“I’ve been thinking. Maybe we should have a 3rd child.”
My husband’s words completely caught me off guard. He was the one who proclaimed “I think two is enough” while I was still in the hospital after having Easton.
“But…I thought you were done.”
“I thought I was too. My reasoning for having another kid might sound…weird.”
“Go ahead.” I was intrigued. Isn’t the reasoning behind having another child usually because…um…you want another child?
“Well…if something happens to us…when we’re both gone, even if it’s years down the road…I don’t want Keegan to feel all alone. Maybe we should try to give him a…um…normal sibling. Someone he can talk to.”
You know that saying, “it hit me like a ton of bricks”? A year ago, when we had this conversation, my husband’s words hit me like 17 tons of bricks that were attached to an anvil.
I had thought about it too. The third child, I mean. I wasn’t necessarily done right after having Easton, like my husband was. But it’s one of those things that your spouse kinda needs to be on board with too, you know? So, I had shoved that urge, that longing for just one more, to the back burner.
And then, when we heard “autism”…my urge slowly crept back up front, but for reasons I’m not allowed to say out loud. Reasons I’m not allowed to think, really.
I wanted to try for just one more “normal” child. One more “neurotypical,” as they say.
But, in the selfishness that took over my brain, I hadn’t thought about doing it for Keegan’s sake. I was only thinking about me.
But now, it was all I could think about. Keegan doesn’t know what it’s like to have a typically developing sibling. He doesn’t know what it’s like to play games with his brother, to whisper and giggle at night in their beds, to have silly conversations or their own language or work together to fool their parents into letting them stay up later. He doesn’t know what it’s like to go trick-or-treating together and then compare their loot. He doesn’t know what it’s like to open Christmas presents with his brother, to rip the paper open simultaneously and gasp with excitement. He doesn’t experience being that “cool older brother” to his sibling’s friends during play dates. (Easton doesn’t have play dates.) He doesn’t even know what it’s like to have a conversation with his brother.
They do argue, but not in the traditional “oh, all brothers argue!” sort of way. Easton tries “playing” with Keegan, but it’s more just him lying on top of him, or kicking his back or plopping right into his lap, or standing on his neck in what he thinks is a playful way. Keegan yells at him to stop, and then Easton echoes that. (I have to admit, it’s slightly humorous to hear Keegan yell, “Easton, ouch! Get off me!” followed by Easton yelling, “Easton, ouch! Get off me!”…while he continues to stand on his neck.)
Do I want one more? The immediate, easy, if-it-weren’t-for-(fill in the blank) answer to that question is yes. I do. I have since Easton was born. It’s just that the factors involved in wanting another one have changed. It’s not just “baby fever” or “I always wanted 3 kids” or the fact that I actually enjoyed being pregnant. It’s so much more. A younger sibling would be good for both boys, for different reasons. Keegan would absolutely love being a big brother again. In fact, he talks about it quite often. “Mom, if we had another baby in our family, I don’t really know what I would want, except I know I would want a brother.” ”Mom, if we had another baby, what would we name it if it was a boy or if it was a girl? I think David for a boy, but I don’t know for a girl.”
As for Easton, it would be extremely difficult for him to see me give a baby so much attention. (As in, he would freak out.) I am 100% certain of this. In many ways, caring for Easton feels like caring for a baby at times. And if people would tell me, “Oh, all kids go through that jealousy, that’s normal,” I would respond, “No. This would be different. Much more challenging than the average child’s jealousy.” Period. Because it would be. My husband has pointed out that Easton would learn to accept a baby into our family, that it would just take time. He’s right. But, is it the right thing to do?
(Note: Could our third child also be autistic? Absolutely. That part is out of our control, and not a factor in our decision. In the end, we would have one because we feel like one more child would complete our family. In fact, the phrase “as long as it’s healthy” has always bothered me when soon-to-be parents are referring to their unborn child. And, if it’s not healthy? Then what? You give it back? Anyway. That’s a topic for another time, another blog post.)
So, the simple answer of “yes” to the question “Do you want one more child?” turns complicated. There were days over the Christmas break where Easton was at his most challenging I have seen him, ever. I cried a few times. I thought I was going to lose my mind a few times. I didn’t go anywhere with the boys because I didn’t know if I could handle a public meltdown from him without melting down myself. Yesterday, we ran errands after taking the boys swimming, and as we left our last of three stops, where Easton completely melted down over every damn thing, I said (out loud for once to my husband, instead of just in my head), “We caused a scene in every area of that enormous building. For once, I would just like a normal shopping experience as a family.” My husband said, “I know.” When we got home, it was a full hour of more extreme melting down from Easton.
The voice inside my brain is constant: “What if I was dealing with these issues with Easton, at home and in public, AND had a baby to take care of, feed, burp, hold, change, put down for a nap, calm if he/she was fussy? Could I leave the baby on the floor for even one second and trust that Easton wouldn’t hurt him/her? Could my mind and body handle the sleep deprivation that goes along with having a newborn, AND focus on what’s going on in Easton’s therapy sessions, be clear-headed for IEP meetings, deal with the stress of finding the right school, classroom, teacher for him? Do I have the emotional capacity to keep my patience with Easton, understand his communication barriers, not want to go hide in a closet when he’s at his worst…AND give attention to a baby that he/she needs and deserves?”
The answer to that last question is simple: No. I don’t. Some moms do, and I admire them for that. I wish I did. I do think I’m strong, but this is my weakness. I know my limits. The real question is, “Is it best for me and my mental/emotional well-being, if we have another child?” I don’t think it is. And that means it’s not best for my family. That’s a painful and gut-wrenching realization.
It’s because of autism that we were thinking of having a third child. And, because of autism, we will not.
Easton has made great strides in the last year, since the original conversation with my husband. Leaps and bounds, actually, in a positive direction. But I have a feeling the challenges we will face in the next year are going to get pretty intense, and more stressful with each passing year.
And that brotherly bond? The one that I wished was a little different? The one that I wished was stronger, more normal?
I came to the realization that those wishes I have are exactly that: my wishes. Not Keegan’s. This bond is what he knows. It’s all he knows. And it’s pretty fantastic. Is their bond normal? Nope. Not even close. It’s better than normal.
Keegan and I have interesting conversations in the car on a daily basis. I asked him recently, out of the blue: “If our house was on fire, and you only had time to grab one thing that you felt you could not live without, what would it be?”
He thought for a few seconds. “My brother.”
(As most of you know, not many things render me speechless. This did. I honestly thought he was going to answer, “my iPod.”)
I choked back tears and finally said, “That answer makes me really happy.”
Their bond is there, and it’s stronger than most. Keegan will always look out for his little brother, and Easton will constantly learn from him.
A couple days ago, Keegan was watching TV. Easton came over and plopped onto Keegan’s lap.
I thought he was going to be in Keegan’s way, so I instinctively said, “Easton, you need to move, please.” Keegan said, “He’s okay.”
So, I stopped. And I watched.
“Mom, Easton really loves me.”
Even my 8 year-old knows actions speak louder than words. I could learn a thing or two from him.