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How Did You Know When You Were Done Having Kids?

Illustration for article titled How Did You Know When You Were Done Having Kids?

Photo: Evgeny Atamanenko (Shutterstock)

If you’ve been around this space for a while, you probably know that I’m the parent of a 10-year-old who is my only child. But the journey to parenthood of one child was longer and more winding than one might think.

Whether—and how—to have more children was a question that loomed over my husband and I for several years. I was reminded of that internal struggle recently when I came across this question on Slate’s Care and Feeding column:

My husband and I are at a crossroads when it comes to having a second child. We have a delightful, funny, sweet 2-year-old, and my husband is pretty happy with the way things are and doesn’t particularly want to go back to Baby Land. And I don’t know that I want to go back there either! I had a rough time postpartum, physically and emotionally. However, my midwife tells me that the physical part is unlikely to repeat itself, and I feel more prepared for the emotional part. But we’re also worried about the cost of two children in daycare. And we have a good rhythm right now of taking turns looking after our son so that we both get down time—and who knows if we would have that luxury with two? I feel so close to being at peace with the decision to stop at one… but I always thought we would have two, and it’s hard to let go of that vision. Besides all of my complications after the birth of my son, I loved the tiny baby days and wish I could enjoy that again without the pain. All of the adults I know who were only children themselves have two or more kids—which makes me think they know something I don’t know about the experience of being an only! I worry about my son being lonely or not having anyone who understands his childhood.

A lot of my experience is mirrored in this question, starting with the initial vision of having a family with at least two kids, then finding an easy groove with just one, and ending with the concern that my son might miss out on something fundamentally important if he didn’t have a sibling. There have been times throughout his childhood when I have been perfectly content as a family of three, and there have been times when I’ve felt an empty space that only the presence of another child could fill.

I also know parents who always thought they’d have exactly two kids but unexpectedly felt compelled to consider having a third (or fourth) in a way they never would have imagined. I think it’s a common experience for parents to mull this question over from every angle, to look for outside validation that it’s OK to change course, to fear you may later regret whatever decision you make, and even to feel compelled to ask a stranger on the internet: How do I know if I’m really done having kids?

(You can go read Michelle Herman’s response to that question here, but it basically boils down to what it should boil down to, which is: “You should have a second child if you want a second child, which is something you and your partner need to decide together, and if you decide not to, that’s totally OK.”)

Knowing how complicated the decision was for me—and how easy it sometimes seems for others—made me curious how others arrived at, “Yep, we’re done!” Of course, all of this assumes the choice is yours and yours alone. Sometimes life intervenes and decides it for you, which I supposed is ultimately what happened in my case.

I’ve written about our journey as foster parents who intended to adopt through the child welfare system if circumstances led us that way—although ultimately, after two placements over more than two years, they did not. We let our foster license lapse, and we tried for another biological child. Two miscarriages later, even as friends told me to keep at it, to not lose faith, that it would happen for us, I knew I was done. We could have kept trying, but for the first time in more than seven years of parenthood, I took a look around me and said, “Yep, we’re all finished here. That’s a wrap on the Walbert family.” I know that sounds painful—and it was—but I also felt lighter in that moment, the decision having finally been made.

Every family’s journey toward completion is interesting to me, so if you feel so inclined, share yours with us in the comments. Did you always know you wanted two kids and went ahead and had exactly that? Did twins catch you by surprise so that you decided, at least in terms of number of pregnancies, you were one and done? Did you think you’d want just one and ended up going for a third (or vice versa)? Were you and your partner always on the same page, or did you have to decide whose preference would ultimately win out? Did you want more children but experienced secondary infertility that made it impossible?

How did you know when you were done having kids—or how are you trying to figure that out right now?

 

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