Expanding Your Brood! The EPIC Guide to Deciding Whether to have Another Babe by Teresa Palmer

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Six is my number. When I was a child it was nine, then it dropped to six. ‘Yep! I’ll be the mother to six children’ I thought. I still believe we might get there, with my stepson that means having three more children, should we be so lucky. I can also be a realist (at times) and anticipate that as I have more children my number may decrease. I do realize that I’m the minority; most families are happy with two kids, perhaps they’d “consider” three. The average family size is now 2.4 kids down from a global average of 5 in 1960.

My life so far has included numerous adventures, challenges and unexpected turns, but my dream of having a big brood of kids has never wavered. Life is hectic with the three I already have, but despite the busyness, I know we aren’t yet finished having children. I can see our family with at least two more little people at the table, squeezed into the car, jumping on the beds, zipping from play-date to play-date, and joining our family travels. Currently my husband feels the same, but one day we may be faced with the internal tug-of-war of whether or not to have just…one…more.

A close friend is presently experiencing the ‘should I have another one?’ conundrum. She has three awesome kids, has always longed for a fourth, but feels as though she has only just resurfaced since her youngest turned four; she is getting a small semblance of life back for herself. Her daughter recently stopped wearing night time nappies and is at school five days a week, she’s finding more time for herself and it feels good. Yet there’s that niggling little voice that reminds her of the feeling of a pregnant belly, the sweet new baby smell, the wobbly first steps and the audacious giggles of a toddler. Will she really never experience those things again?

I believe all parents experience a time when we wonder if we should have another, so here’s a MEGA list of factors I’ve compiled to help you make that all-important decision.

 

So tiny, yet so expensive

Boring I know but highly important! The average middle income family spends approximately USD$285,000 on a child up to the age of 17, lower income families approximately USD$213,000 and higher income families spent USD$455,000 (amounts via USDA). Interestingly, this amount does not double with an additional child, it certainly increases, but not as much as you might suspect. Toys and clothes can be re-used and re-loved, bedrooms can be shared (so buying a bigger home isn’t always necessary) plus there are often sibling discounts for camps, schools and day-care.

Creating a family budget and really looking into finances carefully is such a useful exercise. Where can you make a big difference? Notice if and where you might be overspending; scaling back in some areas might be necessary if a new baby is beckoning.

  Photo credit Katherine Schultz

Photo credit Katherine Schultz

A long ten months!

This is very important to consider for those who go through pregnancy to have their babies. My girlfriend has a daughter and a son (a ‘pigeon pair’ as they’re called) and she feels 100% done. One of her main reasons is that her pregnancies were terribly challenging. She endured ten months of sickness with both kids and felt miserable the whole time. For others, pregnancy is glorious, uncomplicated and exceptionally fulfilling.

How do you feel about being pregnant for ten months again? Are you okay with the anxiety-ridden first trimester, the morning (or all day!) sickness, the changing female body? Do you love remembering the anticipation and joy of sharing the news with your family and friends? Really picture yourself pregnant - how does it feel?

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Babes and their differences

My kids are very different. My stepson Isaac is hyper intellectual, thoughtful and loving but can find change challenging and unsettling, he can get in his head very easily. Bodhi is bright, curious, excitable, sensitive and a real lover, but can push boundaries and easily feels left out if my attention is elsewhere. Forest is Mr. Independent and very smart and while he is the cruisiest of all our kids, he is also a total handful, embracing every opportunity to run off and explore without a moments notice.  We have to be super on-the-ball with him when out in public! All the boys would love another sibling (they’re gunning for a sister!). I know that due to their varying personalities there will be times when the transition from three to four will be a huge challenge for each of them, but ultimately I know they’re up for it; Isaac is so helpful with the younger two, Bodhi is so affectionate and loving, and although I feel Forest will be jealous at first, his sweetness will take over. I really believe they will embrace having a newborn in the house.

