The year is 2002. Still in college, madly in love, stars in our eyes, my then-boyfriend and I envision our perfect family. The oldest of three kids, I have always wanted my own brood of four. The second-oldest of four, he would be happy with three. We get engaged, then married, and begin our lives together.
The first child, a girl, comes a little earlier than planned. It is 2008. I have only been at my first Real Lawyer Job for four months when we find out we’re going to become parents. He is in his second year of medical school. Funds and living space are tight, but we figure it out.
In spite of the difficulties inherent in starting a family under less-than-ideal circumstances, I love being a mother. Breastfeeding is hard, sleep deprivation is hard, the diaper explosions and ear infections and teething are absolute nightmares, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. She grows up entirely too fast, refusing to give me adequate time to savor every ounce of her infancy.
Once she is potty-trained, I’m ready to do it all over again.
Fatherhood has been harder on my med student husband, and his original desire for three children has deteriorated. He is now perfectly fine with one child. I press for another, if only so our girl can have a companion during the many moves we’ll be making for residencies and fellowships. My husband reluctantly agrees to give it another go, and we quickly get pregnant.
Then we suffer a miscarriage.
Something inside of me shifts. I still want another baby (after the loss, I’m more desperate for another than ever), but when we get pregnant this time, I’m different. The wonder and excitement from my first pregnancy are gone, replaced with fear and anxiousness. A small voice in my head begins a refrain: “I don’t want to do this again.”
I give birth to my son via emergency C-section, and recovery doesn’t go smoothly. I’m in love with my rainbow baby, but I’m in a lot of pain, too. Breastfeeding him is just as hard as it was with my oldest, and I don’t have the same drive to succeed. I don’t want to do this again, either.
As our son hits his milestones, I feel a sense of finality. The last time we will transition a tiny person to a sippy cup, the last time we’ll wean from the pacifier, the last sleep-training marathon. The only problem is that the older our son gets, the more my husband wants a third child. I feel like our family is complete, but my husband feels the opposite.
I have many, many reasons for wanting to be done, ranging from the vain (I don’t want to have to lose baby weight again) to the existential (what if my mothering results in three people needing therapy at some point?). And, of course, there is the deep-seated anxiety my miscarriage left me with. However, none of those reasons hold a candle to the feeling of completion my husband thinks a third child will bring.
As frustrating as the impasse can be, I know I can’t just dismiss his desires just because I’m the one who would be carrying the baby. I have a good friend who is in the opposite situation. She wants to have another child, but her husband is done. I relate to both her and her husband because I remember the case I had to make to my husband to have a second baby. I also understand not feeling equipped to handle another child on any level. It is not easy to be in either position. How do you reconcile wanting to make your partner happy with your own happiness when a whole other life is at stake?
The Way Forward
Once you decide that you will start a family with another person, there shouldn’t be any controversy, right? Wrong. Even if both of you know you want children, financial instability, health issues, or infertility can alter your plans. And sometimes, you’re just ready to close up the baby-making factory early, to the dismay of your partner.
Whatever the issue, it is vital to keep an open line of communication with each other, and remember that the heart of any family, no matter its size, is love.