How Many Kids Should You Have? We Discuss with Jamie Greenberg!
How Many Kids Should You Have?
When I was a kid, I dreamed of having a big family. I was close to my older brother and parents, and I always figured that more brothers and sisters would simply mean more people to love. From the Waltons to the Duggars (and yes, Octomom and her multiple multiples), big families have always had a powerful hold on the American imagination. And once I got married, my own dream of having a big brood lived on, despite my struggle with infertility. When I finally got pregnant, I remained optimistic that my son, Zachary, now 5, would one day have many siblings to play with. But while I was planning for more babies, my body seemed to have something else in store: Soon after I gave birth to Zachary, I learned that I carry a genetic mutation that increases my risk for breast and ovarian cancer; my doctors recommended that I have my ovaries and tubes removed right away. I no longer had a choice in how big my biological family would be.
And in fact, despite all the recent advances in birth control and fertility treatments and reproductive technologies, many of us don't get that choice. Yet giving up the dream of the family you couldn't have can open you up to the unique wonder of the one you've built. "We're a triangle, Mommy," my son says constantly. And if one day my husband and I wake up wanting another child to love, we'll become a square — once we figure out the best way to make that happen. Here, eight women share how they planned and prayed and stumbled their way into the family they love.
COMING TO TERMS WITH ONE
"My husband can't have children."
Jody and Chad Alexander, Racine, WI
Jody's story: I was 23 and in college when my daughter, Caila, was born. At the time, I thought I'd have three or four kids; I was raised in a family of many siblings along with lots of stepbrothers and stepsisters. Caila's dad also had four siblings, so we used to joke around about having a family big enough to make our own baseball team, with a lot of love and a lot of teammates to play with and back you up. But I never ended up marrying Caila's father, and after four years, we split up. Then, five years ago, I met Chad, who has three kids of his own — now ages 18, 12, and 10.
Early on in our relationship, Chad told me that he'd had a vasectomy, so I knew we'd never have children together. Still, I loved Chad and wanted to spend my life with him. It's hard knowing that I'll never have a biological child with Chad. And while Chad's kids stay at our house once a month, half the summer, and on holidays, my daughter will never have a full sibling of her own. I felt cheated for a long time, and we considered sperm retraction and IVF over the years, but I've finally come to a state of peace about our situation.
When Chad's kids stay with us, our house is full. We have a pretty large family when we're all together, and even though it's not full-time, there is a great feeling of togetherness when they're here, and I love that Caila has them in her life. I think of my stepkids as my own and hope they feel the same way about me. There are some real upsides to the way things turned out. I get to spend more time with Chad and provide for Caila. I've discovered that you love the family you are given, even if it's not the size you imagined.
FAMILY OF FOUR
"One boy and one girl is perfect."
Lisa Reneé and Russell Thomas, Annapolis, MD
Lisa Reneé's story:I was a kindergarten teacher for many years, so it goes without saying that I love kids. I always wanted two children, and luckily Russell did too, even though he's one of five. I was raised with my cousin Rashida, who is like a sister to me, and having great adventures with her shaped my sense of family. I wanted to have two children so that each would always have a friend for life.
Within three months of being married, I got pregnant with Dylan. Two years later we tried again, and I quickly became pregnant with Allison. After I had Allison, I had my tubes tied. We knew for sure that we didn't want more children.
If Allison is with me, Dylan is with his dad. It's always one on one. If we had one more child, one kid might feel left out. Plus, I don't think we could afford for me to stay at home if we had more than two kids.
But, most important, we feel that our marriage comes before the children. We take care of ourselves first, believing that if we're happy, then the kids will be happy. For example, Russell and I take three trips a year by ourselves. When we come back from our vacations, we're always so refreshed.
I tell Dylan that I had Allison just for him. I tell him that she's going to be his best friend for life — even though right now he pulls the heads off her Barbies and she breaks his Legos.
FAITH GAVE US OUR FAMILY
"I'll take as many kids as God will give us!"