Consider your kids’ personalities. Are they challenging? Do any of them have special needs? Are your kids going through a particularly hard time and seeking lots of attention from you? Maybe you feel as though your current kids have needs that should be met before welcoming a new addition, or maybe they’re all in a pretty good place and would adore a new sibling.

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Counting the hairs on your head

Without a doubt, more kids means more chaos, which usually equates to more stress! There are some moms out there who thrive on that kind of lifestyle but the majority of us have to work really hard to combat stressful feelings. Adding to your family means you will need to look after yourself more than ever before; physical, emotional and mental well-being are of utmost importance.

Do you think you could deal with higher levels of stress? Do you have the tools required to manage tension effectively? Do you, or can you, see yourself starting a meditation practice or cultivating more self care to be able to emotionally regulate?

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24 hours in a day

Being a parent means you are typically burning the candle at both ends, zipping from one commitment to another, meeting all the needs of your children at all times and often forgetting to meet your own. Kids are for sure, a huge time suck. They are an awesome time suck but nonetheless, we tend to spend most of our time running around after our children and flopping into bed at night exhausted. If you’re anything like me then you already feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day. When we’re in this headspace, we have to re-evaluate the choices we’re making with our time, especially if we are considering having more children. 

What can you start trimming back on? Do you really need to have that catch up? Does your child have to do an extra curricular activity every single day? If you can trim back on weekly commitments then perhaps you can create the space to bring another person in to the family. If you decide against having another child, being more conscious with your time will still be beneficial to your life. This is one of those areas you should pay attention to regardless of what decision you make about adding another child to your brood.
 

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You’ve got to look after number one

 

For some women, the way motherhood shifts their body can be really confronting and uncomfortable. For others, it’s just part and parcel. Some take years to feel like they’ve reclaimed their body whereas others, like me, still haven’t. I however, like the changes I see in my body. I’ve been breastfeeding one child onto the next without a break for four and a half years and that changes your body, but I’m okay with that. Others I know aren’t, they love having their bodies back and don’t feel like going through all the complex feelings surrounding additional weight, birthing and restoring diminished health. Some have had medical issues as a result of pregnancy and birth and that should be a consideration also.


How did you feel being pregnant? How was your health post birth? And your body? Did you have a healthy relationship with it and accept it for all its changes and newness? Can you imagine going through that journey again despite hardships you faced regarding your health and body image?

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Labor of love…or not

 

I know women who had extremely challenging births and went on to have subsequent birthing experiences that were both pleasant and healing. I also know women who had a really hard time with the birth, vowed never to do it again and they didn’t. I personally had two radically different experiences and I’m so curious to think about what the next birth might bring.

For the women who used surrogacy to bring their kids in to the world; how did that feel for you? Would you do that again?

For adoptive parents; what’s your relationship like with your child’s birth mother? Did you get to be involved? Would you like to have that experience again? What would you like to do differently?

For those who birthed their babies; do you look back on your birth and feel good about the experience, or are you holding on to some trauma in that area? Take yourself back to that experience, how were you feeling? A mixture of many things I assume, can you imagine being there again? Do you want the opportunity to experience birthing once more?
            

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Sleep (or lack there of!)

 

Ooof this one sucks no matter who’s talking about it! I don’t know one parent who feels chirpy about the lack of sleep we get in the early years of child rearing. Mark and I co-sleep and room share with our kids (the younger two) as we feel everyone sleeps better this way. Hopefully you’ve figured out the system that works best for you, but we all know that lack of sleep can have a major affect on our moods and energy levels. Coffee - lots of it - can help, green tea too, doing less and allowing yourself a longer transition back in to the regular fast-paced routine of life is also important. There are different methods to experiment with in an attempt to get more sleep during this period, but for some this is the main reason they choose not to have another babe.

Are you ready to go through that again? How much of a toll did lack of sleep have on your life and your relationships? On your parenting? Have a plan of action (e.g. alternate lie ins between parents), chat about what you’d do differently before taking the plunge and having another.

