When her third child arrives, Cassie Hamer has mixed emotions as to whether or not she wants one more.
It should have been a moment of joy. There we were, driving out of the hospital car park and heading home with our newborn baby girl strapped securely in the back seat alongside her two adoring sisters. A healthy family of five – what more could we ask for? But as we bounced over the final speed bump, I felt my eyes burning and a few seconds later, big fat tears started to flow. This wasn't happy crying. It was the sad kind, generated by a deep sense of sorrow that this could be the last time we would ever leave a hospital with a newborn baby.
You could call it self-indulgent. After all, many women have enormous fertility battles and don't get the chance to give birth, so how can I feel anything but overjoyed when I've been lucky enough to experience three? But I can't help it. My emotions are mixed, and I'm confused. How do you know when enough's enough?
I always imagined myself as a mother of three, probably because that's what I grew up with – two siblings and two parents – and it was an incredibly happy childhood. Three kids is my 'normal'. Except now I have three of my own, and I don't know if we're done. On the other hand, my husband has nine half brothers and sisters, but also spent much of his childhood as an only child. Needless to say, he has no fixed ideas on the 'right' number of children. I had imagined feeling a sense of completion and contentment on the birth of our third child – but I don't.
In my heart, I know I will never experience anything as profound and as exciting as bringing a new life into this world. Of course, we have many fantastic family milestones to look forward to as our four year old starts school, our two year old learns to speak, and our baby takes her first steps. But nothing can compete with the elation of witnessing a little being start as a group of cells and swell into a three-kilogram bundle of life. Producing a baby is probably the closest I will ever get to feeling like a miracle worker.
So why are we stopping? Why not go for a fourth? This is where it gets complicated. Strictly speaking, there is no one thing standing in our way; it’s a whole range of things. Firstly, I have a history of miscarriages and I'm reluctant to put my husband and myself through that awful roller-coaster ride of early pregnancy again, when every cramp and spot of blood generates a shiver of fear that the baby may not make it. Secondly, pregnancy and I are not great friends. During my last pregnancy (which included 18 weeks of morning sickness, as well as migraines, insomnia, leg cramps and bone-crushing fatigue) I appealed to my friends and family that if I ever even so much as contemplated another baby, they had permission to whack me over the head in a reminder of just how painful pregnancy can be. All three of my pregnancies lasted nearly 42 weeks and ended in induced births, accompanied by episiotomies. Not fun.
Thirdly, having a baby is about so much more than the birth. The birth comes and goes in the blink of an eye, but a child is for life. While I am mourning that this could be the last birth I will experience, this child may also present many lasts that I would be happy to see the back of, such as nappies, night feeds and toilet-training. And finally, perhaps most importantly, to be the parents we want to be and have the kind of life we want, I think it best we stop at three. I want to be the kind of mum who has an individual relationship with each child, and can attend school assemblies, tuckshop and weekend sport. I'm not saying it can't be done with four children; I just don't think I can do it. I also want to pursue personal ambitions completely unrelated to my role as a parent, such as finishing my university degree and resurrecting my career. As the mother of three girls, I feel a particular responsibility to demonstrate to them that modern women have many choices and opportunities in life.
Unexpectedly, there has been a beneficiary of my sense of sorrow – the baby. Because this is (probably) the last time I will get to parent a newborn, I am determined to make it a happy experience, with long-lasting and joyful memories. There is nothing I won't do or try to keep her content, because if she's happy, then I'm happy. So far, that's meant co-sleeping when she's unsettled, feeding on demand, using a dummy when required, and lots and lots of cuddling to sleep – in short, all the things I tried to avoid with my previous two children. All of my self-imposed 'rules' for parenting have gone out the window. The word 'spoil' has been banished from my thinking (at least while she's a newborn). We're just trying to make this the most enjoyable time possible for all of us. It's been a revelation – why didn't I do this for all my children? And why did it take me until this last one to figure out a method of parenting that sits comfortably with us as parents as well as our baby? It seems such a shame to have just worked it out at the end. Another reason to perhaps go for number four…
For the moment, the argument goes back and forth in my head. I've shared this dilemma with friends and family, and I know I'm not the only mum who experiences this mental tennis match on a daily basis. A wise friend said, "It doesn't matter how many children you have, you will always wonder if you should have had one more". This is probably the most compelling argument. Even if we had one more baby, I might still find myself in tears leaving the hospital and wondering if four is really enough.