The Future By Thirds

November 3, 2008

“What would you think,” my husband asked, “if I got a vasectomy?”

I put down my magazine and stared out the window. “I think,” I said carefully, “that I wouldn’t know what to think.”

“We’re done, though, right?”

“I think so.”

“But you don’t want to get pregnant again, right?”

“I don’t want to be pregnant again, no. Or at least, I don’t think so. I think. No. I don’t know.”

That wasn’t entirely true. I do know. I don’t want to be pregnant again. And I certainly don’t want to go through childbirth again. And I could do without ever going through another exhausted-depressed-anxious-boobchafed tour-de-newborn again. But do I want to ensure that I never get pregnant again, that I never have another child? I don’t know. I don’t think that those questions are the same. Do you want (or not want) to go through the process of having another child? is a different question from do you want (or not want) to have another child? in the same way that do you like the work of motherhood? is a different question from do you like being a mother? or do you love being mother to your children?

I don’t like pregnancy. I don’t like childbirth. I’m not super crazy about the work of motherhood, and I’m especially not crazy about the 24-7 boot camp nightmare that is the work of being a brand new mother to a brand new baby who stays up all night and chomps boobs and shits everywhere. But I love my children. I adore my children. They are the most precious, most delightful, most amazing things in my life. So if you ask me, do I want more mother-work, the fast and firm answer is no. But if you were to ask me whether I’d want another one of these incredible little beings, I would say that I can’t bring myself to say, firmly and finally, no. And if you were to ask me whether I’d accept further burden of mother-work in order to have another one of these little beings, I’d have to say, I just don’t know. I don’t think so, but I don’t know.

All I know is that I don’t want to say no. Not with any kind of finality. Not in a way that closes off any possibility of yes. Or even, oops. (Because oops is a yes of a sort, is it not?)

(yes is a world/and in this world of/yes live/(skilfully curled)/all worlds)

(feel free to roll your eyes at me here)

My hands are full. Emilia is hell on wheels, a brilliant and beautiful tempest that blasts her way through every day, wreaking full havoc and leaving us, her parents, stunned and enchanted and weary in her wake. Jasper is a great, hulking, grinning cherub of a baby, big and strong and determined to catch up to his speedster-demon of a sister. They thrill and delight and exhaust me. I adore them more than I thought it possible to adore any other living beings, but they keep me at the very razor’s edge of my wits. I don’t know that it would be humanly possible for me to manage another child. Ever.

But the idea of closing off any possibility of that third child… that seems, somehow, inexplicably, wrong. I’m not a big believer in destiny – that is, I don’t think that I am – but if there’s a future for us in which a third child figures, do I want to refuse that future? I think of those friends of mine for whom the third (or fourth) was unexpected, a shock even, and I know that if they had it to do over, they would not want to turn back the clock and refuse. But turning back the clock to change the past, and settling upon certain choices for the future are two different things, of course. I have already made innumerable choices that have closed off innumerable futures; I do not, for the most part, mourn the loss of these futures. They just simply are not to be.

Am I ready, though, to close off entirely the possibility of this future, of a future in which our two are our three, in which we four who once were we three become we five?

I don’t know. I just don’t know.

(How did you know? DO you know?)

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    Anonymous November 4, 2008 at 9:25 pm

    Two beautiful and healthy children and a husband who is offering to have a vasectomy….things don’t get much better than that. You are one lucky woman!

    Issas Crazy World November 4, 2008 at 9:48 pm

    I know I’m comment nine zillion or something, but I still have something to add.

    Maya is so much like Emelia, I’ve always thought that. But at almost seven, she’s found outlets for a lot of her um…what do I call it? Her own brand of crazy? Don’t get me wrong, I adore my daughter and I adored her as a bitty person, but she’s where all my gray hairs come from. ADHD is the label they placed on her, but there is so much more involved. Once she went to school though, we started seeing differences. Five weeks before her seventh birthday and I can honestly say, she’s about 60% easier to deal with. She’s helpful and sweet and organized and I finally feel like I might just let her live to become the amazing adult that I know she’s going to be. She makes me so tired and insane some days, but it’s not the norm anymore.

    So now I’ve got three kids. But there is a reason that Alex is so much younger than Maya, because I knew I wanted more kids one day, but I honestly didn’t think I could do it. Then it changed. Maya went to school, Nata to pre-school and the thoughts of maybe one more became, I want another today. I’m getting to enjoy my son so much, because the girls are big and in school and not so needy.

    I can’t (and I know you didn’t ask for that) make a choice for anyone but me. I’m nuts enough to think that I’ll most likely have one more. What I will say is this, if there is even a smidge of a question, hold off for a few years in making a huge decision. Making that choice, while you are still recovering from having Jasper and Emilia is three, isn’t the best idea. If you were sure, it would be different. But if there is a question, I’d say just wait. Talk about it in a year, two years, hell even three. You have time, you know?

    Anyway, hugs to you. Sorry for the novel.

