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Impossible Decisions: The Guilt of Not Wanting a Third Child

third child“Are you going to try for a third?”

My public response: “Well, we’re not sure yet.”

My inner voice: “Nope.”

Why not just be honest? Because I am guilty.

I have always had a particularly hard time with the what-ifs in life.

What if I had chosen a different college?

What if I had chosen a different career?

What if I had ordered the soup instead of the salad?

You get the idea.

And the guilt comes at me in all directions.

At the pediatrician’s office: “Oh, you make such adorable kids! You have to have another!”

At my doctor’s office: “Have more. I had four. It’s worth it.”

From family and friends: “I always regretted not having a third. Do it.”

From my husband: “More kids, more love.”

But I don’t want to.  

I knew immediately after having our first child that I wanted a second. By the time she turned one, I was ready. I was pregnant shortly after. I haven’t wanted a third child since. I have lived every day since my son’s birth saying to myself ,”Maybe today will be the day I change my mind.” That day has not yet come. 

If anything, my inclination to have a third child is decreasing as the days go on. Each day, our schedules get busier, the din in our house gets louder, my patience grows slimmer, and my desire to go back to work skyrockets. I can now see a glimmer of the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. The thought of starting from scratch at this point seems, frankly, horrifying.

The guilt hits me the hardest when I say to myself, “I cannot wait until they are both in school.” Whenever my mom comes over to watch them so I can work in peace. Whenever my husband takes them into the backyard and I can draw or write alone. Whenever I find myself hiding from my children so I can have just five minutes of silence.

But then I look at my kids and see how big they are and realize that I will never again hold a newborn of my own.

I have heard some people say, “You will know when your family is complete.” But I’m not that type of person. I will never be quite sure if my family is complete. I am just that indecisive. I have decision-maker’s remorse at virtually every turn, with even the most mundane decisions. So you can imagine my stress level over a monumental decision like this one.

I am working on living in the present and appreciating the moments of parenthood as they come.

My husband is always reminding me that our children are supposed to be growing. Their walking, talking, dancing, problem solving, and even yelling, are all natural parts of growing older. And we should be thrilled, albeit bittersweetly, that they are growing older into loving, unique, hardworking, happy, and independent people.

Despite all rational thought processes, I am still having trouble reconciling my gut and my guilt. The baby phase of my life is over. Is the best part of my life in the past? Why do I feel so ready to put this phase behind me if it is supposed to be the best time of my life? I must be making a mistake. Will I regret prioritizing my career and my personal dreams over having another child? Will I see my friends having babies and wish I was having one too? Will my husband forgive me for foisting this decision upon him? Will I one day feel like my “tribe” is incomplete and I have made a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad mistake?

I hope not. But the constant worry and guilt over the what-ifs will eat me alive if I let them.

And so I am trying to move on and look forward.

I am excited to see and learn the amazing things my children will do as they grow older, where my career will take me, the dreams I will fulfill, the places I will travel to, and the people I will meet. And I am excited to share these things with my family, my tribe, just the four of us.

Do you feel guilty that you don’t want any more children?

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