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Sibling dynamics

Isaac was almost six when Bodhi was born, and even though that age gap is quite big they have found similarities over time. They now quarrel and tease each other like all brothers, but Isaac really nurtures Bodhi and Bodhi idolizes Isaac. When Forest came along, Bodhi and Isaac's dynamic changed because Bodhi and Forest are closer in age; Forest became Bodhi’s playmate and they connect over being interested in similar activities (like spending hours in the bath!). At first, I felt sad about Izy and Bodhi having lost being just the two of them, but now I realize that the dynamic between the three of them works beautifully. Isaac has taken on a mentor/carer role, and the little boys in turn keep him young and playful. There’s an adoration between them and it’s lovely to see how things have fallen in to an organic rhythm. It was an adjustment for everyone at first, especially for Isaac, but now it’s just exactly as it’s meant to be.

How old are your children and how many do you have already? Would the new baby be a lot younger than your current youngest? Will they grow up and not be able to participate in activities as they won’t apply so much to them? How well is your family functioning right now? Do you think given the current dynamics between your kids that adding another would be seamless? Would anyone feel left out? Are you okay with the relationship between your current kids changing? 

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Relationship solidarity

This is a big one. You need to have a solid foundation between the two of you before even thinking about adding another family member. Remember you and your partner are the trunk of the tree, the kids are the branches, and without a solid trunk the tree won’t thrive. A baby will not fix problems within a partnership (in fact I’d say it will actually magnify issues), so work on treating each other with love, understanding, open and gentle communication and always be there to listen to your partner’s feelings. Take time to be with one another, if you’re in a good flow then having another baby will only be a beautiful (albeit challenging) joy.

How is the current communication between you? Do you feel that you’re on the same page with your partner in terms of parenting? Are you feeling positive emotions towards one another, finding joys in the messiness of parenting? Are you working as a team?

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It takes a village

With each new child comes more responsibility and less time to get everything done. You have to think about how you will juggle everything and still have some time leftover for you. Some families hire a part-time nanny, full time help, have children attend day-care or one parent stays home.  Grandparents, family members and friends are always a wonderful option for extra support and that all-important ‘time off’, too. We have a system that works great for us: I am a stay at home Mum until I film a show or movie for a few months each year. During that period, we have help in the way of a babysitter or my mum comes out from Australia and Mark will fill in the gaps. It works for us but it had to be strategically planned out in advance.

Sit down and think about how much extra help you’ll need once you add a baby into the mix. Logistically, how will you handle it all? Do you have infrastructure in place to allow you to achieve all that you need to?

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What about me?

It’s easy to get carried away in the everydayness of parenting and forget that you were once a person outside of them. Guess what? You still are! And you deserve to take back your own identity outside of being a kickass parent. I personally have dreams of writing a book, expanding our websites, starting a podcast, directing, learning guitar and piano and of course having more children. To me, all of those things can be achieved with a new baby (duh to the last one) but everyone’s goals and lives are different. 

Maybe you want to start a hobby farm, become proficient at knitting, join a book club, go back to studying, sail around the world?! Grab a pen and get list writing (I love a good list!!), ask yourself:

What do I dream of doing? Can I make that dream work while caring for a new baby? How much can I realistically take on and what would I have to sacrifice if I decided to have another child? 
 

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On the road

Traveling with three kids is HARD. I know firsthand because we do it multiple times a year. Firstly, it’s very expensive. Secondly, just the lugging of kids, bags, activities and prams through airports is bonkers. Then getting through security, boarding on time, chasing a toddler through the aisles of the airplane, trying to get the kids to eat healthily mid flight, stopping them from watching too many shows, getting enough sleep and dealing with time zone changes. It is work. So much so that we have decided the more kids we have, the more we will need to commit to our main bases, and travel less outside of these areas. Road trips are fun but with more kids comes a bigger and fuller car; it’s double the amount of work (but I say double the amount of fun!). In the end, there’s nothing like getting to your destination and watching the kids taking it all in together.

