Family size has been on my mind since Alaina was born two years ago. Before we got married we talked about having four or even six kids, but as we got a little older we settled on “probably three.” There was a time, post-miscarriages, in which I wondered if two was “enough” and whether we should be happy with our family of two boys. Then, after Alaina was born, even though we’d said she was the last, I found myself spending many moments during her first year thinking, but maybe one more! I fantasize about having a little sister for her. I look at the tight brother-bond of my sons and I want that for her too—for her to have someone on her own little team, rather than being the little tagalong at the end of the family. I have a nagging question of whether three feels like an “unbalanced” number. Then as we moved past one year, I started to have more moments of feeling “done.” Those moments usually came from frustration—i.e. after a long, whiny day, I’d think, “yes, family size is complete. NO MORE! AHHHHHHH.” I also kept having the thought that it makes sense to end our childbearing years on this high, sweet, clear, beautiful, joyful, triumphant note following her birth—why wait until we are fully “burned out” with parenting, why not retain some sweet, delicate wistfulness about infancy and childhood, instead of maxing our personal resources to our fullest extent? (Though, logically I know it isn’t necessarily an either-or proposition, that is how it often feels to me anyway.)
We decided we’d make the final, ultimate decision after she turned two, because too much longer after that point would make more of an age gap than we’d want. I posted on Facebook asking how do people know they’re “done.” I had an expectation of having some kind of blinding epiphany and a deep knowing that our family is complete, as I’ve had so many other people describe: “I just knew, our family was complete.” I didn’t have that knowing though—I vacillated day to day. What if I never know for sure, I fretted. Perhaps this sense of wistfulness and possibility with continue forever—maybe it is simply normal. One more. No, finished. But…ONE more?! And, I have a space in my heart that knows with great confidence that four (living) children would be the ultimate maximum for us. I definitely do not want more than four…so, does that mean there still is one more “out there” for us? And, back I go. I started out postpartum getting rid of maternity clothes and outgrown baby clothes, except for some special pieces and then at some point, I started putting them in a box in the closet instead. I smell her sweet head and think that she’s so wonderful how could I possibly never do this again. I look back at my pregnancies and births and think, WAIT, was that ALL? Is it over? Are my childbearing years behind me now? But, but…they were SO REAL! There is something about keeping the door open still. Not yet saying for sure. And then…some other moments have come recently. Rather than only having exhausted moments of “doneness,” I’ve had some sweet, beautiful moments of doneness too. Two weeks ago, we were all walking in the driveway. Alaina was in the middle with a brother holding each hand and me holding Lann’s hand and Mark holding Zander’s. I looked across at our line of our a family and suddenly there it was…a moment I’d not yet experienced…the sense that our family is complete. And, I thought, it IS a “balanced” family after all, even number or not. Yes, we’ve got the pair of brothers, but we also have “two girls,” so to speak, and that feels more balanced than I expected.
Then, last weekend, we were reorganizing our computer room and I was taking some things down off the walls as well as talking about having let one of my childbirth educator certifications lapse. I looked across at my birth art wall and I had this profound sense of distance from it, like, “oh yeah, I remember that life. It was a long time ago.” It no longer felt current or possible to me, like a part of my future reality, but felt firmly located in the past, in happy memory, rather than linked to possible future. I felt a sense of having “moved on,” past that stage after all, not waiting for the cycle to begin anew.
After my little brother got married last year, I’ve also started to have feelings of readiness to “pass the baton,” so to speak. It can be someone else’s turn to have the newborn, the baby, the toddler, the little kids. When I put away baby things and cloth diapers now, it is with an eye towards being able to give them to my sister-in-law or my sister, rather than saving them for myself. One of the things that has been challenging about the child spacing of my own family of origin is the age gap between my youngest sister, my brother and me. I am almost 11 years older than my sister and 9 years older than my brother (I do have another sister who is 22 months younger than I am too). This has created a “generation gap” of sorts in our lives and sometimes it feels difficult to reach across. A benefit however, that I’ve noticed for a long time, is that it offers the opportunity for each generation to be the “cool people,” to the current little kids of the extended family. Mark and I were the cool people when my little brother and sister were pre-teens and early teenagers—they would come stay at our apartment and we’d take them to the mall and things like that. Then, as they grew and we had kids, they became the cool, fun people to my own kids. I can look forward into a future slightly and see how my kids will now have the opportunity to be a cool, big people to my (as yet unconceived) future nieces and nephews. They won’t have the close-in-age cousin experience, but they will have the opportunity to take their turn as the fun, exciting role models. And, if my sister or sister-in-law hurries up and has a baby, it won’t be too much younger than Alaina and so at least one of my kids still has a shot at having a close in age cousin (and hey, maybe that baby can be her “sister” and teammate like my boys are for each other?! I’m liking this plan!).
