It’s a difficult one. It’s so tempting to think ‘just one more’. I myself have always been at my most broody whenever I have my own adorable young babe in my arms and I have noticed that many other mothers are the same – desperate to be pregnant again even whilst they are in the throes of early motherhood. Often broodiness dissipates once we have a stroppy toddler on our hands.
Babies change, develop and grow so rapidly in that first year; time seems to speed up and flow faster. A human baby changes from being unable to hold its head up properly and only being able to suck and cry to crawling or even walking, feeding themselves solid food and maybe even speaking a few words by their first birthday. Twelve brief months, with no time to pause and reflect, to savour the journey. No wonder our hormones and tenderest emotions are left behind, struggling to catch up with our energetic toddler.
There are many good reasons to have another baby. It is wonderful to give your older child or children a sibling to play with, to learn with, to enable them to see the world through the eyes of another young human being. You may have lots of resources and be a great mother. You may have more love to give.
Not all reasons are equally good however. Having babies can be addictive. The excitement of doing a positive pregnancy test is such a buzz. Not to mention the glorious high of seeing your newborn for the first time. On a deeper level, serial baby-having can give us an excuse for not dealing with issues and problems. Mothering is so intense and all-consuming that there is precious little time to even clean our own teeth properly let alone pay attention to our soul wounds. Meanwhile, the promise of another new baby is seductive. The slate wiped clean, a chance to get it right this time; to experience the perfect, empowering birth and motherhood through rose tinted lenses, to make up for our less than perfect experience last time round… However, even if we have fifteen babies, there will always be a final one. Then finally we will have to deal with our own suppressed problems, a now gargantuan task with so many growing children to look after as well.
We have a finite amount of resources, financial and emotional. We are limited by the size of our houses and cars, the support we have from partners and extended family and by the needs of our older children. Mother love is an infinite resource and there is always more love to give to another child – the question is, will you be able to afford more swimming lessons or ever give them any one-to-one attention? Fact: the bigger your family, the more your attention is divided. I should know. I have three children and a grown-up step-son. I am very stretched trying to do the best for all of them as individuals. We should pay attention to the finite resources of our beautiful planet too. They won’t last forever and can’t cope with huge numbers of children.
Once we have come to the decision to stop, it really hurts. Knowing that we won’t ever be pregnant, give birth, breastfeed or snuggle a tiny baby again. You are now joining a group of older women who admire other mother’s babies in the supermarket. It happens so fast – one minute your beautiful baby is being heralded, the next you are on the other side of the aisle cooing over someone else’s baby. We cry whilst folding up precious vests and dungarees for the charity shop pile, knowing that our little one has out-grown them and won’t wear them ever again (saving some special items for our grandchildren or to stitch into a memory quilt does help ease the pain a little). Then there is the bitter-sweet nature of every milestone – sitting up, crawling, first teeth, walking, talking, first days at playgroup and school, learning to read and ride a bike, first adult teeth, first menstrual blood/puberty, first boyfriend/girlfriend, last day at school, leaving home. The list goes on and we sob ever harder as we watch ‘Toy Story 3’.
However, the moment you accept that your family is complete, you start the next part of your womanly journey – the path of the apprentice wise woman. This is such a great place to be, where we can review our own life and choices and start to mentor and empower women on the earlier spiral of womanhood. This is the time for a rite of passage, be this a private ceremony or a tattoo. You can start to reflect on your personal journey so far – the highs and the lows, what you would have done differently with retrospect or more support. You can learn to separate your experience from that of others and release them from your need to have them do as you did in order to validate your past choices. Breastfeeding didn’t work out for you? Forgive yourself, move on and then support other women to breastfeed. You experienced an amazing, empowering home birth? Sing it from the roof-tops and inspire others to birth from the heart and home (whilst being sensitive to those who didn’t get this experience). Menstruation was a source of shame for you as a girl? Then join the red tent zeitgeist and do your bit for your daughters and their friends.
Finishing your family is an opportunity to review your health on all levels – spiritual, emotional, mental and physical. Nobody consciously wants to pass their neuroses onto their children. This is the time to get some therapy, do a personal development course, join a women’s group, visit the dentist or learn to finally enjoy green leafy vegetables.
Become the wise woman you want to be. Start now. If you want to be a knitting, crocheting, stitching Granny one day then begin. Get some practice in and enjoy the fact that you have more time on your hands now your young ones need you a little less. Write a journal and record your memoirs. Dust off your maiden dreams – start painting again, form a band, plant a herb garden, plan a cat rescue centre, become a political activist, write a book, take up rock climbing. Don’t just live through your children. Enjoy watching them reach life’s milestones as you work towards reaching your own.