THE SUBSEQUENT CHILD
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 second 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.
YOU'RE EXPECTING A BABY
The decision-making time is over, and the baby is on the way. You will probably be a
little nervous and excited. There may even be a little fear hidden away in that nervous,
This is especially true of parents who were inadequately counseled at the time of their
child's death, who had to accept improper diagnoses on death certificates or who were
unable to obtain autopsies, etc. Even under the best of these circumstances, you may still
have some doubts, or new ones may come to the surface. If you are troubled by such doubts,
this is the time to get answers, no matter how insignificant your questions may seem. The
only ridiculous questions are the ones you don't ask; little doubts have a way of becoming
big ones when you keep them locked up inside. Your doctor is an excellent source for help.
You can also contact a voluntary organization; they have resource people available to help
you with any questions. Parents who need to talk to someone who has shared a similar
experience can be put in contact with another parent of a "subsequent child."
It is important to remember that this baby will be entering a world that will include
grandparents, relatives, friends, and possibly brothers and sisters, whose feelings are
important too. "Waiting for baby" is a good time to encourage some open
discussion for them also, as it will do much to clear the air for everyone.
In a more practical vein, this must be said: Regardless of what happened at the time of
the death of your child, you must realize that human beings are just that--human. What
you, or someone else, did or did not do is no longer relevant. Each person lives his life
as best he can within the framework of the circumstances he has available. It becomes
pointless to spend the rest of your life blaming yourself or someone else for things that
cannot be changed.
You must also find security in your ability to make decisions. If you can find that
security at least 75 percent of the time you will truly enjoy the parenthood of this next
"Waiting for baby," then, is the time to seek counsel if needed and to be
honest with yourself and others, to prepare for a rather remarkable experience--the birth
of a "subsequent child."
YOU AND YOUR DOCTOR
It is important that you select a doctor who is comfortable with your feelings and with
whom you feel free in discussing your concerns. Most women return to the physician who
delivered the preceding child. You do have a freedom of choice, however. If for any reason
you decide to select a different doctor, don't feel guilty about it. Physicians prefer
patients who are comfortable with them, too. The same freedom of choice applies to
selecting a doctor who will care for the child.
Periodically, parents ask about changing doctors because they feel that their
particular physician was not adequately informed about SIDS when their child died. If you
are one of these parents, take time for some careful thinking before making changes. Were
you happy with the general care before the death occurred? Have you attempted to discuss
your feelings with the physician since the death? It is entirely possible that this was
your physician's first encounter with SIDS. Even among doctors, knowledge about SIDS may
be woefully inadequate. The doctor's helplessness and frustration may have come across to
you as callousness. Your physician might welcome the chance to talk to you now but has
waited for you to create the opportunity. If you don't take the attitude of "I know
more about this than you do," this could be one of your most important
Obstetricians, pediatricians, and family physicians are human beings. Some will be over
solicitous, some under solicitous and many somewhere in between. The main point is to find
a doctor with whom you will be comfortable.
The birth of a subsequent child can be an overwhelming emotional experience. When you
see and hold your new baby for the first time, you may find that old memories come
flooding back and intertwine themselves with the beauty of this new being. The moment can
be a mixture of great joy and great pain. One mother described it as a powerful desire to
hold both children, while knowing that it was not possible. I mention this particular
feeling because most mothers experience it to some degree, and a few are unable to
understand it. Fathers feel it too, although they are less inclined to talk about it. I
mention this emotion also because nearly every parent acknowledges a strong desire to
cry--to cry while feeling happy and sad at the same time.
BABY JOINS THE FAMILY
The first week in any household with a new baby is one of awe and delight, as the
entire family centers around the new arrival. Little else gets done in the first few days
except watching and caring for the baby, and no one seems to mind. All too soon a routine
has to be established, and while it is still a happy time, other tasks and
responsibilities begin to share importance with the baby. This is the time when baby truly
joins the family.
Articles about SIDS frequently mention that parents should not become overprotective of
the subsequent child. Such articles also tell you that hovering and being too concerned
are unhealthy for you and the child. This sounds good on paper, but it is somewhat more
difficult to put into practice.
Will you spend twenty-four hours a day by the crib? The answer is no. Even if you try,
eventually you will get tired. That is when you learn to trust--in living, in yourself and
your values. Learning to relax and trust is not always easy, but it will happen. You will
have uneasy moments now and then, but you were ready for that, and you understand why they
You will probably check on your sleeping baby more frequently than you did your other
children. Parents of subsequent children are the first to admit that in the past they used
to check their babies to see if they were covered, whereas now they check respiration.
Many babies are quiet breathers; a gentle hand on the back or the tummy can reassure you.
