ANTIGRAVITY senior editor, freelance writer, rescue dog aficionado, and hobby baker Erin Hall previously penned the column Writing for Two, which focused on her experience navigating pregnancy and parenthood for the first two years of her first son’s life. She now coordinates and oversees our Raising Louisiana column and is passionate about giving voice to the diversity of parenting experiences. She lives in Algiers with her husband, her two young sons, and a sweet old lady dog.
THREE’S A CROWD?
I’ve never wanted more than two kids. I came from a family of three kids and it always seemed to me that once you get past two, things get sticky more easily. How are two parents supposed to really connect with and provide for three or more kids? It’s like playing zone coverage instead of man-to-man: just naturally harder, right? Imagine my surprise then, when I found myself looking at my youngest son as he bent over and peered through his legs (old wives’ tales say this is the child “looking for the one that will follow”) and thinking maybe we’re not done after all.
When You Know, You Know
I’ve been told so many times by parents that “you just know” when you’re not done having kids. Or that you absolutely will know when you are. I’ve never had a concrete feeling in either direction. I’m a Type A and a Capricorn, so of course I’ve made a pros and cons list, but I can’t seem to reason my way out of this like I can most things. Of all the aspects of my life, parenting is the one that won’t play by the rules, and yet it seems to have gifted me a new well of strength.
The last few years have been like a leap from the high dive into the trauma deep end. I had a difficult delivery with my oldest, Emmett, got immediately smacked in the face by postpartum depression, had my father ripped suddenly out of my life due to medical negligence less than two weeks after giving birth, and had to fight to overcome my darkest grief to parent my kid. And that just gets us to 2020.
You may be thinking COVID is the next horrible thing we encountered, but the universe had another twist up its sleeve. On January 19th, my lovingly prepared salmon dinner ended up in the toilet, me hyperventilating on the bathroom floor next to it after being told my mother had died in her sleep the night before. Then COVID hit. And we found out we were pregnant again, in the middle of a nationwide lockdown.
My pregnancy and delivery with my youngest, Vincent, was an intense but intentional time. I did a lot of proactive work to prepare and repair, and the end result was such a beautiful and healing experience that it shook my absolute knowledge that I was done having children. Honestly, I have been unsettled in the idea ever since the moment I first held him in my arms.
Mourning The Realities
In talking to my therapist about my struggle with deciding if our family is complete, she pointed out that regardless of what steps we take next, there will be mourning. Every decision, after all, entails the forfeiture of countless other decisions one could have made.
I long dreamed of having a daughter, but I thought I was able to put that on a shelf when we found out we were expecting a second son. I told myself that it was projection. That I only wanted a daughter because I wanted to recreate the relationship I had with my mother. And that’s not fair to any kid—who knows if we would be compatible in that way? And why couldn’t I have that relationship with one or both of my boys? I found peace about it. Or so I thought. Every time I find out a friend is expecting a girl, my heart twinges in a way that makes me feel ashamed. I love my boys to the moon and back and wouldn’t change a single thing about either one of them, so this lingering, unshakeable feeling of longing and absence has weighed heavily on my heart.
In the same breath, I think about how if we did have a girl, it would mean the loss of the “wolf pack” dynamic we have now. I’m sure they would all still be close and I have no notion that boys and girls are that wildly different—each child is a unique being and we don’t prescribe to immovable gender roles in this house—but it would be altered. That can’t be denied.
Lastly, I wonder about my oldest and how another sibling would affect him. He has taken to being an older brother wonderfully well, but he’s only four and he still struggles sometimes with sharing our attention. If we were to add a third child, I fear that he would feel further separated from us in some way, and I cannot abide that thought. He is the one who made me a mother and as such, will always hold a precious corner of my heart for himself.
What if Vincent and the new sibling were closer and he felt like an island on his own? What if the spacing between them was simply too much for them to ever form a genuine bond? I would weep a river of tears. So, the decision doesn’t feel like it’s only mine, or even mine and my husband’s—it feels like our kids should have a say as well.
The Body Keeps Score
I am not a young mother. I was almost 34 when I had my first child and nearly 37 when I had my second. I have plenty of friends who have given birth in their early 40s and are wonderful, involved parents, but I absolutely don’t want to be having kids anymore within the next few years. So the pressure does feel like it’s on in a very real way.
We’re already older parents, so when our boys graduate from high school, we’ll be in our 50s. If we add another child, by the time that child is 30, I’ll be almost 70. Having endured the loss of both of my parents in my early 30s, I don’t want to put my children through that pain. I don’t know what’s coming down the pike for me in the genetic lottery, but having two parents who died young does give me pause about expanding our family any further.
We’ve crunched the numbers and essentially, if we’re going to add another child to our family, I need to be pregnant by this time next year or I’m closing the book on this part of my life. In addition to my age, there is also the physical toll childbearing has on the body to consider.
I have struggled with pelvic, hip, and back pain in the wake of having two children in the span of three years. The baby weight did not go any damn where, so I’m at the heaviest weight of my life. And while I’ve never been a small person, I’ve always been an active one. Lately, that hasn’t been possible because my body literally hurts any time I do anything active.
I took steps recently to see the right practitioners and I have a plan in place for regaining a level of mobility and activity, but I also know that I won’t let myself get pregnant until I get stabilized again. I want some weight off and I want to be able to move functionally and without pain. The trauma that the body endures during pregnancy and delivery cannot be discounted. But I also know that I look at my boys daily and am certain I would do every bit of it again to give life to another beautiful child.
I realize that I’m fortunate to even be having this internal debate. Having multiple children in today’s economy is incredibly difficult. But I also know that it’s possible. My parents made due with much less and my childhood was rich in so many ways. No, we never went to Disney World and I didn’t get the newest sneakers every back-to-school shopping trip. But as my mother always said, we got everything we needed and a lot of what we wanted. We were happy, healthy, fed, clothed, and loved. That’s all a child really needs.
The reality of raising a family is a paradox. Our house is never totally clean and I don’t ever get enough sleep, but at least five times a day I am overcome with the sheer capacity I have for love. How I see the world through their eyes and I want to fight for it in a way I didn’t five years ago. How I see my parents reflected in my children and I feel the strong and endless connection of family—a bond unbreakable by time, space, or even death.
Becoming a parent has been the weirdest, wildest, most hellish yet amazing thing I have ever done. And I know that if I don’t have another child, the two I do have will keep me on my toes, learning and growing each day with them. For that I am eternally grateful. The door to this time of fertility and birth may be closing soon, and I may wave goodbye to this stage of my life and greet a new one. If one more soul will join us on that journey is all that remains to be seen.
illustrations by Victoria Allen
New Orleans metro area parents! Want to share your experience with ANTIGRAVITY readers? We’re always looking for a wide variety of parenting voices and circumstances to explore each month. If you’re interested, please get in touch with Erin Hall or head to our About page to fill out a contributor form.