In most American families, the first and second children are more or less a given. Sure, there are some couples who don’t have any children, through their own choice or not. But since most people expect kids, they probably get a lot of inappropriate questions about why they don’t have any. And there are certainly people who only have one child, but in general after you have one, people are wondering when you’re going to produce the sibling and don’t you want one of each sex?
But plenty of families stop at two kids. It’s really the rational thing to do. You have fulfilled your obligation to provide a sibling and reproduce yourselves. You have quite enough insanity to keep your busy and you might as well stop before you are outnumbered. We are well past the age of needing help around the farm, we have access to birth control - there’s really no practical reason for that third kid. (Granted, one could say that having children in the first place is an insane decision, practicality wise.)
By the third child, you know what you are getting yourself into. I didn’t love my first pregnancy, but it was more or less a piece of cake compared to these later two. The second pregnancy was pretty much miserable, so this time I knew what I was in for.
Maybe you got lucky with a super easy first baby and thought, “I can handle this; I must be really good at this parenting thing.” But unless the universe is super tilted in your favor, the second child is bound to come along and prove you wrong. (I was fortunate to have the “high needs” one first, so the second seemed easy in comparison).
At any rate, by this point you have realized that when you finally get through the sleepless nights, you still have the tantrums and potty training and blatant defiance and education worries...and you have discovered that sleepless nights do not end with babyhood. This parenting thing just keeps being hard, so why in the world would you go and start over again with another baby?
Unless it’s a total surprise, the third baby is usually more of a decision. You weigh the pros and cons. The house isn’t going to get any bigger, which means three kids in the same room waking each other up. In America you will have three car seats. I know those things are live saving, but it's going to take 30 minutes just to get everyone strapped in. In China you will have to somehow rangle three children down five flights of stairs. Three kids sure don’t fit on a bike, and can you really get that many on and off a bus by yourself? You may never go out again.
While I understand the principles of addition, they don’t seem to apply to children. Each added child seems to multiply the laundry and mess and chaos and tiredness. You already rarely see the bottom of the laundry hamper as it is, and now you are thinking about adding 5x the laundry (because somehow, that’s how it works)??
So why in the world do you have that third child?
Just because you want to. It’s not for convention or practicality or obligation. It doesn’t make sense. But you look around at your two child chaos and feel like something is still missing. Your family is not complete. You have the third child just because you want them. (Hopefully and presumably you wanted the first to as well, but the third child is just special. Which I’m not just saying because I am a third child...) The third child is like a bonus.
Besides, you know what you are getting into. You don’t have to worry (too much) about all the weird pregnancy symptoms, and it’s going to take a lot more than a few stretch marks to faze you. You know that pregnancy will in fact one day end. You feel like you could probably deliver your own baby on the side of the road, if it came down to it.
You already know about the heart-melting first smiles. You know how incredibly awesome it is to finally sleep through the night, and you will never again take it for granted. The first two have eaten an awful lot of fuzzy stuff off the floor and fallen head first off an awful lot of chairs without dying, so there’s a pretty good chance this next one will survive too. You know that one day this baby will be able to wrap its arms around your neck and say, “I wuv you, mama!”
You already know how much the siblings will enjoy each other, fighting and all. The first child is old enough to understand what is going on, to feel the baby kick and discuss again the mystery of just how it’s going to get out of your stomach. You know the coloring and block building and dancing around the living room will be that much more exciting with someone else to join the party.
You have seen how incredibly different those first two children are in looks and personality, and you cannot imagine either of them not existing in the world. You know this third will be a totally new surprise.
It doesn’t make sense. It’s not practical. You’ll lose a lot of brain cells and gain a lot of gray hairs. But you have that third child anyway, just because you want to.
This is the irrational season
Where love blooms bright and wild.
Had Mary been filled with reason
There’d have been no room for the child.