Saturday, November 26, 2011

SNSS: New Baby and New Beginnings

Today's guest, Jessica Severson, of the blog Don't Mind the Mess, is unique as she only has one child. Yet. She is, however, at the time of this posting, pregnant with child number 2, a girl. 

Jessica's two and a half year-old son is on the Autism Spectrum, and thus when her daughter is born this winter, she will be born a special needs sibling.

Jessica writes about her parenting journey in blog, both as it pertains to autism and all the usual toddlerish stuff, too. She also writes about the other interesting and entertaining things that cross her mind, including popular culture and yummy recipes. She is funny and intelligent and is a pleasure to read.

Come experience that here, now, as she talks about the hopes and fears that come with the expansion of a family that already includes autism:


New Baby and New Beginnings - by Jessica Severson

I used to want 4 kids. In the early months after my son was born, I thought 3 wouldn’t be so bad. By the time he was diagnosed with Autism at 17 months, I didn’t know if I could handle 2.

I used to be jealous of families where the Special Needs child was born 2nd or 3rd and it would be easier for them to make family planning decisions. For us, with our first child diagnosed with Special Needs and a heightened risk of any other children also having Special Needs, the decision to have more children was fraught with worry.

I used to think that if I had another child, I would want to wait until my son was in school. I didn’t think I could handle two young children where at least one had Special Needs.

And yet despite all of that, here I am, 6 months pregnant with my second child. My son will be just past 2 and a half when his sister is born.

Even stranger, despite the years I spent worrying about having more children, I feel really happy about it.

The best I can tell is that I have worried about as much as I can. I’ve reached the point where I know I want to try at least one more time. I’ve stopped looking for the perfect time just like I’ve stopped waiting for a perfect child.

It is happening. And if we find ourselves in a worst-case scenario, at least it won’t be anything really new. We have been around the block. We have handled it. We can do it again.

That’s not to say I haven’t worried at all. An early test showed an increased risk of chromosomal defects. Those first few hours after I heard the news were some of the darkest I’ve had. The truth is, no matter how ready I feel to handle another child with Special Needs, the hypothetical idea of it is so different than the actual truth of it.

My amniocentesis came back perfect. But it was a bit of a wake-up call. I was idealizing the prospect of my second child. I was already imagining her as neurotypical and normal. She isn’t an opportunity to do things better, she’s a child just like any other with her own unique set of needs.

Teaching my son to prepare for his sister’s arrival has been more fun than I expected. He has learned the word “baby” and even knows to associate it with my belly. His therapists have included programs where he hugs and kisses a baby doll. We are working on treating things gently. A lot of it is pretty typical 2-year-old stuff.

If anything, I feel lucky that my son will still have the comforting rituals of his therapy hours to get through the early transitions. I feel lucky that my family will be there to provide him with play and structure.

And our decision to have the baby this early means my son will still have his Early Intervention therapy for 5 more months after the baby is born.

There’s never a perfect time to provide your Special Needs child with a sibling. Especially if they bristle at change. But that is what family is for. And knowing that my children will be able to be a support for one another comforts me.

Maybe it won’t happen for decades, but someday they will understand each other. Someday they will be able to stick up for one another. And disability or not, they will be able to relate to each other.

So far I haven’t let my son’s needs get in the way of a vision for the future of my family. What do I really want for all of us? I want us to be close to each other. I want us to trust each other. I want family gatherings to be joyous occasions. I am comforted knowing that my son’s needs don’t have to get in the way of any of that.

I’ve learned from my son that taking things a little bit at a time is the way to go. I don’t expect that to change when his sister comes. If anything, I think I’ll be able to treasure both of them more.

I hope that having two different children means I can appreciate two different personalities. Of course that means two different sets of weaknesses and frustrations, but it also means two different sets of strengths and joys.


I love how Jessica is sailing forth into this brave new world of parenting more than one child with optimism and a heart full of love, knowing there will be challenges, but preparing to meet them with good cheer and fortitude. It is inspiring.

Also, full disclosure, I actually met Jessica in person at the Boston Bloggy Bootcamp conference last May and she is just as delightful in person as she is on the internet.

Now that you have read Jessica here, you are clearly going to want to follow her home to her blog Don't Mind the Mess and dig in.

You may want to start here, with how the stresses related to parenting and her son's autism lead to a spiraling depression

Try this post about the guilt that can come on when you and your child are actually doing better, or this one about the day Jessica got the results of her amniocentesis back and found out the new baby was a girl, and OK chromosomally.

Also, go follow her on Twitter where she tweets as @jessicaesquire, go like her (I know you do) on her Facebook fan page, and finally, go see the stuff SHE likes on her Pinterest boards.

Jessica, thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and feelings with us here at SNSS, and wishing you much happiness and joy as you bring your new baby girl into your lovely, loving family.

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