This is part of a series of perspectives from our contributors on a subject that no one quite has the answer to: when is your family complete? Read an earlier article from another mother here, and comment below to join in the conversation.
Women often say that you just know when you are done having children. I have heard it so many times.
“Oh, you’ll for sure know when you are done. There’s that feeling in your gut.”
But my question is, do we all get that? Is it really that simple?
I had always felt reassured by that sentiment. I suppose it goes with my personality – I like neat endings and finishing goals in a timely manner. So it is with frustration and angst that here I am with two children, having succeeded in my goal to be done and “shop closed” by the time I was 30.
And yet…and yet.
I still carry a deep seated uncertainty of whether I am done having children or not. Surely I am not the only one and if so, why don’t people voice these thoughts?
Coming into marriage, I knew I wanted children. In fact at university, my now husband happened to stumble into me doing a questionnaire that asked how many children I wanted and at what age. In my head, I had dreamily imagined a large bustling family like family reunions we had growing up. But it wasn’t long after I had my first child did this fantasy began to fall fast.
The irony is before you have your children, you are the best parent.
You think you know things, and you make grand plans. I had thought I would love the newborn stage and when newly pregnant with my first, I had the most rose tinted glasses of them all. You know the ones. The ones that grace our Instagram squares, that make motherhood look seamlessly easy. Perhaps for some it is, but for most of us, this allure to the perfect life is just that – an allure. Not real.
When our little bundle arrived, we were miles away from family on a military base that was closing down and with a baby that cried for hours, never slept and didn’t breastfeed well. We were young and if we are being honest, we were rocked to our cores. I vividly remember well-meaning friends messaging me that it must be amazing. But that is not how I felt. I was all smiles to those who asked. But inside I felt like a failure and like I had done something wrong. Had I missed something? I was supposed to love this newborn stage, wasn’t I? That is what the media (at least 6 years ago) used to tell us anyway.
Since I am still standing here, you can guess that we made it through. But it was tough.
Fast forward to our second child. She was a breeze as a newborn…then we hit 4 months. We spent months battling with severe eczema that resulted in a hospital stay. My four month old suffered with sepsis after catching chicken pox from her sister. I cried when I was told that I should consider giving up breastfeeding at 5 months because she needed to go onto an amino acid replacement milk since she wasn’t getting any better. She fed like a dream, and I had wanted to keep going. Those feelings of failure crept back in.
Just as I was becoming a more confident mother as the girls grew older, a deployment happened.
This took just about everything out of me with two young kids. For two years, I thought it madness to have anymore as a military family: the inevitability of being left to single parent on numerous courses and deployments or the stress of sorting out schools for more than two children every eighteen months to two years.
I often look with eyes of amazement to military spouses with three or four children who on the outside smash deployments on their own. I know from experience that like any other mother, they do struggle behind closed doors. But I applaud their muster and determination to have more children regardless of the challenges. I often wonder, if there is a personality type that these women are? Do I just not fit in that category? Perhaps I find things more stressful than they do.
And what about my own wants and desires?
It was only toward the end of my schooling when I discovered a love for art and art history and had a clear idea of what I wanted to do other than being a mother. But then I got married young, moved to the back end of nowhere, and totally lost myself. When I had children, I was genuinely surprised to realise that it wasn’t enough for my soul. I had a deep pang for my own self-identity and achieving my own goals that I hadn’t realised I had.
Here I am then, with a 4 and 6 year old, and I am uncertain.
Over the last year of Covid life, my girls call each other their best friends. They’ve had to be. They’ve relied on each other a lot in that time, and we have watched them become closer and closer. Did we leave it too late? Would a third would upset the balance? Would we be outnumbered? Perhaps the age gap would be too much, or it would upset my youngest too much. I also have two small businesses I love that are evolving. It would seem that my life is complete.
I should have that feeling in my gut, shouldn’t I? You know, that gut that so many women say you will have? But I don’t think it is that easy.
For my head says no more. I can’t go back to my evenings being taken from me. I’d dread going back to nappies, no sleep, and not being able to string a sentence together. I don’t enjoy working under pressure. I want too much for myself. When my peers were still out clubbing I was in bed nursing screaming babies. I gave my twenties to babies, and I do not regret that. I have two beautiful girls who I couldn’t live without. They make me laugh out loud, and my heart wants to burst when they wrap their arms around me or come running just to tell me they love me. If we’d waited, we would never have had these amazing versions of us.
We are getting our freedom back; we are past nappies and potty training; my eldest can turn on the tv and get to what she wants to watch by herself. We are able to leave them with parents for the weekend and not spend the whole time anxious they weren’t napping. We have space to breathe a little, to have hobbies again.
My head says 100% no. No more. I. Am. Done.
And yet… And yet.
For some completely ridiculous reason, I feel a strange sense of failure when I see families with three children. I myself am one of three. When I see three siblings, I always get what feels like an internal, physical kick in the chest, like my heart aches a little.
So all I can conclude is that my head wants one thing and my heart another. The world tells us we can have it all. But can we really, and should we have it all? And if I’m waiting for that gut feeling, it is never coming. Maybe I will always feel this way, or maybe it will fade. Perhaps I will never really know if we are done having children.