Having children can be an incredibly emotional journey wracked with excitement, nervousness, fear and even sadness. But what we don’t often discuss is that the decision to stop having kids can be just as soul-stirring and often more difficult.
The average number of children per household in the United States dipped to 1.9 in 2017, dropping approximately 18 percent since 1960. The drop could have a lasting impact too, as a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that women are not having enough children to replace the current population. Interestingly, however, women surveyed by The New York Times reported that, on average, they’d like to have 2.7 children.
So, women reportedly want more children than they’re having — what gives? Research from the Times indicates there are many reasons for the fertility decline among women under 40 years old: People are getting married later in life; couples are having less sex; they now have access to a variety of birth control methods, including long-acting reversible contraceptives like IUDs. And then, of course, there are the women with children who have decided they’re simply done having kids. Their reasons, much like their personal backgrounds, undoubtedly vary, ranging from tight financial circumstances and a desire to maintain a healthy work-life balance to struggles with fertility and pregnancy complications.
Below 11 women explain why they said, “Thank you, next” to having more kids.
1. The nuclear family
“My husband and I always knew we wanted to have two kids. He is the youngest of two; I am the youngest of two. As soon as we had two, our family felt complete. My second was delivered in an unplanned C-section, and in explaining what was happening to me, the OB assured me I was a good candidate for VBAC [vaginal birth after cesarean]. While I kept the thought to myself, I thought silently, ‘Get this one out of me, OK, and we won’t have to worry about a VBAC!’” — Jamie Beth C. from Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
2. The pushy OB
“I am finally getting a tubal ligation next month, and I am excited about it. One of the major deciding factors was the way I was mistreated as an older mother — age 36 — during my last pregnancy in 2013. I fired my OB in my last trimester because she was pressuring me into unnecessary testing and a C-section after two vaginal births without complications. I had to fight hard to have the natural birth I wanted. I left the hospital saying I would never have a child in the U.S. again — that meant never.” — Shanon L. from Washington, D.C.
3. The midlife milestone
“I wanted three but stopped at two. Two reasons we didn’t have more kids: My husband is 14 years older than me and turned 47 after my second was born. We had talked about no kids after 50, and I wouldn’t have been ready for another kid before 50. I was OK with that, though, because my second did a number on my body. I had a lot of pain while pregnant, and it took a long time to even put a dent in the baby weight — my second is 3 years old and I’ve only lost 10 pounds of the 35 pounds I gained while pregnant. We don’t have any money, anyway, so I’m good with being done.” — Shana W. from Rockville, Maryland
4. The happy duo
“I grew up always taking care of my three younger siblings, so I was never sure if I wanted kids — you know, to continue in a life of caretaking. But when I got pregnant with my son, I had so many questions of just, ‘What would it be like?’ that my curiosity won over. I had a terrible pregnancy and struggled with hyperemesis gravidarum, lost 20 pounds by the time I was six months along, the works. Now that I have my son, it feels so worth it — he is the most wonderful, wise little human. It’s just the two of us now, and he is more than enough for me; he’s everything.” — Amelia E. from Nashville, Tennessee
5. The layered decision
“For my husband and I, there were lots of layers to why we only had two kids. The heaviest layer for us was how hard pregnancy was for me. I threw up at least once a day — if not far more often than that — for seven out of eight months of being pregnant with each of the kiddos. I had to go to the ER because I pulled a muscle in my back when I was sneezing.
“I am so very thankful and grateful that I could carry and give birth to two beautiful and amazing children. After having two miscarriages, the blessing was indescribable. Because I know so many people who either can’t get pregnant or gave birth to stillborn babies, I absolutely hate saying this out loud, but I hated being pregnant. It was not magical or moving. It was not filled with excitement and joy. I was Elizabeth Banks’ character from What to Expect When You’re Expecting, and I hated every minute from the first time I felt my breasts tingle until the moment the doctors removed my babies from my uterus. I cried tears of pure joy after my daughter was born that were only intensified when they began removing my fallopian tubes during the caesarean because I knew I would never have to deal with the fear of getting pregnant again.
