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Going For Three Kids: How Do You Know If It’s Right?

Erin Zammett Ruddy

I want to preface this post by saying what a lucky problem this is to have. Please know I am very sensitive to my friends and fellow cancer patients and survivors and anyone else out there who has ever had trouble conceiving. I realize what a good dilemma this is, but it is a dilemma all the same and you guys know I like to be honest and share what’s really going on in my life and this is what I’ve been struggling with. Some of you may have been suspecting this post would be coming. Alex is five, Nora is three (I'm 35)—if we’re gonna do it, now’s the time to try for the third, right? Deep down I think we always thought we’d have three—even after I was diagnosed with cancer. Or that we’d like to, anyway, or even that we should (I’m one of three, three feels like a nice round number, Nick definitely wanted more than two, etc). But after having Nora and after the past few years of having such a rich and full and happy life (with two kids who keep us extremely challenged), we backed away from that. Three didn’t have to be a given anymore. We looked at the kids we had not just as a number but as the people they are and will be. Amazing people, we hope, who will keep us on our toes on a daily basis no doubt. We began to consider the alternative because we were feeling very content. (And on other days, very overwhelmed.) Both feelings made us think that maybe we had arrived at the right dynamic for our family, maybe we had enough—not that we were settling in any way, but that we were truly, genuinely fulfilled. Of course those feelings didn’t go unchallenged because, well, I’m a head case and so is Nick, and making big life decisions like this is hard. And so the “should we or shouldn’t we?” debates slowly crept back into the forefront.

I have friends who are confidently “one and done” as they call it. And others who always knew they wanted two and that was it. I am extremely jealous of these people. I have other friends who have three little ones and want more. (I am not jealous of these people at all.) And I have friends who may have wanted more if circumstances were different but have stuck with the number they have and feel very blessed. And then there’s me and Nick. We are wafflers when it comes to this. Big time. For the past year and a half, we’ve been talking ourselves in circles. We definitely don’t want a third, of course we’re gonna have a third, we should have one I guess, why would we have a third? Why wouldn’t we? We definitely don’t want a third. Or do we? It’s been exhausting. Making matters worse: Nick and I are completely on the same page. On the same sentence even. No one is pushing the other, no one is making a case to the other, no one is taking it off the table. When one of us starts getting pro, the other brings up some cons. And vice versa. Which means we get nowhere. Here's what I'm talking about:

Sometimes we obsess about the bad stuff that could happen and whether we’d be tempting fate: I’m 35 now (officially Advanced Maternal Age), I have cancer, we have two healthy kids already, more kids = more things to worry about, pregnancy is so long and so scary, what if something goes wrong, shouldn’t we just count our blessings? Are we pushing our already-amazing luck?

Sometimes we think about the positive reasons to call it a day with two: The parenting is one on one, and one of us can easily(ish) handle the two of them on our own when need be, the kids are starting to really get along, we’ll have more money, more time, more freedom, one less mouth to feed, one less brain to educate, we can travel much more (or at least much more easily), we’ll have more time for us. For our work, for our personal life. And our life is great now with two kids, isn't it? Our marriage is healthy and strong (which is very important to us and definitely factors into this decision)….

But sometimes we talk about how fun a third kid would be: Can you imagine having Alex and Nora as a big brother and sister? Amazing! I wonder what he or she would look like? I wonder what we’d have? Remember how sweet they are before they learn to whine and connive and talk back? Remember tummy time and taking walks and all that unconditional love? And all the awesome firsts? Would we get a new stroller? I think we should. What about an Ergo?! Those look cool.

And sometimes I think of the reasons I don’t want to be pregnant: Do I want to stop drinking wine for nine months? No more sushi or cold cuts or buckets of coffee? Giving birth is really painful. Will I be nauseas this time? Could we still have our Christmas party (yes, this has come up), monthly cancer blood tests are the worst, and then there’s the worry, lots of worry, and the doctor appointments and the…pushing.

Then sometimes I think of the reasons I’d want to be pregnant: I love going off my Gleevec*, I could use a break from wine, I have been lucky and have always felt great pregnant, maybe it would be more of the same, nine months to take extra good care of myself sounds like just what the doctor ordered, being pregnant is pretty awesome, I don’t have to suck in my stomach for a while, I can put off the sit ups, guilt-free TV watching, my hair will look shiny, etc... Oh and check out all these slightly ridiculous reasons I wrote last year for wanting a third (all still true).

