The tough decisions - family planning and growing your brood

Photo by Jessica Rockowitz / Unsplash

Have you noticed a significant increase in advanced preparations,  concerns, and  thriving companies dedicated to family planning?  

Family planning has many definitions, but is focused on the timing and spacing of conceiving children and controlling the age difference between children coming into a family unit with or without the use of medical and natural contraceptives.  

Many people across different cultures and countries are choosing to have children later as they are finding their life partners and getting married later, seeking greater length and success in employment, and pursuing travel and higher education.  Sometimes we are fortunate to get to choose how far apart our children are in age, but nature (also called fate, God, providence  a higher being or “lot in life”) alters our destined course, no matter what precautions we may take,  and creates a family faster than anticipated.

“There are contemporary notions of family planning which tend to place a woman and her childbearing decisions at the center of the discussion, as notions of women's empowerment and reproductive autonomy have gained traction in many parts of the world."

These thoughts have helped me in my decisions regarding the spacing of my children as I continue to grow my family in the most rewarding years of mothering.

My first three children almost had the same due date- and yes, we wanted a two year gap, but not to the exact day!  My first came a week late, my second three weeks early, and my third, a week early. So needless to say, we call the first week of August birthday week and we keep our birthday banners up and a cake warming in the oven all through the month of August.  

The World Health Organization (WHO) suggests, “There should be a gap of at least 24 months  between your first and second child. By this time, the mother’s body is fully recovered from her first pregnancy as she replenishes the nutrients she lost in her first pregnancy. If not 24 months, a minimum gap of 18 months should be maintained in any case."

I have found that getting pregnant when my baby was nearly 10 months old was a nearly perfect time for my body. After a full recovery from my C-section delivery, returning to exercise, resuming all normal activities (wink wink), finding balance in my hormone levels and learning my baby could sleep through the night and eat solid foods, allowed my body and mind to prepare for a new pregnancy and a new infant to come.

Moving from one child to two children was my most difficult transition. I was no longer just caring for one other person, brining another along for the ride to work, the store, and my exercise classes.  I  had a very difficult second child with undiagnosed health concerns and a voice that would carry for miles and who seemed to despise the concept of nighttime sleep.    

I was outnumbered and they ganged up on me at every turn:  screaming together, refusing naps congruently, clogging the toilet and overflowing the bathtub simultaneously, and scheming against me the very  moment I stepped away to tackle the mounds of growing laundry. It often seems like a miracle that we made it out of these first parenting years alive and even considered a third child.  

Having more children after you have successfully carried, delivered and celebrated the first year of your firstborn can be a very difficult decision, especially if you’re both working parents.  There are so many things to consider such as the cost of delivery, childcare, a growing food budget, more diapers to afford  and the length of maternity/paternity leave all adding up in the financial portion of family planning.

Some people deliberately choose to have children close together (under 2 years) or leave a larger gap (3-4 years) between their children.  There are advantages to both options.

The joys of raising children together with smaller age differences are plentiful.  When children have siblings close to their same age, they become friends, have playmates and confidants, find someone to entertain and understand them in their stage of life, and learn alongside each other.

Children are more adjusted, patient, tolerant and resourceful as they do not always have mama and papa at their beck and call and learn to turn to each other for love and attention.  They also have greater empathy, compassion, a stronger work ethic, and are often more generous as they learn to share, serve, give, and relate to the needs and troubles of their younger and older siblings.

For parents, some of the many advantages are: having children share a room, shoes and clothing, cook large meals and feed everyone at the same time, and to raise children in the same developmental stages. When children are close together in age,  parents can use similar resources and ideas for teaching, helping them work alongside each other, and using games to help their children grow together as a young family.  There often will be similar interests, preferences and sports that siblings who are close in age will share as they grow.

When children come close together there can be negative consequences.  There is little downtime, fewer opportunities to escape for vacations and time for adult activities. You may be toilet training your 3 year old while introducing solid foods to your toddler, and worshiping the porcelain god in the throes of morning sickness all in the same hour.

These moments can seem daunting, but are fast and fleeting  in the timespan of motherhood. These moments will stand as reminders of your great strength among your many personal parenting decisions.

If there are larger gaps between children, the older children can help with changing and feeding the babies, the toddlers can run around with their older siblings, and the social and emotional needs of younger children will be met by loving and excited teenagers. There are also benefits of having a larger gap for your own body to relearn the art of breast and bottle-feeding, heal and recover at its own slower pace, find fewer diapers to change, and have more seats in your vehicle that aren’t all filled with car seats and boosters!  

These decisions are crucially important to the happiness and health of your family and need to be made with patience, grace and thoughtfulness. I love my tight little flock, and wouldn’t change having them close in age for the world. I have found peace and harmony in family planning with my dedicated companion.  How have you spaced your children?  Are you team close, or team space them out?  

Article by Christina Packard

Christina is the mother of 5.  She is a writer and educator for Made Mindful, LLC. Along with gardening, embroidery, and playing the piano and trumpet, she finds thrills in anything DIY or craft related.

Sarah Ziroll

Sarah Ziroll