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04/10/2019 10:52 EDT | Updated 04/10/2019 14:50 EDT

Having A Second Baby Seems More Like A Duty Than A Desire For Me

I want my son to have a sibling. But I also want to be the best mom I can be.

Lynn Vanasse
Natalie Stechyson and her son, who is loved more than anything but may be a

I've never felt more connected to my husband than in the moment we decided not to have sex.

It was a Wednesday, and we'd both booked off work yet sent our toddler son to daycare so we could have an illicit and rare 'day date' (we'd attempted a more-typical dinner date the previous weekend, and were both so exhausted we had to force ourselves to stay out past 9 p.m. Don't let anyone tell you parenting changes you!).

The plan was to relax, re-connect and engage in activities difficult to enjoy in the presence of a two-and-a-half-year-old, like day-drinking and peeing alone. But there was another goal neither of us spoke aloud, yet was in the back of both our minds: procreation.

I knew I'd be ovulating that day and if we wanted our son to have a sibling, well, we better get on with it. Time had been ticking in my mind for months, as had all the reasons why we should just do it: our children would be more than three years apart if we waited any longer, I was already edging into my late 30s and facing a geriatric pregnancy (omg), plus I didn't want to raise a newborn when I'm 40 (I'm tired enough as it is, thanks).

Natalie Stechyson
Natalie Stechyson cools her swollen feet while pregnant with her son.

I'd timed the day perfectly. I swear, I could feel an egg cartwheeling down my fallopian tube as I lay on the bed with my husband. But then I felt something else; something new — dread.

Because in that compromising, half-dressed moment, I had two important realizations: I'm probably going to get pregnant right now, and getting pregnant is probably the last thing I want.

I love my child. I hate pregnancy.

Nothing about pregnancy has been easy for me, other than getting pregnant, which I appear to be remarkably good at. Sticking the landing, not so much.

I got pregnant my first try four years ago. I bled for five straight weeks before I finally miscarried that attempt. My second pregnancy gave me my son — who is my entire world — but also nine full months of nausea so bad we couldn't cook indoors, a third-degree vaginal tear that still causes me carnal issues, and pretty severe postpartum anxiety that went undiagnosed for over two years.

Last April, my third experience with a positive pregnancy test (again, on the first try!) wound up being a rare molar pregnancy that threatened to give me cancer. I needed two D&C surgeries to remove all traces of it from my body, followed by about eight months of bloodwork to make sure nothing was growing back.

Natalie Stechyson
Natalie Stechyson takes her son to the park two days after her second surgery to remove her molar pregnancy from her body.

I was finally cleared to try for another baby last December, right around the time I started thinking I was having heart attacks that turned out to be panic attacks. When I couldn't go a single day without having chest pains or some part of my body going numb or feeling like someone was pouring cold water on me, I took my doctor's advice and started taking a daily anti-anxiety medication along with my prenatal vitamins.

"Zoloft is safe for me to take if I get pregnant again," I assured my husband, never seeing what was so clear to so many other people: that pregnancy might not be safe for me.

'Not all siblings get along'

It's hard to reflect nostalgically on my close relationship with my sister — especially on National Siblings Day — and not wish the same special bond for my son.

My sister and I are three years apart, which I think is the perfect age gap: not so close in age that we ever felt super competitive with each other, but not so far that we couldn't be close friends.

We grew up building sheet forts under the piano, riding our Canadian Tire bikes to the park, swimming in the community pool (well, I swam, she sank. But I was very good at rescuing her until those swimming lessons finally stuck), and playing elaborate games of pretend (I was Sue, she was Ann, and we were scrappy orphans ready to survive the high seas with Chips Ahoy cookies and might alone!)

Natalie Stechyson
Natalie Stechyson and her younger sister, probably plotting the best way to sync up episodes of "The Bachelor" so they can watch them at the same time 33 years later.

We went to different high schools and universities and at various points have lived on different ends of North America, but this never changed our closeness. Today, we live just 90 minutes apart, talk every day, and see each other every few weeks. We vacation together. We have the same friends. I introduced her to her husband. We think something is wrong if it's been a few hours without a text from the other person.

