“So, are we done?”
This is a question, the question, that eventually surfaces once you have kids. How many kids is the right number for me, for us, for our family? While it seems like a popular topic of conversation in intimate circles (partner, close friends, family) and non-intimate circles (the grocery store cashier, playground conversation, strangers in general!) alike, the question is easy to ask but not always quite as easy to answer.
If you’re struggling with the decision of whether or not to have another child or more, you’re certainly not alone. This is yet one more area of motherhood where I’ve noticed that unhelpful platitudes abound. “You just know when you’re done,” is probably the most common one I hear.
I have to say, as a mother myself, I’ve yet to feel securely guided by this sentiment, and secondly, as a therapist, I can’t help but feel alarmed that this is often how we’re instructed as women to make our decisions. While our emotions and intuitions should, of course, not be ignored or waylaid, I want to offer a more holistic approach to decision making that has been helpful to me and that I hope can be helpful to you, too.
“Are we done?” Here are four personal areas to consider and integrate in order to help you answer that question for yourself.
As time goes on, I am learning more and more that simply starting with the body can be a very grounding approach. Given all we’ve seen our bodies can do in this childbearing capacity, I think we owe it to our bodies to honor and consider them, don’t you? There’s plenty to regard here, from the experiences your body had in pregnancy, delivery, postpartum, and since then, as well as overall health issues that are current. If you have any doubt, this would be an important conversation to have with your obstetrician.
While for some, the physical consideration may offer up a clear red or green light, I’m guessing for many of us, after a pregnancy or two or three, we get a yellow light here— anything from considering our history of acute morning sickness to the physical demands of currently having other young children in our care.
A helpful question here is this: is this physical challenge one I am both willing and able to take on along with all of my support resources, or is this a challenge that would not be realistic for me to manage, given my current circumstances? We can do hard things, don’t get me wrong! But it’s very empowering when we are able to choose, either to take on the challenge with forethought or to decide not to with purpose.
Other topics of conversation with your partner in the physical category can be physical needs—like finances and your ability to manage costs associated with having another child. Remember that these costs are often flexible and personal per family, so don’t feel like you need to google the dollar amount it requires to raise a child from birth to age 18. If our parents would have done that, I’m pretty sure most of us would not be here today! That being said, for my husband and me, going from two to three kids meant we had to buy a bigger car, so it’s practical discussions like this that can help inform our decisions.
Mental wellness and motherhood is now, thankfully, a conversation that we as women are having more and more. And it’s definitely one that deserves a spot in your holistic decision making. Motherhood is known to do a number on our mental state, whether that be postpartum depression, anxiety, or even just general overwhelm that gets, frankly, overwhelming. It’s normal to experience moments of frustration, anger, discouragement, and confusion in motherhood (I’ll say it louder for the mamas in the back!).
There’s also a reality to depression and anxiety concerns that can heavily impact a mama and which deserve to be heard. The ability to get a diagnosis, medication, and/or therapy can make a world of difference when it comes to mental health concerns, so it’s key here to know what kind of support you have in this area. While no mother is happy all, or even most of the time, it is important to feel like you have the resources to help you cope and the willingness to engage with those tools, for whatever mental wellness challenges motherhood brings up for you.
As I mentioned above, part of holistic decision making is also letting our feelings and desires speak when it comes to having more children. Tune in and have a listen! This area of our being creates so much beauty and dimension in the human experience.
This is also where it can get interesting because emotions and feelings are not as quantifiable as some of the above aspects and they can shift and change with more fluidity. This doesn’t make them less important, it just means it helps to know how to skillfully relate to your emotions. A way to understand how to make emotionally healthy decisions is as follows: view your emotions and desires as a slice of a larger pie, the pie being you as a holistic human being: physical/mental/emotional/spiritual/etc.
Our emotions are a valid piece of the whole, but they are not the entirety.
I think the best tip I can give in this area is not to make a decision, either to have more children or not, out of the emotion of fear or avoidance of negative feelings themselves. For example, “I’m afraid I’ll feel sad one day that I don’t have a baby anymore.”
The beauty of integrated decision making is that if you have considered all the areas we’re discussing and happen to net a “no” on more babies, you can say “It’s ok” if I experience a feeling of sadness once in a while about that. Try that on, and see what it’s like to accept, rather than avoid, negative emotions.
Feelings come and go, and it’s most important to feel confident in the process you used to make your decision.
Some view creating and nurturing new life as a sacred experience, and our religion, spirituality, or worldview may play a part in the meaning and purpose we find in having children. Intuition or prayer has a place for some in how a decision is made. This is another area to contemplate and see where it leads you.
There are many dimensions to life, and my hope in this article is to honor that reality and to encourage us to give voice to each of these areas and then integrate our findings as a helpful way to make our decisions.
In my view, this is a grounded, confident path to “just knowing” as it relates to having more children. All of these areas can make for a great discussion with your partner, a listening friend, a therapist, or your journal!