How do you know if you’re done having kids?

baby toes

It seems silly, sometimes, to wrestle with this question. Should we have another child?

I know it’s a luxury even to be able to ask this. There are lots of people for whom having kids is not a true choice – either the opportunity or ability is not there, or, in some cases, the option not to have more children is unavailable.

Still, I know I’m not the only mama fortunate enough to struggle with this “dilemma.” Every time someone asks “So… do you think you’ll have any more?”, indecision rears its adorable, baby-faced head. I envy the parents who seem peaceful and sure when they say, “Yep, we’re done.”

It’s weird. Some days I’m SO SURE we’re done, and some days I think… How can we possibly be done?

We presently have an almost six-year-old son E, and a 2-and-a-half-year-old daughter AB. They are both healthy and smart and cute and normal. (If you can ever call a kid normal.) We also have our sweet salmon-spirit boy, stillborn Sebastian, in our hearts. We are incredibly blessed, overall.

I don’t need more children. But sometimes I think I want them. And even though my Hubbibi was all “I’m gettin’ snipped!” after our daughter was born, I know he sometimes has similar wavering feelings. Sometimes.

Initially, in arguing with myself about children, I tried to be methodical and logical about it.

  • Glowing pregnancy and sweet baby kicks VS. tiredness and nausea.
  • Adorable maternity tops VS. maternity pants that don’t stay up.
  • Visiting with my midwives VS. all that anxiety again.
  • That wonderful, perfect birth VS. … you have no idea how the birth will actually go.
  • Those priceless infant-breastfeeding moments VS. starting all over with the Great Sleep Challenge.
  • Gorgeous baby cheeks, hands, toes, bums… VS. DIAPERS.
  • Precious baby clothes VS. unthinkable amounts of laundry.
  • Snuggly newborn VS. screaming newborn (since you never know which one you’ll get).
  • Leaving the house with one bag VS. leaving the house with ALL THE THINGS.
  • Peaceful naptimes VS. stressing about whether the naps are happening…

And so on. You get the idea.

But I’ve realized that this method is useless in this context. The things that make me want to have another child are not subject to rationality or quantitative comparison to disadvantages. They’re things like:

can’t believe how fast my babies weren’t babies anymore. AB is just passing the age that E was when we conceived her. She is a big girl, running around and chattering and putting on her own pants and shoes. Not a baby at all. Where are my babies??

Anticipating a new baby is the most exciting thing on earth, like Christmas and birthday rolled up together, times a billion, with a little dash of terror to spice it up. Visiting my midwives, seeing my wiggly bean on the ultrasound screen, waiting to greet a whole new person… indescribable. As Sean once said, while we talked about our children with parental awe, “I just wonder – what else can we make??”

And when my kids say, “Can we have a new baby?”… There are no actual words to depict the yearning that squeezes my heart for them, wishing to witness their anticipation and joy. Especially the time E said, “Can we have another Sebastian?” He knows he was supposed to have a brother, and as much as he loves his sister – she is not one.

I remember talking about babies with Sean shortly after Sebastian died, and realizing that we had a simultaneous, identical urge to have a whole houseful of kids. Of course, that was partly grief talking – but that feeling has never fully gone away. We both grew up in larger families, and that big-crew feeling runs deep.

There are also, I have come to grasp, societal forces that glorify the concept of having more children. I’ve read bloggers who designate people deciding not to have children as selfish, because they don’t make the sacrifices associated with parenthood. Sure, parenting requires sacrifice, but that doesn’t mean it’s a noble thing to do. There are lots of selfish reasons to have children, and many selfless reasons not to.

To be clear, I certainly admire the stamina and gumption of the parents who make life work with more children than we have. And there is a semi-conscious part of me that thinks stopping at two = copping out. Surely we’re tough enough for more. But intellectually, I know that’s ridiculous. It’s not a competition, it’s not a charitable act, and we haven’t been charged with re-populating the earth. (Some would argue it’s the opposite.)

It’s been valuable for me to recognize that insidious, illogical pro-child inclination, so that I can remind myself to discount it.

There’s another realization that has helped me too.

