Whether or not to have kids is surely a dealbreaker question between couples, but what about how many kids to have?
My partner and I have two (wily, wonderful) children, which is the number my partner wanted all along. Me? I wanted three. I can’t really explain it except to say that when I envisioned my future as a parent before I became one, I always saw myself as a mother of three. Sometimes, I pictured us in a cheesy Olan Mills-type portrait: There I sat in my mom haircut, surrounded by three beaming, freckled faces. (I’m sure there was a partner in there somewhere, too…) Sometimes, my vision was of us was much further in the future, sitting in a cozy living room over the holidays, sharing a bottle of wine and remembering our lives together.
Of course, the way I imagined parenthood before I had kids turned out to be a lot different than reality. Two kids, at the ages of 2 and 4, are hard work. My partner and I rarely get to spend time together alone (we can’t afford babysitters and don’t have family in town to help on a regular basis) and we’re limited in nearly everything we do by our children. There aren’t a lot of everyone-smiling-at-once moments. But it’s worth it.
The love that I feel for my kids and from them is ecstasy. It’s the only spiritual experience I’ve ever known. It’s also the only thing that could have gotten me through a year (literally) of no sleep with my first, and hours upon hours of tantrums, constant sibling conflict, crowdwailing (my term for when they both fill the house and my eardrums with sobs), poop disaster management, child-perpetrated property destruction and constant whole-family sickness (directly caused by our little germ traffickers).
You would think that if I’m so overwhelmed by two, I wouldn’t possibly want one more, right? Wrong. I still do. My partner still doesn’t. This isn’t a dealbreaker issue for us. We’re not divorcing over it, but it’s caused plenty of heartache. When it comes up, my partner feels defensive and afraid that I’m going to start lobbying hard for another child now that our littlest is almost not a baby anymore. I feel sad and alone and shut down by my partner’s reaction. But I know that, for a variety of reasons (mostly money- and health-related), I can’t get pregnant again anyway. So I discontinued storage payment for our remaining stock at the sperm bank last summer. I’ve heard this referred to as the “lesbian vasectomy.” It hurt.
Of course, there are more reasons to not have another child than to have one. Saving money, reducing our environmental footprint, being able to give our existing kids more attention and not letting the children outnumber/overpower us are all valid points. Plus, if we do have more love and resources to give, we should give them to a child who is already here and in need of a family. Private adoption will likely never be affordable for us, but my partner is vaguely open to adopting from foster care one day, years down the road, as long as we’re in a better place financially and our current kids are old enough to be a little less exhausting.
But there’s no guarantee. For now, it’s all a big, very hazy “maybe,” so I feel like I have to mourn that three-kid family vision I lived with for so many years. Some people will say that I should just be grateful for the two healthy children I have (and I am, infinitely so) — especially because we struggled to get me pregnant at all — but it’s not that simple. Being grateful for what you have doesn’t eliminate longing, and that’s OK.
Talk to me, folks. If you have kids, how did you decide how many to have?