When I was pregnant with my second, and then my third, I was often asked how I knew I wanted another. How did I know I wasn't done? Was I trying for "the girl?" How many kids did I want? How did I know? How did I know when I was ready for another?
The simple truth is, we didn't really know. When we were early in our marriage, we both knew we wanted kids, we both knew we wanted to wait a little while (I was only 20 when we got married, and we wanted to be more financially secure and have an idea where we were headed in life before having kids. It almost happened that way.), and we both knew we wanted two kids. Then, when we finally did decide we were ready, and I was about seven months pregnant with our first son, N, we were visiting potential pediatricians, saw a mother with three young boys, and looked at each other and said, "Two. Far apart." Our original intention was to have two kids with about four years between them.
If you've been keeping up, you probably realized that changed. Dramatically. N and second son, S, are only 26 months apart, and S and third son, G, are just shy of 32 months apart.
To be honest, for a while after N was born, I couldn't fathom ever having another child. While my pregnancy itself wasn't terribly difficult, the labor and delivery were traumatic for me. The newborn period was tough. Figuring out work and childcare was challenging. And, finally, PPD toward the end of his first year made the idea of more children almost unimaginable.
But things got easier, my depression eased, and traumatic memory faded, and by the time N was 18 months old, we had a delightful toddler who charmed everyone, and we decided that we made such awesome babies that we should go ahead and do it again. By then, I was excited to go for the birth and breastfeeding experience I hadn't gotten with N, and I was excited to have two babies close in age so that they could grow up as good buddies, and I really hoped to have a girl.
It had taken me a reasonably long time to become pregnant when we decided to try the first time, so we assumed it would take a while the second time as well. It didn't. It took two months. And, as loyal readers know, the labor, delivery, and breastfeeding experience the second time around created a much happier memory. Sure, the newborn period was still tough, but I had more friends, my mom moved to the same city and was able to help out, I was working from home, so childcare wasn't as big of a problem, and we were excited to have two.
I'm not so sure that we "knew" we were ready, or that we "knew" we wanted more. We kind of just went with the flow. We had decided years before that we'd have more than one, and neither of us really wanted our son to be an only child, and the only way to prevent that was to give him a sibling. Which we did. And they are practically inseparable.
I was so jazzed from how great my VBAC was that I was absolutely ready for a third. I hoped that we could finally produce a girl, for one, and for two, we'd long since become certain that we would have four kids. We knew enough families with four kids at that time to feel that four was an excellent number.
I remember discussing with a friend how in the world I would know I was ready for a third. She said not to think about it financially or about having space in the house or the car. (I famously spent a year worried about getting three car seats in my car!) After all, job situations and financial status can change. You can move. You can buy a new car. What you really need to consider is if you are emotionally capable of caring for a third child. How is it when both kids are at home? Can you handle the squabbles and the differing needs? Can you make time for each? Can you make time for both together? Do you enjoy the time? Can you see adding more time investment and energy to the mix?
I thought this was excellent advice, and, at the time of the discussion, I knew I wasn't ready. I found having both at home quite difficult. I didn't know how to program the day or handle their routines. I didn't have it "down." Indeed, I feel more comfortable now, with all three home, than I did at the time with only two. Over time, and by necessity, I learned how to do it.
It took us longer this time, both to become ready physically (I had a Mirena IUD and had to wait for an appointment to have it removed, first of all) and emotionally (then, we were in the midst of house-hunting and house-buying, and I think the stress made it more difficult to conceive). But after five months, in the month after finally being settled in our new house, I got the positive result on my home pregnancy test. That was G, who is now a year old.
G's birth and so forth were pretty ideal, and it satiated the drive I had had looking for "the perfect birth." I knew that not everyone gets the birth experience she hopes for, but since I was having more kids anyway, I allowed myself to hope. Once G's birth went off without a hitch, I felt like I'd finally filled that need. It's not that I had more kids just to fulfill a quest for an inspiring birth experience, but my eagerness to become pregnant again soon was partly because of this desire.
