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'I've Got Baby Fever!'

Dear Catherine,

I have no idea how anyone decides how many babies to have, especially in the USA where we have no maternity leave, no paternity leave and prohibitively expensive child care. With that said, we're thinking about having another baby. If you tell me French people (who have all these options) only have one or two children, tops, I might reconsider a third.

Please advise.

Signed,

Baby Fever?

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Dear BF,

Don’t look to the French for this one; it’s too painful. But now that you’ve brought it up, I’ll have to be straight with you. When French couples decide to go for the third, fourth and even fifth child, they do so with oodles of support from seemingly everywhere. In addition to the highly touted French maternity leave and enviable day care options, French people receive monthly checks from the government for each kid they pop out. Also, France is a smaller country where people tend to stay put more than we do here. So on top of the governmental support, many young couples have nearby familial support as well. And then there’s my personal favorite anecdote: After having a baby, French mothers receive free physical therapy to tighten not only their tummies but also any vaginal muscles that may have been overextended during childbirth.

It’s upsetting, I know. Maybe, if enough of us are aware of a better way, we’ll get together and improve things here.

For now, let’s move on to reality. Having grown up with 12 siblings, it’s not without credentials that I say that I love big families, and I completely understand your desire to expand your tribe. As a mother of two, however, I also must admit that I trip out on my parents' feat on a regular basis. How in the hell did they do it? I can’t figure it out, and I was there.

Before you reenter a land of Huggies and stretch pants, you must decide, given everything, what you really want.

I don’t subscribe to the "every sperm is sacred" ethos, so, like you, I have very consciously designed the size of my family. Also like you, there’s a part of me that would love to have a third baby. According to my husband, it’s a go, provided that “our fortunes change and we can hire a fleet of nannies.”

Sigh…

There is no easy answer to your question. Without strong societal and governmental support, we American parents must carefully consider what a big, or even medium-size, brood will do to us. Whenever I start showing symptoms of baby fever, my husband reminds me of how difficult it was for us to manage our babies in New York City. Although I have piles of siblings (some with their own kids of prime babysitting age), they all live on the other side of the country. It doesn’t take long to sober me up. I’m not sure I can return to those levels of stress and exhaustion so high they made me feel—and look—subhuman. This, by the way, is even before I call to mind the financial implications of another human on my watch—one who will grow teeth, want a cell phone and eventually (I hope) go to college.

Now that our daughters are 7 and 9 years old, everything is getting easier. I’ve recently rediscovered travel. Nice living room chairs. Regular sleep! I don’t think I can go back.

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Before you reenter a land of Huggies and stretch pants, you must decide, given everything, what you really want. Maybe you have that fleet of nannies or 12 siblings who live nearby. Maybe, even if you don’t, this isn’t a deal breaker for you. My best advice is to think it out thoroughly—and ignore the French on this one.

Bonne chance,

Catherine

P.S. I am writing from a Brooklyn café right now, and just seated at the table next to mine is a French family. The father and the two young sons are tres well-dressed, as is the PREGNANT mother. Is someone intentionally messing with me, here?

Have a French (or any nationality) parenting question for Catherine? Email her at mommecs@bermanbraun.com.

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