Kate and Ray Vandegrift, Jenkintown, PA
Kate's story:Ray and I met when we were 16 — he was one of three kids, I was one of six, and we both knew we wanted a big family one day. We never talked about how many kids that meant. I just knew that God was calling us to be parents. As a devout Catholic, I don't believe in contraception. I believe in God's will for us to have as many children as He sees fit.
I'm so rewarded by the love I get back from my children. I just feel so blessed that God chose Ray and me to be parents of a large family. When my kids tell me how much they love me or when they smile at us and tell us how happy they are, my heart fills with joy. We have a family that's the size of a soccer team — and we actually do play soccer and lots of other team sports together! When we go to the shoe store and our 15-passenger van pulls up, the store owners get really excited; they know we'll be buying a lot!
It's not always easy having a large family; I've heard countless criticisms, such as "Don't you know about contraceptives?" or "How are you going to send them all to college?" Also, a big family is expensive: We go through 14 gallons of milk a week! But I'm happy. Even today, after having 12 children, if we were to have another, I'd feel blessed.
A BIG AGE GAP
"My kids are nine years apart."
Brandie and Arthur Nemchenko, King of Prussia, PA
Brandie's story:Arthur and I believed that the ideal family size for us would be two children, and we had Aly right after we got married. We were both in chiropractic school, and it was tough juggling school and parenthood. At the time, it just didn't seem feasible — or fair — to have another child when we had so little time for the one we had. Once we graduated, having another child got put on the back burner again because we were spending so many hours getting our practice started. But once our work became steadier, we started talking about having one more. Everyone thought we were crazy. After all, Aly was 9 years old by then and could take care of herself; having a baby meant starting over completely. And Aly was upset; she didn't want a sibling. After a while, though, she finally gave us the go-ahead — so long as the baby wasn't born on her birthday. (To Aly's relief, Nataliya was born a daybeforeher birthday.)
It's fun watching Aly give Nataliya an education on the Jonas Brothers, and it keeps us young to run around the yard with Nataliya. Sure, I'm juggling bra-shopping with one daughter while potty-training the other, but I wouldn't change a thing about our family. I had nine good years with Aly all to myself. Soon enough, I'll have nine years with Nataliya all to myself.
ONE IS ENOUGH
"We just never thought it was the right time for another."
Jenni Bowring and Tim McDonough, St. Paul, MN
Jenni's story:Tim, Henry, and I are a happy threesome — even though my husband and I didn't set out to have only one kid. When I was pregnant, I said I wanted to have another baby. But we just never thought it was the right time. We had conversations about having another, but we eventually agreed that Henry was it for us. We figured we would have more time and more money with just one child.
When family members say Henry is alone in the world, I get defensive. People say the stigma of the only child has faded, but sometimes I don't think that's true at all. Friends and family — and people we've just met — remark about families "not being complete with only one child" or tell us, "I don't understand how any kid could grow up properly without any siblings." Henry has asked if we could adopt an older brother for him, because he admires and looks up to his older male cousins. It's hard to answer him when he asks this, but I'll say, "Sweetheart, we're not going to add to our family," and he usually accepts that.
We're happy, we feel in control, and we haven't been sleep-deprived since Henry was a baby. The only thing I wish I could do is go back in time and be pregnant with Henry again. I wish I had savored that time more, relaxed more, and written a journal so I could recall what I was thinking, since that was my only time being pregnant. Still, life today feels really sane. Henry has started making his own breakfast on weekends; in the evening, we put a bowl of cereal on his place mat and a cup of milk in the fridge at his eye level. I don't mean to sound selfish, but it's nice to be able to sleep until 7 a.m. on the weekends. It's great that Henry can finally do things for himself and that he's starting to discover his independence. We gave him those wings and are letting him fly.
A BIG BROOD
"No one believed me when I said I wanted six kids!"
