It’s Saturday night and instead of going out, I’m sitting in my garage wearing trackies, about to indulge in a wild night of decluttering.
In my pile of things to give away, I’ve placed a stack of boxes filled with old baby clothes. It makes sense on paper. We need the extra room. My husband and I aren’t planning on having more children. Currently, our five and three-year-old fill up my life: yes, with joy and laughter, but also with exhaustion as I juggle work deadlines with tantrums and trips to the doctor. Everyone’s parenting capacity is different, and I’m not ashamed to say I’ve reached mine at two kids.
But here’s the problem: I just can’t do it. I can’t give these clothes away: these tatty, candy coloured bits of fabric my children have played in, slept in, trailed through muddy playgrounds in. Even though I tell friends we’re done having kids and do a happy dance every time I sail past the nappy aisle at the supermarket, giving away old clothes feels so final – like a full stop on our family of four. I can’t help asking: what if we’re not ‘done’? Should we try for one more kid?
I understand the privilege that comes with being able to talk about the choice to have more children. Some women have no choice in the matter, which can be a source of pain. And I know the number of kids you have – whether it’s zero or enough to fill a minivan – is no indication of how satisfying your life is.
But when I see a large family at the park or a friend announces their third pregnancy, I’m confronted by the fact that at this stage of my life, I do have a choice to make – a big one, if you think about the responsibility that comes with bringing another human into the world. Setting aside surprise pregnancies, how do you know you’re making the right choice? What if you stop having kids, but regret it years down the track? Or alternatively what if you fall pregnant, only to find you can’t cope with having another child?
I’ve noticed parents fall into two camps on this issue. First there are the pragmatists. One friend decided to have more children only after she’d done projections of their family budget over the next ten years. Another couple decided to have one kid because they travelled frequently and thought it would be easier to pack with only one child in tow. Then there are the parents who have a Jedi-like connection to their uterus. Like a sixth sense calling out from the womb, they trust their feelings to guide them as evidenced by lines like, “I just knew when I gave birth to Tristan, I was done,” or “I could just sense someone was missing from our family”.
I’ve never had those feelings. I don’t have a strong desire for another child, nor does the idea make me recoil in horror. And in terms of practicalities, I could write a pretty balanced pros and cons list for having more children.
I have noticed one thing, though. When I was sorting through my boxes of old baby clothes, it wasn’t the desire for a third child that floored me. I wasn’t dreaming of buttoning my son’s onesie on a new pair of chubby legs, or cradling another child to sleep in my daughter’s butter soft wraps.
I was dreaming of my children. I want to hold them all over again: as newborns, as babies, as toddlers learning to walk. Filling my life with kids – with bliss and colour and anxiety and bedlam all at once – doesn’t just exhaust my capacities; it also accelerates everything. My heart just can’t keep up with how fast my kids are growing up. As they hit each milestone and grow out of clothes I bought only six months ago, I’m left reeling, sometimes even blubbering. Is this a sign I’m ready for number three? I’m not so sure. It’s easy to mistake this fierce, possibly hysterical grip I currently have on my children’s baby years as a desire for another child, when really it’s a lot simpler than that: I just don’t want my existing babies to grow up. Ever.
Right now, it’s clear the answer to my third child conundrum isn’t making a decision one way or the other. Rather than fantasising about baby, I’ve committed to enjoying the kids I have already – to soaking up every hug, every milestone, every off-key sing-along in the car.
But forgive me if I stash just one box of old baby clothes in the back of the garage. Just in case
How did you know it was time to stop having kids?