What destinations are on your bucket list? What kinds of accommodation do you need to book for the size of your family? Does that change by adding an extra child? Would you be able to afford the kind of travel you’re drawn too with an additional baby?
 

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Profession and progress

I’ve been thinking about this one a lot lately. Having children can certainly interfere with career goals. In my case I don’t seem to have lost jobs because of having my sons but the more kids I have, I do wonder if I’ll be less desirable for a role, purely because of the logistics of having to fly my entire brood somewhere to film. To me, that’s a risk I’m willing to take, but I’m in a unique situation. You have to look at your feelings towards your work and decide whether having another baby will be detrimental to your career and if so, how do you feel about that? There are many things to consider here:

How will having another baby affect your career goals? Will it set you back? Will maternity leave affect your progress? Are you ready to step away from work life and delve back in to babydom? How do you feel then about transitioning back in to work postpartum? (I know that can be an extremely emotionally challenging thing for working mamas to do). Would you bring a breast pump to work? Is your work environment supportive of working mothers?

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Your other half

Well duh. Certainly this has to be a decision between the two of you. If your other half is anything like mine maybe they are willing to go with your burning desire, or maybe they could “take it or leave it”. My husband is kind of in that headspace, I know he’d be happy leaving it at the three we already have but I also know he’d love to have more (he’s probably more into the idea of one more not three more like I want!!).

Can you tell they’re just doing it because it’s what you want? Did you need to persuade them or are they as keen or even more into the idea than you are? Talk at length about the pros and cons and what bringing a new life in to your world might look like for the family.

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The journey to motherhood

Some women are blessed to be able to conceive without even thinking about it - those super fertile women who get pregnant just looking at a newborn! Others take years to conceive, utilizing the amazing technological advances we have in medicine to help them become parents. There are women who take a few months to a year to fall pregnant, experience a miscarriage in between but end up being able to conceive on their own (I fall into this category). I have friends who’ve reached parenthood through adoption, step-parenting, surrogacy, embryo adoption, donor eggs, fostering, the list goes on! It’s a unique journey for everyone. For some it’s straightforward and for others it’s a hellish experience, full of highs and lows, shattered dreams, doctors’ appointments, therapy, medication, operations and grief. It can really take a toll. 

What are you willing to navigate to add another child to your family? Think about your emotional state and if you feel ready to travel that journey again. What support do you have in place for this? Are you financially set up for potential costs?

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Adjusting from none to one…and so on and so forth!

They say the jump from 0-1 kid is the biggest shock of all, so if you’ve survived that and you’re considering another one then great! The jump from 1-2 kids is always described as the next most challenging transition. Juggling the needs of two different babes was certainly a shock to the system for me at first, but like most things in life you stumble your way through and eventually find a comfortable landing place. Jumping from 2-3 kids is meant to be an adjustment because of the sheer fact that you as parents are now outnumbered. It is thought that going from 3-4 and onwards is a lot smoother because you’ve done it before a few times and you understand all that goes in to it. Having 4+ kids means only specific cars can fit the whole family and forget about carpooling other kids plus all of your own. I always laugh that once we have two more kids my mum will get the boot from joining us on road trips – and not the car boot! Our car simply doesn’t have enough seats for five kids plus Granny!

How many kids do you think your lifestyle can handle? Do you feel prepared for the transition? Will you have to modify your current living arrangement? Are you and your partner ready to be outnumbered?!

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Boundless joy

 

A lot of the time when discussing whether or not to have another child, we tend to focus on the cons, since the pros are a given. You’ve already had kids and know the joy they bring. However, I wanted to include some of the undeniable pluses of having another kid, just to have a clear scope of everything to weigh up. Children are beautiful, complex, colorful little beings that bring so much to our lives. Some days it’s a very hard juggle and they test the boundaries like no other, yet the unwavering love you have for them trumps all that they do to aggravate you! You want the best in life for them, you want them to be happy, to never feel left out, lonely or hurt. You feel their rejection as if it happened to you, their pain feels like yours and you just hope that they’ll always be okay. This is the raw, complex love of parenthood and each child brings their own shade to this intricate journey.