She's my best friend. My person. My constant. Of course, I want this for my son. I want him to have everything in the world.

When I explained this to my doctor this December as she was prescribing my Zoloft and strongly suggesting I start immediate therapy, she shook her head.

"You're very lucky. Not all siblings get along," she told me.

"It's not the only reason to have another baby."

I weighed the pros and cons

While I always imagined I'd have two children, lately it seems more like something to do out of duty rather than desire. I've tortured myself weighing the pros and cons.

Pros: Giving my child a younger sibling, that new baby smell, surely I saved all those baby clothes and products for something, everyone says your heart grows to make room for a new baby, I am a good mother who will love her baby fiercely, it won't be hard forever.

Cons: Having another miscarriage or, worse, another molar pregnancy (my odds are higher now); the nausea, my vagina, breastfeeding, sleeplessness, maternity leave, postpartum depression and anxiety, postpartum hair loss, guilt over spending less time with my son, needing to move (we only have a two-bedroom townhouse), actually having to keep a baby alive, fighting with my husband (we don't do well on no sleep), money (or lack thereof), not having any time to myself again for years, everything that could ever go wrong.

I started wondering if I should see a therapist to help me decide. But then, shouldn't it just be something I want? It seemed everywhere I looked, people were having their second, third, even fourth kids. I didn't feel jealous. I felt dread about how difficult it seemed. I felt profound sadness over the thought of splitting my attention from my son (God help the person who marries him someday).

WATCH: Only kids might be more creative. Story continues below.

"I really don't think you should have another baby," one of my oldest friends, a nurse, told me out of the blue last fall. She's always been blunt, which is one of the characteristics I value most about her, but this statement shocked even me.

When I pressed her, she detailed just how depressed and anxious I was after my son was born and how worried she was when she visited from Halifax a few months later. I hardly remember that visit. My son wasn't sleeping, and he had a rash — two facts that consumed all my waking thoughts.

I do recall that a public health nurse assigned to my case came for her weekly appointment during that trip, and she and my friend bonded over telling me to stop worrying and to smarten up and sleep train. It wasn't until nearly a year later that I understood the nurse wasn't coming by every week to check on the baby.

A one-child family doesn't seem complete

If it doesn't seem exactly obvious from everything else I've written, I absolutely love being a mother. And I think I'm a pretty good one. My child is sweet, silly, smart, and confident. We start every morning with a cuddle where I ask about his dreams (which consist of puppies, Santa, or "blue," usually) and finish every day with a story we read by flashlight on the floor of his room (several stories, actually, because I just can't say no to his requests for "one more, Mama!").

He sings along to his favourite lullabies with me and my husband, whispering "you are my sunshine" in our ears.

Still, there's something about a one-child family that seems incomplete to me, that makes me feel "less than," that makes me apologize in my mom forums because I don't have it as hard as the others. And strangers certainly remind me of this, whether it's the career counsellor telling me everyone needs "an heir and a spare," the hairdresser complimenting my son's curly locks by telling me, "He needs a sister," or my pediatrician telling me how grown up my child is: "So this is when most parents decide to have another one."

And when I tell people I have a son, they tend to ask, "Just the one?" And when I say yes, they often smile and say, "For now."

Natalie Stechyson
Natalie Stechyson and her husband enjoying a sled ride with their son. This was taken in Ottawa, so it's probably April.

So, despite everything weighing on my mind, my husband and I decided to just do it that Wednesday morning. Just have unprotected sex on my most fertile day of the month, and whatever happens, happens.

Except we didn't. Neither of us wanted to. And what happened instead was the most honest conversation we'd had in months. With tears in my eyes, I admitted I didn't want to be pregnant again and that I wasn't sure I wanted another child. My husband later told me it was like a weight was lifted off his chest. He's an only child, and he's never felt like he was missing out on anything.

We got dressed and commenced with the day drinking, where we talked about everything we have to look forward to, camping with our son this summer (so many flashlight stories to be read!), a weekend away for our anniversary, taking our son for his first train ride. Just being happy. Just being us.

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