natural disasters and family planning

I've said before, time and again, that I am not sure if I can have a second child. I’m sure at some point, when we’re past the snuggly baby stage and my memory is far enough removed from the high-need phase, I will find myself wanting to have another child. But right now I find the adjustment to motherhood and the redefining of myself difficult enough that I question whether I would do this again.

And I’m fully aware that once I’m better adjusted to the role and once I’m comfortable with the up-to-date concept of self, it could be a lot easier the second time around. I may suddenly wake up, find myself at peace with motherhood, and decide that it’s an OK idea to go at it again.

I don’t mean to sound fatalistic about it, and I recognize that someday I may change my mind. I recently had a conversation with the Mountain Man and told him that not only am I unsure about whether to have a second child, but I also don’t want to forget about my experience adjusting to this new life. I don’t want to lose sight of the difficulty, even if I do someday decide to have another.

Yesterday, with the devastating earthquake in Japan and the even more devastating tsunami that sent waves to my town, I started realizing that through a natural disaster, an illness, an accident or an act of someone else, I could lose my child. It’s unlikely, but my Pie could be taken from me. It’s possible.

This morning I saw images on the news of a woman and a group of children, her daycare – being picked up by the Japanese military. The parents’ whereabouts were unknown. It was all I could do to not throw up and cry at the same time watching those children, who must have been confused and scared and lonely. And then I began to think about how I would handle it in the long-term. If I lost my Pie, would I feel the same way I do now about having more children? My feelings now are very dependant on my Pie remaining with me, nothing bad happening ever.

Could I try again after mourning the loss of a child? Would I have the courage to risk that kind of heartbreak again? Would I be able to endure my life without a child? Could I live a life after loss, without my child, or with another?

I really don’t know. Watching the images from the tsunami made me realize how difficult it would be for me to escape, if I had to. I could head east, to higher ground, but there is no guarantee. If there were a sudden, devastating earthquake (which we’re overdue for) and if I couldn’t get my Pie to safety, would I be able to go on? It makes me never want to let her out of my sight – I was anxious yesterday even sitting in the living room while she napped in the bedroom.

The closest I can equate right now is the feeling of loss, loneliness, emptiness that I feel even when we are separated for even a few hours. I have had only 5 times that I’ve been away from my Pie. For as much as I wish for a moment away, a moment of peace and autonomy and quiet, I feel aimless, lost, incomplete whenever we’re separated. It’s lonely to see the empty car seat base in the back seat of my car. It’s strange to not be touching my baby, to hear her breath in my ear. I feel self-conscious without a baby in my arms, like something – a part of me – is missing. And as much as I’ve enjoyed the time being a grown-up, out in the world, using my brain and having a real conversation, I am always happy to be reunited.

I know that’s a pathetic comparison when I’m talking about a loss. But even that small amount of heartache around a temporary separation makes me feel a tiny bit of sympathy and a huge amount of empathy for parents without their children.

Being a mom changes my perspective on everything. Any story about suffering children or parents who have lost a child hits me so much harder than it did before. It makes me wonder how people survive the losses of their loved ones. How can they move forward in their lives, decide to have more children, remarry, be healthy and happy? How do you not succumb to devastation? The earthquake and tsunami, although across the sea, feels close to home. It makes me look out my window and see the potential for loss, the delicate balance of safety we are all juggling every day. The devastation makes me question whether I really am unwilling to have more children. And is that what’s best for the children, ultimately – to be with a mama who loves them, cares for them but struggles daily with the adjustment to motherhood? Or is it in my best interest, a protection against being alone, insurance against suffering loss, some small assurance that I may not have to endure what is the most difficult parenting experience possible?

I thought about adoption – I would happily open my home to a child who had lost his parents, but the unfortunate thing is that my desire is to scoop a child up, hold him and assure him that it’s going to be OK – which is impossible with adoption processes, especially international. There are application processes, red tape, waiting periods. My desire to hold and reassure a child wouldn’t be immediately fulfilled, and those children will continue to feel lost without that reassurance. The processes in place to protect children are delaying their connection to a caring adult.

This has made me question my feelings about family planning. It has reminded me that there is no certainty, and that in some ways, we have no control over our lives or safety. I know that although I struggle with parenting, I would not regret having children, but I very well might regret not having another. As the impact of this disaster wanes, as new news stories take over and as I re-settle into my daily life and concerns, I may return to the feeling that I couldn’t handle another child. Yet in this moment, my struggles with adjusting to parenting seem so insignificant and meaningless as I consider the losses that are possible, the life that would ensue if I lost my Pie.


  1. Hi Megan,

    Great piece, thought-provoking as ususal.

    My husband and I always wanted to have children from the get-go (our compromise was that we waited a bit longer for the 2nd one--because we were in the process of moving!-- I initially wanted my kids only one year apart, very crazy I know, and they are actually 2 1/2 yrs apart).

    Something you did not really mention in your essay that was a driving factor for us is: someday, my husband and I will be dead and I do not want my older son to be alone. We had the 2nd child as a built-in friend/ companion/ witness of childhood for the 1st child.

    That being said, my sister and brother and I are not close, but at least I do have that thread from my childhood. Luckily, my sons do seem close, and I know a lot of families where the sibilings are best friends and that is what I hope for.

    Also, I (selfishly) want grandchildren someday. We thought our odds were better if we had 2 kids, because maybe one would not want kids or not be able to have kids (or hate us and move far away forever?).

    So, those are my kooky reasons. We started to look right in the eye of "Wow, our baby is almost 2 yrs old, and this is getting a lot easier now! maybe we COULD handle a 2nd one?" Then once you make that jump, there is no going back!!

    I think the hardest time of my life (endurance-wise) was with the newborn and the toddler.

    The 2nd child brings me untold joy. I adore the first, but the 2nd? He is like re-uniting with an old friend, a delightful old friend that you would be utterly heartbroken to not have in your life. Best decision we ever made.


  2. I agree with the child being left alone after we're gone - I take for granted that I have 3 siblings and won't ever have to be "alone". Even if I don't have daily or weekly contact with them, they are there, and I am not alone in the world.

    The selfishness and fear of being alone when I'm older is a major factor considering to have a second. The Mountain Man and I also talked about the fact that we could have child(ren) and then still be alone in our old age, as people don't live near their family homes anymore. So much for that plan.

    So glad to hear that it gets so much better with age & with a second! I know it must get easier, and the sleep-deprivation induced memory loss must be strong and swift - otherwise I really don't know how people would have a second (or third, or 14th...)

    As much as I feel like I couldn't do this again, and as much as I sometimes find myself not enjoying motherhood, I don't want my Pie to grow up as an only child and then be alone when we're gone. I never wanted to have an only child, but I also never thought I would have a hard adjustment to motherhood!

  3. Watching Obama's speech right now about the crisis in Japan, and he mentioned a 4-month-old baby who was separated from her parents during the tsunami (oh shit, this is exactly what i'm afraid of!) someone found the baby days after the tsunami and pulled her from the rubble because they heard her cries. How did the baby survive? I can't imagine. Days. For a 4-month-old that's an eternity without sustenance or water. My heart and stomach ache hearing about it, and knowing that this is not anywhere near the only situation where children are separated from their parents and remain helpless until someone rescues them.


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