For a while I’ve been having second thoughts about adding a second child to our little family. This is not about the choice between having another biological baby or adopting from foster care (as if it were that simple). It’s about whether or not to have a second child at all.
But first, here’s some of the images that are swirling around in my head: TT and I kayaking together. TT and I riding our bikes in the great outdoors. TT and I hopping on and off the Paris Metro. TT and I learning a foreign language together. TT and I planning big and small trips together. TT and I on our big trip around Australia together.
They are powerful images. I was planning a family and imagining TT long before she was in my arms. Visualisation helped me through that long, long wait. Although events surrounding my pregnancy and her babyhood have not had much in common with how I’d pictured them, the essence is as I’d imagined: me and TT, together.
So, what’s missing from these pictures? Well, another child for a start. Before TT arrived, I had no trouble picturing her, imagining her and our lives together. And now, when I think about another child in our family, the pictures get fuzzy.
As I re-imagine what kind of life I want, how I want to live and how I want my family to live, when I think of my family, I’m thinking of me and TT. I’m picturing we two, together. I can’t clearly picture another child. And it’s not just in my more fanciful imaginings that the picture isn’t clear. When I think more rationally I find it hard to imagine how a second child fits in. I’m a single women, not in great health, with a daughter who has complex ongoing health needs of her own. If I want to create a life for her that is more than just stepping through a predictable set of health and educational hoops and milestones, how realistic is it for me to add another child to our family? If another child joins our family, am I giving up on my evolving dreams for a different way of life and condemning us to the comfortable and safe and predictable future that, until recently, was all that I could aspire to?
The primary reason that I have always had for wanting a second child is so that my first child doesn’t have the burden of being a sole child to a solo mum. I was a single child until I was 7, and as far as responsibility for my ageing parents goes, I remain a single child for all intents and purposes. My brother doesn’t have the capacity to share this burden. And it weighs heavily upon me. I don’t have the emotional, physical or financial resources to support two ageing parents who live separate lives in separate states. I know that one day everyone in my family will have to confront that reality.
I’m also wary that as a solitary person much given to silent introspection, that TT could use a companion of similar age. Of course I would love a second child for my own fulfillment but I also love the idea of TT having a playmate, a loving sibling to round out our happy little family (although I am well aware that there’s no guarantees that any sibling relationship will be loving and supportive). Those ideas are all in the mix as well.
I do want a second child. I want a sibling for TT. I want to foster a child, to make a safe, happy, nurturing environment for a child that desperately needs it. I also want to create a life that allows me live my dream of flying free instead of my own craving for security and stasis. I don’t want TT growing up as hidebound and scaredy-catty as I am. I want her to have confidence and chutzpah and to feel at home in the world, wherever she is.
These internal debates are nothing to do with my deep personal desire to have another child. And nothing to do with the decision to go down the long term foster care road instead of the trying for another biological baby road. A child that arrives in our family via foster care could very well have fewer complex needs than a second biological baby with the same or similar health issues as TT has (although of course those needs would be differently experienced and managed). The desire for another child is there, it’s immovable, it’s real and deep and powerful. But just wanting something, no matter how badly you want it, isn’t the whole story.
I have some very real and very significant reservations about how we would manage through the process of adding another child to our family.
- I feel like I’ve been given a massive reprieve with my PhD. I’m about to start my last best chance to really make a go of it. Working from home and doing my PhD as a thesis by publication represents the very best compromise that I could hope for to make it work in a way that is sustainable for our family. If I start the foster care training in March next year as planned, I KNOW how disruptive that will be to my study and to my life with TT. And when I say disruptive, I’m not just talking about a minor distraction. I think it could seriously jeopardise this last best chance for the PhD, and well, as far as TT goes …
- Doing the foster care training AND actually having a placement from foster care poses a very real problem for me as far as child care goes. I have absolutely no suitable childcare options available for me to do multiple days of full-day training starting in March. Poppy is the only person in TT’s life that she could possible cope with being left with for a full-day. However he has never looked after TT for longer than a couple of hours on his own. His hearing is failing, his eyesight is failing, his body is old and frail, he’s not fully across all the diet issues, he’s never changed her nappies, he’s never fed her lunch, he’s never managed a tantrum. He works full-time night-shift and would have to take time off work so he could be awake and refreshed for a demanding day with a demanding toddler. It’s not just the training. How can I commit to facilitating frequent access (possibly daily) for a child that enters my care when I would have to have available childcare for TT to cover those access periods? I cannot expect Poppy to make himself available for that kind of commitment. He has a life of his own.
