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It's not just in your head. There really is a bumper crop of baby bumps
out there, from the famously fertile, like Heidi Klum, who, with her last child, flirted with her
fourth set of stretch marks in five years, to the infamous Nadya
"Octomom" Suleman, who bore eight babies at once
even though she already had six other kids at home that she could barely afford
to take care of.
In 2007 alone, American women birthed more than 4.3 million babies—the
highest number ever. More than a quarter of those were to women having their
third or fourth child, according to the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention. And despite the infertility freak-out the entire country seems to
be currently engaged in, only a small number of these babies—perhaps
100,000—resulted from medical interventions such as in vitro fertilization,
says Jamie Grifo, M.D., Ph.D., director of the division of reproductive endocrinology
at the NYU School of Medicine.
That doesn't mean that we're transforming into a nation of Duggars (the
Arkansas family with 19 kids) and Novogratzes (the New York City clan of seven kids who are the focus of Bravo reality show "9 by Design")—the average number of children per
American family is still hovering right around two.
Still, certain mothers, like 31-year-old Meagan Francis, who is raising
her flock of five in Michigan, have big broods because that's what they're used
to. "I grew up in a relatively large family and always loved having lots
of people around," she says. "So it's natural that I'd try to
re-create that experience with my own family."
But it's not always quite so simple, psychologists say. Some women may
like that pregnancy feeling a little too much, often driven to rapidly
reproduce out of insecurity, a craving for attention or feelings of
abandonment by their own parents.
Having babies isn't addictive in the way that alcohol and narcotics can
be. But bumpaholics feel compelled to procreate for many of the same reasons
that substance abusers turn to booze or drugs.
"Women who are obsessed with being pregnant are literally filling
an emptiness inside of them, just as alcoholics and drug addicts use substances
to fill a psychological void," says Beverly Hills psychiatrist Carole
Lieberman, M.D. Every one of us at some point encounters this void, adds New
York family therapist Bonnie Eaker Weil, Ph.D., author of Financial Infidelity. "You want to have a purpose in this
world. You want to feel less lonely."
For some women, babies fill that gap perfectly. Infants are dependent
creatures. They can give their mothers a clear identity; they can also become
handy social buffers. At a party or on the playground, a woman struggling with
feelings of social anxiety or self-consciousness can hide behind the adorable
infant in her arms. Any pressure to be cute or charming or funny disappears—
your baby has that covered. "Bumpaholics breed to blot out their feelings
of insecurity," Weil says.
Boston psychiatrist and Fox News consultant Keith Ablow, M.D., says
some women seem to view having more children as an alternative to addressing
their own personal problems. "Bearing another child can sometimes provide
a substitute for deciding on a career path, making a marriage work or even
wrestling with questions of self-worth," Ablow says.
And the baby fix can become a cycle. When an infant becomes a more
independent toddler, "the mom may feel abandoned and act quickly to fill
the void again with a new baby who will rely upon her and her partner and
define their lives," Lieberman says.
Procreating isn't just a psychological balm; it also feeds genuine
physical cravings. According to Helen Fisher, Ph.D., a professor of
anthropology at Rutgers University, humans developed a set of three related
brain systems that are intended to push them toward parenthood: sex drive,
hunger for the romantic love of one partner and a desire for the calmness and
security of attachment.
Mother Nature prods us by making sex and its aftermath feel amazing.
Oxytocin, the so-called "cuddle" hormone that promotes bonding,
floods women's bodies during intercourse, pregnancy, childbirth and
breastfeeding. "[The pregnancy feeling] is like a love drug," Weil
says. "A baby-love drug."
Then there's the constant attention you garner from others when you're
bursting with child. Bumpaholic or not, it can be pretty great. Barb Pomeroy,
42, of Longmont, Colo., is a mother of six girls. She admits that she
reveled in the questions and comments her pregnancies elicited from family,
friends and even complete strangers. She also loved the compliments people fed
her about how good she looked when she was pregnant with her daughters. Even
though she's not planning to have any more children, she misses the heightened
interest and confidence pregnancy often brings. "There's this feeling of
being special when you're pregnant," she says. "I feel like I become
ordinary again when I'm not expecting."
