Are you done having kids? That’s a question you aren’t supposed to ask others (but oops … how many times did I do that?!? Not proud of it, but it’s true). But it’s also a question I’ve asked myself again and again and again.
Over the years, the answer varied from a firm yes to a willy-nilly I don’t know. I know I am not alone in this either. That’s why there are so many stories published on so many topics related to this — including one in The Atlantic earlier this year that looked at what number of kids make parents the happiest (spoiler: many say two kids; three is the next most popular).
I even saw a Facebook conversation last week about the optimal spacing of kids. (The answers varied widely. Two years was just right for my two kids.)
So I thought this essay might resonate with others.
When I decided to break into essay writing (well, break in again …), I mined my life for topics and ideas. One that was percolating in my mind was having kids. At the time, I was struggling with whether I really wanted to have more or not.
Because this topic makes me feel very vulnerable, I was nervous about pitching it — let alone having it out there in the world. What would people say? More importantly, what would my family say?
That usually signals to me that I’ve done a good job writing intimately. So I thought, for sure, this essay would be a sure-thing.
Even now, I’m nervous to share this essay at all. Before I do, let me clarify: Yes, I really am done.
The Tell-Tale Tick Tock: I Don’t Want Another Child … Or Do I?
Like a coming train, the methodical noise of my biological clock’s tick-tock had grown and grown to a bone-rattling roar that seemed to permeate my every thought.
Everyone seemed to be pregnant. My boss’s wife. Coworkers. High school friends. Old acquaintances. I’d been there, done that, and yet with each announcement, my inner monologue seemed to become a little louder.
Tick. Everyone’s having babies. Tock. Am I really done? Tick. What I wouldn’t give for some baby snuggles again. Tock. I think I want another.
Three years earlier, alone in the hot, stuffy attic at my old house that was about to be sold, I’d barely glanced at my maternity clothes as I tossed the box down the attic hatch and took it to Goodwill for donation. I was so sure that my years of childbearing were done, that I also went through all the old baby clothes, saving only a few times in a small, single box.
There was no use in hanging onto baby clothes when I wouldn’t be having any more.
But now, as a single but coupled woman with two kids and a partner with one, the idea waved like a banner — an open-ended question to which I couldn’t alone determine the answer.
Tick. I never imagined I would stop at two kids. Tock. I wanted four. Tick. Baby snuggles are wonderful. Tock. My kids would love another sibling.
Another scene, another number of years ago — maybe four or five. That morning in my gynecologist’s office I was sitting on the turquoise exam room bed. She, my long-time doctor, was sitting on the counter, just feet away. It had been a while since my last appointment — more than five years, actually. And I was there because my IUD needed to be removed — its duration was up. I was also there because I was feeling like I’d woken up from a haze and could finally see clearly what I needed as a person.
Taking care of myself was high on that list, and this was a measure taken in that direction. Considering the ‘what’s next’ question was also important. I felt like I’d been treading water for years, a feeling exasperated by a trauma that had upended our life.
With the IUD gone, the question of birth control came up. I admitted to contemplating another child. I couldn’t say why … just that the idea was there.
“Why would you want to have another?” my doctor asked incredulously. I had two good kids and two bad pregnancies. Still, the thought wiggled in my brain until I realized that having another baby was the opposite of taking care of myself.
Two months later, I gleefully went back on the pill. I didn’t want another child. Not then.
Tick. I have everything I need. Tock. Life is good as it is. Tick. I don’t need to risk complications. Tock. But I have more love to give.
The separation came a few months later. There was a move to a new state and a divorce too. In my new life, the one I felt engaged and connected to, the world was a brighter place.
When my daughter was born almost 10 years ago, I thought I was dying. A horrible reaction to the medications I was given left me detached and feeling like I was slipping away. In those moments, I was certain I was done with childbearing. That was reinforced with her infancy. She had hip dysplasia and was small for her age. She cried often, only wanted to be held by me and would have preferred near-constant breastfeeding. I loved her fiercely but didn’t want to have another infancy like that.
But mostly, I was terrified of giving birth again.
Knowing how hard that last pregnancy was and the one before it too, it seems ridiculous that I would even consider for a moment having another child.
Tick. You have to accept reality. Tock. Two perfect, good kids is enough. Tick. Don’t tempt fate. Tock. It’s ok to change your dream.
Things have changed. I am in a better relationship with someone who supports me, even as my untraditional career grows more demanding. My life is in a good place.
Sometimes my heart aches with the feeling of an incomplete home and an empty womb with room to grow another child. There’s something about doing so with my significant other, a man whose capacity for kindness and caring makes me wish we’d met so much sooner.
I want to experience pregnancy with him, to feel the rolling and turning of our child in my belly, to give birth and name our child together. I want to raise a baby with this man, his warmth, love and joy enriching our child’s life as it has his own daughter’s and my kids as well. I want that little person we make together to bridge our lives and our families, binding us all forever. And I want to watch our son or daughter grow, developing interests and passions. I can imagine the baby giggles.
Tick. We love each other. Tock. Why not have one together? Tick. We have more love to give. Tock. Why not try?
But there’s still the reality of this. We don’t have space in either of our homes for a growing family. We’re both getting older too. In some medical textbook, an aspiring doctor is learning how a woman of my age is of “advanced maternal age.” And ultimately, there’s the elephant in the room: my body didn’t handle my previous pregnancies with aplomb. Why would this one be different?
Those are the things that give me pause. So does the fact that this isn’t my decision alone.
And yet, as I look at my kids and his daughter, I know we all would have space in our hearts for this little person. We’d find room in our home and schedules and lives. We’d raise that little person in a land of writing and books, sports and academics. They’d be a part of their community before they even reached the point where they could stand in their community. But only if we wanted to do it together.
Tick. We could do it. Tock. But we have to want to. Tick. This isn’t my decision alone. Tock. And it’s not as simple as it seems.
I pitched this essay at least six times between 2017 and this year. (It was probably eight times total with two less formal pitches included.) I was happy to receive several personalized responses in addition to a couple of form replies.
- “We appreciated the opportunity to read your work and found much to enjoy in this story of ambivalence about the end of childbearing. However, we are currently receiving more high-quality submissions for our … issue than we are able to publish, and we’re afraid we decided to pass on this. Thank you again for sharing your writing with us.”
- “Thank you for sending us ‘Am I Really Done Having Children?’. We’re going to pass on this story right now, but we encourage you to send other stories that inspire women on the journey through motherhood.”
- “Although I don’t find your essay right for our needs, I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to consider it.”
- “I’m afraid we aren’t publishing essays for the foreseeable future, though, so I can’t consider this work. However, I am looking for more real-life dramatic features and I see that you are a features editor at the Bangor Daily News, so if you ever come across a terrific true-life story you think could play in our magazine, I’m all ears.”
This essay is written in a different style than I usually write. It uses repetition to try to create a rhythm in it … I am not sure that was a successful device.
Many of the editors who rejected this sent me replies that showed they’d really read and considered it. Sometimes you get form rejections, but these were more than that — and I appreciated it.
As I went through my queries and rejections for this one, I also realized that I didn’t follow up on several pitches. Normally I do, so I am not sure what happened there. Maybe they just got lost in the shuffle?
Ultimately, it’s been several years since I wrote this so I decided — despite some interest in the rejections — that it wasn’t the essay I wanted to keep pitching.
Plus, I don’t feel like this anymore. Though I thought I would ultimately have four kids, my biological clock is no longer haunting me with this question. I am good with my two awesome kids.