Wednesday, May 11, 2016

FAQ: Should I Have a Third Baby?

One of my New Year's resolutions has been to get over the fact we can't have another baby and part of that process has been reflecting on how lucky we are to have three that we do, and how very much I love this life as a party of five. And then yesterday I got this email from a reader:

"First, I want to tell you that I absolutely love your blog. I have one too, and we have a number of similarities (started a million years ago, professional woman, obscenely cute kids :) ). I am, however, about a foot shorter than you and much less gifted at barre! There is something about your writing that I just love. It is so exuberant, glass-half-full, and brings out all of the happy things about life.

I wanted to ask how you decided to have a 3rd child, and whether there was any fear/ambivalence there. I am at a crossroads with a 2 year old and 4 year old. I am a very practical person and am having trouble deciding whether to go for #3. My heart wants it. My head feels like “ahhhh everything will be too crazy and I will never feel in control again”. My husband and I are both physicians; I work full time but fairly ‘regular’ hours (8:30 - 5 plus commute); he works more. We have an amazing nanny. I know we COULD do it, but I also know I will probably feel overwhelmed for quite some time. I also don’t loooove the baby stages, but everything after 2 I pretty much adore.

Was it a no-brainer for you? Or did you have any hesitation? To me the way you write about Cora it sounds like it has been maybe 2% stress and 98% joy — is that true? I found going from 1 kid to 2 kids much less of a big deal than 0 to 1. What did you think about 2 to 3?"

Well Shu, first of all, thank you! And second, I have been thinking quite a lot about this very post so thank you for giving me a reason to write it. Before we got pregnant with Cora, I would occasionally google "Should I have a third baby?". Obviously, this is an absurd thing to ask the interwebs. Your personal mix of wants, experiences, resources, children, etc. are far too unique for google to handle. But as I carefully picked my way through the results, mentally arguing with anonymous anyones who told me to stop at 2 and accepting as truth those who said to go for it, I found my answer anyway. And though everyone's circumstances were different from mine, I enjoyed the stories from those with three, reassuring me that having a third would not tip the family into madness and everything was going to be fine.


totally fine

And of course it has been so much more than that. Throughout today I would draft portions of this post in my head and I ended up crying every single time. Cora is the best thing decision we've ever made for our whole family. And since I'm now actively crying again (literally James just looked over at me and asked what's wrong), I will admit upfront that I can't give you a rational or unbiased answer. I am unabashedly pro-third-child. I understand that not everyone wants that many kids (or any at all!), and I would never try to convince anyone away from what they want or think is right for them. But if you are on the fence, if your heart is there but your brain is not, if you are truly asking me for my opinion, all I can say is DO IT. The rewards-- the glorious joyful laughter and love-filled chaos you bring to your house is so wonderful I can't believe we ever thought we didn't need it.


But, oh I had my doubts. We too were at a crossroads. There was plenty of fear. We'd had one easy baby and one baby who was so hard we both suffered from PTSD when we found out we were unintentionally pregnant with baby #2 and didn't talk about the fact we were pregnant- even to each other- for days while we processed going through all of that again. We loved having big kids. Landon and Claire were best friends. Claire was already potty trained. She was in a big girl bed! We'd given away ALL of our baby stuff when we moved to Fort Worth. We had a 3 bedroom house. James was unemployed. I'd just taken a significant pay cut. I didn't have a paid maternity leave. We were done with all the baby gear and schedules and hassles. We boldly left the house whenever we wanted without snacks, strollers, or diaper bags. I worried that having a third might interfere with Landon and Claire's tight relationship. It made my stomach hurt to think of being tired again, of getting up at 2 and 3 a.m., of not being in control of my own sleep schedule. I felt like James and I got a ton of time alone together and didn't want to lose any of it. I knew the world was built for groups of 4 and we love to travel and eat out and now we'd be an odd number that doesn't fit into anything. We were just FINALLY about to finish one kid's daycare career and get the $1,000/month raise when he started school in the fall. Our days were easy and calm and it made absolutely no sense to have another baby.


But. We both kept talking about it. We kept asking the other if they were sure we were done, as if we wanted the other to say "no, I'm not, let's go for it" I kept asking google to tell me my future. We constantly added the phrase "well, if we have another baby..." to all conversations about the future. Clearly, our heart was there. And quite frankly I don't think we ever got our heads totally on board. Having a third kid (or any kids) isn't a particularly rational thing to do. If we were being practical we would absolutely have stopped at 2. But, the heart. We wanted a big family. We're fairly isolated from mine and completely cut off from James's. We adore our little family life. We both simply wanted more- more for us, more for our kids, just more of all the things we love every day about having them.

