Writer and broadcaster

I’d love another child but my husband is against it. The Guardian

Dear Annalisa

I am 41, recently married and have 3 children under 10. I would like another child but my husband doesn’t. Our lives are full, we both have demanding jobs (I work part time) and are hands on parents, we share pretty much everything and have quite high standards about maximising family time as a unit, spending time with the children individually, and also as couple.

I am dreading my youngest starting school in September. I also have this creeping sense of regret that the last ten years have flown by and a chapter is closing and I can’t bear it to be over. That I haven’t appreciated what I’ve had when I had it. I love being pregnant, having babies, small children, big children, being part of a chaotic family bundle.

But my other half doesn’t want to go again. He says he doesn’t have time for the children he has and that he is very conscious that he only has a limited period left with our older son before he becomes independent and he doesn’t want to be shackled with another baby during the next few years. He says he is enjoying this phase of our life.

It isn’t about money or space, if anything it comes down to a shortage of time. And it’s a fundamental black and white disagreement. We are both very strong willed. We weren’t together long before our first son came along and had to get to know each other with a small baby in tow (and exiting other relationships to be together) so have had our fair share of struggle. I think my husband is enjoying what is probably the least challenging period of our lives together, and I do get that.

We got married a few months ago, and for me now there is only one thing on my mind. I know my husband doesn’t want to upset me and he just goes silent when I mention it. I have tried all tacks but the best I get is “not now”. I am realistic that I am 41 and I haven’t got years to wait.

I can’t give up without a fight. I can’t move on, accept it or think about anything else.

I thought there were contradictions in your letter between what you want and why you want it. You feel like the last ten years have passed in a blur and yet you want to add to the busy-ness; you feel like you’ve not appreciated what you had, yet you want to do something that will, at least at times, distract from the family you already have.

It made me wonder if what underpins your dilemma is fear, not so much of not having another baby, but of something else.

Christopher Mills, a psychotherapist who specializes in family and couple mediation, honed in on this right away: “I suspect this is quite a scary junction for both you and your husband.”

“This hurly burly [of the last ten years],” says Mills, “is what you know, where you feel safe and quite possible, where you feel valuable and needed.”

You seem very good at forward motion, but not so much (a relative) standing still. Mills thought it was interesting that you had only just got married and wondered why you had left it so long. I was left with a feeling that you like a ‘to do list’ and now the wedding was ticked off you were wondering ‘what next’.

Your youngest starting school in September seems, understandably, a big focus for you, almost as if you will stop being a mother at that point. Having very young children can make people feel young themselves – still part of that ‘young family’ crowd.

“Like the rest of us,” explains Mills, “You fear loss and are unwilling to accept that even the most healthy and happy family life requires renunciation and the grief that goes with it.”

“What scares your husband,” says Mills, “is probably not just the prospect of another baby, but also the question of how to communicate with you over you different preferences. It’s not unusual for women to feel as you do at your stage of life. The kind of intense single-mindedness that your emotional drive gives you can be frightening to a man because it feels irrational and possibly unconnected to any need other than the woman’s own, so unrelated to him. In this case your husband may be polarising into a super-rational position – something men frequently do when they’re scared – which then feels equally alienating to you. “

I know you feel that time isn’t on your side but both Mills and I came to the conclusion that if you could ‘park’ your decision – just for a while – and work on a better and deeper communication between you and your husband (which would involve you listening and not just talking) then, as Mills says “the ultimate decision over the new baby stands a better chance of being the right one”.

I keep coming back to the idea of you waiting until after September (using the time between then and now to work on the communication between you and your husband, as Mills suggests), facing this big thing you fear – your youngest starting school – seeing how you feel, and then re-assessing?

Incidentally, how do your other children feel about another baby?


This article first appeared in the Family section of The Guardian on 17 April 2015.