Options, Choices and Decisions
Your baby has died but the love you have for him or her will not end. It is precious and enduring; he or she will always be part of your family. In thinking about whether to have another baby, you may be afraid that you are being disloyal or that you may come to love that precious child less, but this will not happen. Every child is unique and special and your love and memories will always remain – another child will not diminish this in any way if you choose to have another child.
The famous psychiatrist, Sigmund Freud, after the death of his daughter, Sophie, wrote to a friend:
“Although we know that after such a loss the acute state of mourning will subside, we also know we shall remain inconsolable and will never find a substitute, no matter what may fill the gap, even if it be filled completely, it nevertheless remains something else. And actually that is how it should be… it is the only way of perpetuating that love which we do not want to relinquish.”
(Freud, S. (1929) Letter to Binswanger. In E.L.Freud (ed) Letters of Sigmund Freud, New York, Basic Books.)
Many parents are frightened about having another baby after one of their children has died. There is an incredible feeling of vulnerability. There is a realisation that parents are not able to control everything about their lives and the lives of their children. No matter what the cause of the death, any situation that is a reminder of the cause of death evokes special anxiety.
We decided to have another child
It takes courage to contemplate having another baby after a child has died. You may have many fears and uncertainties: Will this baby be alright? Will he die too? How will I sleep at night? Will I be able to love another baby? Is it worth the risk?
These doubts and uncertainties are not unusual. You have been touched by tragedy. The unbelievable has happened, your sense of security and safety has been shattered and you are vulnerable.
“The day Mitchell died I decided that I wanted another baby. Today. I didn’t want to replace him, I just wanted a baby. A baby to hold and cuddle.”
“I wanted other children before Sam died and I’m sure Sam would want me to fulfil my dreams after his death, as I would if he was alive.”
“We loved our son. We loved being parents. We knew we would never have Daniel back, but we could have his brother or sister – and that was an exciting thought.”
“The joy of holding my beautiful live daughter was a blessing I thought I would never know again.”
“We could never replace Alyce but we needed another baby to cuddle. Renée was born one year later. She brought us back to life. It was the best decision we ever made for ourselves and for our [older] daughter, Sara.”
“We learned… that a very large percentage of [bereaved] parents decide to have another baby. I think this gave us some encouragement also.”
“We wrote all the ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ on a sheet of paper. There was soon a long list of ‘cons’ but it was difficult to write any ‘pros’ at all, beyond our heartfelt longing.”
“Looking back, I know that we made the right decision to have her. If I had waited maybe I would still be trying to make up my mind today and I would have missed out on her special way which is helping us to ease the pain …”
“At time of writing, Simon is 20 weeks old and thriving … Our confidence and pleasure in our baby are growing, despite all the usual strains of living with a young baby and the added worry that death may strike again. There have been some difficulties and inconveniences but we have never regretted our decision to bring our beautiful baby into the world.”
We decided not to have another child
Some people will decide that, for them, the right decision is not to have another baby. It may be that anxiety is overwhelming, that there are physical barriers to another pregnancy, that family relationships have changed, or simply that it is not right at this time.
There may be thoughtless comments and pressure from friends and family to have another baby and the decision not to do so takes courage and should be respected.
“We are so thankful for the four very short months we had with her and the wonderful memories, but our lives have changed now and our decision [not to have another child] reflects our feelings from this change.”
“Time does heal even if you don’t have another child.”
“… We made the decision not to have a subsequent baby just now. The decision was a hard one to make.”
“I felt that another child could not close the black hole in my heart.”
Options, Choices and Decisions
Postponing the decision
If the decision is too difficult to make, or if you and your partner are not in agreement, you may feel that it is better to postpone making the decision. For a whole range of reasons, it may be that this is not the right time for you to have another baby: you may feel your life is too unsettled or you may have too many other demands.
“The choice wasn’t there as an option – whether I would or wouldn’t. As a single mum, I felt I couldn’t.”
When the choice is taken away
It may be that you have no choice about whether to have another child because of genetic concerns, irreparable injury to the mother at the birth, a vasectomy, or some other cause. This loss of choice can cause additional grief, and you may find it helpful to speak with someone else who has had a similar experience and/or to a counsellor.
“I wanted an acknowledgement that sometimes the decision may be taken out of your hands. You may decide not to have another child, but I haven’t decided that at all. The decision has been taken away from me … it is the loss of power and choice that is difficult to deal with.”
“From six pregnancies I only have one living child. After the death of my last child, Zoe, I lost all confidence in my own physical and emotional resources to have another child. Doctors could not explain why my generally strong, fit body could not prevent early deliveries. My marriage was struggling and I had little faith in my husband “being there” for me during another pregnancy. It wasn’t fair on my daughter to go through it again. Very, very gradually I learned to accept that she would be my only child and that I should try to heal myself through meaningful work and purpose, in helping others.”
You may already be pregnant
You may be pregnant when your baby dies or you may find yourself pregnant earlier than planned. Probably you will feel confused and anxious, perhaps thinking “we are not ready for this… we are mourning our dead baby”. At the same time you may be scared, anxious, hesitant, ambivalent and also possibly excited about this new baby.
“I was glad that we were already pregnant when Courtney died, as I didn’t know if I could make the decision to have another baby. But with time it helped and we had two more babies after Courtney died.”
“Although I conceived only two months after Sam died, I didn’t feel ready. But I felt that time would heal and hoped I would be ready when the baby was born.”
“I felt that I needed to regain some hope for my shattered family but I was staggered to think I could fall pregnant 6 weeks after our son’s death. I drove home from the doctor’s crying ‘I’m so sorry Simon’. I was worried people would think I’d got over losing Simon – I most certainly hadn’t.”
“I was already pregnant when Jade died. I don’t remember many good times during the pregnancy – we were so afraid. But looking back, I wouldn’t change it. Corey helped us survive.”
“Just 10 months after the death of Chloe I’ve found out I’m pregnant again. I have only known for three weeks, but have thought about not going through with it so many times. But I have decided I will.”
Adopting a child
Each State has different laws for adoption and permanent care. Unless you are infertile and under 35 years, it is most unlikely that you will be able to adopt a healthy baby. However, there are many other children, older than 4 years, or with special needs, needing families. In addition, inter-country adoption may be a possibility for you.
While it is important for any subsequent child to be wanted for his/her own sake (rather than as a replacement), this is absolutely crucial for an adopted child, who will have had his or her own experience of loss, of birth, family and identity.
“I often wondered if I would have had as much trouble bonding with my own biological child – was it the fear of this child dying too? In time I came to realise that it was my coping mechanism and that I probably distanced myself from all my children a little at that time.”
It may be that you had not considered having another child until the death of your child, that your family was complete. The consideration of whether to have another child may mean an upheaval to your plans and you may feel pressure to make a decision quickly if you are nearing the end of childbearing years. You may be worried that you will not be able to conceive again, or that you are taking a risk in doing so. It may be wise to consult your doctor if you are concerned.
This article was prepared using extracts from Another Baby? The Decision is Yours.1 The full text is available online or contact Red Nose Grief and Loss Services on 1300 308 307 for a printed version.
Last reviewed: 4/7/20
1. Bereaved Parents & SIDS and Kids Victoria. (2003). Another Baby? The Decision is Yours: A Booklet for Parents Whose baby or Young Child has Died and are Considering having Another Child. Malvern, Vic.: SIDS and Kids.