It's not hard to understand why: People smile at you, throw you baby
showers, buy you lots of gifts. And the rounder your belly gets, the more space
you take up in the world, and the more people take notice of you. In many
respects, you become impossible to ignore.
Spouses and partners dote on you, gladly delivering soup at 10 a.m. or
antacids at 11 p.m. "My husband constantly rubbed and coddled me, and I
ate it all up," says Liz Bustamante, a 39-year-old financial advisor from
Forest Hills, N.Y., who has one child and is currently planning for the
next. "And for the first time in my life, instead of feeling insecure
about my body, I wanted to run around naked! I'd never felt sexier."
Magazines conduct celebrity-bump watches, and nude maternity portraits
are becoming de rigueur for celebs and civilians alike. Pregnancy lets every
woman be a star in her own world, and the rest of us are all too happy to shine
the spotlight. A pregnant woman is exciting because the child she's carrying
represents "that tie to the future," says Holly Donahue Singh, a Ph.D. candidate in anthropology at the University of Virginia who teaches a class
called Anthropology and Reproduction: Fertility and the Future.
The belly-rubbing high hits the pregnant woman as well as the people
who surround her. The expectant mother gets an oxytocin blast and rubs her
belly as a way of bonding. Admirers who rub her belly get a hormone rush, too.
"As social creatures, our brains have evolved to make positive social
behaviors feel good. Touch causes the release of oxytocin, and this causes the
release of dopamine in reward regions of the brain," says Paul J. Zak,
director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies at Claremont Graduate
Given all the psychological, physical and social rewards associated
with pregnancy, it's no surprise that so many women like it. But plenty of
couples stop at one or two children, despite the fundamental drive to
reproduce. This is because we can use our higher brain functions to keep those
instincts in check, reminding ourselves that children cost money—about $950 a
month until they're 18—and require an extraordinary amount of time and energy.
This is precisely why the bump-loving Bustamante says she'll stop at
two. Much as she loved her pregnant body and adores being a mom, she wants to
allow for some financial flexibility—childcare, ballet lessons, summer camp and college tuition add up. Having sufficient funds isn't a deal-breaker for
everyone, though. Nan Mooney, a 39-year-old single mom, is living with her
parents in their Seattle home because she doesn't make enough money to support
herself and her son. Still, she desperately wants more kids. Her friends and
family call her crazy, she says, but "I knew enough people growing up who
had plenty of money who were not necessarily loved and not necessarily happy. I
don't think it's an essential ingredient to raising well-adjusted
Figuring out the right number of kids to have is a personal decision,
to be sure. And not all women with lots of children are bumpaholics. But an important
question for pregnancy-craving mothers to ask themselves is why they want more
children, Weil says. Are you having them because you don't want to deal with
your husband? Or so you don't have to go back to work? Or because you love the
attention? Nadya Suleman, for one, is blunt about the fact that she got
pregnant to fulfill an emotional need. As she reportedly told one journalist,
"I just longed for certain attachments with another person that I really
But psychologists say there are far better ways of making meaningful
connections. In order to have a healthy relationship, married moms need to
spend quality time alone with their husbands—whether it's taking a vacation
without the baby or just going out to dinner together once a week and leaving
the kids with a sitter. "Women who focus on their children to the
exclusion of everything else inevitably face an emptiness when their kids grow
up and become more independent," Weil says.
If you do find yourself feeling a void as your bundle of joy becomes a
toddler, "that's a good sign that it's time to look in the mirror and
figure out what's going on with you," says Ann Pleshette Murphy, author of
The Seven Stages of Motherhood: Loving
Your Life Without Losing Your Mind. "Invest in yourself. Though it may
never be as satisfying as what we get from taking care of our kids, it's
important to feel proud of something you do outside of child-rearing so that
you don't think of yourself as 'only a mom.'"
"Me time" can include big things—like going back to work or
starting your own business from home—or small, daily experiences that enrich
your life, such as heading to the gym or joining your girlfriends for dinner
and cocktails. It's only when you have a balanced life that you can be sure the
inner call for a new addition to your family should be answered.