And so we did the "let's toss out the birth control and 'just see'" thing. And after one month of not "just seeing" a positive pregnancy test I was 80% heartbroken and 20% feeling like we'd dodged a bullet, and I knew then I wanted that bullet. We got serious about the task at hand and two months later, I was pregnant and I was ELATED. Sure it didn't make sense, sure all the things I wrote above were still true, but we were having a BABY! None of that mattered anymore- it was happening, so let's focus on the positive stuff.


And oh my god, there is SO much positive. In all my "oh we don't want to go back the baby phase" musings, I didn't realize that we wouldn't be. We're still in the big kid phase. We still had a 6.5 and 3.5 year old who were super fun and funny and interactive. We still built our schedule around them and their interests and activities. We went on four vacations and eight road trips in Cora's first year. She went skiing at Keystone, hiking at Palo Duro Canyon, partying at a wedding in Austin, and sledding and hiking at Steamboat Springs. These were all planned because we have big kids and we LOVE traveling them. So we just piled Cora in the car too and it was great! We never would have taken vacations like that with one baby- it's a hassle and baby Landon wouldn't have gotten anything out of it, but big kid Landon and big kid Claire were the focus of the trip and tiny baby Cora was a smiley +1 who seemed to thoroughly enjoy being along for the ride. Her first year was truly one of the best of my whole life, in no small part because we were always out and about and just having so much fun with our crew. I never felt like we didn't do something just because we had a baby, and while Cora won't remember any of those trips, I have wonderful memories of her at each one.


Another thing I didn't understand until we had Cora was that having big kids gives you such a beautiful perspective on the process of childhood. I also did not love the baby phase, but in Cora's bad baby moments (she had acid reflux, and there was that period where she hated the car seat and all baby entertaniment devices with a fiery pasion), you had this implicit understanding of how temporary all those struggles are- and you had two big kids to entertain and distract you. (The same is true for the tough toddler ones.) Your whole world isn't your crying baby, and rather than having multiple children add to the stress of the moment, I found it divided it. And in the happy moments- and there were SO many happy moments- the hard won knowledge of how fast everything goes helped me to cherish the day-to-day in a way I hadn't yet mastered with Landon and Claire. I loved Cora's babyhood in a way I couldn't before and when I sigh over how big she's getting now, it comforts me to know with certainty that we squeezed all the joy out of those early days that we could.


In response to all my practical concerns: we still have 3 bedrooms; the big kids shared a room until 6 months ago and now the girls share. It works great- they love being roomies and it's only made them closer. Adding five more years of daycare kind of sucks, but it's what it is- I don't ever look at Cora and begrudge that check. We haven't had to deal with the table of five issue yet because she still sits in a high chair on the corner of our table for four. But again, the idea now that I would ever look at her and begrudge that extra potential wait time in a restaurant is absurd. Plus, we live in Fort Worth, so no one waits for tables at restaurants anyway. Personal resource-wise: time, attention, patience- I just haven't felt like having a third is a strain. The vast majority of the time the kids are playing in their pack and the number of them is irrelevant; more just means everyone is busy and has someone to play with. And when one of them is off- fussy, tired, upset, etc.- you just focus on that one, same as before.


I know that not everyone is the same, but we found going from 0 to 1 to be incredibly difficult. And not just because our first baby was difficult. Adjusting your life from being two fancy free adults (albeit fancy free adults who are in law school and investment banking) to having the responsibility of a baby 24/7 with no sleep, no breaks, and no control over our lives or sleep was just an extreme shock for both of us. It was really, really hard. Going from 1 to 2 was nothing. We'd made the adjustment- we are people with kids and our lives are ruled by nap schedules and early wake up calls, throwing another into that routine just wasn't a big deal. Adding Cora was even less of one. I can't think of one time I thought having three was harder than two because it just isn't. It helps that our kids are spread out- when Cora was a baby they were almost 7 and 4; they could do most things themselves and we were pretty established in our daily routine of a family with young children. To the extent I see challenges ahead, it's more when they're older when we have three competing schedules of events or practices or games, but I'm sure we'll figure that out when we get to it.


