Thursday, February 9, 2012

Getting used to having kids

Welcome to the first Family Size Blog Carnival!

This post was written for inclusion in the Family Size Blog Carnival hosted by Kerry at City Kids Homeschooling and Patti at Jazzy Mama. Today our participants share their decisions on family size and whether or not to grow their families. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

When Sam and I married at 22, we said, "Probably one kid, maybe two, in three to five years."

Honeymoon self-portrait

Three years passed in a flash. "Ha ha ha," we laughed at the notion of having kids yet, "we're still newlyweds."

One of my favoritest pictures of us, in our usual habit of enjoying children's museums sans children. Clearly we were not mature enough to reproduce.

At five years, we were moving across country and starting new adventures. "Not yet," we said, "too uprooted."

Moving crates.

At six years, we wanted to start, finally, but we were in financial turmoil, starting a new business, trying to keep our heads above water. We could consign ourselves to two meals of Ramen a day, but did we really want to bring a child into this uncertain life?

So we tried out our niece instead.

At seven years, we felt confident enough to try anyway. And we failed. I met my thirtieth birthday still bleeding from the miscarriage, uncertain when expanding our family would truly begin.

I call this my album cover photo.

The next year we had Mikko, and he blew our world apart. Thank goodness for attachment parenting, because it made us feel reassured when the only thing we could do to keep him relatively calm during those early months was to hold him, nurse, and bounce bounce bounce — constantly.

Surprised they're letting us leave the hospital without a parenting license.

Even as he grew out of his earliest grumpiness, Sam and I were exhausted and worn — exhilarated, in love, yes, but also feeling that our lives had been decimated. Our plans of "probably one, maybe two" children veered sharply toward "one."

There's no crying in baseball.

We tried to keep in touch with friends, but they seemed busy with other things. We tried to meet some fellow parents, but they were distant. Our families were nowhere near. We felt alone and overwhelmed, wondering frequently how anyone raises a child, ever, in this cold Western world. We had to begin working again at our home business soon after Mikko's birth, and we tried to add back in some of our former hobbies and passions as well as add some new ones (this blog, for one!). It was hard just to survive, let alone imagine adding another person to our family.

In fact, for the first couple years of Mikko's life, whenever I saw a newborn, my initial reaction was to shudder. I kid you not.

Things got better as Mikko got older and more responsive. I loved baby signing with him, because from eleven months on, we finally knew some of what he was thinking, and it was fascinating. He began to speak around eighteen months and, as they say, he hasn't stopped since!

Why didn't anyone tell us he was huge?

By the time he turned three, Sam and I felt more like we were finally cruising as a family again. We'd crafted some schedules that worked for us (I call them "schedules," but we're actually horrible at keeping to anything rigid, so think of it more as guidelines for how to spend our time), and we were truly enjoying Mikko. He was still high-drama in his own way, but it was, for us, a more manageable drama. We hadn't considered ourselves "baby" people, and this preschool stuff was kind of fun. Mikko was bright, engaging, and caring, and peering into the workings of his brain was intriguing. Plus, he had been potty independent for a year now, was sleeping through the night (yes, it took awhile), and all signs pointed toward asking The Question: Did we want another?

Turning on the charm.

We began to talk about it. I was ready earlier than Sam, but I knew better than to push my agenda. When it comes to family size, I firmly believe both partners should be on the same page, if at all possible. I waited, and he initiated the conversations, finally setting a deadline, or more a starting line: January 2011.

We jumped the gun and got pregnant in the fall of 2010. Once we'd started talking about it, we just couldn't wait to go ahead!

Our sweet Alrik was born in May 2011, and our experience with his babyhood is 180 degrees from where we were with Mikko. I really don't know what's more to credit this change to: Is it Alrik's mellower personality? Or is it our own attitude shift?

The brothers fall in love.

While I was still pregnant with Alrik, our "probably one, maybe two" morphed into "maybe three." On the endorphin cloud following his birth, we were high fiving each other and saying, "Whee! Let's have four!"

I talk often with parents who feel the way I felt when Mikko was a baby, and I always want to assure them: You are not alone. It's all right not to feel blissed out as a parent. Not everyone does, for a variety of reasons, and it doesn't make you a bad person or a bad parent. It's hard to parent, and it's especially hard to go from not being a parent at all to being a parent of a high-needs baby. It turns your world upside down and yourself inside-out. That's uncomfortable!

