Done Like Dinner

Posted on Aug 13, 2010 in Featured, Parenting | 4 comments

If you spend any amount of time online in places where people talk about pregnancy and parenting, eventually you run across the conversation where someone asks “Are you done having kids?” “How did you know you were done?” or some variation of that.

In the real world, people ask “When are you having the next one?” and “Are you planning to have any more?” Oddly enough, these often come from near strangers in awkward social situations. This is particularly bizarre considering that the answers tend to be complicated.

This is the thing: both situations address the same issue, but the online versions seem to acknowledge that there is an emotional component (some way of feeling done) whereas the real life one acts as though it were only a matter of logistics, not of heart. Yet, either way, the answers are far from easy.

The decision to have children at all, or add more children to your family involves more than just finances. Not just can we afford it, but do we have the resources (time and energy and support)? There’s the practical, the part addressed by the idea of planning for children. But what about the emotional aspects?

The idea of being done is emotionally tricky. It’s not like there’s a meat thermometer device that we can use to check if we are done. It includes our ideas about sibling relationships and what’s the right number of siblings. This includes how we might feel about only children. It includes how we might feel about having either fewer or more children than the culturally acceptable two. It probably includes some of our past experience: how many siblings did we have and how did that affect us. It includes our relationship and experience with the children we already have and with our partner.

There’s also this rather nebulous idea underlying the concept of done-ness that at some point you just know. The myth is that as the last baby is placed on your chest, you look round the room at your family and feel complete, perfect, done. Some even talk about feeling like someone was always missing in their family before the last baby was conceived. This is like the ultimate goal when thinking about or discussing being done. It seems everyone secretly hopes they will get that unmistakable feeling and be ready to move on.

The alternative is to be stuck with puppy syndrome which means that you might get addicted to the whole cycle of life that presents you with a newborn in all it’s soft, floppy, sleepy, sweet smelling glory. Every time your youngest gets to the point of walking and talking, you find yourself staring wistfully at the pregnant lady at the grocery store and yearning to hold a fresh baby again. You worry that no matter how many children you have, you’ll always miss having a newborn. You’ll never feel satisfied.

It seems to me that while women seem more prone to puppy syndrome than men, it can still affect both sexes. Not so for the slightly more complex idea of being done childbearing. For women, the childbearing years are a particularly special time: the magic of pregnancy, the triumph and/or trauma of childbirth, and the challenges and comforts of nursing. These can be deeply rewarding and enriching times in the life of a mother. For some, it might be hard to let go of this phase of life, even when they feel they have enough children. Those who had difficult or upsetting birth experiences or disappointing breastfeeding experiences may yearn to do it one more time as a means to heal and gain closure. It can be hard to separate those feelings from the feeling that you actually want another child.

Besides, moving beyond the childbearing years is also a way of growing older. Even as you appreciate your new level of freedom when your youngest heads to Kindergarten, it can be hard to admit that the baby years are behind you. It puts you on the other side. It’s the first step towards middle age. Letting go of your fertility and with it your youth isn’t easy. (Certainly I’ve heard of men undergoing a similar kind of struggle as they go to the appointment for their vasectomy).

I imagine that for those who really truly feel done having children, in addition to the knowing that their family is complete, they must have a sense of being deeply fulfilled and nourished by their time spent childbearing. Though they may occasionally feel nostalgic for that phase of life or for individual moments sitting quietly in the rocking chair nursing a newborn in the moonlight while the world sleeps, I imagine they feel such a deep well of blessings inside that moving on is ok, is right and is not fraught with yearning. They are done.

These days a variety of factors can mean that you may not plan any more children, even though you do not feel done. Perhaps your partner and you do not agree on what it means to be done. Perhaps you have little support in your life. Perhaps finances or your age or fertility make the decision for you. You know how to answer the question at parties. You know you won’t be having any more kids. But how do you answer the question of being done?

This question has plagued me since my daughter was born two years ago. I always wanted three kids but for many reasons, it felt like two might make more sense for us. I was overcome with that yearning and I wondered how I would live with it for the rest of my days. I wondered if time would lessen it.

My reaction to our recent unplanned third pregnancy answered all of these questions for me. The baby isn’t even here yet and I know I am done.  I am ready (once the nausea subsides) to enjoy this pregnancy as my last pregnancy, to experience and cherish this last trip in my childbearing years and then to lovingly close the door and move on.

How about you? Are you done?

4 Comments

  1. Great post, Alison. I have been wrestling with this question now that our daughter has turned 1. SO MANY people keep asking when we’re going to have another… and it’s true that I probably don’t have many years left of fertility (I am in my 30s, after all). But I’m not entirely convinced that I want another, even though my husband does. I keep waiting for that feeling, like you said. Oh well. As your experience shows so beautifully, what is meant to happen, will happen.

  2. I am not done. My husband is done. And this? This is not much fun.
    .-= Amber´s last blog ..Guest Post- On Minimizing =-.
    Twitter: AmberStrocel

  3. We’re done. My husband has three kids in all (we have two together), so I joke that I have two and a half children. Now that my youngest is three I am getting that yearning for another baby, but since hubby got a vasectomy obviously that isn’t going to happen. And I don’t regret making that decision, but my baby-making biology doesn’t always agree.
    Twitter: bfmom

  4. Im not sure if im “done” bc i enjoy having kids its to the point if i find a good guy to have another baby with i already have two kids and isnt with the dad but if i find the one i def would love to have more kids
    Sara Marshall´s last post ..A List of Foods that Affect Oral Health

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