A while ago, I was visiting a friend with three children. Her youngest was still a baby – one whose conception had been a surprise. I asked her about the three-child dynamic. She admitted it had been hard, but added a statement that crystallized things for me: “She completes our family.”

That’s it, right there. I know that’s what I’m looking for. I also know it’s unattainable for me. I could have twelve children and still not complete my family, because one will always be missing. And in a way, it’s a relief to realize it. I have no choice but to let go of that idea.

With that in mind, I’m more able to grasp the arguments that have to do with reality.

I can remember saying aloud, during my last pregnancy, “Note to self: DON’T DO THIS AGAIN.” Three pregnancies in a row, close together, were increasingly hard. I feel sorry and wistful, remembering how much of E’s toddlerhood I spent exhaustedly pregnant, then grieving, then pregnant again – with extra anxiety and double the number of appointments. I was not as present as I wish I had been during that unbearably cute phase of his life. I want to be truly here, enjoying the children I’m so fortunate to have, right now. If I think time is going fast right now – I’m pretty sure it redoubles in speed with every child.

The other thing I need to admit to myself is that I’m not super-human. (*shocked gasp.*) Sweet and lovely as those baby moments are, later ones are never as enchanted as the first-born ones, where everything is new and you can stare endlessly at your baby… because there’s at least one other little human to (rightfully) demand attention. And I have had enough hard mothering moments – the ones that put my weaknesses as a parent into ugly relief – to know that three or more children is unlikely to be less stressful. I don’t want to be the overtaxed mom, the one who raises her voice and reacts with grumpiness, any more often than I already am. I don’t want to do this if I’m going to do a bad – or even mediocre – job of it. I’m sure my kids wouldn’t want that either.

Since all these thoughts fell into place, it’s been easier to be swayed by the other practical arguments: fewer children are more affordable, more transportable, easier to house, more manageable when sick (in March when they both got a stomach bug, I couldn’t help thinking, Thank goodness there are only two!), and so on. And it’s good knowing I have a holding-hand for each child.

We do have a certain beautiful balance the way things are. Seeing my kids play together (even though it’s often punctuated by screaming) is something I’ll never tire of. We have all types of toys – the cars and the dolls, the tea sets and the Lego – and both of them play with everything. They have each other, and there’s no-one to be left out.

And I hope that someday, the thought of Sebastian will be a comfort to them, at least in some ways – a presence of love in their hearts that is part of their sense of family.

We are finally beginning to get rid of baby things in our house. It’s hard and it makes me all emotional. Looking at baby clothes makes me want to abandon all my good arguments… but so far, I haven’t. Every time I say to someone, “Yeah, I’m pretty sure we’re done,” it’s more true, and gradually, it becomes less painful to say.

I know I’ll always feel pangs around infants, as lots of people do… and there will always be an ache in my arms for Sebastian. But I can live with those things. My family is wonderful as it is, and that’s the bottom line.



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9 thoughts on “How do you know if you’re done having kids?

    • dilovelyadmin says:

      Thanks, emerge. I could have said a lot more about the society part of it… as you may remember from that long discussion we had. <3

  1. berty says:

    It’s true; your family IS great. Very great. Super great.
    I know some parents who say that going from having one kid around to having two kids around is the most exhausting change, and that having another is not as big a deal. HOWEVER… what if you thought you were going to have one more, and it turned out to be two more? Could happen. I’m sure you’d just make it work, of course (or just give one of them to Auntie Beth), but … it’d be surprising and challenging, I imagine, no? How do I say “yer not so young anymore” without saying “yer not so young anymore”? 🙂 Haha. I’m teasing.
    I love you, alla you. <3 <3 <4 <5 <6

    • dilovelyadmin says:

      Yeah, I’ve heard that thing about three being not that much more than two… and I just don’t buy it. Not for me, anyway. And I’ve totally thought about that too – what if you go to have one more and you get triplets?? Could happen. Love you too!! xoxo

  2. Mama says:

    Well, this is no surprise, but I was impressed with how complete the analysis was, even if a lot of it isn’t analytical but emotional. And one thing I learned: it isn’t always up to you.

    You do have a pretty much perfect family right now!

