I’m yearning for a third child to recreate the large, loving family I grew up in | Ask Annalisa Barbieri

I have a strong attachment to my family – in particular my three siblings. We live in different countries but the bond is strong.

I have two children, aged six and two, but I’ve always wanted three. I know I am beyond lucky and grateful to have two. Since I had my second, I have been grappling with the internal debate “Should we have a third or not” and as I have just turned 40, it is occupying more space in my head.

I have spent time thinking about why I feel that more children equals better. I think I assume that the bigger your family, the more joyful, strong and fun it is. Being with my siblings makes me feel invincible, we have great banter and care for each other. It has always felt as if it was us against the world.

I know I could give that sense of community to my two children without giving them a sibling. We have a lovely intergenerational community around us. I also know not all siblings get along, that just because we have a third child doesn’t mean we will recreate what I had growing up.

We have a few compelling reasons against having a third: impact on environment, living space, impact on sleep, physical toll of another pregnancy.

Our life is settled, lovely, fun, comfortable. I don’t want to rock the boat. But it’s not just that I am feeling broody, it’s also that I worry we will regret not paying the price of a couple of years of bad sleep to have three children at the dinner table in future.

I am so aware that lots of people struggle to conceive. So there is also an element of shame around this obsession.

Let’s get rid of the shame. Other people not being able to conceive is not your fault. It’s obvious you feel very grateful for what you have. In your longer letter you listed quite a few cons (not so many pros interestingly) viz having a third. I think it’s wonderful you have such loving siblings but remember your experience is of having three siblings, not of having three children. That could be quite different.

Whatever you do, make an active decision so you can own it rather than “leaving it to fate”.

I consulted UKCP registered psychotherapist Alison Bruce who wondered how much of this you’ve discussed this with your partner. You didn’t say. Bruce thought it was great you wanted to continue the “good”. “We so often hear about the transgenerational passage of trauma within families, but this story illustrates how important the transgenerational passage of goodness can be.”

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Bruce also mentioned something which I think is very important here: allowing yourself to mourn life cycles. No matter how many children you have, you will probably miss their babyhood and you need to allow yourself to feel that. This is a really important distinction because sometimes it’s not wanting another child, but to go back and savour with more intent the babyhood of the children we did have.

And there will come a time when you can make no more children and you will need to process that; that’s a definite milestone for a woman. Even if you are happy with the children you have, there can be a certain sadness at this juncture (or for some women: celebration). You may always wonder what it’s like to have one more – but maybe it’s a distraction from the realisation that perhaps you won’t have any more babies?

I also wondered how much of it was actually not wanting a third child but wanting permission to stick to “just” two and not doing what you always imagined. That’s more what I heard in your letter. After all, your children will very probably have lots of cousins. You’re not failing anyone if you decide to stick to two.

Obviously no one can advise you and your partner what to do, but what helped me when I was in the same situation was really thinking about the reality of having a third. So in any given situation I’d think: “OK how would I manage a third now?” How would I manage a baby if my eldest really needed to talk to me, how would I manage this journey, or that holiday etc. Not just brushing over the details but concentrating on them. Remember you can like the idea of something, but not the reality.

The podcast I did on siblings remains the most listened to so far, perhaps for a reason.

Every week, Annalisa Barbieri addresses a personal problem sent in by a reader. If you would like advice from Annalisa, please send your problem to Annalisa regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence. Submissions are subject to our terms and conditions.

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