The last thing I'll add on this list of "what I didn't realize until we went for it" was how very much our third baby would bring to us. It has been extraordinary to watch our older two love their baby sister so much. Rather than burden them with another sibling to further divide James and my time and energy, they were given a gift of another playmate, another person to love, a person who would idolize and love them back FIERCELY. They are her idols and she screams and races across the room for hugs ("HUGS!!") every time they walk in the door after being away.


I missed Claire's hug, but you get the idea; this is every. single. day.


So to answer your original question, having a third baby was not a no brainer. I had concerns, worries, and a long list of reasons not to do it, But just the fact that I kept thinking about it-- that those reasons were never enough to put the question to rest in my mind, told me that we wanted another regardless of all the reasons not to. And for us, the sheer joy of having a baby in the house again- of watching my older kids love their new sibling, of them celebrating her every milestone like she's the first baby to every smile or take a step-- that has so vastly outshone anything she might be taking away. The time, money, and patience I worried about aren't reduced by a third- there's times any of those things are affected for sure, but she also GIVES. And James and I have more to give in return. The joy in seeing my crew of three laughing, playing, and running around the house and yard isn't something I can describe. I love that they're a pack. Love that they outnumber us. Love that they have each other and will continue to beyond the time they'll have James and me.


When I was in my indecisive phase I emailed the only friend I knew with three kids and asked her if we should have another. I felt silly as soon as I pressed send- her life is quite different from mine and what was she going to say? no, it's a terrible idea? But she responded with a short and perfect: "We can't imagine our life without our #3- by far the best decision we've made for our family." And that's what I've tried to explain through WAY too many words above- expanding our family has been wonderful for our whole family. It didn't take anything away from anyone, it just made everything more. And for what it's worth, I just asked James what he would say if someone asked him if they should have a third baby and he replied, "Of course." and went back to work. So, there's that version too.

Best of luck to you whatever you decide!!


20 comments:

  1. Just WOW. Thank you so much fro this post! That was the most amazing response I could have hoped for.

    I had the exact same feeling about 0-1 being incredibly tough and 1-2 being no big deal. SO many of the things you wrote about are what a) some of my gut feelings tell me and b) satisfy deep hopes and dreams that perhaps I didn’t even know I had!

    I truly appreciate you taking the time to write that! Now going to read it again :) THANK YOU!

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  2. I love the way you write about your kids and family and balancing that all with work. I'm pregnant with my first, and even though the first is sure to be insane upheaval your blog always makes me a little more excited about it every time I read a new post.

    We're thinking 3 kids now, but we'll see how things go - it could be a really naive thing to think with just a fetus so far haha. Looking around though, I've never met anybody who regretted having child number whatever-their-last-one-was, but I have met people who regretted not having one more, which seems to me like a positive endorsement for anybody on the fence about another one.

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  3. Wow. A conversation between 2 of the 3 blogs I like/relate to enough to still read! About a topic I can't stop thinking about, though it's a little early considering I have an almost-2-year-old and a 37 week bump. I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around this being our last baby, though all the practicalities (2 bedrooms in the city, absurdly expensive childcare/preschool and even regular school if we stay in the city, plus 2 very much full-time jobs, etc.) say it probably should be. THANK YOU for the great post! Bookmarking this for reading again in a few years and probably several times before then.

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  4. Your blog makes me so happy and optimistic. Oddly, you are one of the few voices "in my life" (on the internet or IRL) who seems to ENJOY life with kids! And now that I have a 6-month-old I GET it! I feel like I wish I had more people in real life to anti-complain to - who I could just scream to about how awesome this baby, this parenting thing is! And then I get to a post like this and realize at least someone else out there gets it :)
    Also - I sent this to my husband and if we end up with 3 kids - I will just blame you ;)

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  5. I completely agree! I am also a lawyer with three kids and I could not imagine not having our last baby. Also knowing she was our last baby really made that a wonderful time for us because we really savored (almost) every moment instead of being frustrated. Of course, things were overwhelming at times when they were younger (they are now 15, 7, and 5) but the absolute joy they bring to our lives vastly outweighs that. We also have always continued to travel, just adding one more to our pack. My husband is an only child, where as I had two siblings, and he said he always knew he wanted his kids to have siblings.

