I want a second child but my wife doesn’t and it’s breaking us

20 May 2024

"I want a second child but my wife doesn’t. We have one son, aged two. Before children, we talked about having a big family, an idea we both loved. My relationship with my brother and sister was very important when I was growing up.

But now my wife, an only child, is “one-and-done”. She had a very difficult labour – and she talks about how scary it was (she’s right). She found the sleepless nights incredibly hard – I couldn’t help when she was breastfeeding but saw the strain it put on her. She works really hard and is a brilliant mum, and is worried that more children would dilute her love.

I feel so torn. I want to respect my wife’s choice, I know it’s her who does the hard work in pregnancy, but I keep feeling sorry for my son and worrying he’ll be lonely. I’ve given up my idea of a large family but still wonder if there’s a compromise where we might have a second child? The whole situation has added so much pressure to our relationship and we’re drifting apart with an invisible child between us."

Northern Dad, 34

It’s clear how dominant this issue is for you both and how much strain it’s adding to both of your lives. It also sounds like you’ve been talking about it at great depth, which is so important, and that you’re trying to empathise with your wife’s viewpoint.

The first thing that I was struck by was the trauma it sounds like your wife experienced during childbirth. I don’t believe men can ever imagine what it must be like to experience a child growing inside us, nor the pain and sometimes shock and long-lasting damage of giving birth. I wonder if this is at the root of your wife’s decision: it’s understandable that she might not want to go through this again. You seem mindful of the fact that pregnancy and labour is on your wife – and that everyone has the right to absolute autonomy over their body.

Whether or not you were considering a second child, I’d recommend you encourage your wife to revisit her experience of childbirth and join her in that. Many women are helped to come to terms with a traumatic birth by getting in touch with their midwife who will offer a meeting where they will explain the delivery, talk through hospital notes and why it became medicalised. It may be that you and your wife were unaware of what was going on and it felt very out-of-control to you both. Understanding the sequence of events and talking to midwives and doctors about how it felt at the time can be a hugely cathartic experience and might influence how she handles any future medical experiences, whether her own, yours or your son’s. This may have already been offered to your wife and is invaluable for many parents, including those who don’t go on to have more pregnancies. I hope it might be empowering, also, as it means decisions about your family are more likely to be based on want rather than fear (though both, of course, are valid).

 

While you’re clearly both talking to each other about this decision, I’m also conscious that you’re both allowing fearful myths to play into your decision.

From your wife’s point of view, she’s concerned that her love will be diluted. I wonder whether this fear might be part of her only child experience: was there an abundance of love flowing in her life or was it scarce? Maybe she wants to give your child the attention and devotion that might have been lacking for her. I’ve worked with people from all different sized families over the past 25 years, and I’m confident that none of them have experienced love like a pie chart to be apportioned to different family members. The more we love, the more love we have to give.

Equally, while you and your wife have had very different life experiences growing up, your prevailing myth is that your son will be lonely if he doesn’t have siblings. I respect your need for your child to have company and experience the childhood that you might have had, rich in sharing and caring, fighting and boundaries, jealousy and loyalty. While some children experience this through their siblings, others will find this through cousins, neighbours, school friends and chosen family (with whom you can share a deep commitment); the communities that you create for yourselves and your son. Sometimes these relationships can be closer than siblings, even though the children aren’t obliged to be together in the same way. It’s interesting that you perceive only children as lonely: do you know where this stems from? Do you think it in regard to your wife – or other adults you know – who grew up without siblings? It’s worth recognising where this is coming from in you, and also squaring this with our culture with its rising number of solo children (2.4 children is down to 1.7 and falling).

I recommend you take time to understand both your own fears, and those each other is carrying. These may correspond to your core needs to feel loved and safe.

 

Also, try to really understand each other’s feelings about life as a parent. I’m guessing that now your son’s two, the pressure is starting to ease a little: perhaps this is why you’re ready to have another? Perhaps your wife feels she needs a break; something that now the newborn days are behind you, you might be able to give her?

Examine how life might change over the next few years. Are there other roles you might want to take on to welcome more children into your lives: running a youth group or sports camp for children, fostering, taking on responsibilities in the primary school where your son will start their education?

 

It’s clear that you respect your wife and her role as a devoted mother. If both of you can really step into the other’s shoes to help experience and understand what they are feeling, hopefully this will relieve the tension building between the two of you. Don’t see this as an immediate decision, but a situation that will eventually resolve itself. Let the love between the two of you flow, knowing there will always be enough to go around. Take this time to get to know yourselves, your boundaries and needs – and allow each other enough space to grow and change.

While it may feel like this is a no-compromise situation with no middle ground, I’d urge you to keep communicating. Both of your needs can be met with love and understanding – and neither of your fearful myths will come to pass – whether you have another child or not.