There really is no secret sauce to how you choose to space your children. The decision is as individual as each family. What is ideal for one mama is less than ideal for another. But it always seems that no matter the planning (or not planning...surprise babies, ahem, ahem), we always manage.
My husband and I are not over thinkers—we did, after all, get married straight out of college, with no jobs, no money and no clue. Our consideration of family planning amounted to not much more than a vague number of how many kids we wanted (three or four) and a firm number of how many would be too much (six). This left a lot of room in between.
Having married young, we had much growing up to do—which we did together and individually. After six years of navigating our newlywed ups and downs and packing in as many trips and adventures as we could afford—we were ready.
All geared up for the season of trying, much to our surprise, it happened on the first go. Our thrill and trepidation for our new status—expecting!—did not leave much room for any thoughts of when to plan for baby number two. This state of mind carried on for two more years as we enjoyed, experienced and were exhausted by baby number one.
While discovering who we were as family, we were in no hurry to make another baby. We knew we wanted our first to be a little more autonomous, ambulatory and articulate before we added another so we could try to enjoy our next child in the same manner.
And the longer we watched the nonstop revolving door of care mixed with the lack of sleep associated with the lives of our friends and family who had babies close in age, the more our decision was reinforced to space our brood further apart. It just felt right for us.
It wasn’t until we realized that the farther apart in age our kids would be, the more restrictive it would be to do things together as a family—when they were little and as they got older.
How do we pick a weekend activity that pleases everyone, when one might be bored by the other’s limitations, and the other overwhelmed by the challenges of age-related activities?
What kind of board game do we play that makes everyone happy?
What do we do when our kids are in different schools with different vacation schedules?
How do we manage all the distinct stages at the same time?
And let’s not forget the tandem years of all the stuff—instead of overlapping the years of feedings, diapers, bottles and naps, we were lining them up and creating an arc that would span over a decade.
We decided it was time to giddy up.
Our second was as planned as the first, which is to say, we thought about it and then...it happened. Just like that. This time around we knew exactly what we were getting ourselves into, and We. Could. Not. Wait! All the familiar signs were anticipated with zeal and welcomed with a sly grin that said, oh yes, we know what this is all about. Every step of the way was a walk down memory lane from the previous pregnancy. Every moment savored for the knowledge of how truly special this time in our lives really was.
We enjoyed this second pregnancy and the sharing of it with our first child, she being old enough to understand why Mama’s tummy was growing so big—the extra element of being able to experience a pregnancy through the eyes of an older sibling an added bonus that enriched our journey.
And for us, the three years between our children afforded some modicum—if not illusion—of control, providing some sanity and order that enabled us to weave in other life goals, without maxing out our abilities to cope. If we weren’t the best planners, at least we were good at knowing our limits.
In fact, we were so in our element, we thought there was room for some more expansion. So we remodeled. Twice. And since that was going well, why not throw in grad school? So we did.
Balancing two children who had vastly different needs at three years apart with a full time employment and full time graduate school required a full blown budget, meal plan, sleep schedule and a lot of coffee. (Right?) Suddenly, we were planners—and it was working. So we kept at it. But the longer we carried on, the farther we got from realizing our goal for a larger family.
We were adjusting to the possibility that we might be done. Not really talking about it, but finding ourselves comfortable with the status quo. So the conversation was more about what we weren’t talking about…
…are we done?
…does our family feel complete?
…do we want another?
…can we afford another?
…can either of us manage all the sleepless nights, the diapers, the stuff again?
…being older now, are we comfortable with the risks a pregnancy brings?
The same concerns that compelled us to have our second child did not seem as urgent when we had one of each—a boy and a girl—and we were smooth sailing. Two seemed like a lot. We just couldn’t seem to fit in a third, let alone a fourth. Our proverbial plate was full. And it seemed as though our family was as well.
That’s how six years went by. And then—surprise!—there were three.
I’ve realized over the years that sometimes everything doesn’t go according to the plan, and that’s okay, too. And in this case, it was pretty amazing.
Our journey has allowed us to focus on our children as individuals, without getting lost in the mob of overlapping sibling’s needs and abilities. We have had time to observe and digest what each one has to teach us, and then apply it with the wisdom that distance affords upon the next one in line. Thus refining our skills and avoiding making the same mistakes (apologies to our first born).
We’ve also gotten to savor each one for who and where they are, knowing how fleeting each precious moment is.
Having a surprise pregnancy almost a decade after my first pregnancy was a shock and a blessing. Despite our friends’ incredulity over us restarting the clock so late in our thirties (and so far apart in age from our other two), we thought we would have the best of both worlds. And for us, it has been.
To be honest, we love knowing that when many of our friends become empty nesters, we will still have years at home with our last born.
Looking back, it’s all perfect. Those mental and physical breaks in between pregnancies fortified me for every new challenge life presented. And the years between siblings fortify their bonds in ways we could never have planned.
I wouldn’t have it any other way.