How to decide how many children to have. A mother of 4 shares her journey.
Before I had been discharged from the hospital, probably before I had delivered one of the twins’ placentas, Aunt Sue said to me, “you’re done now, right?” I gazed at her, uncomprehending. A few weeks later she mentioned that opting to get her tubes tied after her second child was the best decision she had ever made. “You have a boy and a girl,” she went on, “you’re done now, right?”
“No! We’ve always wanted four kids.” (In a 1 bedroom NYC apartment, up 4 flights of stairs, with 2 cents between us, so, no plan is perfect.) A few years on found us in NYC nirvana, a ground floor apartment with a back garden, weighing the pros and cons of trying for our next baby. The cons list was several pages long while the pros featured four words: but they’re so cute!
We struggled with the decision for a year. We consulting family and friends, in vain -- no one can tell another if, when, or how many when it comes to children. The biological imperative wasn’t overly helpful either. It doesn't make a strong argument that the world needs more people, but neither is it specific about how many it needs me to produce. Studies show that number of siblings does not make a child more content, smarter or better socialized. Only a happy family can. In the end, with no other real excuse, we have children for fun.
How many? Assuming our bodies have not already made the decision, instincts tell us what will work at a given point in life. The hard part is silencing the narrative of shoulds, shouldn'ts, guilt and expectation long enough to hear what our instincts have to say. What makes you and your household happy? Will a new baby enhance that? There is no right and wrong. If you are privileged enough to put practicalities aside, your gut will tell you, and you will always be right. So we closed our eyes, shut out public opinion, and said, one more.
Soon enough we found ourselves with almost-four-year-old twins and a baby on the way. Our first OBGYN appointment confirmed that only one was involved, and the three month wait to tell the world was on. We suffered through an interminable hour before the need to break the news to big sister and brother became overwhelming. As it happened, the only two people we had not consulted about whether to have a baby had been happily preparing for her arrival for some time – complete with name and estimated time of arrival – and were brooking no argument with their plans.
Fine. Now, what to explain and how? We told them that the baby would grow in my uterus, from a seed mommy and daddy planted there, and showed them where that would take place on my belly. Ever practical, all they wanted to know was how she would get out. “Through the birth canal,” I replied, examining them closely for signs of curiosity regarding means of egress. No, they were pleased, secure in the knowledge that she would be rowing out in a boat. I fretted for seven months about whether they would ask further questions of someone who would tell them something either inaccurate or terrifying. I went so far as to make sure that my best friend would rush over the moment I felt my first Braxton Hicks contraction, just in case this new development sparked keener interest.
All my worries went by the wayside when the kids picked their little sister up from the hospital and the question of whose baby she was took precedence. The twins were shocked to find that I wasn't giving her to them LITERALLY. We came to an uneasy understanding, and our youngest grew up with four attentive parents instead of two.
They've done a superb job raising each other. Through the usual thick and thin – terrible twos, ferocious fours, tortured tweens, the sweetness of a best friend added to the family, and the truly deranged, four-at-the-same-time teen years – all four have gone on to fulfill our wildest dreams by continuing to enjoy and depend on one and other.
I will tell you this, though, while our decision was based on instinct, I am absolutely sure that my instincts had surveyed our surroundings. If we had stayed in our old apartment, if we did not lived next door to a blended family with six older kids, if we did not have dear friends within walking distance, if I did not have a wise best friend with grown children to consult, if we had not already happened upon a magical daycare center, and if my employer did not allow job-sharing, my gut might have said something very different. The mind may put aside practicalities, but the gut senses all. So, in the case of if, when and how many, it really is always right.
Photography by Lindsey Belle.