“I have even gone through therapy in order to process the guilt I felt for having these feelings and thoughts around my choice to not have more kids. But I realize the guilt is still there because I felt a need to compensate for my guilt by recognizing the beauty of giving birth.” — Alisha S. from Pacific Grove, California
6. The high-risk hesitant
“I decided to stop at just one because the one pregnancy I had was harrowing and high-risk. After I gave birth, my doc told me that she never expected that I would be able to carry my baby safely to term. When I thought about getting pregnant several years after that, she told me not to press my luck, and I didn’t. That baby just turned 30.” — Roz W. from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
7. The difficult decision
“I tied my tubes after my second. I miscarried three before him, and during that pregnancy, I was placed on bed rest to ensure I didn’t lose him. Although I wanted more children, mentally, it would have broken me to lose another. When I told my doctor I wanted to tie my tubes during the scheduled C-section, she refused to sign off. I had to go to another doctor to get sign-off for the procedure. I was sad about the decision but knew I couldn’t deal with the heartache of another miscarriage.” — Migdalia R. from New York City, New York
8. The precautionary vasectomy
“I was diagnosed with hypertension at eight weeks and, later, preeclampsia during my first pregnancy. I also had hyperemesis gravidarum, and so I was in and out of the hospital. At one point, we thought I might lose my son. We moved from Kentucky to California when I was 34 weeks pregnant, and I started swelling overnight. I couldn’t walk. I was having trouble sleeping, and I gained almost 100 pounds throughout the pregnancy. Ultimately, doctors decided to give me an emergency C-section after my system started shutting down, and I almost died. As soon as I delivered my son, they separated him from me for an hour and 15 minutes, which I think set in my postpartum depression.
“I didn’t think I’d have any more babies after that. We eventually tried for a second, and I wound up having a painful miscarriage. I started thinking, ‘Maybe I’m not meant to have babies.’ We ultimately tried again, and I got pregnant. That was a bittersweet moment because I didn’t want to get too attached. I went to the doctor a lot for blood pressure checks throughout the pregnancy since I once again had preeclampsia. I had my daughter at 33 weeks via another emergency C-section. After I delivered her, they diagnosed me with eclampsia. My doctor looked at me and said, ‘You need to go on birth control or stop having sex. I’m going to be honest with you: Based on how your last pregnancies have gone, you have 100 percent chance of having preeclampsia again, of miscarrying, of delivering at 29 weeks, and you have a high risk of you dying or your baby dying.’
“My husband scheduled a vasectomy shortly after. We’d wanted to have a third, but I decided it’s not worth my life, and it’s not worth hurting our children.” — Raina H. from Sacramento, California
9. The work-life balance
“Way before we were married, I never really wanted kids — that was never something innate for me. But once I met my husband, I wanted to build a family with him, and for me, that meant having kids. I wanted one or two, and he wanted between two and four. We had our first daughter, and it was so hard. Eventually, though, we were like, ‘Let’s do it again,’ and then we had our second daughter. After her, we were done. They get along so well. But it takes a lot of time, money and energy.
“I like being a working mom, so the idea of having another person and another schedule to take care of — in addition to getting my doctorate and working full time and my husband working full time — was just too much. I don’t have that desire. My family is complete… I’m enjoying watching my girls grow.” — Alejandra De la Cruz H. from Los Angeles, California
10. The natural choice
“Both my husband and I grew up in families of four, and early in our relationship, we knew we wanted the same. We originally wanted our children four years apart but changed our minds after our daughter was born and ended up with a three-year gap. I was fortunate to have two ‘easy’ pregnancies and deliveries but did start to have lower-back pain following my youngest’s birth — my son — which shortened our breastfeeding journey and solidified our decision to stick with just two children. We love our kids and look forward to getting rid of all our baby stuff!” — Allison W. from Reno, Nevada
11. The bittersweet beginning
“When I was 34 years old and newly married, I lost my mom unexpectedly — she was 55. She was undergoing treatment for early-stage breast cancer. On her very last day of treatment, she had an anaphylactic reaction during chemotherapy and went into cardiac arrest. She was ultimately taken off life support.
“It was just a year later that I discovered I was expecting my first and only child — a girl, whose estimated delivery date was my mom’s birthday. I was in shock when the nurse told me. I was still grieving; an unexpected death is not something you ever get over; you only get through it.
“I have one sister, who made my mom a grandma just eight months before her death. My sister, though, suffered from postpartum depression immediately after birth. I had always pictured having three kids. No one told me that I would be high-risk for postpartum issues after delivery because of my personal circumstances. While I did not suffer from postpartum depression like my sister, I suddenly had panic attacks and major anxiety, something I had never experienced before. Taking care of myself became priority No. 1. I chose, much to the surprise of my husband, to stay home — and a year, later start my blog, Finding Debra. I spent all my time with my daughter focusing on teaching her everything and making memories.
“My daughter is our only child. We never tried for another. We never even talked about it in all honesty. We just were moving through those years the best we could as a family, finding joy in this little girl. The three of us just felt right. Our daughter was the perfect combination of my husband and me.
“I quickly found myself in my 40s with symptoms of perimenopause. My body was telling me I was getting older. I have no regrets. I have an incredible family, and my daughter has a large extended family to love.
“The most hurtful thing has been the comments, some from family members, shaming us for only having one child. These people didn’t know our circumstances, nor was it any of their business, but their words stung. As for me, I sit here the proud mom of an 11-year-old daughter. The three of us are so close. I wouldn’t change a thing.” — Debra M. from Dallas, Texas
These stories have been edited for length and clarity.
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