And then we have the talks about the logistical tough stuff with having a third: The waking up to feed them (Nick and I are epic sleepers—every time I get up in the middle of the night to pee or something, I think holy $&^! I can’t imagine having to feed a baby right now), baby gates, the soft spots on their heads (eek!), choking hazards, childcare, fingers in sockets, baby food, food flinging, more laundy!!! Why would we do that to ourselves?

But then we think of the big-picture stuff and how great a third would be for our family: Our kids are the best, wouldn't another be awesome, too?! The kids would love a baby brother or sister, we’re good parents, why not spread the wealth? We love big families! We’ll have another kid to take care of us when we’re older, another baby to name (yes, we get excited thinking about this), Nora will have a sister or Alex will have a brother (the whole “but you have one of each, why not stop there”? argument has never held water for me—having a same sex sibling rocks!), the kids will have a bigger safety net of family to lean on when they’re older, we’ll increase our odds of one of them becoming the next Mark Zuckerberg and buying us the yacht we always wanted, etc….

It goes on and on from here. There is just no way out of this thinking for us. We can come up with a million reasons to support not having a third and a million more to support going for it. Unlike some of my friends, I don’t have an itching, burning desire for another baby and I don’t feel like someone's missing (the way I did before we had Nora). And I don’t think my family would in someway be incomplete. Or maybe I do. Because when I think about having a third, more and more lately, I get giddy at the thought. I’m nervous, sure, but I’m excited more than that. About all of it. The trying, the peeing on the stick, the news, sharing the news, the pregnancy, the birth, and, last and most important, the baby. The toddler. The kid. The family. Bottom line: We spend a lot of time discussing how great our life could be if we didn’t complicate it with another child. Not easy—no number of kids is easy—but somehow in our “let’s-not-have-any-more” fantasies we’re this well-oiled, well-dressed, well-off family of four machine who lives some fabulous, organized, stress-free life. But that’s so not the case (just ask my mom about Nora’s never-brushed hair).

Do you remember the scene from When Harry Met Sally when Sally is telling Harry about how she and her boyfriend used to think they had it all figured out because they weren’t going to get married and have kids and make things all complicated and icky….

“Joe and I used to talk about it and we’d say we were so lucky to have this wonderful relationship, we can have sex on the kitchen floor and not worry about the kids walking in; we can fly off to Rome on a moments notice…”

Then she says how she had her friend’s daughter one day and they were playing “I Spy” and the little girl saw a mom and dad with kids and said, “I spy a family” and it made Sally cry…

“And I went home and I said, ‘The thing is, Joe, we never do fly off to Rome on a moments notice.’”

“And that kitchen floor?” asks Harry.

“Not once. It's this very cold, hard Mexican ceramic tile.”

Maybe it’s a stretch but that’s kind of how I feel about all of the “but life is great now why would we mess it up?” reasons for not wanting a third. Yes, travel would be easier with two kids than with three and we’d maybe have more disposable income for a while, but the thing is we’re not living some amazing jet-setting life where having one more kid would really interfere. Yes, five tickets to Paris are more expensive than four tickets but we're not going to Paris regardless (at least not with the kids!). It’s not like we’re loaded and having a third would make us poor. It’s not like we’re wild party animals and having a third would mean we’d be homebound. And we sure as $%!@ aren't having sex on the kitchen floor. The life we are living right now is full and rich and messy and loud and happy and crazy and sometimes overwhelming and perfectly suited for another kid. And as complicated as things can get and as not-easy and nerve-wracking as adding another life to our home would be, it’s starting to feel more and more like the answer we’ve been looking for all along.

Stay tuned. In the meantime, I would love to hear how you arrived at the number of kids you have. Or plan to have. Any tips for making the decision? And regrets? Let’s discuss.

Oh, and an exciting announcement! As of this week, I will be posting less on “Mom Without a Filter” (probably once a week) and you will see some other great voices joining the blog. So look out for that! And please come visit me at my brand-new website complete with my very own blog. It’s still a work in progress but it’s open for business so come check me out. And thanks for being the most loyal readers any blogger could ask for. 

* My oncologist is 100% onboard for me having a third. My cancer is still in deep, deep remission and I wouldn't need to worry. Though of course we all would....

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