Is having a third child a good idea?

Thanks to Oakland mom and non-profit executive Chantal Laurie Below for this guest post. We met through our shared babysitter a few years ago. When she sent me this post and I was so excited about it, I wrote on Facebook that I love when people send us an excellent post just because they have something to say and need a place to say it. Some readers thought I was being sarcastic. I was not. I’m truly happy to share your writing. You know, as long as it’s pretty good.

I’m 70% sure having a third child is a good idea. And I’m seven months pregnant. With my third kid.

My husband’s also 70% sure, but 30% uncertainty doesn’t send him into a tailspin. It appeals to his, “We’ll figure it out. What’s the Niner’s score?” mentality that tempers my over-thinking and drives me batty.

With the first and second, it wasn’t a question. I wanted the joy and heartache of raising a little one and wanted our first to have a sibling. Getting pregnant wasn’t easy, but it was an unequivocal decision.

With the third, it felt different. I wanted some Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test with 25 questions to reveal my “type” and tell me what to do:

  • “You value fun, adventure and challenge and you’ve got more love to give. Go for it.”
  • “Your age, need for order, concern over finances, and investment in your career say two is plenty.”

Without a Magic 8 ball, we did what any responsible, highly-educated adults do: played it fast and loose and left it up to some determined sperm to make the decision for us.

I’m still 30% unsure it’s a good idea.

Having a third seems impractical. After that additional shoelace is tied and snack is packed, it’ll take 20 extra minutes to get out of the house at any given time. We’ll be perpetually late to everything. And, we live in the San Francisco Bay Area which is prohibitively expensive; I’m dubious we can provide for three kids the way we want.

It also seems excessive. Are we the “Duggar Family of the West” as we challenge the prevailing ideology of our peer group: two and through? We’ve got two healthy kids and the quaint set up of a boy and a girl, why tempt fate by relying on my “advanced maternal age” eggs?

A third delays our dreams. Aspirations of traveling abroad in the near future get stifled when imagining a newborn addition. Nap times cramp the style of a hike to Machu Picchu or a Habitat For Humanity trip to Honduras. And starting the clock again from the beginning means paying for more years of childcare and pre-school, real money that’s never channeled towards that kitchen re-model.

There’s the identity piece. A third seems to imply I’m more “mom” than “professional.” I imagine getting so swallowed up in permission slips and breast milk that I’ll forget how to code switch from the language of “sweet pea” to “what’s the dial-in for the conference line?” And, I fear colleagues will predict that I’ll temper any semblance of ambition I can muster up when not sleep deprived. Do I have the wherewithal to resist succumbing to subtle ”˜opt-out’ expectations?

Will I recognize myself or my husband after a third? My son and daughter unapologetically transformed me from a C to an A cup. Will a third indent my boobs into my chest cavity? With the additional laundry to fold and whining to endure, will I be constantly on the emotional brink? Given the complexity of orchestrating the lives of three, I envision rarely seeing my husband over the next 15 years except to high five him while I take two to soccer and he takes one to a birthday party. Can our marriage withstand the responsibility of another kid?

Then, there’s 70% of me that’s sure.

When I look at family pictures (the two where everyone’s vaguely staring at the camera), I wonder if I’m in that Back to the Future scene when people start slowly disappearing from the photo. It’s like there’s meant to be another kid showing up in that picture, on my lap, bringing more joy and chaos.

When I’m out in public, I look for families of five. I feel initial relief when I see they’ve left the house fully clothed and seemingly bathed, and then I feel envy. I want the chance to create a romanticized, rowdy, Thanksgiving dinner table where my kids talk over each other and recollect traumatizing family memories with laughter and a hint of gratitude.

I also have this hopeful vision that I can be a mother of three and an ambitious professional. I respect women in my field who leapt (or maybe fell) into the messiness of three and seemingly thrived in their careers. They reassure me that I won’t descend into some Gymboree, Frozen abyss when my husband and I are outnumbered. “I’ve got this,” I convince myself as I elbow my way onto their elusive team.

And I realize that while my career matters to me, the “abyss” which I judgingly reference is where I claim tremendous joy. I love a good Music Together class and take pride in those baseball cupcakes I baked and iced for my son’s second birthday. I belt out Let It Go and revel in the chance to explain, to my four year old, what the lyrics mean as I build her feminist identity. Being involved in the meaningful and mundane gives me purpose.

And I want to multiply the fun and love. When my kids crack each other up at the dinner table for no reason, I want a third to share in the delight. When we initiate a spontaneous family dance party to the Jackson 5, I want another one to show off their moves. And when my son grabs my cheeks and shouts, “I love you, Mama,” I’m ready to procreate until the end of time.

In my darkest moments, I want a third because I fear losing a child. In an irrational way, a third feels like an insurance policy. It’s another layer of protection over my heart. If the unimaginable happens, I’ll have two remaining kids to fill the house with enough noise and love to possibly make life bearable.

The reasons for the 70% seem less rational. They’re more emotion and gut and, to me, sound simultaneously compelling and irresponsible.

That’s why I cringe when asked, “Was it planned?” It seems I’m being asked, “Is it wanted?” Confusingly, it was sort of planned and of course wanted. And, when asked, “Are you excited?” I respond, “I think so.”

These nuanced answers feel lacking when referencing my unborn kid. But, they’re honest. In addition to anticipatory joy I also have anxiety and apprehension. I want to feel those concerns without thinking I’m a terrible mother. And, I want reassurance that when my child arrives, I’ll know that having a third might only be 70% a good idea, it’s 100% worth it.

Thanks, Chantal, for sharing this piece with us.

Related: Should I have a baby? and Should I have a second child?

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