After the biggest — and maybe only — blowout fight we had, when our first baby was 4 months old and sleeping like a jack-in-the-box on Red Bull, my husband and I settled down to a late peace-making dinner. He linked his ankle to mine, took a forkful of the fish and said, “So, are you ready to try for another?” That kind of “try” is euphemistic and really only means one thing, but all my brain could come up with was: TRY FOR ANOTHER WHAT?
“Are you kidding?” I asked. He had just made the case the baby “should” no longer be sleeping in our bed, aka within nipple range — maybe someone else wanted to be closer to nipple-range? I had made the hysterical case back, “But I am the one breastfeeding!” He conceded, but only after a brief lecture on animal training (his parenting style). I conceded, too: we could revisit the question (of sleep, not of another kid) in two months. The idea of being pregnant again so soon was several galaxies beyond my to-do list.
At what point do we ask ourselves: should we have another child? Will we? Do we want to? Partners are often ~ready~ at very different moments and for very different reasons. This is not just a question of intelligent sibling spacing, or aiming for your offspring to have an auspicious (or optimal weather) birthday. It’s a question of: is this a good idea, like, at all? And if so, is there such a thing as the “right time”? Romper asked experts and families to weigh in, and, having passed the "should we have another?" question once with the affirmative, I will give you my ongoing deliberation over having a third (stay tuned, because even I don't know what I'll decide!).
For Some Families, It's About Finance
“I wish that having a second kid was just a question of a couple's joyful desire to grow their family, but with the inadequate support we provide American families, it has to be an economic question as well. The cost of a second child often impacts work and childcare decisions first, and you don't really get economies of scale when it comes to kids." — Elliot Haspel, early childhood policy expert
"In hindsight, finances should have been considered, but I feel pretty confident that if we were focusing on having a certain type of bank account or achieving a specific financial position, we would probably never have had kids in the first place." 🤷🏽♀️ — Lisa, 37, mother of three
After the first great existential questioning, we did have a second baby (I read up on optimal pregnancy spacing). Add to that my older step kids and our apartment was bursting at the seams, right where the “dust rabbits,” as Red Bull Toddler calls them, hang out reproducing. But right this minute, the question is popping up again. Why? I am up to my nose in soiled onesies, Fatwas of a 3-year old, and unread James Baldwin essays (he was damn smart, and damn childless). What the fallopian am I thinking? Yet I am having the urge, and I am not alone, against all reasonableness.
It started super early, after the second baby. Like, immediately.
My vagina was still raw from a newborn ripping through it, but the embryonic question was building like an itch in an unreachable place. At that moment, mine was not the mythical vagina dentata that sends fear coursing through the patriarchy, devours partners and spits out babies like a machine. It was more like a vagina that felt like it might never close or handle traffic again.
My blood was still flowing off the hospital bed into the special plastic saddlebags designed to catch it (my husband later pointed this out). My placenta, an organ beyond something even Dr. Seuss could think up, had just hit the fresh air (“Calcified,” the midwife showed me) when the thought burbled up, out of the stampede of hormones: Will we have... another? A third? (Or, really, including my stepsons, a fifth?) When can we do this again? Or can we? Did I say that out loud? The room was still humming from her expulsion, endorphins rushing around like PacMan.
Or Perhaps You Are Thinking About Sibling Spacing
“Research supports the common sense notion that siblings provide myriad benefits. Those pesky brothers and sisters strengthen empathy and patience, provide a necessary chum to balance out those powerful parents, keep us physically and mentally agile (studies correlate siblings with lower levels of obesity and allergies!), and form a lifelong support system. Be careful before you jump to the conclusion that being an only child is a total disadvantage. Only-children have the latitude and freedom to truly expand in ways that those with siblings might only dream of." — Dr. Michael Alcee, clinical psychologist
"I wanted my children to be close in age so they could enjoy playing together and have the same interests. It made it a lot easier when planning weekend activities or occupying their time! Bonus, that I had two girls which made it even easier for me!" — Zaida, mom of two, New Jersey
My husband looked hot on no sleep and in that t-shirt he had worn for three days, his neck smelling like the hospital food packaging. We laughed a lot while the baby boob-bobbed, my gown never shut completely. Hey, babe, can you resist these sexy mesh surgical undies?
Surely not all people regard their impressive vaginas or future on those terms so soon, but many just-birthed-a-new-baby-holy-shit-peak-experience-now-what postpartum people do. The question grew as the baby did, milestone by milestone (last first smile? Last head control onset? Last realizing both those hands belong to you?) even though my husband and I kept remarking, “It’s so tender and touching and bittersweet to be with OUR LAST BABY.”
Now, six months postpartum, even though I already know the answer (or should), the question has grown to a haunting size, like one of those bloated Rat floats workers inflate in front of a ratty business when they go on strike. Are my ovaries on strike, or just getting started? I blame the baby smell and footed baby clothes for their family-planning witchery.
What should a reasonable person consider when attempting to answer this? That is, assuming we have the good fortune to want to get pregnant and also be able to? Or the good sense to fold our question like a prayer book after service, put it on the shelf, and carry on with the already-blessed-enough-minus-the-debt-but-hey life we have?
