done with done sauce and a side order of done: on family size, ambivalence, and decision-making

Before my pregnancy with Simon, Eric and I wanted to have “two or three children.” We were going to see how we felt a few years after baby #2 was born (since we’ve never had any desire to have children close together in age) and then make a decision.

And then I had an unpleasant crushingly awful pregnancy.

By the third trimester, it was clear that we’d never choose to risk another pregnancy like that one: we’d just have to be done. (I know other people have much harder and more medically scary pregnancies than mine and then go on to have more children, but that’s so not the right thing for me or for my family.) I was angry and sad that it felt like my body was making the decision for us, rather than allowing us to take our time and make the decision on our own terms. I was frustrated that I’d have to experience this second child’s birth and infancy as “my last baby” rather than in the indeterminacy we’d anticipated: it seemed to impose an unnecessarily bittersweet tone on the proceedings, at a time when fatigue and hormones and wild baby love eat that sort of melancholy up anyway. But I knew I’d never want to be pregnant again.

The birth was perfect. I don’t need a do-over.

Breastfeeding has been perfect. It’s so much like my experience with Noah, the one I wanted to have again, with all the little quirks of a relationship with a different baby at a different moment in my life.

The baby himself is unbelievably delightful. Really, truly, the happiest little person you can imagine.

And we’re done.

It would appear that I’m odd in my absolute doneness–especially given my love of birth and breastfeeding, my birth-nerd ways, and the fact that we hadn’t simply ‘always pictured’ two-children-and-that’s-it. It seems like everybody in my little corner of the internet has been writing beautifully about her ambivalence over being done (or not being so done after all): Kristen having second thoughts and then resolving them, Laura finding she’s not so sure after all and then leaving “Team Two and Through,”  Molly working thoughtfully through the “one more?” question.

I’m still a little pissed that the pregnancy sucked so much as to leave us without a decision-making process. But Eric and I are also really enjoying knowing the shape of our family. We know how many rooms we might want in a longer-term home. We know we’ll never have to figure out how to avoid buying a minivan. We can picture how old our children–our two children–will be at various points in the future. We can envision being able to sleep uninterrupted, do stuff around the house without being on constant safety alert, have privacy, and rediscover the delights of free time at various concrete points in the future (I can almost feel the sleep! almost …).

I can take a deep breath, too. Somehow, by great good luck, I have never had to live through the miscarriage of a deeply-wanted pregnancy, hold my breath through a single real scare with regard to a fetus’s or newborn’s well-being, deal with fertility problems, recover from a cesarean birth, or even process a birth that just didn’t go how we’d hoped. Nausea aside, I have had an awesome reproductive run, and I’m ready to take all those worries off the table for good.

Thinking of Simon losing his babyhood makes me sad sometimes, certainly. (When he turned eleven months old already, for instance, and I saw a year barreling toward us.) But that’s because I love Simon‘s babyness, his particular way of batting his soft hands against my chest while he laughs, all that good stuff. I felt this way about Noah, too, and not because I thought we wouldn’t have another baby. I don’t long for another baby, some future baby: I suppose I long, in advance, for Noah and Simon as babies. It probably helps that I’m actually not that whipped up about babies: why, I ask, would I want some hypothetical stranger baby? (I have this weird thing about “stranger babies.” Don’t ask.) But one way or another, this is our path, and I shall set out upon it joyfully.

For the rest of you who’ve settled definitely on 0, 1, 2, 3, or … however many … children as what you’re havin’, how has that process worked and felt for you? Lyrical or matter-of-fact? Easy or hard? Your choice, or not so much?

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  1. ruth
    Posted 29 April 2013 at 1:34 PM | Permalink

    I was fortunate enough to have two easy, healthy pregnancies that each produced a healthy, wonder-filled child. The youngest is on the cusp of her first birthday. I didn’t hate being pregnant, but didn’t love it and both birthing experiences were as we had hoped. Hubs and I came from families with two kids, we always envisioned ourselves having two kids and we are done. done done done. 1 hour after birthing #2 (while eating brownies) Hubs and I celebrated our two awesome kids and that we had, in our words, “been wonderfully blessed and were cashing in our chips”. I had a non-surgical tubal ligation performed a few months later and I gave the radiologist a high-five when he confirmed that my Fallopian Tubes were blocked. Some people have remarked that I am “so young!” and I “might change my mind!” Yes, I am relatively young and we might change our mind, but then we would explore adoption in its many forms, but it is highly unlikely that we will change our minds. At the other end of the spectrum, the OBGYN who performed the tubal ligation supported fully my decision and congratulated me.
    This decision feels right for us, we love not having the underlying stress of an “oops pregnancy”. This is right for our financial situation and our careers. We feel an overwhelming sense of relief.

