My wife and I were at church when a mother we’d just met told us to have more children. This must have been 2010, and we’d just moved to Minnesota. We had two kids, and our youngest wasn’t even one yet.
Granted, the mother didn’t say it that bluntly. We’d been introducing ourselves, and talking about our family, when Mel said that we had one child in addition to the one she was holding. He was in the church nursery, when the woman said something to the tune of, “You can’t just stop at two. You know that, right?” She went on about how she had five kids, and each one was a blessing, and how it gets easier once you have more. It was everything I could do to not put my hands over her blabbering mouth.
Naturally, I didn’t.
We were cordial. We told her thanks for the advice. We didn’t tell her to stick it, or to mind her own business, or to keep her feelings about how bigger is better to herself. But you know what we also didn’t do? We didn’t tell her the truth. We didn’t tell her that with our first child, Mel came down with a dangerous case of toxemia that required an emergency C-section. We didn’t mention that less than a month before that conversation, our youngest, Norah, that little baby my wife was holding as we spoke, had been on oxygen. She was born with under-developed lungs, and spent just over a week in the NICU. I was actually 25 pounds lighter from all the stress. The medical bills were still coming in, and each time my daughter cried I felt incredibly grateful because she couldn’t cry when she was born.
It was around this time that Mel and I decided not to have more children because both of us knew that we simply didn’t have the emotional stamina for it. Just the thought of having another child brought back memories of almost losing the last one, and the very scary experience of emergency delivery with our first.
In that moment, the last thing either of us needed was some stranger jabbering on about how we needed to pump out more babies, how it was basically our obligation to do so. Yes, Mel and I had discussed having more than two children. But that was before we’d just put up the fight of our lives to keep the second one in the world. And to be honest, no one (especially a total stranger) needed to concern themselves with our decision to have another child, or to comment on how many children we already had, because that’s our personal business.
I’d say our childbirth situation was somewhere in the middle when it comes to family planning. Some couples can’t afford to have more children. Some have strong feelings about over-population. Some couples have gone through the horrible pain of infertility, and bringing one child into the world was a huge victory. Some couples don’t want to have children at all, and that’s fine. That’s their choice. Every family size is “right” for different reasons, and frankly bigger isn’t always better.
Yes, Mel and I eventually did choose to have another child. But it took us five years to feel ready to make that decision. And do you know what happened? Our little caboose came out just right. Aspen was a healthy baby. No concerns. But Mel had an incredibly painful recovery. Pockets of air got in her body after her Cesarean, something neither of us had ever heard of. I can still remember her up in the night, for several nights, crying because of the pain in her shoulders and chest. Her recovery was twice as long and as hard as her previous two, and that was it. We decided three was enough. Mel’s body had been cut open three times, and three times a baby had been pulled out, and frankly, she’d gone through enough, so I got a vasectomy.
Neither of us felt any regret.
Two months after having our third, another stranger — this time a mother at the park — asked how many children we had and insisted that we needed to have “just one” more. She didn’t think about our journey, or why we made the decision to stop at three, she just let it out of her mouth. I had a father at work tell me something similar. I’ve had family members tell us to keep going, as if the decision to have more children was there’s to make, not ours. As if it was our job to keep procreating to keep other people happy.
That line of questioning (and suggesting) gets old fast.
Now that our youngest is almost five, and Mel and I are easing into our late-30s, outsiders don’t bring up having more children as much. And you know what, I’m grateful for that. But the reality is, it never really should have come up in the first place because family size, having children, all of it, is a very private matter. The simple act of bringing a child into this world is a complicated decision, with many factors. It can be a huge challenge for some. It can be life threatening to both the mother and the baby. In fact, whatever the reason is, it’s a decision that needs to be made by the couple, not an outsider.
So unless someone says, “Hey, I’m thinking of having more children. Would you please advise me on the matter,” keep your comments on family size to yourself.