And now that I'm on the "Woohoo, babies are awesome!" train, I'm not here to tell those parents: You need to have more children. That's their choice, and I understand their hesitation. It's totally up to every family to decide the sizing and the timing, as far as it's within their power (and I know, all too often, that control is taken out of our hands in sometimes haunting ways). Maybe we would be feeling differently right now if Alrik had been just as high-needs as Mikko, or if Alrik had come first, and now we were adding a high-needs baby to our established, mellow family. Maybe we would be more or less willing to add to our family if our kids had been spaced closer together or farther apart than the four years that separates them.

There are times when we regret having waited so long to add Alrik to our family. It's lovely to have Mikko be four and rather independent. I think it cuts down on their rivalries with each other (so far, and as Sam and I remember from our own childhoods as being approximately much younger than our older brothers), because each child is in such a different place. We knew, though, that if we'd waited any longer, we might not have had a second at all, because it's kind of nice, with just a preschooler, not to have to worry about diapers and starting solids and night nursing and such. We had to thread the needle of the moment when the idea of beginning that all over again excited us without discouraging us. Seeing Mikko love on Alrik, and Alrik give him back his drooly, toothless grins and belly laughs, makes me wish sometimes they were closer in age so that they could play together more as Alrik gets older. But I know that wouldn't have been a guarantee, anyway.

As far as adding again to our family goes, I put my maternity clothes, newborn diapers, and birth supplies into storage instead of giving them away as I'd planned. I'm feeling a little pressure from a few unfortunate aspects but also feel that we'll figure it out one way or another:
  • Age: I'm 35 (and a half, honesty forces me to say), and Sam is 36. I have close relatives who had children into their 40s, and my little brother was born when my mom was in her late 30s. However, I know the risk of complications and infertility go up as Sam and I get older, so our gestational days are limited. I also found this last pregnancy to be pretty rough on my body and don't know how that will progress. I'm open to exploring adoption or fostering, but Sam's hesitant, and I do understand his concerns in those areas as well.
And then these next could all go under the heading of "Resources," but I'll separate them out to look at each separately.
  • Time: There are two of us parenting partners. We love to be heavily involved in our children's lives, and we also have work obligations as well as other pursuits (such as vegging on the couch — someone needs to do it). I don't want to wear ourselves too thin.
  • Space: We live in a smallish 2-bedroom condo. Selling it in this market would be grim; buying something bigger would be nearly impossible. The thought of moving from our primo location makes my heart ache. I'd rather downsize our stuff so we fit better in this space than leave it, but is that possible (for us)? And with more kids, how much less possible does that become? For adoption and fostering, for sure, our current space would be deemed inadequate, which makes me sad. Our car, too, barely fits two car seats. But we love it. Sam has an aversion to minivans, and we both have an aversion to SUVs. Maybe we'll take the bus more? With three kids? Umm…
  • Money: This goes with the above. We were just trying to figure out a budget for 2012 and realized we're hopeless at managing our money beyond spending what we have. (We typically don't go into debt, which at least is nice.) Having a baby, either time, has not proven financially stressful for us, but we find ourselves spending more and more as we unschool Mikko, because we're out and about every day. We have a couple far-flung trips on the horizon that we're now realizing we might have to cancel, just because of the cost of transporting four of us anywhere. If we add another child, we'll necessarily need to spend less on each child.
I need to put a great big #firstworldproblems disclaimer at the end of this, and also say sorry to wave the flag of my middle-class privilege in everyone's face. I know we could make things work if we have more kids, and I appreciate the stories of people who, for whatever reason, do have a lot of kids even though they're short on resources, and yet thrive. I've never been one to suggest a family should stop having kids even though they're short on funds or space, because I believe the two aspects of life shouldn't be at odds with each other. There should be no threshold of permission for bringing children into your life. It's just, with Sam and me and our rationality, we do like to mull these things over and try to gauge what will work best for our family, our marriage, our stress levels, and our vision of what our life should be.

A huge part of why I feel more comfortable with the idea of kids now is that I finally, finally have that community I craved for for so long. It's shocking just how hard it is to parent in isolation, and how much difference it makes to have people looking out for you and carrying you along. That's another reason I would never tell someone else, You have too few or too many kids. So much depends on who's coming alongside you to help with the raising, as I believe we as humans were meant to coexist.

So that's where we're at for now. I've always been fascinated by large families but never thought we'd be one. It will be interesting to see how this all shapes out and what size our family settles out to be. For now, I'm loving the kids I have, and we're still figuring out the new routines that work for the four of us.

And I'm biding my time until Sam sparks that next conversation…

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Visit City Kids Homeschooling and Jazzy Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Family Size Blog Carnival!