  2. SaraJoan
    Posted 29 April 2013 at 2:02 PM | Permalink

    I grew up with a mother who never really felt done. She’s 4.5 years younger than my dad, an only child of an only child (my mom has three siblings and over fifty first cousins, thanks to her parents’ huge birth families). They had me, my brother, and after quite a while my second brother, at which point my dad was simply done.

    I preface my comments about my own experience with this background to shed some light on why I feared I would never feel done myself. Add to that the fact that I love babies, all babies, and always have, and I couldn’t wait to have my own…

    My husband never expected to get married, never expected to have children, but he knew I wanted to and accepted that. We discussed our ideal family size before marrying (me 3-5, him 2-3) and figured we’d work it out as time went by. We had our first, then our second, then our third—talking it though each time and deciding when we were ready to take a chance that there would be another child (after the first, who took a while getting started, there always was another on the way as soon as we took a chance). Each pregnancy got harder, with me bedridden for a couple weeks during the third pregnancy. After her birth I struggled with postpartum depression, probably from a combination of low iron and feeling sad that she was most likely my last. We had agreed not to decide until the child was a couple years old, but I knew how my husband felt and we respect each others wishes as much as we can, without sacrificing our own needs.

    When our third was about two-and-a-half, we had a series of really difficult conversations, trying to find the balance between me not being ready to be done and him not wanting me to go through another pregnancy and birth (he’d basically been a single dad caring for an invalid for much of my third pregnancy, and he hates how little he can do to help me during a birth). We both listened, and in the end I agreed it was probably for the best to quit while we were ahead. I tried to focus on the positives, the ones you’ve listed: “being able to sleep uninterrupted, do stuff around the house without being on constant safety alert, have privacy, and rediscover the delights of free time”.

    And then, in a hurry, we took a chance.

    And then we found out we weren’t done.

    Throughout my fourth pregnancy, I tried to prepare myself to feel done. I focused on those things awaiting me on the other side of birthing and raising babies. I thought about how fortunate I had been in the outcomes, despite the misery of the last two pregnancies. I never, ever let myself think “Maybe…”

    I don’t know how I would feel if I hadn’t done this mental exercise, but I knew very soon after our last child’s birth that he is our last. I don’t say it so definitely most of the time, out of a superstitious reluctance to tempt the universe to prove me wrong. I don’t want to go through another pregnancy (I don’t think anything would keep me out of the hospital, given the way each has gotten worse). I don’t know that we could truly meet the needs of another child, though I feel we are doing a good job of meeting the needs of the four we have. I feel done, and I am grateful for that feeling.

  3. Alisa
    Posted 29 April 2013 at 2:15 PM | Permalink

    Like you, I had crushingly awful pregnancies, largely because of hyperemesis. After my first, I wasn’t sure I could do it again. My husband and I had never expected to have “only” one child, but neither of us had expected my experience of pregnancy to be so horrific, either (the birth was amazing). 9 years later, I decided I would take the risk. Another horrific pregnancy, and this one also included some pretty scary times with respect to the baby’s viability, and then it ended in an emergency c-section. So, while I’d always thought, my whole life, that I’d have at least two kids, I came out of that feeling glad I had two so that I could just STOP. I just turned 40 this year, and it has been an interesting time of thinking about ‘am I *really* done’? Because despite all of the challenges, there is still that tiny piece of me that loves having children so much, and the idea that I’ll never nurse another, never see another line of diapers drying (OMG, cute)…it’s a bit sad. Then again, my oldest is now 16 so I figure, only another 10-15 years or so, and maybe I’ll be grandma? And, now that our youngest is 6, my husband and I are re-experiencing the fun of NOT having babies in the house, being able to do stuff with the kids (longer hikes, bike rides that don’t involve trailers, travel, etc.) that was harder when we had nap-and-diaper-age babies, and looking forward to being able to do things together that don’t involve the kids, before we’re too old to enjoy it! So, bottom line, I feel like I’ll always have children in my life–mine as they grow, and the kids of my friends and family, all of whom I adore–and I’m accepting that the ‘end’ of my own childbearing years is poignant at the same time as it’s exciting. Lots of contradiction here, and I’m just accepting it for what it is.

