Grieving for the sibling age gap you had planned

You can't always have control over the age gap between your children.
You can't always have control over the age gap between your children. Photo: Getty Images

I had it all figured out - or so I thought. I was going to have a baby, return to work after maternity leave, then have another approximately two years later. Because a two year age-gap between kids is what most people seem to do, right? As the eldest of four children more or less spaced two years apart, I wanted something similar for my own little ones.

Life, of course, had other plans, and it seems that having two kids in two years simply wasn't on the agenda. Postnatal psychosis derailed me in the most spectacular of ways

Around the time many of the mothers in my mothers' group were talking about having a second baby, I had just been discharged from my first stay in a mum and baby psychiatric unit. I hadn't even managed to return to work, let alone start thinking about having another child. In fact, my thought process on the second baby question was pretty much "I think we're one and done."

When the mums from my mothers' group began giving birth to their second kids, my fingers itched to hold them. I reveled in their newborn scent and drank in their perfect, tiny features. The idea of having another of my own, however, still filled me with terror.

It wasn't until my son turned three and all the babies started turning one that I felt a sense of grief. 

"This is my baby," one of my son's friends said to me one morning at the daycare drop off. His little brother, with the same coloured eyes and chubbier cheeks, grinned up at me from his pram. "Where's your baby?" he asked.

I laughed and gestured to my little boy. "He's my baby," I said. "No I'm not, Mummy," my three-year-old insisted as he ran off to join his buddies. "I'm a big boy." And it hit me that he was.

For the first time, physically, I felt primal rumblings. I'd randomly rest my hand on my stomach, a habitual gesture left over from pregnancy. My ovaries ached in the presence of newborns. And yet psychologically, I still wasn't ready.

Recovery from severe mental illness doesn't happen in a neat line. You spiral downwards, leap forwards and move along slowly sideways. Long stretches of "good days" are punctuated with heart-achingly bad ones that leave you wondering if you'll ever be completely well.

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There was the issue of medication to consider too, the delicate balance of my wellbeing and needs with the safety of my unborn. My aim was to taper off all psychiatric drugs (in conjunction with my psychiatrist) - a process, however, that would take some planning and time.

For a while I became focused on the ever-growing age gap. I'd find myself calculating, "If we have no problems conceiving - and that's a big IF - then there'll be three years and X months between them ..." 

I became more conscious, too, of other people in similar situations, friends who'd suffered miscarriages or secondary infertility and who were also watching the widening gap, mentally adjusting it with each month that passed.

I'd think about my own siblings, the years between us, and the different relationships we have as adults. I'd consider my friends and their brothers and sisters, all the combinations and dynamics that make up families.

As another month went by and I still wasn't ready to start trying for a baby I'd ruminate once again on the growing age difference, wondering what it would mean for my children's relationship in the future.

I'm not sure when I stopped calculating, when I finally gave myself permission to let it go. Perhaps it coincided with feeling better, with the depression and anxiety that had been tangling my thoughts, ever so gradually lifting. At some point, even though I knew it rationally all along, I realised that the age gap was completely and utterly out of my control.

I don't know if and when I'll feel ready to have another baby. And for now, I'm completely okay with that. My focus is on being as healthy as possible and endlessly grateful for the one beautiful, clever and funny munchkin who fills my life with mess and magic.

I know that having children close together is no guarantee that they'll get along, and that having them further apart doesn't mean they won't have a relationship equally as special as kids who are closer in age. There are pros and cons to both circumstances.

Being so unwell taught me a lot about simply rolling with it; about letting go of preconceived ideas and adapting to whatever life throws at you. And perspective; it gave me bucket-loads of that, too.

I realised that, in the scheme of things, an ever-increasing age gap between hypothetical siblings is simply not worth the worry. And whatever happens, I know we'll make it work.