    • dilovelyadmin says:

      True – surprises can occur, and I’m sure that if one occurred to us, we would end up feeling that our family was meant to be so. But I’m also sure that it would be challenging. (Of course, I tend to think that parenting is supposed to be challenging – however many children one has.)

  3. Helen says:

    It was really interesting for me to read this, as a person who doesn’t have children, and has been struggling with whether I want to have any. Actually, we both struggle with it, and go through so many of the same things you mentioned, one moment thinking how great it would be, but then witnessing something (for us it’s always witnessing other people’s children, not our own, of course) and being grateful we don’t have any.
    One of the things it took me a long time to do was separate pregnancy and having a child, and if I may gently point out, it doesn’t sound like you have. Some of your reasons for not having one revolve around why you don’t want to be pregnant again, but there are other ways. If you took pregnancy out of the equation, and thought about whether you would want another child if you could adopt or hire a surrogate, would that change the equation for you?
    Separating pregnancy and having a child did change the equation for me, from leaning towards not having one to now being completely unsure.
    And boy, do I envy those folks who know for sure one way or another (whether to have any, or whether to have more)! How do they know?
    Helen recently posted..3.1415My Profile

    • dilovelyadmin says:

      It’s really interesting to read your perspective, Helen – thank you. And you’re right, I haven’t really thought much about having children without getting pregnant – mostly because at the moment, the other options are not financially feasible for us. If they were, though, I think I would still have a struggle. I’m just as divided on the baby/kid question as on the pregnancy question (because overall, I wouldn’t trade my pregnancies for anything).

      I have the same question – how do people just know??

  4. emerge says:

    Yeah, I know there’s a lot more stuff to say about the society thing but I think you actually did a great job of fitting a lot of stuff into one coherent post! Kudos for that. Our conversations have been s p r a w l i n g but this post is not.

    Some of my feelings about this post have to do with society and my own feelings about procreation, my own, or lack thereof, and some of my feelings are about exactly your kids, and how fast they grew up out of babyness and I couldn’t believe that AB was suddenly doing all those things that didn’t E just do like a few months ago, whaaat? and how I want you to have another one so that we can have a baby around again, and I’ll totally change diapers and do naptime stories and all that stuff that I miss about your kids being babies. And yet I don’t want you to have another one because I don’t live with you anymore and won’t get to do all the stuff I did with E by virtue of proximity and grad school aversion, and then I’ll be all sad and nostalgic. Really, it’s all about me. 🙂

    And I relate to a lot of what Helen said – though I’m not in a married way the same as you, Helen, so for me it’s sort of academic to think about having kids since it’s not something I’d want to do on my own (I know that much – even if just for all the financial reasons) – I have had both the “I wish” and “I’m so glad” feelings when it comes to the idea of having them or not having them. I don’t think it’s a full-on either/or; I might be sorry either way, and I might be happy either way. And the idea of separating pregnancy from having kids is a good point, but I think I have a different personal view on that; part of the reason for wanting to have kids for me is related to wanting to see what it’s like to be pregnant, see if my body could do the thing that parts of it were designed to do, and make a person who is DNA-related to me and a person I love (or a complete stranger), a half-copy, and see what that’s like. (Though I realize that taking Door Number Pregnancy comes with a whole whack of other risks, damages, fears, pains and travails as well.) So if I did adopt a child or do something else to get one that I didn’t give birth to, that part of the picture, the with-my-flesh part of the picture, would still be un-painted-in. The acquiring-a-child-by-other-means idea is a totally different thing from having a birthed child, in my view, and/but interesting for a whole bunch of other reasons. Which I would also be curious about it if I never did it.

    I know several people who say they have always known they didn’t want to have kids, and who have never changed their minds. (And some who thought that but did change their minds.) I would say that I envy them too, just because I think it’s expedient to know something for sure and then you’re done, but I’m not totally sure that I do. Envy them. I think it’s been interesting to wonder and imagine and not be sure. I mean, I can say that now; I have not always been sanguine on this topic, but I have moved from Very Conflicted–oh my god! what if I never have kids?? even though I don’t want them right now, or maybe ever, but oh no!!–to It’ll Be Okay. But the ambivalence and struggle mean there are a lot of feelings there, which kind of goes along as part of the process of whatever it is I’m doing. (Huh?)

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