In September of 2019, my husband and I found out that for the third time, we would be adding to our family. A part of me felt something that was bittersweet. My husband had made it clear, many times over, that three babies was his “number.” He, as of today, does not want any more children after our third is born in June. That bittersweet feeling came from knowing I (probably) won’t have another special moment of finding out that I am carrying another baby.
A few weeks later, I started thinking again about that “number”– the arbitrary number of kids that people believe will complete their family. But is it indeed arbitrary?
Let me be clear: I am very aware of my blessings with pregnancy and babies from the beginning. I know many women who struggle with infertility, who have endured the tragedies of stillbirths and miscarriages, or just for one reason or another, cannot have babies with ease. I do not take any of this granted.
So when my husband and I just decided that after three kids, we are (again, probably) done growing our family, it made me think. How do most people decide on that number? Is it that infertility? Financially driven? Health issues during previous pregnancies? It made me interested to hear others’ stories and to shed some light on that decision making process.
The Deciding Factors
After speaking with over 50 women on how they knew their family was complete, the answers were overwhelmingly two specific reasons: finances and health.
Money, Money, Money
According to the United States Census Bureau, the average median income in 2018 was $61,937. The average cost to raise a child from birth to age 17 is about $233,000, or around $14,000 per year.
I cite those numbers for a specific reason- it is EXPENSIVE to have kids! I am fortunate enough to be able to stay home with my children. But, I spoke to many women who say that daycare expenses prohibit them from adding more to their family.
In Illinois, the average yearly cost of daycare is close to $14,000. With all of these expenses piling up just from your children, it is hard not to see why finances are a factor in completing a family. No one wants to look at adding to their family in the same light as buying a car, but for many families, it is necessary.
Interestingly, the older women (50 and up) rarely, if ever, cited finances as the reason they stopped having children. This is such a reflection on changing times. It reflects how money has become such an intertwined piece in our lives. Money lives below the surface of nearly all the decisions we make now as modern day parents.
That “personal health” reasoning had quite a few different facets. I spoke to many women who had potentially life-threatening medical emergencies during their pregnancies. Things like pregnancy-induced heart failure, thrombocytopenia, and detached placentas were among a few of those emergencies. Many of these women didn’t necessarily want to be done having children. However, they had to make that decision based on current health and a desire for a future with their family.
The other large group of women I spoke to made this decision based on tragedy. Many women struggled with recurring miscarriages and did not want to endure any more loss.
One women I spoke to shared, “I had 2 miscarriages [and] when I got pregnant after [them] I… told my husband, no matter the outcome, this would be my last pregnancy. The grief from miscarriages was more than I expected it to ever feel.”
Other women are still trying to add to their family, but have resigned themselves to the disappointing reality that it may not happen for them.
Infertility is not something that many couples, young or old, consider as a potential future struggle. Sex equals babies. That is what we have always been taught.
However, the stories I listened to made me realize that so many women have their “number” decided for them. Having that choice made for you, especially in that way, is unfair, devastating, and painful.
Together and Complete
The reality is, I thought there would be a greater variety in answers in how people decided their family was complete. However, I realized we are more linked together than we thought, after hearing the same stories over and over again.
Our struggles and our tragedies- our vulnerabilities- bring us together. If only we could talk about these things with greater ease, then I think these painful choices might sting less knowing we aren’t alone.
I began my discussion thinking it would be interesting to hear how people knew they were done having children. Maybe it would solidify my husband’s and my choice as well. It really only made me realize that my husband and I are so blessed to even make that choice on our own accord, to decide on some arbitrary number. We are privileged in that way, and I won’t ever take that for granted.
Regardless of how many children you end up having, please know that there are so many others that share your tragedies and struggles. Know that the babies you do have look at you with unconditional love. I am sure your heart feels complete when you look at them, as well.
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