A close friend of mine recently had her third baby, a gorgeous child that her doctors had advised she not have. The baby, like her 2- and 4-year-olds, was delivered by C-section, and because her first Cesarean was a hastily performed, emergency situation that never healed well, her doctors were worried that a third delivery would be dangerous for her health.
I believe the exact words her doctor used, immediately after performing her second C-section, were: "You really should not have any more babies." My friend, however, had always imagined herself with three kids, so she ignored that advice, getting pregnant quickly after she stopped breastfeeding her second child.
This isn't a tragic story. My friend survived her third C-section, as did her child, but she also got such a terrible infection post-delivery that she ended up in the cancer unit, where the doctors placed her because the heightened sterilization was safer for her infection-ridden body. She couldn't see her children, including her newborn baby, for almost a week. She was released from the hospital to recover at home, with a nurse visiting to pack her wounds twice a day.
As worried as I've been about her since her last child's birth, I can't say I was surprised that the delivery and recovery was so difficult. I don't think she was, either — though of course, she had hoped for an easier path, despite her doctor's multiple warnings. This friend isn't the only one in my life who has gone through hell — physically, emotionally, and financially — all for one goal: to reach their "number."
Most moms I know have one; it's that number of kids you always thought you'd have, usually influenced by your own childhood experiences and sibling relationships. And it can be almost impossible for some women to get past, even when they're medically advised to stop having kids, even when the rounds of IVF aren't working, even when advanced maternal age is putting them in the highest risk category.
I try not to judge. After all, I had my own number (two), preferably a boy and girl, and that's exactly what I got. I realize that I won my own genetic lottery. But that doesn't mean that I think being stuck on a number of kids you thought you'd have is a healthy thing (see hospitalization story above for proof), and it so often leads to so much unnecessary sadness.
She knew she'd always be thinking about those phantom babies that were part of her imaginary perfect family.
When another girlfriend realized that medically she was going to have to stop at two kids, instead of the three or even four she really wanted, she came to me for reassurance that two was enough, that her family might someday feel complete, although she knew she'd always be thinking about those phantom babies that were part of her imaginary perfect family. Of course your family can be complete with only two, I told her. But only if you let it be. Only if you give up that dream scenario and live in reality, where you have two beautiful, healthy children who need you to think that they are enough.
After years of talking about defying her doctors and getting pregnant again (a situation that would have been seriously life-threatening to her), she eventually realized it wasn't going to happen and moved on, but I know she still wishes she had another kid or two running around her house. Our number is that hard to put down. But maybe, for our own health and happiness and the sake of our already-born children, we should try.