Babies do pause in their breathing periodically and sometimes pant for a breath or two. If
you remember this, you will save yourself some moments of uneasiness. Since parents of
subsequent children are concerned about anything to do with breathing, it is important to
remember that new babies do a fair amount of snorting and sneezing at first. New blankets
and diapers can cause this, along with the baby's general adjustment to his new
A Discussion for Mothers
You cannot tie yourself to a twenty-four hour schedule dedicated entirely to the baby.
You may want to do everything for the baby yourself and, without realizing it, thereby
exclude other members of the family from being as much a part of the care of the baby as
they would like to be.
While you were pregnant, you may have made many resolutions about how you would feel
and how you would act. Now that the baby is here, it is good time to re-examine some old
When a child dies, a mother may feel that the event threatens her image of herself as a
"good" mother. Although that death cast no reflection on her ability to mother,
the feelings that are left have much to do with the emotions involved in caring for the
subsequent child. Most mothers have also been subjected, at some point in the past, to
real or imagined comments on general care from somebody. Because of this, many mothers
have expressed a need to turn into some kind of a "super mother" with the next
child. Along with this need to be a "super mother," they also experience a fear
of "loving" too much; the thought of possible separation from this new baby
would be easier if they reserved some of their love.
These are very normal and human thoughts, and if you have them, you are not alone. The
need to wear a sign that says, "See what a marvelous mother I am," and yet
privately hold back your feelings to spare yourself, can be a very deep need that stems
from the past threat to your image of yourself.
Every mother also remembers moments with the child who died, and remembering can cause
much pain. Mothers remember letting the baby cry a few extra minutes, overfeeding the
baby, or being irritated and tired and unable to comfort the baby during a fussy period.
When mothers remember these things, they also remember making a silent vow that there
would never be anything they would not tolerate in another child.
And now, with the subsequent child, people are telling you to not spend all your time
with your new baby and not to cater to his every whim. Somehow your needs and your
feelings seem not to fit the advice.
Let's be realistic. There is no such thing as a "super mother" nor is there a
way you can withhold love. The wonderful thing about parents is their ability to handle so
many different emotions. You will get tired, frustrated, and resentful of the lack of
privacy that comes with children. You will also find endless abilities to love and accept.
Babies cry, and letting them cry for a few extra minutes will not hurt them. Overfeeding
happens as a baby decides just how much food he needs on an ever-changing schedule. Babies
get cross and tired, and so do mothers. In short, there is no such thing as a perfect
parent or a perfect baby.
You will have to find your own method of handling the situation and learning to relax.
Understanding your feelings will also help you in not becoming a slave to every whim of
this new baby. One very small human being can quickly turn into a tyrant with just a
little encouragement. This does not mean that you cannot indulge your need to be
overprotective once in a while, nor does it mean that you should not rock, cuddle, or
spend more time with the baby than others think necessary. Being overprotective is not the
same thing as enjoying your baby.
Set your own terms and live with them. Doing what pleases others is the biggest trap of
all. Enjoy each day with the new baby to the fullest.
A Discussion for Fathers
Fathers generally feel a greater concern about this baby, than they did about their
other children. This does not mean that they discuss it or show it as much, but they do
Just as with mothers, the death of a child is threatening to a father's image of
himself--not only as a father, but as the provider and protector of the well-being of his
family. It is interesting to observe here that while mothers are concerned about what they
might have done wrong during pregnancy or in caring for the child, fathers are concerned
about being the carriers of genetic problems or about not providing the best possible home
for their family. None of these things have any bearing on the death of the infant, but
the fact that they were cause for concern at one time is going to make these thoughts
surface again with the "subsequent child."
You will find yourself subject to many of the feelings and reactions of the mother,
even if you are not spending as much time in the household. Hearing the baby cry can be
just as emotionally upsetting to the father as to the mother. Fathers may be frustrated
because they are uncertain how to console the child. While their absence from the
household can sometimes give them a more objective attitude when they return home, that
same absence can also give them moments of uneasiness because they feel they have less
control of the situation.
Mothers and fathers often express their concerns differently. With the subsequent child
it is more important than ever that you recognize each other's differences and talk about
them, finding a comfortable solution. The uneasy moments will be less uneasy when you act
A Discussion About Other Children in the Family
If you have other children, you will have to work doubly hard to make them feel that
the baby is part of the family and that each child is important. Depending on the age of
each child, you can develop ways that allow him to feel important, to have time with his
parents without the baby, and to share in the care of the new baby.
A lot more is known about parents' feelings and reactions to the death of a baby than
is known about how children feel and react. Even the youngest child reacts in some way to
the death of the previous child, whether that reaction is visible, or not. This new baby
could make an older child feel that "replacing" him is possible, too. Or he may
feel that he must suppress the normal resentments children have toward a new brother or
sister. A child can have enormous guilt feelings about just catching a cold and exposing
the new infant to it.
