I married young, before most of my peers, and by age thirty I had three children. Despite the fact that larger families were rather out of vogue, as well as the subject of criticism and ridicule among many of my socially conscious set, I wished for more children. But with some trepidation, we took steps to make sure there would be no more babies. This decision made sense logically; I secretly feared our marriage ultimately wouldn’t make it, and single parenthood is hard enough with even one child. In my heart, however, I continued to long for a larger “bunch.” I felt in some primal way that my family wasn’t quite complete.
I found myself sidling up to the mothers I’d occasionally meet at the park or La Leche League meetings or at my kids’ schools – mothers with four, five and six children, and asking about their lives. Were they happy? Did they ever feel overwhelmed? In fact, I found that these mothers-by-choice of large gaggles of children were some of the most serene, self-actualized people I knew. Their lives had a clear “center,” and it gave them a sense of direction – a North Star, if you will.
But in a culture where approxmately 2.1 children-per-mama is the statistical norm, even my three children – born in fairly rapid succession over only six years – stirred some comment. “Don’t you two know what causes that yet?” people would ask me and my husband. Even with three, we had to buy a “big family” vehicle – the dreaded minivan – and we no longer fit in restaurant booths for four.
And then my marriage did end.. For several years, I was single, sharing the parenting of my three growing children across two households with my ex-husband. I figured I might marry again, but I assumed that if I ever did, the man in question would certainly say that three was plenty. I was wrong. The man I married told me he not only loved my three, but wanted them to have more siblings. I was thrilled. And today we are the “HickJu Bunch,” as we jokingly tell people (his name is Hickman, mine is Granju). After I gave birth to my youngest child 11 months after our wedding day, we have four children between us, and hope to have a fifth. And while it’s pretty unlikely, even a sixth child isn’t completely outside the realm of possibility for us.
When I tell people I have four children, and that I would like to have more, the most common response is one of – for lack of a better word – distaste. “I would never want to do that,” women say to me. And you know what? As a strongly pro-choice woman, I am extremely pleased that we live in a culture where what women want has become the primary factor in whether they have five children, one child . . . or no children at all. That’s because there is no question that raising a passel of kids is time-consuming, expensive, and requires a certain tolerance for chaos. I freely admit that it isn’t for everyone, and I’d never suggest that anyone take on the role unless it’s something she really, really wants.
Historically, large families were literally foisted onto women. Pushy husbands, religious or cultural expectations, and lack of access to birth control conspired to knock women up – again and again and again. Today, however, most American women who become mothers to a brood are making a conscious choice. And it’s a choice that is worthy of the same respect given to those who choose to have one child, or no children at all.