An acquaintance of mine recently gave birth to a her fourth child, a baby boy. The week prior to his birth, she posted on Facebook that certain folk would do best to keep their comments about her pregnancy to themselves: her child is a blessing. On the surface, no one would have reason to snark about her family: she is married, established, in her mid-twenties. But I knew immediately why she was angry: they were insinuating she had too many kids.
When I became pregnant in 2011, the news of my impending motherhood was met with unequivocal congratulations. In most of my circles, if you meet the respectable qualifications of married, heterosexual, and middle class, most people will congratulate you with enthusiasm. But even for single women, first-time mamas generally receive a shower of blessings and well wishes.
The second pregnancy is less fêted but somewhat expected. You see, no sooner than my daughter turned six months old, people began asking if she was making room for another baby. I had other issues with this that I’ve written about before. Aside from my own fears about pregnancy, I felt bombarded by the American promotion of a two-child household. Statistics have long told the story that American families have slimmed down from the 16 siblings my grandmother grew up with, to 2.5 children per household.
When my husband and I began to plan our family, we asked each other how many kids we both wanted, if any. We hoped the answer would be unanimous but it wasn’t: he wants two children and I want three. I don’t have a great reason for wanting three babies; I like kids and I think having three would be “fun.” #Husbae likes the idea of “us four and no more,” picturing a perfect little unit with an older boy and a younger girl. We decided on a compromise. If the first two children were both boys or girls, we would try for a third. If we had a boy and a girl, then we would call it quits at two.
I advised my husband to tell his soldiers to get right if he wants a boy the next time. 🙂
Although three children hardly make a quiver, I can already imagine what people would say about a third pregnancy. You’re pregnant again?? Another one?! After the second kid, the excitement over pregnancies fades toward morbid fascination and ends in disgust. I’m almost sure that’s what my Facebook friend encountered: a milder version of the horror with which Americans view families like the Duggars of
17 18 19 Kids and Counting.
In the conservative culture I grew up in, it was common to see families with children stacked like Russian nesting dolls, little tow heads only inches taller than their younger siblings. Big families are not an anomaly for me; they’re an alternative. One of my best friends had five brothers and sisters and we still considered that a “big family.”
I have thought about this in the context of race and single motherhood, understanding that the stereotype of Black women on welfare assumes they pop out babies to cash checks. A Black woman alone in a store with a large brood of “too many kids” draws side eyes and baleful stares. But even the backlash against the so-called Octomom demonstrates that Americans simply are not comfortable with single mothers of large families, almost irrespective of race.
Attitudes like this grind my gears. People are always after you to 1) Have a child (because no child = selfish adults?) 2) Have more than one child (because only child = bad?), but once you exceed their tiny allotment of approved kids, you’re bizarre. It doesn’t matter if you can afford said children or if you’re married or single or partnered. Worse still is the fact that people feel they have the right to admonish you for getting pregnant.
If people can’t be smart, they can at least shut the cluck up.
When the tiring single mothers are a drain on taxpayers argument is ruled out, I have little explanation for the contempt I hear in comments about women who have more than two kids. Who knows, I may have a boy next go-round and make this whole thinking exercise moot. But I do know this: if I am blessed with a third child, I better not hear one sideways remark about it. And to my FB mama: good for you for giving them the shady side of your tongue. There’s no such thing as too many kids when they’re born to family full of love.
Did you grow up in a big family or a small one, and how does that affect your ideas on family size?