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Another Baby? Maybe...

QUESTION: I have three wonderful children and I am trying to decide if I should try for a fourth child. My instincts say yes, but my head says no. I know this is a very important decision that can affect my whole family. I was a fourth child. How can I decide if I should stop at three kids or try again?

ANSWER: You are right to give careful deliberation to this important decision, as it does impact other family members. Assuming that you have struck a happy balance with three, it is understandable that are pulled between the joys of having another child and afraid to upset the wonderful balance you have achieved. Try taking a deeper look.

Your instinctive desire to have four children may be fueled by an impulse to recreate the family structure of your own childhood. It is common for women to develop an urge to have the same number of children as their own mother. Consider whether your impulse for a fourth child comes from being one of four yourself, particularly if you were the last. It is natural to have an emotional attachment to the position in the family that you occupied as a child. It may not be reason enough to become a mother to a fourth yourself.

Consider, also, whether there is anything you are avoiding by having another baby, such as developing other interests or activities. Answering the following questions will not tell you what the future will be if you have another child, but it can help you clarify what decision is right for you and your family. It can help you to separate motivation driven by fantasy, from a realistic vision of the future.

Read through the following two-part exercise. First, ask your own questions. Journal them if you like. Take time to reflect on your answers before inviting others into a discussion about their views, in part two of this exercise.

Part one: Ask yourself:

  • What feels unfinished about having a family of five instead of six?

  • What does a fourth child symbolize to me?

  • Am I having trouble letting go of having a "baby" in the family? If so, why?

  • What are the realistic repercussions and joys of adding a fourth?

  • How will having a baby affect my marriage and relationship with the older children?

  • What would I be devoting my energies to if I did not have a baby in the next year?

  • Am I sabotaging my happiness by adding more at a time I have just achieved a healthy balance in my life?

Part two: Gather information from the other family members:

  • What are your children's views on having another sibling?

  • What are your husband's views?

  • What would need to be given up by family members?

  • What might be added to the family by having another baby at this time?

Keep in mind that raising young children may be what you know and feel confident doing. Sooner or later it will end as your children grow and leave home. Many women experience the decision not to have more children as a loss and need to mourn this passage in their lives.

Consider whether closing the door on reproduction represents a finality that brings sadness. If so, you may want to have a ritual for this rite of passage that honors this period as a significant one in your life. Doing so may make it easier for you to move on and enjoy the many activities you can do with your older children as a family, that you might miss out on with a baby.

If, after careful consideration, your answers lead you toward adding a new family member, by all means do so and enjoy! Family members bond through feeling considered in the decision making process. Discussing and gathering input will help your children prepare for the challenges and the joys of adding a new member, should you and your husband decide to do so.


Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter..

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