Another benefit I can see to this generation-gap style extended family spacing is that each set of grandbabies can have their turn in the sun. If we were all having babies at the same time, how would my parents equally divide up their doting grandparent powers? How would my mom zoom around the state offering her postpartum nurturing skills to multiple new baby households? How would my dad patiently carry around a pile of curious babies? Would I still get my two hours during the day, or would the grandparents be too overwhelmed by having to have 50 grandchildren come over every day? How would I get to be a good, helpful aunt if I was busy taking care of my own newborn at the same time? Now each baby will have the chance to be the center of all the baby-attention and baby-love my whole family has to offer. We’ll all see and celebrate the first crawlings and first steps and first words of each new extended family member in their own turn, rather than having them lost in a shuffle of multiple babies all at the same time. And, I’ll have a chance to be the aunt who smells a tiny newborn head, and cradles soft hair, and marvels at delicate toes, and gummy smiles instead of thinking, “same old, same old.” ;-D
On Sunday afternoon, we took another stroll down the driveway. Mark and I were holding hands and chatting about various topics and when we turned around to head back the opposite direction, this is what we saw…
And, again, I felt that moment of bright, clear, certain awareness. THIS. This is our family size. These are our babies. We’re done.
(Or, are we?! :-D)
For some gorgeous thoughts on family size, do check out Leonie’s lyrical post On Choosing To Only Have One Kid.
And, on an unrelated note, I also took two pictures of the greenhouse. One during the delightful spring day…
And another during a delightful sunset…
Oh, and back to the original topic of family planning, don’t get me started on a conversation about birth control or how we truly plan to make that “ultimate” decision. I don’t freaking know what to do about that. All I know is that while I’m still willing to entertain the possibility of a “surprise” baby at this point in our family life, I am simply NOT willing to push the “reset” button at age 45 and accidentally have another baby then instead of menopause.
And, I realized as I set this to post on April Fool’s Day that someone might think I’m posting this as an April Fool’s joke—surprise, I’m not really “done” after all, in fact I’m pregnant again!!!! Not. ;-D
Thanks again. Your writings are good for me to read.
Even at 38 weeks pregnant with my 4th child I wonder if I’m done? We’ve always said we just wanted 4, but at times I wonder if that’s really true. I think my husband feels like 4 is all, but I still struggle with it. I definitely have no desire to do anything permanent just yet. Sometimes I think a part of me just wants a “do over” with this pregnancy and not an actual other kid.I keep telling myself that once this newest one is here I’ll feel that sense of completeness.
I keep wondering the same thing: how will I know when I’m done? I’m pretty sure we’re done now that we had #4, not because I feel done as in “I can’t handle any more” but because my husband is ready to be done, I am 34, and it might just be time to move on to a new stage of life. I think I’ll always feel a sense of sadness because I LOVE the newborn stage. Love it. It’s totally magical. The idea of being done has gradually settled and become more familiar. At first it was really strange to entertain that thought, and now I’m getting used to it. If we do have a fifth, it won’t be by accident. I’m going to go on the Mirena IUD short-term and then, long-term, my husband will do his part either with a vasectomy or, if it’s available around 5 years from now, the Vasagel procedure.
Oooooh this is so relevant to me as well. We have 2, but I have always wanted 3. My youngest is now 2 and a half and I would so love to have one more, but I am 42 this year, and I know from TTC my second that night feeding affects my fertility. So do I wean him at night even though he is not ready to try to have a third that might not happen anyway? I wouldn’t do this with my first so we ended up with a 4 and a half year gap. But such a long gap isn’t feasible at my age. And then I just wonder – my first was a very intense, never sleep baby. My second has been so easy. He knew his rhythm from the start, has more or less been a fantastic sleeper. What if the third was like the first. I don’t think I would have the energy to do that again. But……. oh to have one more baby. Our family to me just doesn’t feel complete. I like you want to have that definite feeling of ‘I’m done’….. and maybe I have to accept I never will!!!????!!!!
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