How do you know you’re done?

According to family lore, my parents always just knew they were done after two babies. It was crystal clear from the moment my little sister was born: family complete. End of story.

Throughout my own parenting journey, I’ve heard a similar refrain from other parents, usually uttered in a tone of outright certainty: I’m one and done. I’m two and through. Three was right for me. And so on.

From the beginning, I’ve stared at them in wonder. Actually, I still do. The thing is, it hasn’t gone like that for me at all.

There’s this universally accepted truth of the modern era that is one part mythology and one part biology: When your family has reached its optimal level, you’ll just know it somehow.

Where does this idea stem from exactly? I have plenty of friends who haven’t been able to control their own family outcomes, some quite heartbreakingly.

Yet this belief somehow lingers in conversations with other parents, that we will just feel it when we’ve reached the “right” number of children, or at least the most we can personally handle.

img_0318After our first daughter was born, my husband and I were sleep-deprived, smitten and overwhelmed, and we had no idea how to answer the question lobbed at us on the regular from about the instant my daughter started solid foods: When will you have another?

Another baby? Are you crazy? We just couldn’t imagine it. Ever. Our baby had taken over every inch of our lives. Where would another person even GO?

I honestly think that under difference circumstances, we might have stopped with Quinn. But luckily for us, the fates intervened in the form of failed birth control. I found myself staring bleary-eyed at a pregnancy test six weeks after Quinn’s first birthday, joy and terror growing alongside the tiny cells forming in my belly.

After Ruby was born, societal assumptions shifted. With two kids under two, we were pretty much universally assumed to be closing up shop. I mean, there was the odd random person who assumed that dad would just have to “try” for a boy. But anyone who knew us and most people who didn’t pretty much assumed we were a fixed family unit at that point.

There’s this universally accepted truth of the modern era that is one part mythology and one part biology: When your family has reached its optimal level, you’ll just know it somehow.

My husband was one of those people. He gaped at me when I told him to hold onto the swaddle blankets and teething rings, when I insisted that our new car needed to be able to seat three carseats across the back. When I asked him to wait just a little longer before going to Doctor Snip for decommissioning, he assumed I was out of my mind.

I knew I was already in way over my head with two daughters so close in age. I knew that I couldn’t handle any more kiddos. So what was I waiting for?

It’s not that I felt incomplete. But I didn’t feel complete either. Did I want another baby? Heck no! And yet… I just wasn’t ready to close that door forever.

Well, you know what happened next. I’ll spare you the particulars, but again we found ourselves preparing for a baby we had not planned, but one who luckily could fit into the backseat of our 2003 Honda CR-V alongside her two young sisters.

FullSizeRender-3Even after my third daughter was born, I remember asking myself repeatedly: Do I feel complete? Are we all here?

Kind of a bizarre question for a woman whose husband had a vasectomy when she was seven months pregnant. But still, I wanted to know. I wanted to feel that tingle of certainty I’d always envied in others.

In my own case, the waves of certainty never washed over me. Yes, I got rid of many of the tiny baby things I never could part with before. Most without tears.

But here we are two and a half years after Nora’s birth and that “Aha” moment never came. It’s been more of a slow progression toward excitement for a future with more freedom, more time, and more of a personal life.

For me, time just marched on and with every month the ache over the idea of no more babies lessened a bit as the possibilities opened up.

I’ve started dreaming of a life beyond the constant needs of my children. I’ve started taking baby steps toward that life and it feels mostly delicious. I don’t think I’ll ever feel “complete” but I’m starting to feel like myself again. Which is probably even better.

This piece is the first in a series called “Beyond Baby Steps.” The series will explore my  journey out of the early survival years of parenting. 

About the Author

Shawna Gamache is a former newspaper reporter who occasionally catalogs her personal chaos at Critical Playdate. She is mama to Ruby, 5, Quinn, 7, and Nora, 2. In her quiet moments, Shawna loves writing, reading and avoiding eye contact with her laundry pile.

  One thought on “How do you know you’re done?

  1. May 17, 2017 at 10:24 pm

    Shawna I just love this candid post soooo much. It’s like you have decoded my exact roller coaster of a thought process with your every word. Thank you!

  2. Shawna Gamache
    June 4, 2017 at 3:41 am

    Thank you, Beth! I love hearing that other people feel the same way. Sometimes the inner journey of parenthood feels so isolating— but then we say things out loud and it turns out we aren’t alone at all in these thoughts. Thank you!

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