My father likes to say that I've got the million dollar family: one boy, one girl. And yes, we are a very happy foursome. My husband and I have decided to not have any more children (and yes, we're totally done; my husband got a vasectomy). It wasn't a particularly difficult decision for us; after two second trimester miscarriages, I was so over trying to conceive and feeling like a basket case during pregnancy. Plus, both my husband and I grew up with only one sibling of the opposite sex: I have a brother and he has a sister. Our new, little family seemed not only complete with just one girl and one boy, but completely recognizable. Still, it has been said that there are seven stages of grieving—and I've found that deciding to stop adding to your family similarly comes with its own range of emotions. If you and your partner have decided that it's time to close up shop, here are some very likely feelings you might experience:
1. Joy. Yes! You are officially out of the baby phase! No more bottles, burp cloths, or binkies! You won't ever have to feel morning sickness or labor pains again. No more ugly maternity clothes or nursing bras. No more worrying about eating soft cheeses or contracting Zika. No more midnight feedings. These are all reasons to celebrate. But for me, what really got me excited was knowing I could purge all the baby stuff in my attic, closets, and basement. Swings, gym mats, cribs, cradles, maternity jeans, onesies, infant carriers were all passed on. Getting out from under the mountain of gear associated with having two babies felt absolutely liberating.
2. Sadness. No! You are officially out of the baby phase! No more bottles, burp cloths, or binkies! You won't ever feel a baby move inside of you again. No more feeling special by just being you. (As a pregnant woman, I was regularly offered seats on the subway and people walking past me on the street would often wish me well.) No more middle of the night snuggles, fuzzy heads to nuzzle, no more falling in love with a new incredible being that you created. These are all reasons for your heart to ache and for you to have a good cry.
3. Nostalgia. While I was packing up all the baby stuff to give away, I couldn't help but reminisce over some of the items. I made a pile of favorite clothes and toys—like the outfit that I brought my babies home from the hospital in and my daughter's first plush doll—and laundered them and stored them in acid free tissue in a box. As my kids move from toddlers and preschoolers into grade school, I find myself feeling bittersweet while packing up other items that mark milestones: toddler cutlery, sippy cups, and clunky plastic toys that were once favorites now sit dusty on the shelf. And holding someone else's baby? As one mom-friend of mine admits, she gets a little sentimental every time she snuggles a newborn—just not enough to make her have another child.
4. Curiosity. Every once in a while, I'll see a mother with a baby—especially if she has two older children in tow—and wonder what my life and family would be like if we had a third child. What would that child's personality would be like? How would my marriage and my relationships with my kids be impacted? I wonder if the mother of three (or four or more) is happy with her decision, if they have more fun at family gatherings, and even if her stretch marks are worse than mine.
5. Relief. Knowing that my family is complete brings a tremendous amount of satisfaction. I feel like I can plan for the future—family vacations, college savings, personal career goals—because I'm confident that I won't be pregnant or tied down to the sporadic schedule of an infant. Even better, I feel relief in knowing that I'm in control of my body—if I gain weight now, it's not the baby's fault!—and my wardrobe. For years, I had regular and maternity clothes in multiple sizes that I hung on to "just in case." I can now work toward my goal of keeping just one size (OK, maybe two) in my closet. And while it might seem shallow, another friend of mine who is also finished having children said recently, "I'm thrilled every time I walk by a maternity clothing store that I will never be pregnant again!"
6. Gratitude. During the baby-making years, my focus was always on what I didn't have or what I wanted—namely a baby. I spent a lot of time fantasizing about having a family and what my kids would be like. During late nights when I felt like I was at the end of my rope, I would repeat to myself my go-to parenting mantra: "Everything is a phase; one day it won't be like this." And now it's not. I feel like I'm finally where I want to be. I can stop imagining what the future holds because I'm in it. I'm able to be present and in the moment with both of my children. I spend more time counting my blessings—for two healthy wonderful children—and less time wondering about how life might be better with just one more baby.
7. Acceptance. One friend of mine couldn't decide if they wanted a fourth, so she and her husband took a vote every day for two weeks. And every day, they both voted no. "It was sad, but I was so exhausted with 2 ½-year-old twins and a 5-year-old, that I recovered quickly," she says. As for me, I don't doubt my decision to have two and be through. I like to think about our little foursome out in the world, growing together as a family. I accept my and my husband's decision—and feel like we are beyond lucky to have been able to make the choice at all.