to try to figure the issues out, we all sort of realized these big issues weren't really all that big.

To jump right to the message, the initial investment of sanity, money, sleep, and whatever else is being taxed by children (not just ones with complications) fades fairly quickly. After a few years, about the time they can actually talk to you, the issues are more like routines.

The bigger thing to remember is what value a sibling will bring to the child you have. Our daughters are very close in age and we think that is critical for people who have this natural feeling like they want more kids. Have them in one shot. They will play together, take care of each other, advance in schooling with fewer years apart where you'll have to go to different schools, and so on.

After the baby years pass and the issues are sorted out, we have 2 delightful girls who play well together and are close in age, which means generally close in interests, development, clothing sizes and tolerances of their parents. One may have a weird diet, but that's just her thing. It is not inconvenient per say, like a milk intolerance. You realize how little you rely on things like milk or tree nuts when your kids can't have them. It becomes more of a change in the families world view more than a horror you can't reconcile. Because of this, I suggest you consider this bit of advise from someone who had to deal with similar issues, but also don't dismiss your partner's feelings as well. This is one subject that can eat away at you the longer it goes and that works for all parties involved.

I cannot imagine my life without both my girls. I suggest really pondering the long term effects of having more than one, especially from the immediate and life long perspective of the child you currently have. It is very hard, no doubt, but you know they are worth it, complications and all.

1

I don't know how to solve the psychological barrier but the answer to your question rests in both of you answering "Yes" to all of the following questions:

  • Are you able to handle another difficult baby right now or 9 months from now?
  • Can your sleep handle it?
  • Can your relationship handle it?
  • Are you okay with subjecting yourself to another difficult child?
  • Now that you are "in the clear", are you okay with no longer being "in the clear"?

If you both say yes then go for it. You will either get exactly your worst fear or this child will be way better than you expected, period.

There is no magical "second baby is always easy after a tough first baby". It's all about your own reference point. In general difficult things are generally easier the second time around and that's a fact of human adaptability. The second child may very well be as bad or worse than the first but you've been through it once so it's quite possible that it won't feel quite as bad.

Getting anecdotal advice from other parents can be one way to convince yourself to have another baby but just remember that at the end of the day the decision is 100% between your and your husband. If you can justify that the eventual joy is worth the potentially difficult short term then go for it. Just remember, YOU are the one that will be waking up at all hours of the night to take care of this child.

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    Some of us had to live with our then "impending" situations and have the experience from prior, during and after... – Solar Mike Sep 24 at 19:11
  • @SolarMike I'm sorry but I'm not sure that I understand. I'm just trying to help OP make the most proper decision possible based on their situation and fears especially since they are in a position of making a decision about their situation. – MonkeyZeus Sep 24 at 19:15
  • @Pascal Thank you for the clear feedback. I updated my answer to better align with positive actions. – MonkeyZeus Sep 25 at 12:35
  • @SolarMike I've updated my answer per Pascal's feedback. I hope it settles better with you now. – MonkeyZeus Sep 25 at 12:37
  • +1 now, I've deleted my other comments because they no longer apply to the edited question. BTW I did think your mention of survivorship bias was relevant. – Pascal Sep 25 at 13:57
0

we really can't imagine having another child and doing all this again

This would be simple enough by itself: just don't have anymore children if you don't want to, right? Everyone happy. But then you say:

We both wanted to have multiple children and this has just completely dashed our dreams of a big family.

So does the reason for wanting this (you never mentioned why you want to add more people to the planet) outweigh the negative experience you've been through? You have more experience now and unless you end up losing the second one, it'll never be as bad as the first. But without knowing why you want this in the first place, it is very hard to say whether it'll be worth it. The best thing you can do for the world your children will have to live in is not have too many, but you might have other factors to weigh in that you haven't mentioned.

0

just to add my two cents - give it some time.

We waited for 4 years before having our second child, since our first one was very difficult. I had no clue what the 'happiness of motherhood' was - it was all hard, exhausting, unrewarding work.

The second one was easier, and I am so glad that we had enough courage to have him. Still he was - and is - no walk in a park either.

And if you think that a colicky baby is hard, wait till they start driving and dating...

Take it easy.

  • When I was pregnant a friend of mine asked me what I was most scared of, labor, sleep deprivation, etc. I said "having a teenager". Even after the past 16 months I'll still stand by that. Having a teenage daughter in this day and age is terrifying. Fortunately you get years of practice before then. – Stacey Sep 25 at 21:02
-1

It is not necessary that every child have same problems. As every individual have its own nature, behavior etc. So, you should not worry about the circumstances and should have another baby which may be a source of happiness for you. Thank you!

  • Hi and welcome to Parenting.SE! You say they needn't worry, but what if one or both parents still worry? – Anne Daunted Sep 23 at 16:41
  • How can they guess that the coming baby will also allergic and a problem for them – Yahya Sep 23 at 16:46

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