I grew up in a family of three children. I think because of that, I've always wanted three children myself. I have no other reasoning behind it because it feels right to me. After I had my second, I knew she wasn’t the last, because I didn’t mourn her last firsts (last nursing session, last first time standing, last first steps, etc). I like to think that when I feel like my family is complete, then I'll know I'm done.
But it got me thinking- how do you know when you’re done? We can hope that we “just know” but what if it’s not that simple? Do we follow our gut feelings, or do we leave it up to fate? Do we create some sort of pros and cons list, or use spreadsheets to determine if there's enough in the budget to have another?
So many factors contribute to family size: money, time, sanity, being pregnant again, space in your home, etc. The average family size in the United States is actually shrinking; the average number of births is on the decline to the lowest level in the last 30 years. The total fertility rate which is the number of children a woman can expect to have in her lifetime has also dropped, from 2.1 to 1.76 births, falling between the guidelines required to keep the population stable.
Another major factor is the rising costs to raise a child, coupled with the insane costs of childcare. The average cost to raise a child until 17 is well over $200 000, which averages out to be about $14 000 a year. Childcare costs are sky-high, making it difficult for women to work and also be a mother of multiple children. The average family spends about 15 percent of their monthly income on childcare. A survey done by Care.com concluded that average weekly costs of care range from $190 to $600 for one child (this range is dependent on a daycare center or having a nanny).
Many women are putting off pregnancy until later in their careers when they can afford a child. This includes paying for their care and taking a reasonable amount of unpaid maternity leave. Having children later in life means that a woman's less apt to have more than a few, as her biological clock starts ticking and costs keep rising. Other women simply cannot afford to work and pay for childcare for multiple children.
I personally have a pros and cons list. Most days my cons outweigh the pros, but I still yearn for another baby. Then there are the days (usually under a full moon) where my children are insane enough to make me publicly declare, “And this is why there are only two of you!!” I hated being pregnant and my body despised it. But both my kids are constantly asking for a sibling, and I know what great big siblings they'd be. I had relatively easy newborns and love the connection you have with your baby- especially in those first few months. I also loved breastfeeding, too. But do I really want to do it all over again?
Right now, we're currently a household with no diapers, which- as any mom would admit- puts a major stress on the finances. Both of my children are in preschool and one will be in Kindergarten next year, so childcare will greatly decrease with one in public school. So do I really want to deal with yet another four-plus years of childcare costs?
Another factor in my decision is wondering if I'll suffer from extreme postpartum anxiety again. I had a really rough couple of years after my daughter was born, and I feel like I'm just getting on the other side of it. But what if it comes back after I had another baby? What if it’s worse? But then there's another side to that coin; I wasn't prepared for the crippling anxiety with my second child, but I would be if I had a third. Since then, I've trained as a postpartum doula and read countless books on how to prepare and cope with postpartum anxiety. This is one of the most complicated reasons why I struggle with the decision to have another baby because I'm terrified of the toll it may have on my mental health.
There is no formula to know how big your family should be. You can plan it all out, but then sometimes life doesn’t go according to said plan. Sometimes you want a baby so badly and you struggle to get pregnant; other times you find out you’re pregnant after being laid off from your job (me). Sometimes you spend your life believing that you want multiple children- but after the first one, you realize that all you need is one. Sometimes you'll have a surprise pregnancy when you’re not trying despite just building a new house and wanting to have a mellow few months before trying for another baby (also me).
In my heart, my family is meant to be a family of five. But the growing struggle of being a two-income family, two high-stress jobs household with rising daycare costs and debt accrued from building a house, I've begun second-guessing my desire for three kids. I hate that my desire for a larger family is dictated by these constructs. If I want another, I should make that decision based on things I can control. It shouldn't come down to an unfriendly nation for mothers, a country lacking support and paid leave time, and childcare costs that are insane. But that’s a post for another day now.