Better Than Real Life Advice: More Than One

Dear Lauren,
Congratulations on your pregnancy! I think about you and your family often and say quick prayers that this baby continues to be healthy. Did you and Kamel agree on having another baby and when to try for the next baby? I find that my husband and I disagree and I don’t know what to do. I really feel that we are meant to have another pregnancy. He says that if it weren’t for infertility, he would be 100% OK with having another baby. However, IVF is our only option and the $15,000 price tag is pretty hefty. I would like to commit about $20,000 more to the baby tries–that accounts for one “fresh” IVF cycle and one “frozen” (using up frozen embryos). My husband keeps flip-flopping on trying IVF again and I find myself heartbroken. I’m sure the heart of the matter is a question that many couples face and I would love your advice/words of wisdom on what happens when my husband and I disagree on the number of children we want. For the record, we discussed this before marriage and he wanted 2 while I wanted 3. Now he says he’s OK with our son being an only child and I am definitely not.

Not a One-Kid Mom.


Dear Not a One-Kid Mom,

A few weeks ago when I was lamenting and lamenting and tearing my hair out about the what-ifs of another boy vs a girl, whether or not we would shut down baby making forever after this one, or keep that window open, etc a friend of mine linked me to this article by Dear Sugar. A reader writes in worried he may regret not having kids, but doesn’t want that to be the only reason to have them. She says, why isn’t that a good enough reason to have them?

There is a ton of other amazing side stories and thought provoking moments in that article that stirred something up inside of me and won’t let me go. So, please do read it and please do share it with your husband.

Now as far as my own advice? I shared this with you personally, but I think I should share it publicly as well. This is a real life conversation Kamel and I had during one of our million zillion conversations about our possible future offspring:

Me: “What if I want 4 kids?”

K: “I want 2.”

Me: “But what if we have the second and i REALLY want a third?”

K: “Maybe.”

Me: “What if the second is a boy and I really want to try for a girl?”

K: “Ok.”

Me: “Then what if we have 3 and I don’t feel done and I want another one?”

K: “But I want 2.”

Me: “But what if I really want 4?”

K: “Ok, fine.”

The hardest part about marriage for me is sharing my life with someone else. Which seems ridiculous because isn’t that the whole of it? Well no. I mean, sharing my life as far as, “Let’s do this fun thing together. Yay memories!” is completely different than say, “Let’s make this completely irreversible life choice together, something we have to agree upon even though we are totally different people and have our own personal wants and desires.” That part sucks.

I think it very much depends on where your husband is with only wanting 1. Is he so overwhelmed with life that having another child would ruin him, break him, send him into misery? Then I think his mental health wins. If this would be so financially taxing that it would create unalterable damage on your current family, create immense stress and threaten you, your husband’s, or your child’s future, then I also think he wins.

Is he simply satisfied with the life you have and doesn’t feel like it is necessary to go forward with the hullabaloo that is getting pregnant a second time? Then I think you win.

I always err on the side of no regrets. Always. Life is too short to wonder and think back and feel bad about the things we never tried or didn’t do. If he is meh about a second child, that is not good enough for me, personally. And maybe the process of trying and going through IVF, whether it works or not, will be satisfying for you. To say, “ok, I tired, I gave it my best shot and this is the outcome,” may be enough. But to deny your family, your wife, yourself the opportunity to see if it is in the cards – I think that is too big of an ask.

And if this is really purely just about the money expense of it, well… I’ve never regretted the money spent on a vacation. I’ve never regretted the money spent on my child for clothes or daycare or strollers. Ok, I shake my fist at daycare, but then I remember how good it is for him and me and how lucky we are that we can afford it. But if it wasn’t a real hardship to come up with that IVF money, if it was just more of an inconvenience? Lots of things are financial inconveniences… most of the time they provide you with that family event you had to attend or the necessary repair on the house or a surprise visit from the tax man. Rarely is the out come a brand new human of your own design.