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  6. Wonderful post. BTW glad you are linking to your blog on FB now. I can tell you that my decision to have my third was similar. I just knew I wanted her deep down, knew she was missing, knew I wasn't done. I can't imagine not having my third. I split from my husband 10 months after she was born and even then, no regrets, not even then. As you have said, she's just an extra bundle of love that we all adore, we travel, we eat out, and she has adapted seamlessly into the family. At 6 months, she went to Disney World, I just toted her along with me on vacations and trips. She didn't slow us down at all. Yes, the extra years of childcare and preschool are expensive, but it doesn't really matter. It was 100% worth it to have her and I would never have wanted the extra money anyway - having E in our lives is far far more important.

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  7. this was just the sweetest:)

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  8. Amen. Our four children are mostly grown (as in graduated from college with their own house, almost graduated from college, but has a job lined up, and in college) and I can remember the agony of trying to decide on "one more". I have never, ever regretted our choices. It never felt as if the work multiplied; rather, the love just multiplied exponentially. The ONLY time I bemoaned that we had a lot of kids was when they were small, and thanks to a perfect planetary alignment, they ALL needed school shoes, tennis shoes and cleats/ballet slippers/whatever at the same time. (None of the hand-me-downs would fit.) We came home from shopping and I told my husband, "I just bought TWELVE pairs of shoes and none of them were for me!"

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  9. This was beautifully put. Thank you for once again writing about life with such joy and candor. We have three- though my second and third arrived 4 minutes apart. Going from 1 to 3 was abominable but I love it now. If you haven't shut the door, it means it is still open, which means walk on through.

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  10. This is a great post and I wholeheartedly agree that life without my third is totally unimaginable. But of course I doubt anyone ever looks at any of their children and thinks "man,I regret having that last one!" I have to chime in my experience that three has made our lives WAY MORE CHAOTIC. That doesn't seem to be the case for you and I'm totally amazed. While i don't ever regret having three and actually want another, there are multiple times in my day where the chaos is amost too much and I want to collapse into a pathetic pile of human puddle. It's hard almost every day, my three boys fight relentlessly, even when they are just being friendly. Maybe it's because all mine are boys or maybe it's because my second and third are closer together than yours. But I never regret one second and lust wistfully for a fourth!

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  11. Oh man. I only want two kids (I have an almost 2 year old son and hopefully we'll have another kid within the next 12 months or so) - this is the first time that I've really been able to see the appeal of having more than that! I worry that if we only have 2 kids and they end up disliking each other then they will have a lonely life, but I can only imagine putting my body through one more pregnancy. Plus my husband is a doctor and isn't yet a consultant, he's been studying or training for our entire relationship so I'm looking forward to him being finished and us having older kids so that we can (finally!) have some freedom!

    Again, this is such a beautiful post. Being a parent is such a wonderful experience!

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  12. When I met my husband he had a three year old. We had a baby not quite a year after getting married, so they are almost 5 years apart. The oldest lived with us the majority of the time, so we effectively had two full time kids. We were 95% sure we were done, we were done with baby stuff and sippy cups and on and on. I was told it would be virtually impossible to have another due to medical issues. And then one day, surprise! I was 11 weeks pregnant. I was pissed. I loved that baby but I was terrified of what it meant to us.

    That baby is 13 now. I adore him so hard. He did all those things she says Cora does. He's not perfect, and there are moments I could gladly murder him. But my three are close (even with their being almost 10 years between oldest and youngest) and he makes our lives complete and keeps us together.

    As others have said, no one can make that determination for you. I read a study that says three is the most stressful number of kids to have, and it had some very valid points. And some days I wanted to just sit and cry, but honestly, some days I wanted to do that when we just had two. Find what gives you the most satisfaction and peace.

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  13. We have four kids, almost 5 years apart (now they are 6, 4 and twin 20 month olds). The last two were our "grand finale." And they are THE BEST. Yes, we had to change cars. And we are buying a bigger house because we quickly outgrew ours. And we get comments all the time about how many kids we have. And we still travel and go places and have dates. And ... it's perfect. I love having 4 kids and I know 100% we are DONE.

    I also have a theory that everyone has one really tough transition in parenthood. For some people, 0-1 is tough. For some, 1-2 (that was me. Whoa, that was a tough transition for me.) and yet going from 2-4 was no big deal.

