This is a question that has plagued me since my son was just a few weeks old. Prior to having him I always pictured that I would have hoards of children, 5 seemed to be the magic number and I could imagine a house busy and bustling, filled with love and chatter.
When I was pregnant I told people that we would be trying again as soon as possible, I wanted my son to have a sibling close in age, a best friend for life. Our plans to home educate meant I was concerned about him being lonely without several close siblings, a little troop of them all together.
What I hadn’t bargained for was the fact that I may not be able to get pregnant again right away. I exclusively breastfed until we started baby led weaning, and have continued to breastfeed to this day, with milk still making up the majority of his calorie intake most days. This meant that my cycles didn’t return until he was nearly 18 months old. And during that time, a funny thing happened. I stopped worrying so much about trying to create the perfect timing, the perfect child spacing and just focused on the child I already had. I enjoyed our special bond, I loved the fact that I could continue to breastfeed, co sleep, baby wear without him having to share me yet. I loved being able to head out on an adventure together, just the two of us. I felt as if this early one on one time between us, was creating a connection and strength to our relationship that would see us through any tough times in the future.
When my periods eventually returned, I suddenly realised I wasn’t ready to have another baby yet. We had been using the method of letting nature take its course, and had decided that baby number two would come when the time was right, but now I actively was trying to avoid pregnancy.
This new development got me worrying.
“What about my son, wont he be lonely? Am I being selfish? If we wait too long the gap will be too big and they wont play together!”
Wait a minute.
The gap between me and my first brother is that “perfect” accepted by society 2 years (almost!). When he was born I was consumed with jealousy and according to my mum, I couldn’t even be left in the room with him, for fear I would hurt him. Over the years I stopped trying to kill him, but even now we are not especially close.
I began to wonder if the reason I was not feeling the baby magic was because I knew what was in store for me the second time round. The first time, having worked with children and babies for years, I thought I knew it all. I was mainly focused on the cute little baby-grows and an image of the three of us peacefully walking along the beach, baby in a sling as Mama and Daddy chatted and held hands. The reality was a colicky baby screaming in the sling and Mama and Daddy shouting to be heard over the noise, and feeling far too stressed to enjoy any sort of conversation anyway.
I researched, and read and asked questions incessantly to everyone I met about the ages of their children – Did they feel it was the right gap, did they wish they had waited longer? Yes, I am that annoying person who looses sight of the boundaries of polite conversation! And what I found was that there is no right answer. Some people were happy with their one year gap, others were happy with their one and only child. Some wished they had waited a year or two longer than they did, others felt glad to have the baby stage over and done with.
Before I had my son, my every thought was consumed with the dream of him. I spent my free time watching home birth videos, researching cloth nappies and slings, reading adoption blogs, parenting blogs. I watched every single episode of One born every minute. Everywhere we went I imagined how it would be to go there with a baby. I was single minded and verging on desperation, and that was how we knew it was time to start trying.
Right now I don’t feel that way. I enjoy holding squishy newborns, but happily pass them back to their mothers when they start fussing, freeing up my hands to hold and drink a hot cup of tea whilst my toddler plays independently. Having a baby is a huge, massive and life altering commitment. It is not something I want to go in to without absolute certainty that it is what both myself and my husband want.
Having another baby for the sake of having a permanent playmate for my son, would benefit no one. He needs a Mother who is happy and present. A Mother who has the energy to parent him through the emotions of the toddler stage, and the time to stop and listen to him. He needs this more than he needs a sibling right now. That is not to say that those mothers who have babies close in age are wrong or that they are short-changing their children. Not at all. My point is that there is no right or wrong when it comes to child spacing. Just what’s right for you.
I hope that one day I feel overcome with broodiness again and my dreams are filled with tiny babies and rounded bumps. I hope that my son will one day have a sibling. The spark of longing could arrive next week, next month or maybe it will be a few years away. But I wont have a baby just because society expects it. Right now we are happy. The three of us are enjoying our little family unit and trusting that when the time is right, we will just know.
What are the age gaps between your children? Did you make a conscious decision to space your babies or did you leave it up to nature? I would love to hear your thoughts on this!
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