Every family is different, but most families with a subsequent child agree that it
takes extra effort to adjust and still put the least possible amount of stress on each
family member. They also agree that extra consideration for each other created a new
family bond that made the period of infancy a far happier time than they had anticipated.
The uneasy moments are not eliminated, but sharing them helped to take the edge off.
A Discussion About Visitors
Your relatives and friends will all want to share in your happiness with the new baby.
While you may be uninterested in having much company and somewhat alarmed about the
prospect of many people handling the baby, you will have to find a way to make your
relatives and friends a part of this happy occasion.
Brief visits are best for any new baby, and you can be firm but gentle about this. If
you arrange visits while the baby is sleeping, you can eliminate the opportunity to handle
the baby. Exercise precaution, but don't overdo it.
Relatives can offer a very special love to your new child that cannot be found
elsewhere. These very same relatives have some strong feelings about the events in the
past, and their need to see and be with this child may be part of their reaction. As they
struggle to handle their own feelings, you will have to help them. If they give extra
advice, don't react to it as a threat to your abilities. Sometimes this takes a lot of
patience, but you must understand some of their frustrations too.
Children love babies, and when a neighbor or friend has a new one, they want to visit.
Small children, if supervised, will be some of your most delightful visitors. They usually
stay just long enough to satisfy their curiosity. They do not give you unwanted advice.
Best of all, they have their own way of making you, and the baby, feel very special.
When the baby joins the family, the rules are up to you. Try not to be over concerned
to the point of being inconsiderate. It is not always easy, but try.
A DISCUSSION ABOUT PANIC
In any discussion of your new baby, it would be unfair to avoid mentioning panic; as it
happens to almost everybody. The only good thing about panic is that it does not last very
long, even though it leaves you feeling like a limp cloth.
What is panic? Panic is freezing at the door of the baby's room and not being able to
enter for a minute because you are positive that something is wrong. Panic is waking up in
the middle of the night and having someone else check the baby while you break out in a
cold sweat. Panic is convincing yourself that the baby is not breathing, shaking him and
having a two-month-old look at you sleepily, wondering who has so rudely interrupted his
dreams. Panic is having your five-month-old fall asleep in a jumpseat when you had your
back turned for a minute. Panic can come for a variety of reasons, and sometimes there
seems to be no reason at all. Now that it is out in the open, what do you do with it?
First of all, remember that panic is nothing to be ashamed of. Honest parents admit
that they experience panic even if there has been nothing in the past to have given them
If you have moments of being afraid that this new child will become a victim of SIDS,
you know why you are afraid. You are afraid because no one can tell you that IT will not
happen again. This may seem heartless, but at the same time, nobody can assure you that
any number of other calamities will not occur either.
Panic can be caused by too much time alone, too much time to think, and perhaps the
terrible burden of believing that your presence alone is keeping the baby alive, that you
are a round-the-clock human respirator.
Panic teaches one very valuable lesson. Your greatest fear is not for the baby, but for
yourself. And your concern is how you would survive emotionally if you lost this child,
too. Bringing panic out in the open and looking at it can be most helpful. Then you can
begin to find ways to deal with it.
If you are one of those people who was convinced that she would spend the first six
months of the baby's life at home, begin to reshape your thinking. Don't wait for a crisis
to leave the baby with someone else. Start as soon as possible to wean yourself. Doing it
gradually will make it easier. If you have grandparents, relatives, or good friends nearby
who can help, let them. If not, rely on your husband at the beginning. Take brief outings
and then work your way into a few hours. Being in control is often dependent upon removing
yourself from the household for a while. Getting away also helps you remember that you are
a separate person with a need for privacy.
Finding someone to stay with baby, however, is not always possible, nor is it the total
answer. It is possible to stimulate and occupy your mind within your own household, by
reading, painting, or taking a correspondence course. You can be resourceful enough to
find something within reason and within your economic means. "Getting away" does
not always mean leaving the house.
The telephone can be a lifeline to contact with other people. Moments of apprehension
can often be eased by talking to another adult. Line up one or two good friends who will
be aware that you may need to call once in a while just to collect yourself. If you live
near a voluntary organization you can obtain the names of several parents who have had a
subsequent child and who are available by telephone when you need them. Sometimes just
knowing that there are people whom you can contact when you are apprehensive can remove
your need to do so.
The most uncomfortable period will be the point when your subsequent child reaches the
age of the child who died. It is one of those milestones that has to be reached and
passed. Once it is, most parents report that their moments of uneasiness start to
Most of all, be assured that you are not the only person to experience uneasiness or
panic. Nearly everyone does. You can only do your best in finding ways to handle it. If
you are uneasy most of the time, then consult your doctor for some additional help.