    Candygirlflies November 4, 2008 at 10:27 pm

    You NEVER know.

    That said, my husband got “snipped” after Wee Three was born…

    My heart tells me that I still have reservations about such finality…

    But my head insists that it was the right thing to do.

    Does that help at all???

    xoxo CGF

    Mandy November 5, 2008 at 2:01 am

    You know my recent history. We thought, after three, the snip for David. Now, well now we’re in limbo. Too raw to discuss another attempt, and too raw to discuss not having another attempt.

    If I might suggest some *ass*vice, I’d say wait for a year, then decide on the V or no. Give yourself a chance to get beyond the fresh memories of newborn stage.

    Or so says a woman paralyzed by the idea of choice right now.

    Elizabeth November 5, 2008 at 3:08 am

    I think you just plain know when you know. And I don’t think you know, yet. At least you know that no isn’t now.

    Karen MEG November 5, 2008 at 10:17 am

    Another rockin’ post, Catherine.

    We’ve had the “V” talk as well, which is ironic given our experiences with infertility.

    I suppose for us it was easier, as I wasn’t sure we were ever going to get pregnant, and we were blessed twice. The second time I was almost 40. And once you’re in your 40s and you’ve got two young kids and you’re totally exhausted all the time as it is…it’s a lot easier to say … uh, no way, we are totally exhausted and so, so done.

    (So nice to meet you BTW…hopefully get to actually chat more next time. Jasper is the most adorable cherub)

    Sarah, Goon Squad Sarah November 5, 2008 at 11:54 am

    Oh. I knew. I was sure.

    1) My pregnancy was miserable.

    2) I got a boy and a girl.

    3) Two came out the first time. Who knows how many would have come out the second time. What if I ended up with five children in two shots?

    4) Recurring nightmares about pregnancy.

    5) I really always wanted to have two children.

    6) If I get desperate for another one we can always adopt a child in need. One who already sleeps through the night and poops in the potty. November 5, 2008 at 12:30 pm

    You don’t know how glad I am to read this post – I feel the exact same way. Like a dog chasing her tail, I just seem to go round and round. My six year old is the best thing since sliced Wonderbread and I would give my left leg to have another one of her. But I can’t seem to get passed the same tour-de-newborn issue you discuss. I am linking this post on my site as well as I could not say it anybetter than you have. Kudos…. November 5, 2008 at 12:32 pm

    …and that site would be


    Anonymous November 5, 2008 at 1:26 pm

    Quick comment about everyone saying vasectomies can be reversed. No wonder healthcare is so expensive! It’s that kind of attitude…if you change your mind just go ahead and get it reversed because insurance will pay the thousands of dollars it will cost to reverse it…that has contributed to the healthcare crisis in the US.

    And I agree with anon 1:11 — if your husband/partner doesn’t want any more children, why is it okay for you to insist on it anyway. Um, isn’t he still part of the equasion? Don’t his feelings matter?

    Madame Queen November 5, 2008 at 2:37 pm

    If you asked me, I will very quickly say Hell no I don’t want anymore children. But when offered the chance to have my tubes tied during my last c-section, I couldn’t say
    “No more children, ever.” I didn’t get it done. So, I get what you’re saying.

    Mamalang November 5, 2008 at 2:51 pm

    I have three children. THe oldest is my stepdaughter. When the second (my first natural) was 3, we thought we were done. We were 98% sure. That 2%…it stopped me, and we agreed to wait one year and discuss it again. I was told it was near impossible for me to get pregnant anyway, so we didn’t sweat it. 10 months after that conversation, I gave birth to my boy. And I am very glad that we didn’t deny that opportunity. But while they were in with him, they tied. And hubby had a vasectomy. I knew that three was absolutely my limit.

    courtney November 5, 2008 at 4:21 pm

    I would wait to make a decision until you’re absolutely sure. Two kids sounds just about perfect for me, but how many kids you choose to have is such a personal thing.

    LD November 5, 2008 at 5:11 pm

    I feel the exact same way. I’m so sure we’re done and I’m happy and we’re complete as a family of four.
    There’s just this feeling that I would love another. I mean, there’s so much love there.
    My husband wants to get snipped. He’s done.
    But, I’m just not sure.
    Our compromise was that I got a merena (IUD). It bought me a few years to decide. And my husband knows that we’re safe and I’m not going to forget my pills or anything.

    Tracey November 5, 2008 at 5:39 pm

    Is it wrong for me to hope to be “surprised”? bEcause we are done. I guess. We have 3. Husband says we’re done. Yet he doesn’t want to be snipped. So…. The possibility is always there. Which is killing me…

    MamaBug November 5, 2008 at 8:28 pm

    I didn’t know what I wanted, but DH was willing to make his appt. with the Dr.after babybug #2 and I wasn’t ready. Here we are with #3, and I don’t like the idea of being done nor having a 4th baby. I decided to get the Mirena and make that final choice later. (Plus it was so much cheaper!)

    karrie November 5, 2008 at 10:11 pm

    If you’re not entirely sure, then why make a permanent decision now when there are so many forms of birth control that are nearly foolproof?