Theoretically we only get this one shot at building our little worlds, we are only capable of having kids (Again, I guess, theoretically) up to a certain age. Now is the time. My advice is to be honest about how you’re feeling. Be brutally honest with yourself and your husband about what it would mean to you not to try for a second child, and encourage him to be brutally honest as well. Lay it all out there. I’m placing my bets that you married each other because you love and respect each other and you don’t want to deny one another major life experiences. Compromise is hard and doesn’t always feel awesome, but often when I’ve had to make a concession, the end result is actually pretty lovely. I’m hoping your husband gets to experience this sensation.

9 thoughts on “Better Than Real Life Advice: More Than One”

  1. I love that Dear Sugar one. (I say that after every Dear Sugar I read…)

    What I notice in the letter is that the letter writer seems to be talking about what she wants (another baby) and her husband is talking about what he fears (the $15,000-$20,000 price tag). Of course you’re not agreeing, you’re not even really talking about the same thing. I wonder what would happen if you both asked each other, “What do you want?” and “What are you afraid of?” If your husband is being honest when he says that infertility is the only thing holding him back from wanting a second kid, I think you’ll find that where you are disagreeing is in the answer to “What are you afraid of?” He may need you to acknowledge that his concerns are valid. He might need you to say and understand that IVF isn’t a guarantee and that if it doesn’t work, you’ll still be happy with him and your son as an only child. By that same token, he needs to acknowledge that your desires for your family are as real and important as his concerns.

    Sugar and Lauren have it right. What do you want your life to look like in ten years? What would you regret the most? What would things look like in ten years if 1) You did IVF, spent the money and it worked 2) If you did IVF, spent the money and it didn’t work and 3) If you agreed to keep your family of three. How do things look financially? Emotionally? What does it look like for you to be happy with scenario 3? What does it look like for your husband to be happy with scenarios 1 and 2? Once you start answering a lot of different questions I think you’ll find an answer.

  2. “In spite of my fears, I didn’t regret having a baby. My son’s body against mine was the clarity I never had. The first few weeks of his life, I felt honestly rattled by the knowledge of how close I’d come to opting to live my life without him. It was a penetrating, relentless, unalterable thing, to be his mother, my life ending and beginning at once.”

    I love that Dear Sugar article. We came very close to deciding not to have children. I was so very close to staying the same not-quite-complete, not-quite-grown person. And I wouldn’t even have known what I was missing. I know intellectually that not having children is a perfectly fine life choice, and one I almost made, but emotionally? No, I feel like people who don’t have kids are missing something they can’t understand. I am embarassed to say, but it’s what I feel not what I think. I can’t help it. I don’t think I knew what love was before my little boy. I probably love my husband, as much as I knew how to love anyone. I’ve got my issues and I wonder if I really know what love or hate are or if I just exist beside people rather than actually with them, except for my son. I LOVE him without question, hesitation or end.

    1. Hi Melissa,

      I read and reread your comment in an attempt to really hear where your coming from and understand your experience. I’m troubled by the concept that as a childless person I’m “not-quite-grown”. In fact, I find that deeply offensive. I love children but the experiences I’m having in work, family, relationships, and travel are valid in and of themselves. They are not preparation for a higher experience of motherhood.

      You didn’t express this sentiment exactly but I find the correlation between motherhood and an inherent understanding of love to be untenable. It limits are innate humanity and unfairly places reproduction as the ultimate in human experience. That’s just simply untrue. I believe that you love your son very deeply and I’m thrilled that you made a choice that you find enriching and rewarding. I believe the best part of feminism (and frankly being a human) is the challenge to fully embrace the goodness of the choices of others without reservation.

    2. There is also a Dear Sugar Podcast now and the most recent episode focused on the question of if to have kids or not have kids. It’s definitely worth a listen. And one of the things they talk about on that episode is that of course non-parents can’t truly understand the experiences of parenthood. But there are also SO MANY experiences in life that we can’t fully understand because we can’t or don’t experience them. These things don’t make a life better or worse, fuller or emptier, just a different shape.

