There's a question often asked among parents, along with, "How is everybody sleeping?" and, "Another glass of wine?"
And that's: "So, are you having any more?" More children, that is.
For those of us on our first, the answer is often, though not always, an excited, "Yes! We want a second."
Once the second's arrived, should the question be repeated, some reply just as resolutely in the negative.
"NO. Return to diapers and sleepless nights? Are you insane?"
My husband and I, parents of two young children -- a girl and a boy -- like to answer the question of having more with an annoyingly vague, "We'll see."
This answer prompts a variety of replies, from the enthusiastic, "Go for it!" to the less positive, "Don't be idiots."
Despite the fact that I'm 35-years-old, my father still worries about my well being, as he did when I was a little girl. He viewed my two perfectly normal pregnancies as risky, stressful times. "Why would you do that?" he asks, earnestly, when the subject of another child comes up. He wrings his hands and shakes his head.
Friends who've resolutely decided to stop at two children, or less, list the cons with an ebullient fervor. And I get it. It means sharing your body all over again, with another nearly ten months of pregnancy, then longer spent nursing a baby. Diapers, then potty training. Choking hazards. Waking up in the middle of the night.
There are the gung-ho few in favor of the idea, usually those who have, or are expecting three, themselves. In this category, the reasoning is less specific. "It's so much fun," or, "A big family helps character development."
Casting the obvious aside -- that the decision is nobody's business but the couple's -- I find the discussion intriguing.
It's more difficult to justify having a third than when you're moving from one to two children.
Wanting your son or daughter to have a sibling is reason enough to take the plunge a second time. But what's the practical reasoning in going for more than two? Beyond the theoretical disadvantages already listed, there are loftier questions that arise when considering a bigger family: What about overpopulation and climate change? What about further taxing our already taxed planet?
Those thoughts are fairly abstract, though. Considering pragmatic, personal issues, I worry about having a third when I, myself, haven't totally figured out my life. I'm already strapped for time dedicated to my career and other pursuits and, if we decided to have a third, I'd like to ensure my work life won't suffer.
I know that this is one of those obnoxious, parent-centric topics, and I can already imagine the backlash to my wasting time on such a superfluous subject when there are real things going on in the world. Believe me, I get that. I recognize that this discussion is especially impertinent to parents hoping for just one child of their own; that I'm incredibly blessed to have two healthy children, and my apparent struggle in deciding whether or not to have another isn't likely to win me any sympathy points.
Still, along with those sleep and school questions, the fact is that this is something we parents talk about, and spending a few moments on it is, I suppose, excusable.
More importantly, the subject makes me think about more pressing matters.
It forces me to ask myself if I'd follow my the advice I often give to others about not only parenthood, but careers and relationships, telling them that the only reason to do something big, is if you can't imagine living life without it.
Thinking about having another child also helps me consider, and improve, my role as a mother to the children I already have, and as a woman in the life I already live.
I think about my 2-year-old son's elbow dimples one day morphing into teenage, gangly limbs, and I think about the giggly whispers my 5-year-old daughter now shares with her kindergarten friends, telling innocent private jokes in a world only they inhabit.
I've heard it so many times it's comical. But it's also true -- it all goes so fast.
I can't prolong their babyhood. And should I have another child, I'd experience all the same trappings of infancy -- a baby sleeping bundled on my husband's chest, tiny cotton pajamas and cooing noises -- only to lose them once again. Don't get me wrong, it's an expected and happy loss as our kids grow up, but I do understand that it's a process fated to happen over and over again, no matter the number of children.
I don't think there's always a right or wrong answer when contemplating having another child. I do think, however, that there's a certain peace a parent must make with him or herself, regarding this question, or any other.
I came to this realization happily on a recent afternoon. I was watching my two children do nothing more than run down the sidewalk in our neighborhood, careening this way and that as they shouted commands to one another and randomly broke out into song. The scene felt both bursting with possibility, and utterly complete.
"This," I thought calmly, as I hurried to keep up, "this is enough."