Please take some time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants below:
  • The Perfect Family The family at Living Peacefully With Children isn't perfect, but the size is just right for least for now.
  • Family Size Carnival Zoie at TouchstoneZ discusses how she loves the extremes of being happily child-free for life to being a mom of several. And on knowing when her family is just the right size.
  • Is Adoption for Me? Christine at African Babies Don't Cry shares why she would consider adoption as the socially responsible way to have a large family.
  • Getting Used to Having Kids Lauren at Hobo Mama went from "probably one, maybe two" to wanting a handful, but not without some major struggles and soul searching along the way.
  • Magic Number For a while, Phoebe at Little Tinker Tales has wondered what the magic number will be for their family, but now thinks she's finally settled on an answer.
  • How Did You Get That Size Jorje explains how she "chose" her family size and why they aren't planning to grow again on Momma
  • Family Size On A Per Kid Basis Sarah at Parenting God's Children shares how plans change as families grow.
  • More Babies: How, When, Why Joella at Fine and Fair writes to her daughter about when, how, and why she might get a sibling.
  • Family Size Kelly at Becoming Crunchy shares how she has no idea what size her family will end up being; though she used to be sure, a few factors have recently come up to change everything.
  • Thy Will Be Done CatholicMommy hasn't decided how many children she'll have. And she never will. Because, you know, she's Catholic.
  • Sanity and Health Kat at Loving {Almost} Every Moment talks about sanity and health considerations when deciding on her family's size.
  • Love Comes In All Sizes Melissa at White Noise and Mothers of Change shares her family's journey to becoming a family of six!
  • Family Size Liz at Homeschooling in Buffalo discusses how this carnival occurs less than two weeks after "closing up shop" by way of vasectomy.
  • Family Size Blog Carnival Billy, a single mother by choice, writes about the size of her family at My Pathway to Motherhood.
  • Creating Your Perfect Family Size Dr. Alan Singer shares insights from his new book, Creating Your Perfect Family Size.
  • Our Family Size You might not be surprised to learn that Patti at Jazzy Mama can't find any reasons NOT to have more babies.
  • Economics of Family Size Kerry at City Kids Homeschooling uses an economic cost-benefit analysis to determine her family's optimal size.


Olivia said...

Great post. My husband and I said from the beginning of our relationship we would have two children. I came from a family with two and that seemed right for me. he came from a family of eight children and felt that was too much of a strain on his mother.

We are expecting our second now, and though I'm sure I will feel some pangs of sadness as my 2nd and last baby grows, I know we won't change our mind about having another. Our reasons are also financial and logistical. We have dreams of taking our children abroad to visit family in Nigeria and just the cost of plane tickets for a family of four will be difficult to manage. Plus, I know it sounds superficial and silly, but I really don't want to drive a minivan or large SUV. Gas mileage alone is enough to make me want to stick with my economical car (no public transport where I live).

Joy said...

I love this post. Our son was a horrific sleeper for so long (and last night was a reminder of those awful days) that the idea of a newborn has been pretty scary. It's nice to hear that other folk have had that same reaction to a high needs first born (in our case, a mellow little guy, but he didn't sleep and had colic) But, the time is coming to take those baby steps...

And, I actually hold close the idea that the exactly right baby will join our family when it is time. Getting and having our son wasn't easy and took a long time, but now I look at him and think "If we'd gotten pregnant sooner we wouldn't have YOU" and I wouldn't trade him in for anything.

Kerry McDonald, M.Ed. said...

Lauren, thanks so much for participating in today's blog carnival!

Your post is so well-thought-out and introspective and provides a great basis for making family size decisions. I especially love your final thoughts on community. I think one of the keys to happy motherhood is a strong support network because, you're right, we humans weren't meant to raise our babies in isolation.

Thanks again for sharing!

-Kerry @ City Kids Homeschooling

Sarah @ Parenting God's Children said...

man, oh man Lauren, you crack me up every time! Also, every time I see a baby picture of Mikko, I think, "how did he breathe!?" :)
We were a little opposite in that #1 was easy peasy and #2 was a drama queen. It was hard for us to decide on #3, but here we are on our way.
I love the thought process, so logical, but I also love the story of the 'birth high'! We've definitely been there too.

Patti said...

Every time I skip over here and read about your family, I can't get over how perfectly connected you and Sam are. Really. It strikes a chord with me every time. Of all the wonderful experiences that your children will have growing up with you two as parents, the intimacy of your relationship with each other will certainly inspire them in all of their relationships for their entire lives. {{hugs}}

~~Patti @ Jazzy Mama

Unknown said...

I love your thought process in this post... and look forward to hearing the outcome ;)

Totally agree with you on the community being there for the journey, I am SO glad I happened upon NPN!

Jenny said...