      So you’re not wrong, but it’s worth keeping in mind that 1) parenthood is not the only thing that can be missing from someone’s life that they’ll never understand and 2) that doesn’t make a childfree life less than.

    3. “No, I feel like people who don’t have kids are missing something they can’t understand. I am embarrassed to say, but it’s what I feel not what I think.”

      As an adult who has chosen to not have children, I had to take a few deep breaths before applying to your comment. I am missing out on a life experience by not having children. I will never be pregnant. I will never have a newborn lay on my chest. I will never watch my child realize they can crawl, that they can walk, go off for their first day of school, play t-ball or any of those other experiences.

      However, the flip side of the coin is that you will miss out on experiences that you might have had if you didn’t have children. When I several weeks this summer driving around the west, sleeping in my car, waking up the lonely beautiful sunrises, you will be home having lovely summer experiences with your son. And like you, when I stand on remote mountaintops or wake up in the middle of the desert, I feel like people who aren’t here are missing something they can’t understand. But, I rationally know that they’re following they’re hearts, they’re doing what’s best for themselves.

      And I’m making sure that my nephews, the result of my sisters choice to have kids, get to experience some awesome mountaintops. <3

    4. This is my own personal experience. I do not question that you, Liz F, are a fully grown person. I was not. I do not question that any of you can experience fully developed love without being a mother. I question that I ever have. This is my own personal experience.

      I stand by my belief that people who don’t have children are missing something they will never understand. I also realize that by now having one, I have closed off doors for myself as well. I don’t understand the additional years of childlessness I have now missed and the opportunities they would have held.

      Again, motherhood, opened me up to complete and utter love. Not you. Me. MY OWN PERSONAL EXPERIENCE.

      Beth, I will never have your experiences for more reasons than my son. I just bought a house and I want to finish grad school without incurring additional debt. I have to work full time at a job I don’t love and take their money. You said, “And like you, when I stand on remote mountaintops or wake up in the middle of the desert, I feel like people who aren’t here are missing something they can’t understand. But, I rationally know that they’re following they’re hearts, they’re doing what’s best for themselves.” If you can feel that way about your choices, I hope you are not telling me I should step back from what I said about mine. Like you, I rationally know other people are debating their own choices.

      So, I’ve explained myself a bit further, but I am not sorry. Be as offended as you like. It’s good practice for life.

  3. I really think that whatever choice you make about these big issue will be the right choice in the end because it will be the only choice you experience. If you have kids, you would never trade them for anything, if you don’t have kids you don’t know what you are missing and you wouldn’t trade all your experiences for anything. I think we tend to make peace and accept whatever choices we have made in the end. Maybe I’m delusional though :).

  4. My husband and I are in this situation ourselves. When we talk about wanting a second child, so much hinges on the money, but so much hinges on the mental & emotional gulag that IVF was for us the first go-around. However, I like to think that this time, we know it *can* be successful for us (because it was and we have our daughter now), we know how it works, I know I can handle the meds and the shots, and I just know what to expect with the process. Not only that, but we’re no longer struggling with the agonizing “will we ever be parents?” question that we were wrestling with during our first go-around with IVF. So I feel more optimistic about trying it a second time, because some of these big unknowns (could it work for us; would we ever be parents) have been resolved. Granted, there’s a possibility a second round wouldn’t work…but the outcome is not us being childless this time.

    So I think it’s important to talk to your husband about why he doesn’t want to go through it again. Is it the money (god, the money, it is so awful), the uncertainty, the horrible process itself? Because while the money is still an issue, it may be that the associations he makes with the process from memories of the first go-around won’t apply in the same way for a second.

    1. Also, I will say, we had to make some hard choices regarding the money aspect — we sold our home to afford it. So, I truly do get how big of a hurdle that can seem. The question is, what are you willing to push to the middle of the table? I do not regret for a second the debt we incurred for our IVF. Am I angry about it? Constantly. Do I regret it? Never. I am angry it means we can’t have the home we want right now. But…it was worth it. And it will be worth it again, if we do it again.

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