  Photo credit Katherine Schultz

Photo credit Katherine Schultz

New baby deliciousness

 

Yes I know this stage doesn’t last, but whenever I think about having another baby I just immediately get transported to the months of snuggling those little bugs, so teeny and sweet. That newborn haze is always more enjoyable because they’re just so gorgeous. I’m happy to endure the harder aspects of this stage because I simply enjoy watching them discover the world. The newness of them, the softness and the joy they bring to everyone. Even after the twentieth poopy blowout of the day, rotten new belly button smell, spit ups, cracked nipples, constant night time interruptions…I still cherish it all. These days are just so precious and it absolutely flies by. 

Think about snuggling your newborn baby, imagine your older kids bathing your littlest, cuddling with them, stroking their faces. Think of how sweet the newest love is as they learn to nurse and notice that you’re their mummy or daddy. The first signs of recognition. It’s no wonder we forget all about childbirth once they’re in our arms! 

  Photo credit Gemma Peanut

Photo credit Gemma Peanut

Falling in love time and again

 

You love your children like no other. Perhaps you feared you wouldn’t be able to love your second like your first, but you do! You just do. Even if it took you some time to find that deep love, it comes. Your heart expands and the love pours out of you. With each child, you get to fall in love all over again: the butterflies, the excitement of getting to know this new little person, observing the way they fold in to your family and watching your older kids be so gentle, loving and nurturing with them is one of the most special feelings in the world. That love only continues to blossom as they get older and start to show you who they are, you love them for so many reasons, but mostly you just love their way and feel such pride that they’re yours.

  Photo credit Gemma Peanut

Photo credit Gemma Peanut

Recycled and re-loved

 

I loved seeing Forest wear the same outfits as Bodhi and it’s funny to see how different he looks in them than his big brother. This is a more practical (but also sentimental) plus to having more children. The clothes sit away piled up with memories of when the kids were younger, when you’re able to get them out again and see the same clothes come to life on your newest babe, new memories are made. It’s a very sweet part of having more children.

Have you held on to the clothes your kids grew out of? Would it bring you great joy to bring them back to life again? Or is the thought of having to purchase new clothes/toys etc. a burden?

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Gender specifics

 

I’d be amiss not to include this because I know many folks who have the desire to parent a child of each gender and I don’t think anyone should ever be ashamed of that. We would love to have a little girl one day but I personally would never continue to have children just to get a girl. Your decision to have another child should not weigh solely on wanting to have a child of the opposite sex to what you already have, but it’s a very real reason why some want to have another baby. Since gender isn’t guaranteed unless you do gender selection, this is only something to consider if there are already many other reasons why you want another child. 

Are you the parent of same sex siblings? Would you like to parent a child of the other gender? How would you feel if you never had a daughter? How would you feel if you never had a son? How does your partner feel about this?

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Long after after you’re gone…

 

After my Nanna died, my mum had seven brothers and sisters to lean on for support. My mum was my Nanna's full time carer, but they each helped and pitched in as she grew old. Friends are an incredible and integral part of our life, but siblings have known us through it all and with that comes a deep sense of intimacy that can take years to build with friends. Sometimes I get sad to think that there’s no one on this earth that loves my mum, knows my mum and will miss my mum as much as I will when she is gone; I am her only child. Had I been gifted siblings, my hope is that they would know the love I have for her and share the responsibilities with me as she gets older. I’ll never have siblings to grow old and reminisce with, and that does make me sad, I could have shared endless childhood adventures with them! Some people absolutely love being an only child and I completely acknowledge the benefits of it (such as receiving undivided, loving attention) but for me, if I were to choose, I would have liked to share this life with a brother or sister.

Is it an important factor that your child has siblings into their old age? Do you think about growing old and burdening your child/ren with your care? Does the state of the earth weigh into your decision to have numerous children?

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