Your family is just beautiful! When we had our first baby I envisioned a larger family than I do today, with three kids. Now we are thinking 4 or *maybe* 5? The prospect of homeschooling that many is one thought. It will suck if we have to buy one of those giant vans, because we already have an Odyssey we hate to fill up with gas. Then there's college. And you're right about waiting so long that you're glad to be out of the diaper stage, and hesitant to re-enter it. Having a child in a difficult baby stage AND a child in a difficult pre-teen stage would be a challenge. Sometimes I catch a glimpse of a newborn and it feels like even though *I* don't want to have a baby right now, my body does! And there is a history of twins in my family, so every time I get pregnant I nag the midwife for weeks wondering if I'm having two. As complicated as it all is to think about, I'm actually glad our #3 was a surprise.

Unknown said...

So many things you wrote resonated with me, Lauren. (As you know) I have had a fairly difficult experience of mothering my first child, and I do have that fear that a second child would be just as (if not more) difficult to parent in our current situation. I also feel the time and financial pressure, as well as not enough *local* support people to assist us in this stage of our family life.

All the same, I always wanted to have more than one child, and that desire hasn't gone away...even with the difficulties we've been going through. I guess we'll just have to see how things play out for me!

As for you, I hope you are able to have as many children in your family as you and Sam want to have. I know you'll find a genius way to make it all work if you decide to have more. <3

Momma Jorje said...

Not that it was a contest, but your post is so much better than mine! Perhaps its just because you made a conscious decision, whereas most of mine has been by chance. I really did tell people I wanted to have one more because it would be novel to get pregnant on purpose.

And Sam looks so young in those early shots! Also, he somehow magically transforms into looking like a grown up in that first pic with Mikko! You just still look as young as ever - unchanged.

Thanks for participating in this carnival. Great post!

kellymseow said...

LOVE your pictures! :D (especially the earlier years ones - lol!).

Really appreciated this post too Lauren - I am so in that place now of wondering how the heck anyone does this?!? It's good to know there's light at the end of the horizon...

-Kelly @BecomingCrunchy

CatholicMommy said...

*happy sigh* This is just so full of truth and love and encouragement and acceptance... A beautiful addition to my evening. Thank you for your role in making this parenting community what it is!

melissa v. said...

Awesome post! The photos of you and Sam together in the early years are hilariously loving and cute, especially the one at the children's museum? How great is that!!! Lol. Your journey is beautiful. Rough spots, beautiful spots, and thoughtfulness. So great. I agree with you a thousand percent on the non judgmental attitude. There are good and bad things about having large, medium, or small families and each family knows what is best for itself.

I had the first one easy, second one blow me out of orbit difficult scenario. I literally went crazy.

Community is so huge!! xxoo You're awesome. And my baby is wailing so I better go...

melissa v. said...

p.s. we fit three carseats in a Matrix. True story.

Billy said...

Loved how you went from one maybe two to four :-)
Good luck with your family building..

Inder-ific said...

The young photos of you and Sam are so flippin' adorable!

This is a great post. Like you've we approached increasing our family size with some caution. It's not that we don't love being parents or love children, it's just that we tend to fear big change too. At this point, I'm excited to be expecting our second, and thinking it will likely be our last ... but never say never, right?

Unknown said...

Y'all are adorable! :D (Also: clearly nerds. I love it.)

I've never been one to suggest a family should stop having kids even though they're short on funds or space, because I believe the two aspects of life shouldn't be at odds with each other. There should be no threshold of permission for bringing children into your life.

I appreciate this, because we're exactly in that situation -- the husband and I both want at least (and probably only) one more child, but there's no insurance and barely enough resources for the child we have. I never ever imagined my son would be turning three an only child, even though he was totally unplanned. (Some of that is bias; my sister was born when I was around three, so it just seems natural to me.)

I think it's perfectly fucked up we've got a system in place that limits us reproductively based solely on how much it costs to build and evict said child.

Terri said...

Loved reading this and seeing all those great photos! Reading through the posts in this carnival make me consider more kids but I'm on the same page as you with 2 right now and similar constraining factors to consider. But like you I haven't given away all the baby gear yet so maybe there will be another in a year or so

Estelle in the Hood said...

Great post!

Our daughter (3) was a great sleeper and SUPER easy baby. My son (now 1) was a terrible sleeper and not so easy (hates the car and is more sensitive).

We always wanted three, but as Dr.AlanSinger says, you really have to think about a number of things and not this silly idea you had when you first met. It's a decision you have to make when each child arrives.

I have been really wanting a third child but things are just getting so easy now...I can go out for a night and enjoy myself, everyone is usually sleeping their nights and we can really still do anything we could do with our firstborn!

I'm hoping the decision slaps me upside the head or that I accept that not every itch needs to be scratched.

Awesome post!

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