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How to Know When Your Family Is Complete

“Mama, do you have a baby in your belly?” my almost 3-year-old daughter asks.

“Nope,” I answer, shaking my head.

“Why not?” A handful of my friends are pregnant or have newborns, and my daughter has taken notice.

“Well, because we’re really happy with our family the way it is,” I say. “We love you and Max so much,” I add.

“Oh. Okay!” She smiles up at me.

My response to her is true; I’ve always imagined having two children, and our family feels hectic, but right.

Five and a half years ago, our first child, Max, was born. The adjustment to family life was tough for all of us. In those early months and years, I thought maybe one would be okay. Maybe one kid is enough.

But something nagged at me, and when I asked myself if our family felt complete, the answer was a solid no.

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Violet came along a few years later, a happy surprise. Though initially a struggle to adjust to being a family of four, it felt right. With a girl and a boy, our home feels symmetrical, balanced.

But last spring, on the cusp of turning 40, I felt a strange longing for another child. Maybe it was the milestone birthday, reminding me that my fertility was waning. Or the knowledge that Max would soon be starting Kindergarten. Or maybe it’s that after five years of in-the-trench parenting, life is starting to feel more manageable most days.

I found myself daydreaming about what another baby would look like. Would he have the bright blue eyes of his brother and sister? Would she be colicky? Or sweet and sleepy? Would I finally birth the dark-skinned, dark-eyed carbon copy I’d expected, only to be surprised with my beautiful blue-eyed, light-skinned babies?

Everything is a choice, a trade-off, a path taken or surpassed. There’s no right or wrong answers to most things.

Would a new baby fit into our mix, slipping right under the wing of our busy, overwhelmed family? Or would it feel five times, 10 times, 100 times harder? Would I have that much less patience, that much less attention for each of my loves?

For a few weeks, I pondered it. I wondered if what I was going through was biology — my aging eggs, etched with an ancient code of survival, wanting to recreate life. I talked to my husband about it, which slightly alarmed him. I talked to my therapist too, and after all that talking and thinking, I realized it didn’t make sense to start over.

Pregnancy and postpartum wore me ragged. All the bedrooms in our house were claimed. Life was full and good and exhausting. Slowly, like water wearing down a sharp stone, my husband and I reclaimed small pieces of our lives.

I had a good cry because admitting that I was done with the precious, overwhelming, sleep-puncturing, nipple-chafing baby stage caused me some grief.

Though I have the occasional doubts and musings, imaginings of a parallel life with three children instead of two, I feel mostly confident in our family’s decision.

When I ask myself now if our family feels complete, it absolutely does.

My husband feels the same way.

Everything is a choice, a trade-off, a path taken or surpassed. There’s no right or wrong answers to most things, and I’m glad to be done with the up-all-night, pulsing soft-spot, breastfeeding, car seat lugging days. And to be almost done with diapers.

How do you know when you’re done having children? For some the choice is made for us — age or other physical limitations prevent us from growing our families. For others, one spouse is certain they’re done, while the other feels differently. And though we don’t talk much about it, there are also many who find themselves unexpectedly pregnant, and they make a choice to proceed or not, regardless of the family they’d previously planned to have. Others look at it through the lens of sustainability: How many more people can our planet hold?

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For me, it’s partly a logical decision. Our resources are already tautly stretched — financially, physically, and in regards to attention and patience. But it’s also something less tangible, that feeling of completeness and fullness. This is our family — our family of four — and it just feels right.

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