Lisa and Pete Fuqua, San Jose, CA
Lisa's story:From the day I married Pete, we talked about having a lot of kids, and six just felt like the right number for us. Pete is one of six, and I'm one of three, and we both wanted to have a big, fun family where the kids take care of one another — not just now but when they're older. When people ask me how I do it, I always say that they didn't all arrive at once. But each time I had a baby, I'd see a pregnant woman and feel like I needed another. Before long, we had four girls. When I had Joe, my fifth child, people automatically thought our family would be complete because I finally had a boy. But we still wanted one more. We never found out the sex of any of our kids before they were born — it truly was always about just having a baby, and we didn't really care what we got. After Joe, I had two miscarriages, which only intensified my longing for one more child. But now that we have six kids, we're officially done.
A family as large as ours does have to make sacrifices, such as limiting extracurricular activities because scheduling is such a challenge for us. For example, right now, all the girls play softball, but Maria would rather do gymnastics. Unfortunately, it's physically impossible to shuttle all the kids to different activities, so she's stuck playing softball. But there are also tons of benefits to having so many kids. It's great that they play together all the time, so I don't have to spend hours scheduling and shuttling them to and from playdates.
Sometimes people ask me annoying questions, like "How can you afford to have all these kids?" Our response is always the same: "How can you afford not to?" Having a big family gives us a feeling of togetherness like no other. Every night, the kids pile into Pete's and my bed and we all snuggle together, watch a TV show or movie, or talk about the day. There is truly nothing better than that at the end of a long day.
A BLENDED FAMILY
"I didn't think I'd want more kids after I got divorced."
Lisa and Josh Merkin, Miami
Lisa's story:When I met my husband, Josh, five years ago, I was an about-to-be-divorced mom of three. Josh had no children of his own. When we started getting serious, I told Josh that I didn't know if I wanted more children. I had my hands full with three kids, and now that they were self-sufficient, I didn't want to start all over again with diapers, feedings, and sleepless nights. But the longer we were together, I realized that I wanted to share with Josh the joy of bringing a child into the world that would be a piece of both of us. Reece made Josh an official daddy and was the child that bonded all of us together as one family. Eden was our unplanned "oops," but she's blessed and welcome.
The funny thing is that my family today is exactly what I'd hoped for — even though it's a little larger than I ever imagined. I love that my kids' friends always want to hang out here — ours is the cool, relaxed house full of laughter and fun. I've gotten over the need for my house to be tidy 24/7. For me, it's all about being with my kids. Still, I get nice breaks — my older three go to their dad's every other weekend, which gives me time with just Reece and Eden. My mom also lives about 10 minutes away, so Josh and I can have a date night regularly.
The wordshalf brotherorhalf sisternever come up; my older kids feel no differently toward Reece and Eden than toward each other, and they love Josh just as much as they love their own father. We're thrilled with our party of five.
TWINS TIMES TWO
"I had one child and wanted one more. I ended up with five!"
Aly Mandel and Jay Schwartz, Highland Park, NJ
Aly's story:Neither Jay nor I ever planned to have a big family. We decided to have one child and see how it went. One was good, so once Will turned 2, we tried for a second; I felt like I was on the normal trajectory. To my surprise, at my eight-week checkup, I found out I was carrying fraternal twins. I was devastated that I was suddenly on the precipice of having three kids. It took seven months into the pregnancy to get comfortable with the idea of twins.
After Ava and Emily turned 3, something unexpected happened: I started to feel like I wasn't done having babies. I love newborns, and our life was becoming a bit more manageable. My husband thought I was insane. We went back and forth about it for a few years, and he slowly became more open to having another child. I got pregnant, and I had a feeling it was twins again — and I was right! This time, I wasn't as overwhelmed at the prospect of caring for two babies.
It's awesome having this many kids — even though there are days when I don't sit down for 12 hours in a row. If I were five years younger and a lot richer, I'd have one more. It's fun watching my kids develop a communal sense of responsibility. There's a tenderness among our kids that's a joy to watch.
Video: Children quiz: How many kids will i have? Pick one personality test | Guess who you are quiz
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