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  14. I very much enjoy your blog and your perspectives. I am also an attorney with three kids and love them to pieces. We struggled at each stage with should we add another and after each positive pregnancy test went through a "What have we done?!" phase. But we made the right decision for us and are reaping the rewards now. I always love to hear your perspectives on work life balance. Whenever I start getting down on not being the stay-at-home mom (too often, since that is an expectation in my area), I remember your post where you matter-of-factly commented that everyone in your family is happy and thriving in their world, so that's that. That has always resonated with me. Thank you for sharing.

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  15. We went for a third and got twins! So much work, but so fun. And now, I can't imagine it any other way.

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  16. I loved reading this perspective on having 3, especially from a fellow working mom. My husband was the driving force behind our 3rd, and he's now 9 month old and I am so, so glad he's here. I totally agree with pretty much every word of what you said - it's just so much more fun parenting now than it was with the first or second baby - probably because the first 2 are 6 and 4. I read back in my own blog at how I parented and what I thought when the first 2 were babies, and wow, if only I could have just chilled out! But I'm glad that I am now, and it is SO awesome to watch the older 2 interact with the baby. I just love it.

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  17. Love this. One thing I will add, is that going from 2 to 3 isn't much harder once your kids are a bit older (as yours were). I added my third when my (disabled) oldest child was three, and that WAS way harder than having just a 3-year-old and two-year-old. But you know what? When my kids were 8, 7 and 5 we added a fourth, and that was no big deal--at all. So much so that when the four kids were 11, 9, 8 and 3 we added a fifth. Our youngest is a delight. And big kids are transformative, because they shift the center of gravity in your family from small insane tyrants to (mostly) reasonable older children. Once you feel like your life no longer revolves around having the right color sippy and the favorite blankie and ensuring that nap schedules are sacrosanct, you find you can just bring the baby along from the ride and it actually works out much better!

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  18. I'm with CP - going from 2 to 3 was a bigger deal for us, in terms of making life harder. It's funny how we're all different - for me, going from 0 kids to 1 kid was by far the easiest transition. This is possibly because my first kid was the easiest baby - aside from never sleeping. (NOne of them slept more than 2 hours straight til 12 months old though, so I wouldn't know what a sleeping baby was like!) He didn't cry much, he was super chill, he ate just fine with no fussing. I'd wanted a kid for a while (I was 29 - not super old, but not terribly young) and adding him was bliss. 25 months later, #2 came along and he was a little sh--, I tell ya. I loved him then and I love him still but he whined constantly and my oldest was just 2 and it was hell. He also had zero fear and nearly killed himself multiple times, which made me crazy. So going from one to two was definitely the absolute worst.

    WE figured after that, adding a third when the big boys were 5.5 and 3.5 would be simple. And . . . it was surprisingly hard for us. Baby # 3 is a dream (he's now 2 - Claire and Cora and my two littlest boys are the same age, Landon's a year older than my oldest though). He's a jolly brute, takes care of himself in amusing ways, falls right in line with the big boys . . . but still. Having him started us right over again with the sleep issues and the diapers and whatnot, and it's been chaotic. I wouldn't change it, of course - if I had 17 kids I'd love each one of them, I'm sure - but I would say we've had a rough time. We are older than ya'll though - having a baby at 35 really slayed me in a way that having my first at 29 didn't. And he's huge - almost 40 pounds already - and I'm still lifting him in all kinds of awkward ways, which again is harder at 37 than it was in my early 30s.

    One thing I will say is I've savored this one in a special way. I was relaxed enough with him in his babyhood that I could really enjoy every second of his life. It's managing his needs - so disparate from his big brothers, still - that have made things hard. Anyway, just a different perspective. I'm also positive that in a couple of years, when he's out of diapers and naps, we will reach an equilibrium and it will have been worth the struggle. If your reader is on the fence, I'd say jump over it. You'll live through it and the extra kid won't ruin your life. The risk of being a little more poor and a little less well rested is not a huge one, and even if it's tough in those early days, I like to think of when they're adults and I have three all coming home for visits!

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  19. I came here via SHU. I love this post. Now I'm hooked on your blog. But small world... I just moved to Fort Worth! What are your favorite restaurants or things to do in the city? If you already have a post about this forgive me.

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  20. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on this topic. My husband and I have been having this conversation a lot recently. We have twin 17 month olds and I just feel like our family isn't yet complete (despite the fact that adding in another little one isn't the most practical idea with my job (also an attorney) and my husband's busy career). It's so great to hear what a wonderful addition your littlest has been to your whole family.

    Jacque (jaxbear.wordpress.com)

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