Recently while grocery shopping, my daughters loudly decided they did NOT want to ride in the cart anymore. Have you ever tried to push a shopping cart while holding the hand of a three-year-old and 18-month-old? Shopping with toddlers should be considered an Olympic sport. We laughed, we cried, and we dropped apples on the ground. With my superhuman-mom-strength, I managed to push the cart, carry both of my daughters, and get everything crossed off our list. Hands full, cart full, heart full. Check!
This experience made me wonder for the umpteenth time how moms do anything with more than two children. How?! What would grocery shopping look like with three children if my husband and I decide to have another baby? I only have two hands!
Common sense points towards the decision to keep our family size as is; finances, our ages, the size of our home, and previous pregnancy complications. Not to mention my ability to work from home while taking care of our children full time. The odds are stacked against the joy that becoming a mom again would bring me. But I also think joy should never be counted out of the equation.
So, how do you know when you’re done having kids? There are so many factors to think about, both practical and emotional. Here are some things my husband and I are considering as we decide whether we’re done having children.
How to Know When You’re Done Having Kids
One of the biggest factors to take into consideration, is the financial aspect of having another child. This is my husband’s main concern (he’s the accountant, I’m the dreamer.) According to the USDA, it costs between $15,438 and $17,375 a year to raise a child. Those numbers make my head spin.
When we look at our financial obligations, goals, and the cost of living, adding another baby changes things considerably. My attitude towards most obstacles is Where there’s a will, there’s a way! However, the expense of having another baby isn’t our only reservation.
Potential Pregnancy Complications
I was on strict bed rest during my first pregnancy and “modified” bed rest during my second. Just getting my toddler dressed sparked painful contractions. It was very difficult to be an inactive mom: no strolling around our farmers market, camping trips, or gardening. Lying on the couch for months, worrying about the health of my unborn baby, while my little girls beg me to take them on a walk is not a scenario I like to imagine. Then, a little voice in my head reminds me that pregnancy doesn’t last forever.
Pregnancy is a miraculous journey, but it can also be extremely challenging for many women. High risk pregnancies, gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, preterm delivery, bed rest… the list of complications are endless. (Not to mention short maternity leave or lack thereof!)
In a perfect world parents would plan ahead for pregnancy, prioritize their own health, and work with their doctor about ways to minimize risks. Additionally in this perfect world, postpartum would be a time to emphasize nutrition, rest, as well as receiving mental health and feeding support. However, life isn’t perfect, so when thinking about expanding our family, these realities are important to consider.
Other Children’s Needs
My second biggest concern is my ability to give my daughters plus another baby all the attention they need. I felt so guilty when I had my second child because there wasn’t enough of me to go around. (There still isn’t sometimes!) My oldest was two then, and loved to be held, needed constant supervision, and wasn’t ready to give up her “baby” title yet. If we have another baby, perhaps waiting until our kids are more independent would make it more manageable? On the other hand, now that they play together, they’re best friends and their age gap seems just right.
These are the thoughts ricocheting back and forth in my mind as I try to decide whether we’re done having kids. But my husband and I aren’t getting any younger, so if we wait much longer, would that complicate things even more? I’m 32 and he’s 36; and women older than 35 have an increased risk of premature birth, genetic abnormalities, and could experience greater fertility challenges.
Also, contrary to popular belief, a father’s age does play a part in the health of the baby. Based on a study conducted by scientists at Stanford, older dads, specifically fathers older than 35, increase the risk for a variety of health complications, and the risks increase as the father’s age increases. However, parents over the age of 35 have healthy babies every day, so while it’s important to be educated on all the potential risks, it’s not a deal breaker.
A deal breaker would be if my husband doesn’t want another baby. Having a child is hard enough, and knowing that my partner isn’t fully on board would be very difficult for me. Not to mention that during my previous pregnancies he took care of everything and endured every moment of trauma with me. I wouldn’t blame him if he doesn’t want to go through that again while taking care of our two daughters. However, I know he would never tell me NO on a life-changing decision like this, just like I would never make the decision without his full support. We both agree that we aren’t ready for another baby right now, but we will continue to talk about what we want for our future.
We feel content with the current size of our family, but that could change for me as our daughters get older. Perhaps the ache that I feel to keep my options open is just from wanting time to stop. Diaper changes, sleepless nights, contact naps, breastfeeding, singing “Old McDonald Had a Farm” one hundred times: I never want it to end. Seriously!
I am not ready to put the baby days behind me. I listen to my daughters giggling, I hold their tiny hands in mine, and think, maybe one more… someday. One more child to love, read to every night, and dance around the kitchen with. As our children experience each “first” it’s like I’m experiencing each moment for the first time as well. The first snowfall, roller coaster ride, roasting marshmallows—it’s magical to witness.
I get the most emotional about this topic when I pack up my daughters’ clothing that no longer fits. I do this every few months and the process wrecks havoc on my ovaries. (Do you hug and smell your favorite baby clothes as you’re folding them too?) I keep all their clothes in the basement in clear boxes, labeled and waiting, like an egg about to hatch. Will our future baby wear it? Or will we lovingly pass them down to a niece or nephew? This may sound dramatic but it’s honest: deciding that I am over having children feels like a part of me is dying. And here’s another hard truth: not having another baby might be what’s best for everyone.
The questions, reflections, and “what if’s” will march along in my mind until the time comes to reach a verdict, and that’s a good thing. The decision to have a baby, or to try to have a baby, or to “see what happens” is monumental and should be approached as such. Ultimately, my husband and I will do what is best for our entire family. For now, I choose to lean into the unknown and embrace this season of life, this in-between-place where no final decision needs to be made. (Yet.)