In this week’s ask the rabbi, Rabbi Schochet asks a single but important dilemma.
Should we have another?
My wife and I have been unable to resolve a dispute for two years. I would love us to have a third child but she wants to stop at two. We have a girl (five) and a boy (two) and are both in our early 40s. She feels that falling pregnant beyond 40 is wrong. We spoke about children before getting married and were on the same wavelength.
When we started trying for children we made the mistake of thinking these things go to plan. There were two miscarriages, one before our first child and one in between. After our first, my wife would have moved heaven and earth to ensure we had a second. After our second, she didn’t want to entertain the idea of a third, even though she’d previously been fine with the idea.
We’ve been through all the arguments.
“It’s more expensive!” (We’re more than capable of managing the cost.)
“We won’t be able to give as much to the two we have.” (But think of what they’ll gain from another sibling.)
“Handling three at once is too much!” (We’ll get extra help for as long as needed.).
“I don’t want any more sleepless nights!” (But it’s such a fleeting phase in a lifetime).
“Why can’t we be happy with the two we have?” (Of course I’m happy; I love them so much, that’s why I want another!)
“What if I don’t feel happy with the third child?” (Look how happy we are with our two children – why would we feel differently with another?)
My wife wants to continue to work part-time and feels another child will put her out of the game for several years and then she’ll struggle to get back in.
I have told her that if she really feels that way she should work and we’ll use the money to pay for extra childcare. But there are two other arguments that are really at the heart of her concerns.
First, the increased risk of the child having a disability or congenital abnormality when the mother is in her 40s. She has a point. Should that stop us? People are bombarded with so much information these days about risks that you can’t ignore it.
Second, she can’t bear the thought of another miscarriage. I don’t really have an answer. It’s a risk with every pregnancy, but perhaps more so for her.
We’ve been there twice before and it’s heartbreaking.
But if you asked me would I prefer that it never happened in exchange for us never having tried and never having had our children? Never!
Is it better to leave the subject alone? I don’t want to regret in years to come that we never tried again, but I don’t want her to be unhappy.
Your question lays bare all the complexities involved. As you rightly observe, the primary reasons is just a cover for the underlying concerns. Or are they?
While the key concerns about congenital abnormality and a miscarriage are real, perhaps your wife really does feel overwhelmed with her current responsibilities and wants to “get on with life”. Don’t forget, you are the one out there carrying on as ‘normal’ while she is at home with the baby.
So one question for you to consider is whether you make her feel appreciated for all that she does.
Keep in mind the story of the husband who came home one day to find his house a total mess.
The dishes were piled high, clothes were tossed everywhere, his kids were making a huge mess. As he wandered up the stairs, navigating through yet more socks and rolls of toilet paper that had been playfully rolled down, he came to his bedroom where shoes were strewn about and found his wife lying there reading a book.
“Honey, um, are feeling ill? Is everything OK?” She glanced up from her book: “Everything is fine. I’m feeling great, thank you.” “Well then, what’s going on? This place looks like it was hit by a storm!” She looked up at him once more: “Do you remember how you came home all tired and bothered from the office the other day and asked me: ‘What is it you do all day?’” “Yes.” “Well, today I didn’t do it!”
Having said that, I have often advocated here that however many children a couple decide on, they should always consider having one more.
I have met many past their childbearing years who regretted not having an additional child and wholeheartedly agree with your concerns of looking back in the years ahead with regret.
On balance, I am going to say to you the following: I think the medical risks can be assessed by a doctor.
I think the underlying emotional concerns needs to be addressed by the two of you in meaningful conversation. And then I think, if you can get past all that, you should have that one more child – for every child is indeed a blessing and adds so much more to the ambiance of the home, both materially and spiritually.
As my father (of blessed memory) used to say: “We have six million to make up for.” Oh, and don’t forget to invite me to the baby blessing ceremony.