Last Call: How Do You Know When You Are Done Having Kids?

I think many couples struggle with knowing when they are truly “done” having children. I appreciate Daisy’s honesty and think many mothers can relate to craving the freedom that comes with older children while being petrified of the day when they will no longer be “needed”. My husband and I were “pretty sure” we were finished having biological children after our second was born within 14 months of our first, but 2 years later, on our 7th wedding anniversary, we changed our mind. Here I am, pregnant with our 3rd child. He is “pretty sure” all over again that we are done, but I find it very hard to officially close that door. How about you?

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When I was younger, I dreamed of having three children. Three kids felt chaotic, messy, and fun; three kids was the best kind of party. I feel incredibly lucky to actually have three children who kick my butt each and every day. My plate is full, blessedly so. So why can’t I stop thinking about having another baby?

I’m as surprised by this as anyone. The only time I ever thought about having a fourth child was soon after my youngest son, Oliver, was born five years ago. Late one night, I looked down at his soft pink cheek gently pulsing as he nursed and said to my husband, Ken, “Maybe we should do this again.” He turned over and muttered, “Maybe with your next husband.”

In the busy years that followed, that late night urge was packed up as definitively as the boxes of maternity clothes I sent to a friend right after Oliver’s birth with a note that read, Won’t be needing these anymore! But for some mysterious reason, I find it tickling my consciousness again now just when, by some miracle, we are almost on the other side. Oliver started kindergarten last week. Our house no longer looks like a nursery school classroom, and we’re finished with diapers, strollers and cribs. Yet the desire for another baby, long dormant, pulls at me. Please explain.

This is how Ken and I discuss whether or not to have a fourth child: he tells me it is a terrible idea, reminds me that we are old, have three other children to care for, and do I want him to have to keep working for the rest of his life? “You’re not exactly Mother Earth,” he adds as I grump my way through breakfast. I nod and agree with all of his reasons and we decide to move on. And yet, I can’t.

Despite circling around the topic again and again, we never really come to any resolution. And with both of us into our 40s, there is a very good chance that we may “run out the clock” on this particular decision. I don’t want to pressure Ken into making such a big decision, one that involves not only me and my wishes but every member of our family. But there’s something else that stops me from pushing the conversation further, something other than my reluctance to return to sleepless nights and the terrible twos. It’s because, deep down, I worry that my wanting to have another child is just a way to avoid facing the scary prospect of what comes next. For me, that is.

What happens to a mother when her babies grow up? I wonder as my daughter Ellie outgrows another pair of jeans and my older son Sam packs his bags for sleep away camp. What will I do with the freedom I’ve earned now that the rope that has tethered me to my children for so many years finds a little more slack? And since I’ve been a mostly stay-at-home mother for the past eleven years, I worry about job security. Is having another child merely a way for me to ensure against my inevitable slide into obsolescence?

What surprises me is that the very thing I craved for so long when the children were small and seemingly always underfoot—space and time away from them—is exactly what frightens me now. In the mornings, when my kids are at school, I vacillate between being thrilled at having the whole house to myself and terrified of being alone. During those quiet hours, fears float around me like ghosts. Is this what it will be like when everyone is gone? Have I given up too much for them? These disembodied thoughts pelt me from all sides, and a baby seems like the very thing I need to swat them away. And although I know another child would only offer a temporary reprieve, sometimes I can convince myself that’s all I need. Just a few more years and then I’ll figure out what I want to do with myself. I promise.

“You realize if you have another baby,” Ken tells me, “you’ll basically be 60 before everyone moves out.”

I have to admit this sounds both wonderful and nauseating.

Ken, who is my heart, has told me that he would try to have another baby if it was something I really couldn’t move past, but he asks me to look closely at my reasons for wanting one, to tease out the threads of maternal longing from fear of stepping into my future, some place only I can go. In the meantime, I ponder the decision to have another baby or to close that door forever, turning it over and over again in my head until it is smooth like a river stone.

Daisy Alpert Florin is a Staff Editor at Brain, Child. She lives and works in CT with her family.