There Isn't Endless Time, Biologically Speaking
"Many lines of evidence demonstrate that fertility falls as we age, but this decline becomes especially steep as women enter their mid-to-late 30s. By the age of 40, the chances of conceiving naturally drop to five percent per month. Male fertility is optimal before 40, but with age, medical issues such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and high blood pressure may arise." — Dr. John Rapisarda, a reproductive endocrinologist with Fertility Centers of Illinois
"My wife is 35, and our second kid is 22 months behind our first. For her, she not only wanted the kids to be close in age, but also was considering the increased risk with having a baby after 35. While plenty of people have healthy babies up through early forties, it becomes harder and more stressful to become pregnant, and the opportunity for complications increases." — Zack, 37, dad of two on the West Coast
If you consider it carefully, selfishly or not, reproduction is a pretty demented project anytime, because it’s such a big gamble. We're constantly being fed statistics on rates of pregnancy loss, genetic abnormalities, and birth complications and encouraged to worry. Your offspring may be given their fighting chance at embodiment, but not without strings attached, strings anchored in your heart chambers. I studied Greek Mythology, and think Greeks were not so wrong to fable it that the Fates have squeaky scissors poised in one hand, and congratulatory champagne lifted in the other.
Babies are also expensive, financially and emotionally. The ATM counsels, honey, you do know it’s finite in here, right? And I am like, yes, and additionally caring this much about tiny people drains my spiritual ATM.
Also, labor itself is crazy, risky. Though, yes, birth is natural and physiologic and often proceeds with calm beauty, it can also be a bloody, exhausting ruckus. Many a partner after labor has declared, Well, we are never doing THAT again. (Who’s the we?). But memory becomes scrambled by the captivating cuteness that babies rely on to enchant you. Once you heave the decisive sigh of relief that your family planning is done, you have to make sure your ovaries and behavior in bed agree.
Let’s talk about what’s even more demented than considering your next baby while the lochia is still moving downriver: having and raising children, period. It’s a nut-bucket from first breath to graduation cap. Getting out the door, never my favorite thing, becomes something for which I’d like a standing ovation from, like, anyone. I greet the random folks in my lobby with disproportionate zeal as I emerge from the apartment with two dressed children, and they probably think I’m just a chipper person. I’m going to add another unhelpful tiny person with even tinier buttons to this picture?
Asking Yourself Why Bring A Child Into The World?
“I hear people talk to me sometimes about, how could I bring a child into this world? and I think that's a really interesting form of existential anxiety. I also hear about it when parents are talking about whether to have a second or third child — that's a form of existential [angst].” — Dr. Alexandra Sacks, author of What No One Tells You: A Guide To Your Emotions From Pregnancy To Motherhood
My husband and I had our first child in our mid-30s. About two years after he was born, the realization hit home that we weren't spring chickens anymore. We wanted to give our child the gift of a sibling, so they both can lean on each other in tough times and celebrate life with each other during the amazing times. — Brandy, 39, mom of two living in China
But the biggest issue is: the planet needs none of us, not a single one more. It’s bursting like an amniotic sac at go time. So to have even an only child is to obey the dictates of your biology and desire while giving Mutha Earth the finger. In fact, the planet is pretty much chewing its hangnails waiting for us to make our most catastrophic mistake yet. Our Carbon Fetish is oppressing us all with its hot breath. Soon it’ll be just you and me, babe the sun says to the land.
I investigate my body to figure out where that goddamn inconvenient wanting begins: in the pelvis, and then it spreads up behind the heart like the hood on a snake. When I hold my baby, I imbibe her, and her odor affects my sensibilities. I sniff baby foot; I feel baby hand on my hand, baby eyes pierce my eyes with their weird open-ended knowing. How could I not want more, of this, forever and ever?
When would it end? Desire is not built to extinguish itself. Would I run out of steam and this animal urge, after having, say, 15 more children? Would I look at number 16 and think, “Nope, never again, buddy!” Would the longing end with the realization of the havoc all those pregnancies and labors had wreaked on my own organism? That I had, in essence, donated my body to science?
"My boys are 3.5 years apart and are now ages 10 and 7. The second child was much easier. We just knew what we were doing at that point, I felt like a much more competent, in-control mother, and I’m so very glad we had two kids." — Amanda, 41 years old.
Then there is the gestational unknown. Not a single minute passed in either pregnancy when I wasn't aware of the way biology could go terribly, horribly wrong. It wasn't so much anxiety or paranoia (though they came to visit every once in a while with their family-sized suitcases) as it was acceptance of a reality — nature makes all kinds of things, and processes go haywire.
Anyone who is pregnant and claims not to participate in the horrific, personalized wonderment at how nature doesn't much care about your particular organism is in glorious denial. I am creation’s whim; my baby is creation’s whim. The next baby, any other baby, would be the same, and might be the one Fortune stabbed in the eye with its conductor’s wand.
Meanwhile, my organs are aging, and my husband is even closer to the Grand Finish Line. Could we even get pregnant again? Who are we kidding? Wasn’t the oldest woman to give birth in her fifties? How did her sixties go running after a toddler? What about stretching too thin the resources for the kids we already have? When you look into your baby’s face, you are looking into infinity but also the end.
I lie down with the baby to nurse her to sleep in my armpit, a dreadful and perfect place to sleep. Sniff her waxen hair. We’ll see what the ovaries think. “We could leave it to chance,” my husband says, unhelpfully, letting me know indirectly he can’t handle the finality either. Feeling like idiots, but the best kind of idiots, we’ll fall asleep too, and hope for a prophecy of proper family size to appear in our dreams. Or maybe just any container the right size to hold our longings and heartaches in check.