- If all goes to plan I would expect to get a placement within about 12 months of starting the training process. That would be March 2013. And that would be right smack bang at the start of when I begin finishing up my thesis for submission. Not a good combination of commitments.
- At the moment I am hoping that our plan for a 2-3 month London house swap over Christmas 2013 will happen. But even if it doesn’t, I’m planning for a 2-3 month trip away, somewhere, to celebrate finishing the PhD and to recuperate in mind and body and to spend some dedicated time with TT before she starts Kinder in early 2014. How likely is it that I’ll be able to take a foster child with me with the placement less than 12 months old?
- TT has special needs. She has an average of 3 therapeutic or medical commitments every week, some of them quite intensive. How likely is it that I could juggle these as well as the commitments of a foster child, which at a minimum would include access but could also include a similar range of medical, therapeutic or early intervention activities?
- Uncertainties about the legal status of a long term foster child in our family are also playing on my mind. To what extent will I be able to travel for work or pleasure is constantly on my mind. My job requires me to travel interstate and overseas. My job may well require me to relocate interstate or overseas at some point.
Yes, some of these issues could potentially be allayed if I chose to try for a biological baby with my existing frozen embryos. Certainly the childcare issue goes away. But the reality was that from about 5 weeks pregnant I was prostrate on the couch and my first pregnancy was a catalogue of serious and not-so-serious pregnancy maladies that would make your hair curl. The prospect of experiencing another pregnancy like that PLUS wrangling a toddler PLUS writing a PhD PLUS continuing my paid research work is ludicrous. And yeah, I might sail through a second pregnancy. But I might not. Big gamble.
I’ve talked to my dear friends who are experienced foster to adoption mums about these worries. They’ve been great. One very sensible suggestion was to just wait. Leave it until I’ve finished the PhD, until TT’s in school. It’s a VERY sensible suggestion and solves most of the issues that I’m most concerned about (although not all). But the truth is, I reckon that once TT’s in school, which is just over two short years away, I’ll be done. There won’t be any going back. TT will be in school, I’ll be working more, consolidating my PhD, applying for grants and trying to cobble together my version of an academic career. I’ll be at the next stage of my life as a working mum. From where I sit now, I won’t want to start all over again as a Mum. I’m not ruling it out of course. I don’t really know how I’ll feel about it all in two years time.
I used to imagine that with just two hands I was being sensible to limit myself to just two children. I thought that made sense. Two car seats can fit in just about any car. With two hands I can shepherd children on and off buses, trains, and planes. I can cross roads. I can climb up and down steps. But that second child, holding onto my second hand, is a cipher in these imaginings. I’m always thinking of how I could negotiate my plans and dreams given TT’s limitations. What about that second child’s own needs, limitations, desires? Will they always come second (or third)? Do I have the wherewithal to juggle the complex needs of two children? Maybe. Maybe not.
So, in summary, where am I at? I want a second child in our family. I want that second child to come to us through foster care, with the ultimate goal of adoption or at least long-term orders. I have doubts about my ability to manage all of my commitments if I start the foster care process next year. I have doubts about my continued desire to have a second child if I delay until a more expedient time. Mixed up in all that are feelings of fraudulence, feelings of inadequacy, feelings of resentment and feelings of embarrassment. I’m aware that some who are reading this will conclude that, for the most part, I am weighing my middle class aspirations against a child’s desperate need for a safe and loving home. I think I am too, to some extent. But I also recognise how middle class it is to endlessly assess your choices against some kind of moral measuring tape. I’m trying not to fall into that trap. Mostly I think maybe I’m being sensible. I’m being a mother.
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