Growing up, I thought I wanted my children two years apart. I'm almost 5 years older than my sister, 7 years older than my brother, and 15 years older than another sister. I felt like the age gaps were generations. Though I'm close to my siblings now, I didn't have a warm, fuzzy childhood of sibling bonding, and I wanted that for my own family. Now, I realize that it's an unpredictable mix between a crap shoot and family dynamics that creates a close family, rather than a specific age gap.
There are so many articles and forums and Facebook pages teeming with questions about ideal spacing, and no matter what great advice Mama2Five and her cronies gives, it's a very individual choice. Because our national average is about 2 years apart, it can feel like you're "behind the times" if you wait much past for your child's first birthday to get pregnant. That's how I felt, at least, given the fact that I was asked almost daily by strangers, family, friends, and anyone who knew I had one "aging" child, when the second was coming along. Old ladies at the post office made comments that I better hurry up with another, that one child would be spoiled and not know how to share, or get along in the world. Friends made innocent but sometimes stinging comments that Anabella "just needed a sibling." And when we finally told people I was pregnant, there wasn't that same surprised joy as with the announcement of Anabella. People were happy for us, but I actually heard, "It's about time!" and "I figured you'd have to get pregnant one of these days." Not exactly a warm, fuzzy congratulations.
I am sharing our story in hopes that it may resonate with others who are choosing that "longer-than-average" gap. This isn't a prescription or a one-size-fits-all. It wasn't a decision that came easy. But after tears, questions, varying levels of confidence in our decision, and ultimately surrendering to what will be, will be, Mark and I decided to wait almost 4 years between the birth of our first and second children.
Around the time my daughter was a year old, many of my new mom friends were getting pregnant! I, however, was still in physical therapy for pelvic floor dysfunction, as a result of a bad tear (and even worse misdiagnosis of the issue) during childbirth. So, never mind an imminent delivery on an already sensitive area, just romping around the bedroom for baby-making wasn't ringing bells of joy for me. I was still nursing around the clock, 10-12 times a night, and feeling pretty exhausted from being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease a few months earlier. Adding a newborn to the mix just didn't feel right. Still, a part of me was really sad as we approached AnaBella's second birthday, and I realized she'd never have that little sister (of course it would be another girl!) so close in age.
I also wanted to give my body a chance to recover from the demands of heavy nursing. I knew it would take extra attention on my part to replenish my calcium stores, and get my abs and body back in shape for carrying another child.
I'm just going for aliteration here, but my husband wasn't ready either. He has a really demanding job, and several times a year, for 1-2 months each, he's at the office until 8-10pm. He was studying for an exam that's only offered once per year, so on those nights he didn't have to work late, he was out studying. Mark didn't want to miss a whole year of babyhood, and didn't want to put pressure on me to carry the weight of two kids, and a household.
As much as I wanted another baby, by the time Anabella was two, we were having so much fun! She used the potty on her own, communicated clearly (well, at least I thought she did), was an amazing little person, and I just didn't want to have to share this special time, or take away from the freedom we had to spend all day at the park, or the museum, or the library. I knew it would be harder to tow around two, and wanted to cherish every moment I had with her alone.
Also, as I mentioned, Anabella was nursing pretty frequently until about age 2.5, and then she finally weaned shortly after I found out I was pregnant. I didn't want to wean her prematurely, and I didn't want my milk supply to dry up during those first two years. I wanted to give her a strong foundation of love and attention, so that when another baby came, she felt confident, and independent. When Anabella hit age 3, she really blossomed in these areas, and it's been amazing to see. There were times when I wondered if she'd ever play alone or leave my side at a party. Now, she's outgoing, friendly, strikes up conversations with adults and children alike, and enjoys dancing and singing anywhere she can find a "stage." If we had a new baby in the house during that pivotal transitional time, I'm not sure she would be where she is emotionally.
...And despite all these solid reasons, I still cried and pouted several times throughout the decision-making process. (Usually my husband was the one reminding me that it was best for us to wait.) Anabella's new baby brother or sister will be born a few months shy of her fourth baby, and we are thrilled. It was actually a bit of a surprise (we were going to wait for a full 4 year gap), but an unexpectedly joyful one!
How far apart are your children? What factors weighed on your decisions?
Megan is a freelance writer, and author of The Other Baby Book: A Natural Approach to Baby's First Year. She's mother of three year old AnaBella, and currently cooking bun #2 in the oven, due in February.