How do you make your decisions? Gut feeling or logic?
I am rational over emotional. Give me scientific data or a good pro/con list over intuition any day. I have no problem with risk, but I prefer it to be calculated rather than a leap into nothing with my fingers crossed. But not all questions can be answered with logic. Ten years ago, I wrestled with one that had no right or wrong answer: To have or not to have a second baby.
This question had complicating elements for me. Having my first baby a couple of years earlier had triggered my Bipolar Disorder. I was in hospital for the better part of the first four months of her life. I needed a lot of medication and a course of Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) to get me well.
Because this first episode of illness could have been attributed to a postnatal mood disorder, I gradually came off all my medication. The idea of having a second baby seeped into my thoughts. In response, my logical brain screamed:
‘Enough! Look at your healthy, happy child. If you got sick again, you could be in hospital and away from her for months. You could scar her for life.’
And countering this – a feeling in my centre – inexplicably unwavering, like a feather sitting still in a hurricane. It didn’t scream. It whispered:
‘You want another baby.’
I sought scientific answers first. I spoke to doctors. I absorbed a lot of facts: I had a 50% chance of getting sick again with a second pregnancy. A useless statistic. It was as likely to happen as not. We saw a psychologist to help make the decision. I learned that one child families are as happy and functional as those with more children. None of this information helped me. My answer was as elusive as a slippery fish.
I tried softer options, talking to family and friends. Many said:
‘No – you shouldn’t risk it.’
I tried and tried to sit with their ‘No’ because it made so much sense. It felt right for a short time, and then that feather of intuition tickled my insides.
I pushed away what I really wanted while I desperately sought ‘the right answer’. I couldn’t see that it was not a choice between simple right and wrong. It was a choice between what was right for me and what was right based on the facts and opinions offered by everyone else.
I had to narrow it down to whose opinions would affect my decision. There was only one person’s. My husband’s. Had he said: ‘No more.’, I would not have risked my marriage for the sake of a second baby. He was flexible. He felt it was my risk of illness, so it was my decision.
In the end, two recurring thoughts and overcoming one mental obstacle decided me:
Firstly: When I thought of my life at sixty, I had a sense I’d regret not trying for a second baby.
Secondly: I had been as unwell as you can possibly get, and I got better.
And the obstacle: The thought that my daughter could be emotionally scarred if I got sick and had to go into hospital for a long time.
I started by writing a letter to her adult self, explaining what I wanted and what I was afraid of. The process of doing this, showed me that I preferred the risk of exposing her to a challenging situation over the risk of modelling for her that you should let the fear of what might happen stand in the way of what you really want. This realisation allowed me to move through my mental obstacle.
We had our second baby.
And I got sick again. Six weeks in hospital during the pregnancy. The better part of my son’s first year in and out of hospital. If I had known this information during my decision-making process I would have said:
‘No way I’m putting myself, my husband, and my daughter through that. No second baby.’
My son is eight now. Having met and nurtured him, of course I can’t imagine our family without him. But if I had been able to find peace with not having a second child, I would never have met him, so I would not have missed him, and we would have been a happy family of three.
During the fraught process of weighing pros and cons I felt I needed the answers to all my questions in order to make a decision. But some questions need a different approach. The Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke once gave this advice:
“… the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now.
Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
I lived my way into my answer.