Now, with an elementary-schooler, a preschool-aged kid who's home all day, and a walking, busy toddler, my eagerness to become pregnant and have another is kind of at a low point. It's hard. Part of what made deciding to have a third fairly easy was that we were at a very good stage in both N and S's development. They were becoming more independent. They were mostly sleeping through the night. I was "getting" it, in terms of routine and balancing "me" time with "them" time and getting work done. Throwing a new baby into the harmony we'd developed has reminded me that having a baby is incredibly fun but also a great challenge, and I'm putting everything I have into trying to maintain that balance with all three, especially now that N is a first-grader with real homework and school concerns. One thing that has helped is that very independence that N and S have, though. I can be spending time with G while his brothers get themselves ready for bed, I can nurse the baby while they find games to play, I can work while the baby sleeps because the older boys can entertain themselves, by and large. If not for that, I'd probably have lost my mind by now.
I know I will want another. Probably by the time G is an older toddler, I'll be pining for the cute baby stage again, especially since I have several friends who are pregnant now and are due in the next few weeks. And since we've already made the decision to have four kids, I'm game to go for it one more time. But I can't see doing more than that. One friend of mine, upon her second son's birth, said she felt totally done. She had her two kids. She did not feel the need for more. She'd filled that need in her head for kids, and she did not want to go through pregnancy, labor, and delivery again. I'm not there yet. I feel like I've got one more good go in me. But I think I'll feel that way after that. We'll see.
In this day and age, where we can almost definitively choose when to have kids, how many to have, and how far apart to have them, we suddenly have many decisions to make. Those who do not use any form of birth control, who don't try to make that decision but rather leave it up to G-d, fate, or luck, don't go through these ruminations. They just go on in their marriage knowing that they will have kids as they come. I know several such families, and it works for them. If you know it's not up to you, then it's not up to you. It's simple.
But if that's not how your marriage operates, then how do you decide how many, when, and how far apart? Well, I don't have a lot of insight, but I can offer a few observations.
How many kids should we have? If you're used to a big family and love it, chances are you won't feel "done" after one or two. Then again, if you're overwhelmed by the idea of that many kids, having experienced it growing up, you'll probably be quite sated after one or two! On the other hand, if you are an only child or have only one sibling (like myself and my husband), you may feel that wasn't enough and that you'd like your children to have a "big family" childhood. Or, you may feel that was the perfect number and would simply like to replicate it. So much depends on your own experience in your own family.
How far apart should they be? So, N and S are reasonably close in age. The advantages are as follows: They're growing up playing together and have always been in each other's lives (N didn't get to be the "only" for long enough to remember it); for us as parents, N still wasn't independent when S was born, so we were still used to being needed all the time, so it wasn't a readjustment; having babies close together means that our kids will grow up while we're still young enough to enjoy them growing up, and they'll be grown while we're still young enough to enjoy the empty nest - I really think there's something to be said for that. The disadvantages run basically parallel: You don't get as much time with just the one kid; you don't get a "break" from being needed all the time before jumping back into it; it takes a lot of energy to care for a toddler and a newborn, two toddlers, or a preschooler and a toddler. I know families with kids as close as 13 or 14 months apart and as far as seven years apart. I don't know what's "better." But if I were to imagine five years between my kids, or from N to G without S in between, I think it would be much harder to have a baby again, knowing how independent N has become. On the other hand, N is independent enough that I get more time with the baby. But, I so love the closeness between N and S, and what I hope will develop between S and G.
Of course, there's always the question of wanting "one of each." With three boys, now, I often get the question, "are you going to try for the girl?" As much control as I have over my own reproduction, that is one aspect I can't control, nor would I choose to. If I'm meant to be a mom of boys, so be it! On the other hand, if I'm meant to have a girl one day, that would be nice. However, I don't see myself simply continuing to have kids in the hopes that maybe this one will be a girl!
Sometimes I picture my house in 10 years or so, when N and S are teenagers, and G and a theoretical younger sibling are tweens, and I tremble with fear. But then I look farther forward, 20, 30 years down the line, to when all of our kids, G-d willing, are having kids of their own, and it will be amazing to see our family continue to grow. And I try very hard not to think about the in-between years, of potentially a decade or more of college tuition. And that's a consideration, too!
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