As I write this blog post, I can begin by tell you that I don’t have an easy answer to this question. It’s one that I have struggled with, and searched for, on a daily basis for a long time.
Family Planning 101
The decision to have children seems to me very black and white for a lot of people. Most people have very strong feelings about this. Either they always knew they wanted a family or they always knew they never wanted children. For me though, I honestly think looking back it was a bit of a grey zone.
When I was younger, I always thought I would end up married and with kids. It just seemed like the obvious ‘happy ending’ we’re all taught is the acceptable norm we should hope to achieve. I also knew that if I did end up having a family, I wanted a big one. You know the chaos of the family on Home alone? The big family that comes home for Christmas in the Family Stone? That’s what I wanted.
As I passed through my twenties I was a bit of a serial monogamist. I had a handful of kind, smart, fun and caring boyfriends. But to be honest, deep down I never really saw myself marrying or starting a family with any one of them.
I graduated from medical school at the age of 30 and moved west to start my residency. If you’ve read some of my earlier posts you’ll know the details of this journey. I’ll give you the Coles notes version here. As I got into my thirties and broke up with yet another kind, smart, fun and caring boyfriend that just wasn’t the right fit for me, I began thinking that having a family wasn’t in the cards for me.
I wasn’t sad about this. I had just begin to think it wasn’t going to happen and the universe had set out a different path for me. I was going to become an OBGYN. My plan was to do my fellowship in Perinataology (high risk pregnancies) then travel overseas and do fistula repair surgeries; help women safely bring their babies into the world and help heal their bodies when nature didn’t always follow the easiest course.
How it all Began….
Then Hagen, my husband, and I started to date and everything changed. And not so long after we moved in together, I became unexpectedly pregnant with our first child. To be honest, I was beyond thrilled. I was 34 at the time and was starting to worry that maybe, if we did decide that we wanted a family, my body wouldn’t be up for the challenge. But I was sure wrong.
Henry arrived on his due date, after three long days of prodromal labour and a three hour second stage. We were so in love and I knew I wanted more. I remember saying to someone literally hours after he was born I’d do it all again. Right then. The love is so worth it.
So it turns out we’re not so good at family planning…..
We knew we wanted more children, and wanted them RELATIVELY close together. We thought we’d start ‘trying’ when Henry was about a year old. Though in those dark, sleep deprived early days of the fourth trimester when postpartum anxiety overcame me I would have told you I could never go through it again.
Then when Henry was four months old, when I was exclusively breastfeeding, when my periods had not yet returned and when we were using condoms VERY reliably, I woke up feeling nauseous. That’s weird, I thought. And for some random reason I decided to do a pregnancy test. You can imaging my surprise/delight/horror when it was positive.
I had a four month old baby. I had JUST gotten my anxiety under control. And now I’m pregnant? You have got to be kidding me. But we knew we wanted more children, and at this point I was 35 so it still felt like a blessing.
Nine months later we welcomed darling Johann into the world. For any of you out there who have more than one child, you’ll know what I mean when I say the second baby is SO much easier. You’re more relaxed, and as a result they’re more relaxed. Yes, it was chaotic with a 14 month old and a newborn but we embraced our community, we asked for help and accepted any that came our way.
When Johann was just under two years old, and Henry just shy of three and a half, I started feeling the urge for another baby. Hagen wanted a big family too, but it had been a chaotic few years. We went back and forth for a while trying to decide if a third was right for us. Finally we settled on this: we’d give it 6 months. I was 38 years old, turning 39 that coming November. If I got pregnant in the next 6 months, it was meant to be. If not, we’d call our family complete.
Low and behold, despite my ‘advanced maternal age’ of 38 I became pregnant just three months after we started trying and after a relatively easy and healthy pregnancy we welcomed our darling Wilhelm into the world just three days after my 39th birthday.
Our boys are now 5 and 1/2, 4 and 1/2 and 21 months. And I have to say, honestly and truthfully, they bring more joy to both Hagen and I daily than I could have ever imagined. And it just gets better. As they get older, they’re becoming friends. They’re funny. They’re smart. They’re adventurous. They bring out the best in both Hagen and I.
But they’re not babies….and despite what common sense, and my medical knowledge tells me, my heart wants another! I went from not being much of a baby person to LOVING babies. As a maternity physician I see newborns all the time, heck I even deliver babies. You’d think I’d get my fill that way! But truth be told, I’d love another squishy newborn of my own. I’d love to breastfeed another newborn, and swaddle it, and rock it and help nurture it into another incredible Kluge baby.
Let’s get one thing straight…
And let’s just get one thing straight. If we were to have another child it would NOT be because we were ‘trying for a girl’. Would I love a girl? Of course I would. Do I wish I had a girl? No way.
Because I love each and every one of my children beyond words. They are three of the coolest, sweetest, funnest and unique people I could have ever imagined creating. They boys come with me for pedicures, they love snuggling, reading books, hot tubbing, mountain biking, Motorhead and Taylor Swift! If i had a girl, it means one of these incredible boys wouldn’t be in the world and that would be a true shame.
let’s get back to the point. Another baby.
I know that babies grow up, and it wouldn’t just be a baby but another child. And I’d love another child too. I love our kids. They’re all so different and incredible in their own way.
The common sense in me tells me I should be grateful with three uncomplicated pregnancies, relatively uncomplicated deliveries and three healthy and happy children.
The medical part of me worries about my advance maternal age, the increased risk of miscarriage, the increased risk of antepartum complications like high blood pressure, pre-eclapmsia, placenta previa. And then there are the risks of chromosomal abnormalities that we know increase with advancing maternal age.
Then there’s my body. I’m just now starting to feel like myself again after almost 5 straight years of pregnancy and breastfeeding. I’m a runner, finally getting back into distance trail running. I’ve started to travel more, and even a few times without kids!
And then there’s my career. I’ve started a practice, I’m involved in medical leadership, and truly love what I do. Do I really want to put all of that on hold?
So where does this leave me?
As you can probably tell, this post is not going to end with some practical strategies for you to help figure out when your family is complete, because I clearly don’t have the answers.
I guess I wanted to write this to share with you the struggles that I have regularly about my family size. Lots of my friends have known their families are complete from early on. And I’m happy for those people. I wasn’t one of them. It’s taken me a long time to come to terms with my decision.
Our family is complete. Would I love another newborn? Another adorable baby to snuggle, nurse and nurture from infancy to toddlerhood and beyond? Heck yes. But for us, we’ve decided that the medical risks associated with my age, the costs associated with another child, the fact that we’d DEFINITELY have to buy a bigger house, the fact that I’d have to put my career on hold, again, and that my body would need to take another year or longer to heal; all of this combined has led us to decide that our family is complete.
I’ve given away or sold our newborn items. As Wil outgrows his clothes, toys, and shoes they’re taken to consignment shops or handed down to friends. Sure, there’s a part of me that’s mourning the fourth child we won’t have, but the bigger part of me is focused on enjoying the beautiful three children we do have and making sure to savour ever last minute of Wil’s babyhood before I blink and he’s off to school.