Whether the decision was made by choice or chance, realizing you’re not going to have any more children can bring a mix of emotions. No matter how sure you are, there is a real joy and sadness that can be felt as you move to the next chapter of your life.
Being able to have children is a huge blessing -- a beautiful journey that not everyone is able to experience, no matter how much they wish to. Watching your children grow and thrive and hit all their milestones is one of the greatest joys as a parent. But, when you realize your youngest child’s firsts will be your lasts, it is a lot to take in.
The last time you’ll experience pregnancy. The last time you’ll smell your newborn’s fresh baby head. The last time you’ll hear the first word. The final first steps. These are cherished memories for parents and coming to the realization that the door is closing for good -- by your choice or not -- can hit you hard.
If a medical issue took the decision out of your hands, the complicated emotions could be even more intense as you come to grips with the finality of your last child.
Family timing and spacing is very individualized for each family. For some, realizing you’re having your last child is simple to identify and comes after a lot of discussions and for others, the awareness is a personal feeling that is internally felt.
“Two kids is all my husband would agree to,” says Shiloh Johnson, mom of two in Tampa, Florida. “It was mostly logic, and the fact that I didn't have any strong feelings in opposition to that logic.”
For Johnson, the decision to have her second child be her last was met with a lot of discussions and looking to the future. Because she has a boy and a girl and wanted to be comfortable in the future when it came to finances, she viewed the decision as a logical one for her family.
Milkwaukee mother of three Alexandra Rosas said she had always wanted to have four children, but her health made stopping at three kids a finality. “Because of my ‘incompetent’ cervix, and my three children born early (35 weeks) my doctor advised no more children,” Rosas explains.
Many parents struggle with trying to decide when they’re done having children and often, it just comes down to something you can’t always explain. “I looked at our life and our family and didn't sense that anyone was missing,” explains Tanya Krystik, Ontario mom of twin boys.
When it comes to parenting, there really isn’t a “normal” in the feelings category. Often, parents will discuss feelings of calmness when they’re entering the next stage of parenting and others will question if their choice was the right one.
“Surprisingly all [the reasons we had] made sense to me and I feel good with the decision to stop,” says Johnson. She says she and her husband thoroughly discussed their family size while coming to the final decision and looking to the future. Their choice made sense to them and it still does.
For others, baby fever sets in each time you see a new baby. All the memories of your own little ones can flood back and can actually play on your heartstrings, and make you question if you’re really done.
“When we got the word from the doctor that my husband's [vasectomy] surgery was a success and there would be no more babies I was really upset and didn't want to talk about it,” recalls Krystik. Even though she felt that her family was complete and she was right with the decision, the reality of “never again” can make even the surest parent waver.
For families that have been stripped of the choice for medical reasons, there will likely be a period of grief as you learn to live with the idea of never having any more firsts. It is a hard reality to swallow for any parent watching their children grow, but can be felt especially deeply for some.
“My heart had always been set on four, and I still grieve this, 14 years later I still wish for number four,” says Rosas.
How to Cope
Coping with the finality of your last child will depend on how you feel about where you are in life. Some families are genuinely thrilled to be done with diapers and sleepless nights and look forward to new firsts as their children go to school, have their first dates and become adults.
For others like Rosas, the grief of feeling like the family is not “complete” comes in waves and can linger for years after. Being able to talk about your feelings and find support from others can help you get through those times when the sensitivity is present. Be honest with your feelings and seek help from a professional if you find your grief is turning into depression.