  4. Posted 29 April 2013 at 2:24 PM | Permalink

    My baby just turned one, and we’re thinking about whether and when to have number two. The thing is, I love our life now. It’s sweet and uncomplicated. Our baby had health problems and spend much of his first 6 months in the hospital–he’s fine now–but I certainly have some grief and fear to work through still. But I loved being pregnant, and I’d like to try giving birth again. And I always imagined having a daughter, and I always thought I’d have 2 or 3 kids. I like the fun and craziness and energy of large families.

    I just don’t know. If the world were a simpler and easier place, and the US more baby/family friendly, of course we’d have more. But everything is so scary and uncertain, maybe just one amazing child is enough.

  5. Posted 29 April 2013 at 4:58 PM | Permalink

    When I had my son I assumed I would be having another baby. I didn’t love pregnancy and I hated the birth so I was happy to wait a while. I ended up weaning him at 4 months and, while it was hard, I assumed I’d have another go at it. However, I was too overwhelmed with life and motherhood to consider another child until I realized the marriage wasn’t going to make it. By the time I got out of the marriage, started dating, and then married again, I was coming up against my biological limits. I still didn’t feel a strong urge to have another but I wanted my husband to experience fatherhood from birth (as opposed to fathering a 10 year old), if he wanted it. We talked about it and ultimately decided it wasn’t for us. It felt like a good decision and we’ve never regretted it.

    I don’t know how I would have felt if I knew I’d stop at one child when my son was still a baby. I don’t know that it would have made much difference. Like you, I’m not particularly into babies. I wanted my son at each of his ages/stages back not some other baby/toddler/child/teenager. I still feel that way. I also honestly have never felt I could/would love a second child as much as my son. People tell me that’s just not true but I’m not completely convinced. There are parents who prefer one child over another (even if they deny it) and I think I might have been one.

  6. Molly
    Posted 29 April 2013 at 10:56 PM | Permalink

    I’m on my tired-ass way to bed and haven’t had a chance to respond individually, so I just want to say: I really appreciate all these stories and perspectives! I’ve loved reading each one, and am sure other people have, too. Thank you.

  7. Lara
    Posted 30 April 2013 at 7:37 AM | Permalink

    It’s funny, I was just thinking about this, and fantasizing about a life where aging didn’t happen (or at least not by one’s 40s). My younger child is almost 6, and I can picture wanting another baby in another, oh, 4 or 5 years. Not biologically impossible, but very long odds. And I don’t think I really want to be in that age body, dealing with the physical side of the whole thing (actually, especially caring for toddlers in my late 40s, not so much the pregnancy). So it’s really more a thought experiment than anything else. But I could be ready to do it again if I had some years between, I think, to live another kind of life for a while. Grandkids, yes, hopefully. But you can’t nurse those yourself. I have a friend who had her first kids in her late teens/early twenties, and then three more kids in her mid-late thirties. I guess that’s how you get to do the plan I have in mind. She’s happy with how she did it (though perhaps feeling more “ready to be done” than those of us who aren’t on the second time around). I feel like it’s too bad I didn’t come up with a way to break up the marathon. It’s interesting to ponder.

  8. Elita
    Posted 30 April 2013 at 9:20 AM | Permalink

    I’m an only child and my husband is one of three. The idea of more than 3 is so foreign to me that I could never even imagine contemplating it. Three to me is a HUGE family. My husband was the youngest and hated being the third and said nope, nope, nope would he ever consider more than two. I thought we might end up with only one because it just never felt like the right time to try for another baby. When my son was 3 I basically told my husband it was now or never because I didn’t want the kids to be more than 4 years apart in age. If we were going to do it, we had to start. Thankfully we got pregnant right away and our daughter was born 2 months before our son’s 4th birthday. A few months later my husband got a vasectomy. Although I could *maybe* contemplate the idea of a third if we won the lotto, kids are just too expensive for me to think about having more than 2. I know everyone’s ideas of a parent’s responsibilities are different, but I want to be able to do for my own kids what my mom did for me. She took me on frequent trips, I was in sports and dance classes and she paid for my undergraduate degree. I can barely pull that off for two and would definitely not be able to do it for 3. Even if finances weren’t an issue, though, being pregnant and giving birth twice was enough. I never need or want to go through that again.

