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THE SUBSEQUENT CHILD
Part 1

The Subsequent Child was originally written and published in 1973 by Carolyn Szybist. While much of the original article remains intact, in September 1994, volunteers of the SIDS Network in Ledyard, Connecticut, began a process to update portions of the article to reflect current SIDS research. This process was completed in March 1995. This is the first of three parts. Your comments and reactions are an important part of this process. Please E-mail us your comments, ideas, and contributed articles for this area to: sidsnet1-at-sids-network-dot-org. Your help is truly needed to make this undertaking a success.

INTRODUCTION

Somewhere in the time following the death of a child, particularly if that death was sudden and unexpected, parents are faced with the question: Should we have another baby? More importantly, they wonder how they will feel about this next child, and they wonder how other parents have reacted to these feelings.

This information is intended for parents who are thinking about having another baby or those who have already made the decision to have another baby. This article may also serve as a source of information for persons who may be in contact with such families.

It must be recognized that this is simply a guide to parental feelings. As such, it covers only some of the more frequent situations, reactions, and questions. Not all parents will ask the same questions, and each will most likely have some individual circumstances that are not touched upon here. Just as parental reactions to the death of a child are similar but uniquely different, so too are the reactions to a "subsequent child."

IS IT NECESSARY TO HAVE ANOTHER CHILD TO GET OVER THE DEATH OF AN INFANT?

When an infant dies, well-intentioned people generally try to persuade parents that having another baby as soon as possible is the only answer to accepting that death. Rather strong attempts may sometimes be made to convince you that healing can only be accomplished this way. But "healing" is actually nothing more than incorporating an event into your life in a way that enables you to live with it in an appropriate fashion. Doing that takes time. You cannot necessarily speed up the process of healing by having or not having another baby.

If you decide not to have another baby and that decision is based upon your own reasons, be secure with the fact that this decision is right for you. If you decide not to have another baby but you think this decision is based more on fear than on practical considerations, do not hesitate to seek some counseling. You will not be the first or the last person to experience this feeling.

The possibility also exists that the choice to have a subsequent child is not possible because of infertility or sterilization. This article will not cover those issues. You may wish to seek professional advice.

Often, the decision is to have another child. Parents who have made this choice will tell you that another child was a great help in adjusting to many of their past feelings. However, it must be clearly understood that another baby is neither a "cure-all" nor the only choice open to you. A new baby cannot take the place of the baby that died. Children are not interchangeable. Each child is an individual with its own personality and special features.

MAKING THE DECISION TO HAVE ANOTHER BABY

If your choice is to have another child, your desire for a child is probably greater than before. You know the joys and rewards of parenthood, and you now also understand the sorrows. The obstacles to be overcome are your own emotions and your concern about whether you can handle them.

This is a good time to review basic facts:

bullet SIDS is a definite medical entity and is the major cause of death in infants after the first month of life.
bullet SIDS victims appear to be healthy prior to death.
bullet Currently, SIDS cannot be predicted or prevented, even by a physician.
bullet There appears to be no suffering; death occurs very rapidly, usually during sleep.
bullet SIDS is not caused by external suffocation.
bullet SIDS is not caused by vomiting and choking.
bullet SIDS is not contagious.
bullet SIDS does not cause pain or suffering in the infant.

During your last pregnancy (adoptive parents should translate the term pregnancy into the time period of waiting for the adoptive child), you probably discussed or thought about any number of things that could go wrong and accepted those possibilities as part of having a family. You were prepared for any problems that were visible or could be diagnosed by a physician. When the baby was born, you accepted the pronouncement that this was a fine, healthy baby. If there were a few difficulties, you were confident that they could be handled. You knew that parenthood was not a fairy tale where everyone "lived happily ever after," but you did believe that, if something went wrong, either you or someone else would detect it.

Few parents are concerned with or prepared for the fact that an apparently healthy baby can die suddenly. It is this fact that most influences parents such as you in the decision to have another baby. Not only were you not prepared but neither were the people around you. If they had been, chances are good that deciding to have another baby would not be the momentous decision that it sometimes is. Because everyone who has lost a child to SIDS has encountered someone who did not understand, your confidence in yourself, and perhaps in others, has been shaken.

Slowly but surely, however, the general public is beginning to understand about SIDS. Someday soon everyone will do what you have to do now, accept SIDS as "one of those possibilities" that is part of having a family.

But there is also a way of looking at SIDS in a more positive light. If 2 out of every 1000 babies will die, then certainly 998 will live. This is a rather good chance to take if your desire to have another child is great enough.

While the decision to have another child is not always an easy one to make, it belongs to the people who will be accepting the responsibility of parenthood.

HOW SOON AFTER THE LOSS OF A CHILD SHOULD YOU HAVE ANOTHER BABY?

There are many answers to this question, and they are all correct. Some women are already pregnant when their baby dies and there is no "decision-making" time. If the pregnancy is going to follow the last one by less than a year, it is a good idea to consult your physician on this decision. The length of time to wait, for the most part, is a decision that belongs to you and to no one else.

SOME PROBLEMS YOU MIGHT ENCOUNTER

It is a rather common occurrence for some women to experience difficulty in becoming pregnant once they have decided to have another baby. Should this happen to you, don't feel guilty about the momentary inability to conceive. Be assured that you are not alone. The solution is patience. If you feel that "being patient" results in your having to wait too long, consult your physician. The emotional impact of the loss of a child, the desire for another pregnancy, or any number of reasons can cause this temporary situation. Such a reaction is quite normal.

It is not too uncommon for the next pregnancy to result in a miscarriage. Mothers who have recently lost infants have a strong tendency to feel responsible or guilty when a miscarriage occurs. You have a right to feel unhappy, but don't feel responsible.

Adoptive parents may also be faced with frustration, for it is increasingly difficult to find babies available for adoption. Don't jump into alternative procedures, such as a foster child unless you are quite secure with your feelings. Such alternatives may well be the solution for you; just be certain that the choice is not made in haste.

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