The decision whether or not to have a third child is a dilemma for a lot of families. For others, it’s a second or a fourth or a tenth – it doesn’t matter what the number is. At some point, you will stop growing your family (biologically or with adoption). And if you’re like me at all, there will be the little bit of longing for that next little person you’ll never meet.
For those of you who do not have children or have lost children, perhaps you will know this kind of sadness more than any of us.
I wrote this letter to process these thoughts, feel these feelings and then accept my family the way it is. Writing is excellent (and cheap) therapy.
Dear Third Child:
My favorite families growing up always had at least three kids (usually more). When I went over to their houses, I was struck by how their homes and yards were overflowing with life. Around their dinner tables, everyday-kind-of-meals felt like a party! A big family, to me, meant abundance – love and friendship multiplied by every sibling.
I played alone a lot as a kid (which may explain a lot) so I always wanted a big family.
I wanted the party. I wanted the abundance.
When we started having kids, I realized the kind of abundance I wanted also meant more of the kind I didn’t want (more diapers, more tantrums, more embarrassing public situations, more CHAOS). But if I looked into the future, and imagined family Christmases and weddings and grill-outs, I imagined you there.
“Expecting,” is a great word. While waiting for you, we parents have all kinds of expectations about your arrival. But I have to tell you, you guys are great at EXCEEDING expectations!
The weeks after your arrival are usually more than expected.
More fatigue. More gratitude. More tears. More heart-cannot-contain joy. More want to gobble-you-up and kiss your beautiful feet, your nose, your soft hair and perfectly smushy cheeks.
I know it. You would have been a delight. You would have exceeded my expectations. And it kills me that I’m never going to meet you because somehow there’s part of you that seems so real – like you were meant to be.
But the hard truth is, we are choosing not to have you.
To be honest, your dad had the final decision on this one. I think he feels too old to start over again with an infant. I know he worries about not having enough time with your siblings. He loves them so much, he doesn’t want to divide his time with them even more.
Honestly, I’m kind-of relieved I don’t have to re-gain 50 pounds and deal with more months of morning sickness and heartburn. I would have done it gladly for you, but vomiting isn’t exactly a joy-filled experience (even if it is for a good cause).
Having children is the most self-sacrificing thing grown-ups do. You require us to give and give and give some more. You always want more attention, more toys, more pushes on the swing, more TV, more bedtime stories, more time. You guys are exhausting.
And you’re also really expensive. You would have gotten a lot of hand-me-downs, but not everything can be reused. There would have been the inevitable ER visits and extracurricular activities – just the cost of your education alone – aye-yi-yi!
But, if I’m really honest, I can admit that having you wouldn’t have been all self-sacrifice. Having you would have been selfish in a way, too. You see, your Dad and I think your sister and brother are so beautiful. It makes us happy just to look at them.
I know we would have felt the same way about you. We would have looked at you with awe; we would have been so proud of you just for being.
I know you would have taught me so much. You would have given me tons of opportunities to be my best self (and my worst). We would have seen in you, parts of ourselves that we love (and parts of ourselves that drive us crazy).
But not having you, we will hopefully have more to give away. You don’t know this, but there are children who already know the ache of hunger. You would have never known that as a child, and by not having you, maybe some other kids won’t have to either.
And now that we’ve officially decided not to have you, I can see that your dad was right. I know there are moms who manage small teams of children with grace and ease. I am amazed by them, but I know I’m not one of them. I work less than your dad, but I still work and I’m not sure I’m doing a good enough job with your siblings to think I can handle adding you to the mix!
So there you have it. I imagined the future wrong.
Your sister and brother are the party; they are the ABUNDANCE.
They are more than “enough,” and I am so thankful for them. I hope this letter helps you understand why we’re not adding you to our family. Please know that you were wanted, that you’re thought of, and that you would have been loved.
With love (and a little longing),
Your Almost Mom
“Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, ‘It might have been.’”
– John Greenleaf Whittier