  9. Posted 30 April 2013 at 5:12 PM | Permalink

    This was a beautiful post, thank you. And I appreciate the tipped hat to those of us who’ve had c-sections.

  10. Posted 30 April 2013 at 10:17 PM | Permalink

    I am very probably done with just one. I have been surprised again and again at how people (often nearly strangers) feel the need to comment on how bad this will be for my daughter, how everyone needs siblings, etc. My family feels complete. That might change in the future, but for now, we are a family of three.

    • Molly
      Posted 1 May 2013 at 1:01 PM | Permalink

      Ugh, I’m sorry people are so weird about ‘only children.’ That’s a crock: everybody does not need a sibling. Also, it seems extremely odd to attempt to guilt-trip somebody into having unwanted babies as, like, companions to the first one!

    • Elita
      Posted 1 May 2013 at 2:32 PM | Permalink

      I don’t know, I am an only child and always loved it. There are pros and cons to every situation but siblings seem mostly annoying :)

  11. Molly
    Posted 1 May 2013 at 1:12 PM | Permalink

    It’s interesting to me to think about how a couple people have mentioned finances as a major factor in deciding on a family size. I mean, that’s really normal and probably obvious to many people, and it would have been a major factor in how we articulated this decision and its effects had we remained upper middle class. But since our descent into poverty (which I hope is temporary! but the reality is that we are poor and dependent on government aid at the moment … I’m a “welfare mother”), we can’t “afford” to have any children, so it’s kinda become a moot point. When I got pregnant with Simon, I had a job, but we knew we might end up in this situation … and I had him anyway. Possibly that was irresponsible. But on the other hand, this is my life–my one precious life–and these are our children. Anyway, this experience has further opened my eyes to some class issues in how our society frames choice, parenting, and family size.

  12. Posted 4 May 2013 at 4:24 PM | Permalink

    Really interesting post and comments. As I just wrote in yet another post – I’m back to being on the fence, although it’s still pretty likely we’ll go for a third. But a rough parenting stretch combined with life stress (pet-related issue that is ongoing and very expensive and then my other cat seems to be dying slowly) and sickness (just another round of ear infections/fever/sinus stuff) has me re-thinking everything. Can I really do all this again AND have an infant on top of it all? Can I take all that stress? Can my family? Can my marriage?

    But like I said in my recent post – I am infinitely grateful to sit here with the option of going for it or not going for it. That is a freaking luxury.

    • Molly
      Posted 4 May 2013 at 7:13 PM | Permalink

      I’m really sorry to hear about the cats’ medical stuff! I know that’s hard.

  13. Lyons
    Posted 4 May 2013 at 10:45 PM | Permalink

    I posted before about my own awful pregnancy and postpartum period, and now at 7 months out, I’m still traumatized and grateful every day for not being pregnant anymore and for being past those newborn days. I always thought I would have more than one kid, but I really can’t imagine it at this point. I keep saying if I won the lottery and could use a gestational carrier I would consider it, but otherwise I cannot see going through pregnancy another time. Not only do I not want to ever experience that misery again, I am also a single mom, and I would not want to put my son through the incredible stress of a mom who can’t be there for him and no other parent to pick up some of the slack. I went through that with my own mom when she was pregnant with my brother (although I did have my dad), and I know it was very hard on me. Just today I was thinking about how I feel like my life is moving forward and going to better places and I am enjoying my son more and more, and when I think about caring for an infant again, the primary feeling is dread. With all that said, if I think about getting sterilized right now, it makes me uncomfortable, so I guess some part of me wants to leave the option open just in case. If I ever got into a relationship with someone who wanted to have a biological child and with whom I wanted to share the experience of parenting, I think the decision might be more difficult.

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