How many children is enough children? Now that’s a question that can cause a disagreement or two. When Emily and I met I wanted a very large family, she wanted just two children. Life has a funny way of flipping the script. After her second delivery—a painful ordeal that seemed so much worse than the first—I decided I didn’t want her to go through with that again. Emily decided she was hungry for another, go figure. I was happy to oblige of course, it was her body after all and who better than Emily to say what she could and couldn’t do again. So along came number three. Delivery was actually pretty easy as far as deliveries go and we were both feeling pretty good about that. It went so well in fact I recall Emily joking about how she could do a few more.
It didn’t take long however for the differences in raising our third child to assert themselves. Given our target audience, I feel the need to go into this next bit in some detail, a little “Explain it like I’m five”. If you deliver vaginally and everything goes great and perfect your doctor is going to put you on six weeks of no penetration. It only goes up from there. We were blessed with all three deliveries and we never got more than six weeks probation, but the third six weeks was by far the longest one for both of us. What seemed simple the first two times around required new rituals and assuring words the third time. We wanted each other terribly, it was agonizing. The first two weeks weren’t so bad, Emily didn’t even want to think about sex at that point, but even though she was hardly healed and was still having to wear pads for everyday bleeding, week three had started a marathon of unfulfilled longing. We worked on ways to express ourselves physically knowing that no release would come, and we still use those techniques today when we just can’t catch a moment. The days nevertheless drug on. This was just the earliest and first difference in a string of moments and realizations that would have us saying “Yes, this is enough”.
We hadn’t picked up on that first sign at this point in our story. In fact, Emily was already talking about having a fourth, this time seriously instead of hospital bed joking, and I was all about it too. We were still in the period where number three was sleeping most the time and feeding for the rest. As we talked through the requirements for number four though, I started to realize the numbers weren’t adding up. We’d need at least one vehicle upgraded to a larger size, and depending on the sex of the child we’d have to re-arrange the entire house and convert some living area into another bedroom or upgrade the house as well. We didn’t have the financial bandwidth for that. Emily still very wanted and fourth, but I was starting to think it wasn’t such a great idea, still, I was committed to providing her what she wanted.
The next phase is what rang both our alarm bells hard enough to change our minds. Number 3 started going through sleep regression, which happens at about the 4-6 month period, and our daughter, three at the time, started regressing in her potty training over the attention the new baby was getting. By the time our new infant was one year old I was saying things like “I want our bed back, I want my wife back”. For contrast, our firstborn had nursed and co-slept for eighteen months, and everyone was comfortable with it. We started openly discussing being done with children, and how we had our lives on pause for too long. Emily wanted to rejoin the work force, I wanted time to dedicate to progressing in my career. We’d taken so long getting to #3 that I was already violating one of the rules we’d agreed to about the number of children we’d have, or more importantly, when we’d have them. I didn’t want to be over 50 by the time all our children graduated high school, number three already put me over that age, albeit just, but that line had been crossed.
Now you may be thinking something along the lines of “Wow you guys were really ignoring the signs that you needed to be done”. You’d be correct. That’s why I’m writing this. We had indeed been ignoring not only the signs that we weren’t ready for another yet, but that we weren’t ready for another at all and I’m hoping, maybe naively, that we can spare another couple that experience. We actually continued a bit further stubbornly holding onto the idea that we could deal with another plus one, but after we’d started weening and sleep training earlier than we had any of the other children, we realized how dedicated we were to this being over, we realized how deeply we missed simple things like drinking together, or cuddling each other to sleep. The sleep training part of that ordeal is probably worth its own post. Actually, yeah, expect that later this week. The short of it is, we were able to reclaim our bed, and it felt amazing. That simple change brought us a significant amount of emotional energy that we’d been lacking. The crib is still in our bedroom, the baby still sleeps there, but just having that space to ourselves to hold each other, to cuddle, and not being kicked in the face or having to watch where my arms are going has been liberating in ways neither of us needed for the prior two children.
This phase of our lives just feels over, much the same way it began. All of our carefully thought out plans for starting our family blew by the wayside to the emotional feeling of simply being ready, and all our plans for having more were cancelled by emotional needs too. So if you’re looking to start a family, or you’re simply curious about what that phase of marriage looks like and how those decisions get made I hope sharing a little snippet of our story helps, even if that just means you know a few more questions to ask and some things to watch out for. Really, just trust your instincts, even if they change suddenly. There’s a reason there aren’t many guides out about this topic. Sure, you may know what to expect when you’re expecting, but there doesn’t seem to be any sort of manual to make the decision to start trying to expect or to stop, there’s just too many variables. So keep your ear to the ground, feel it out, and remember no one has done this in the exact same way that you have.
If you’ve already been through these decisions, or have more specific questions, I’d love to hear from you in the comment section. Until next time.