I don’t know how many times I’ve heard this question.
Sometimes it comes from well-meaning friends.
Other times it comes from absolute strangers.
After thinking about it for some time, I’ve realized that my problem with this question isn’t that it’s personal (it is) or that it’s controversial (it is) or that it’s triggering (it is).
My issue with this question is that it assumes we humans are actually in charge.
And the older I get, and the more I learn about the human reproductive system, the more I realize that we’re fooling ourselves when we pretend that we’re in charge.
To the families who struggle with infertility and unrealized dreams, I apologize right now if this post triggers heartache or longing or loss. My intention isn’t to make it make light of your situation.
I’m writing so that you know that you aren’t alone.
I’m writing to remind you that you’re part of something bigger.
I’m writing to hopefully educate and remind those who innocently ask the question we all dread for different reasons….
“How many children do you want?”
To the parents, grandparents, friends and especially those strangers who have ever asked anyone that question, listen up.
Maybe you think it’s okay to ask because the person already has a child. But let me tell you, just because they have a child doesn’t mean you know the full story of their fertility.
I know moms who were on birth control and still conceived, and I know others who have struggled for years with unexplained infertility.
And each pregnancy is different. Just because one was easy, doesn’t mean subsequent pregnancies will be easy. It does no good to mention “baby fever” around a mother whose story you don’t know.
My Own Story
I realize that it’s not my place to tell anyone else’s story, so I’ll tell you my own.
It took us a year of trying to get pregnant with our first child. And our second child was a pleasant, effortless surprise about 20 months after the first. Both pregnancies were healthy, but I struggled afterward with hormones, emotions, sleep-deprivation, and depression.
Now, on the other side of all that, I feel that my family is complete. I love babies, but I no longer have the longing deep down that I had when I was childless. I am familiar with the longing and I know how badly it hurts, but now it is satisfied.
Now when I look at my kids’ baby photos, I think they are super cute, but I certainly don’t want to make them small again. It was a hard time for me, and I’m in a much better place mentally now.
So how do you know when your family is complete? I have no idea, but someone wisely told me “You’ll just know when you know.”
I know that I always dreamed of having a large family, but it’s okay to let go of that expectation of myself. Sometimes reality isn’t the same as what we dreamed when we were young and had no context.
Being done doesn’t make me less of a parent and it doesn’t make me a failure.
It also isn’t completely up to me. I believe it’s ultimately up to God.
Let Go of Guilt, Shame, Fear
I’ve said in the past that I will never let myself make a decision out of fear. But now I think guilt and shame also apply.
I want to make all my life decisions proactively, not in reaction to fear, guilt, or shame.
I want to make decisions that will drive me closer to God and closer to the vision I have for my family.
At one point, I imagined myself with a large family, so that is where feelings of shame come into play. I’m sad that my dream has changed. I’m upset that I was “wrong” about what I wanted.
But dreams are allowed to change.
I wrestled through feelings of selfishness that I don’t want to go through postpartum depression again.
But I arrived at the conclusion that self-care isn’t selfish. And if I don’t take care of myself, I can’t take care of others.
It isn’t selfish to be well for the family that I already have. If I’m depressed and depleted, I’m not really there for anyone.
It isn’t selfish to want one kid.
It isn’t selfish to want ten kids.
I now believe selfishness has nothing to do with it.
Realize We’re Not in Control
I believe no matter what form of birth control or fertility treatment you’re on, God is the one who ultimately makes life happen.
How we humans fool ourselves into thinking we’ve got it down to a science!
So while I’m not trying for another child, I realize it isn’t entirely up to me and I’m content with that reality.
Does this mean I need to hold onto all my baby clothes, toys, and furniture?
These things are getting zero use sitting in my basement.
I can pass them on to people who can for sure use them now, as opposed to waiting for my maybe-I’m-not-sure-someday-future.
And if a surprise does happen, I’m open to hand-me-downs, I’m I’m sure we’d be fine.
It’s helpful to think of possessions as fluid and shared, and remember that we’re part of something larger than just ourselves.
I believe God gives us seasons where we can bless others, and seasons where others are able to bless us. It definitely keeps me humble and relying on Him for everything.
Let Go of the “Ideal Family Size”
The bottom line is that there’s no perfect size for your family to be.
Put shame in it’s rightful place.
Realize that you can’t please everyone. Depending on who you ask, it’s selfish to have kids, and it’s selfish to not have kids.
You have to let go of trying to please others – especially because it’s none of their business. At the end of the day, it’s your family, not theirs.
A small family doesn’t equal failure as a parent. It’s fine to have only one child. If that’s what God gives you, you shouldn’t have to defend your decision to anyone else.
A large family is also great if that’s what God blesses you with. Have a kind but firm answer in your back pocket for strangers who feel the need to comment on your “unusual” family size. You may have a van-full, but you also have a heart-full…okay maybe that’s cheesy, but sometimes cheesy is better than the alternative!
I know this is a sensitive topic. I know because I’ve shed my own share of tears over this topic. Let’s be kind and not judge or assume things about couples without children or about families with lots of kids. Until we know their whole story, we should assume to know nothing. Things often aren’t what they appear on the outside.
And maybe your family isn’t yet the size you desire it to be. If that’s the case, then I pray this verse over you:
Take delight in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.
I held onto this verse before I had children, and I still thank the Lord that he blessed me with my precious family. A family that is one-of-a-kind and special and quirky and just for me.
Embrace the Many Faces of Parenting
Finally, something encouraging and freeing that God revealed to me is that there is more than one kind of parent.
Maybe I’m called to have two biological kids and countless other “unofficial” kids as well.
I can parent and nurture so many children in so many different ways, just through opening up my home and my life.
I strive to have a safe space for young and old to gather and enter into community together. That’s the beauty of the family of God – not all brothers and sisters are blood relatives.
Our community is so much bigger and more vibrant and colorful than that.
I pray that I can mother not only my own children, but many others as well. I pray that it never ends, but continues throughout the course my life’s seasons – as a mentor, tutor, and friend.
This is the life I feel God is calling me to. And I’m so excited for the future and for my family.
How do you feel when someone asks you about “baby fever” or having children? Do you have a go-to response when strangers are nosy or insensitive? What vision for your family are you most excited about right now? On the flip side, have you ever been that nosy person? I know I have… How can we better support one another in all the different faces of mothering?
Photography by Dakota Corbin