    My son will be an only for many reasons. I can say this with certainty and have not once wavered. In fact, as he grows older,and hell, as I grow older, my decision feels even more right.

    I’ve found a way to be mostly at peace with the work of mothering, but the thought of revisiting those early years–much as I also adore my son–fills me with dread.

    Shannon November 5, 2008 at 10:41 pm

    Well, we’re 41 – and in his case, almost 42 and we’ve still not made it final. My second child was truly a surprise. I had wanted another, but not yet. My husband had planned to stick with one. I, too, am not enamoured of pregnancy and the early days are hell (a good kind of hell, but still), though the memory of how rough has faded. My husband planned for an immediate vasectomy right after the second was born. Right after she was born, he said, “They sure are cute” and couldn’t go through with it. So here we are, old and probably a bit foolish. We don’t really think we want another one, but we aren’t ready to close the door. At least it looks like we’re in good company….

    Anonymous November 6, 2008 at 8:25 am

    I still don’t know. I’m actually going to show this to my sweet husband. You’ve articulated what I’ve been feeling but have been unable to communicate to him.


    Steph November 6, 2008 at 1:31 pm

    I don’t know. In fact, I’ve been feeling the [hormonal] urge to reproduce again. My husband says his answer is no. But the thought of never having another baby overwhelms me with sadness.

    jb November 8, 2008 at 2:20 am

    actually believe it or not the third one was a breeze. really! i am serious. with a 2 and 4 yr old one more didn’t really cause much more work. don’t laugh. cause somehow the 4 yr old sticks with the 2 yr old and by the time the newborn is 2—they are just like a package that entertain each other. and the 4 yr old is quite a fantastic help to you. i say always go for the third if possible but then STOP–so you can get your life back. I have been enjoying your blog and laughing. i am 54 now and although my 3 are in their 30′s –i remember ALL that u are going thru. but NEVER feel guilty–just do the best u can and if u give them lots of hugs and kisses–they will be fine!!!!

    Amanda November 11, 2008 at 11:35 pm

    Echoing Julie, wait. At least for a bit, it’s a might heavy door and you need to be together as you move it.

    noemidonovan November 13, 2008 at 9:49 am

    You’ve already had so many comments that I’m not sure if you’ll read mine, but anyway here goes. I have 3 kids ages 6, 4, and 22 mo. 2nd and 3rd of those three were accidents, mostly happy accidents, however, I will most definitely not allow any further accidents to occur because: 1) my house isn’t big enough for 6 people, 2) I want to give my children “Grade A” mothering rather than “Grade B” mothering as much as I possibly can, 3) there are only 24 hours in each day and there are limits to my capacities in terms of physical and emotional availability towards each of the already-existing members of my family. Plus, who’s to say life wouldn’t throw me a curve ball? What if a 4th child were born with some really terrible illness, or what if some other life circumstance made things incredibly difficult? Like I said, goodwill and motivation only go so far with limited funds, limited hours in the day, etc. In my case, I’ve got to be practical and say, If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Things are good as they are, don’t risk making things more difficult.

    blissfullycaffeinated November 17, 2008 at 1:32 am

    Wait. Just, wait a while. Give it some time. After our second baby I went through something that is very similar to what you are going through, no sleep, insane crying infant, bad crazies, etc. I said , “No way, never, ever again.” But, after the crazy baby turned two I started to get a deep yearning for another one and I am glad we didn’t make the vasectomy decision during that bad time. We are still waffling, and may still get one, but I’m glad the 3rd baby option is still there for us.

    Mommy Mo January 8, 2009 at 10:36 pm

    Hi Catherine. I’m a first time visitor to your blog- I love it and have already added it to my blogroll. I am 36 yrs old (will be 37 in May) and I just had my third child in September. My husband had a vasectomy over the holidays.

    Some people know definitely that they are DONE, others not so much (like me). In my head, I know we are done and my husband is completely done with the baby phase but my heart, well it probably has enough room for a herd of children. My sanity, however, would not be able to handle any more. That being said, going from 2 to 3 is way easier than from 1 to 2, IMO. My kids are quite young and I am quite old, lol. They are 5, 2.5 and 3 months. I love all of them with my heart and soul but some days, I’m ready to check-out for a few hours.

    I say “wait and sit on it” for now. Is there any rush?

    I wrote this post in October in regards to this very thing…..

    Good luck! Lisa

    Swistle January 13, 2009 at 8:43 pm

    Oh, I know! There’s a HUGE difference between “Do we want more children?” and “Do we want to make ourselves infertile?” I don’t want to be infertile yet.

    But in any case, I think it’s really hard to give the issue serious thought when there’s a toddler and a baby in the house. That’s the hardest combination for me. I have a 9-year-old, a 7-year-old, 3.5-year-old twins, and a 1.5-year-old, and THAT is EASIER than when I had a toddler and a baby.

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