My Quiver Is Full

Image by David de Groot / Flickr.com

I wrote this post almost two and a half years ago, but these thoughts become even more relevant as time goes by. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below!

I took a pregnancy test tonight.  I didn’t really think I could be pregnant, but what else was I to think when my cycle was late and I felt nauseous?  As a young girl playing house I often wondered how many children I would have, but as I got closer to actually becoming a real mother I tried not to “jinx” myself by creating precise plans of how many, which sex, and what order. A Brady Bunch style family seemed nice, but even Supermom Mrs. Brady didn’t give birth to all those children. (And she had Alice! I’ve always wanted an Alice. Maybe that’s why Mrs. Brady was always smiling . . .) Yes, even the tidy world of the Brady Brunch included the unexpected inheritance of additional children through re-marriage–nothing could be perfectly planned to a tee.

The way some people talk, you would think family planning was as easy as going through the drive-thru at McDonald’s, but choosing how many children to have is a relatively new development in human history.  It was a whole different ball game just one hundred years ago. Back then, you were either fertile or you weren’t, and if you were? You just might get thirteen children. Today’s parents have much more to think about.

Mothers who find themselves unable to have children on their own have a myriad of options, but the results are still unpredictable.  (Kate Gosselin and the Octo Mom are perfect examples.) There’s always adoption, but even then there are decisions to be made about how many, what age, what race, disabilities or no disabilities, and so on.  Even those who can have children easily find that family planning can be harder than it seems.  If you love children and have the resources, should you just keep ‘em coming like the Duggars?  Some argue that the world is overcrowded as it is and that couples should only reproduce themselves – the politically correct, two child family.  (When I had just a daughter and a son, people would often say to me, “You have your boy and your girl!” as if I couldn’t – or shouldn’t – want any more children beyond that.) As a urologist, my husband performs vasectomies on a regular basis. Depending on the age of the patient, he feels obligated to counsel them about the permanence of the procedure so they don’t regret the decision later.  And then there are those who “accidentally” get pregnant, mothers who seem to have more than they can handle, or mothers who wished they had more children after it was too late.

So if you can decide, how do you decide?  Environmental reasons?  Financial, physical, or religious reasons? Or maybe more to the point: how do you know when you are “done”?  I have wondered about all of these things and more each time my husband and I have considered welcoming a new little soul into our family.

My story is fairly uneventful. It took about a year to get pregnant the first time, then there was a miscarriage, and then my body seemed to figure things out.  The miscarriage was a mixed blessing.  When we finally had another child three and a half years after our first, we decided that kind of spacing worked quite nicely, given I was functioning like a single mom during that stage in my husband’s medical training.  Throw in a little postpartum depression and you’ve got another three and a half year break before baby number three.  Baby number three was such a sweet, easy going cherub that I was certain I had figured out this mothering business and should go for at least one more.  Three and a half years later, presto!  Baby number four.

So here I am half way through my 38th year (how did that happen?) with four healthy, vivacious children that demand more of me than a boot camp sergeant, and I’m feeling pretty maxed.  With a ten year spread between the first and the last, I am trying to do the pre-teen thing while simultaneously doing the toddler thing.  It’s a lot of fun for the most part, but certainly a challenge.  But does that mean I’m done?  As the calendar inches along and my “baby” approaches her third birthday,  I can hardly stand the thought of not having an infant in my home ever again.  But wanting a cute and squishy baby to love and being willing and able to commit to another 18 years of responsibility for another life are two different things.  I can’t just keep having children because I want a perpetual baby to munch on.

Still, it’s not an easy thing to close the door on the child bearing years of life.  Knowing when to say when is a tricky thing.  My mother-in-law gave birth to her sixth son when she was 46 years old.  My husband is her oldest child, and we had our first child just four years after his mother had her last.  When she was giving me some of her baby things, she talked about her bittersweet feelings as she closed that door for what she knew was definitely the last time.  I can see that.  Perhaps the longer you are in that phase, the harder it is to leave behind.  The ability to create, bear and nurture life invokes powerful emotions in every woman.  Leaving that behind almost feels like leaving home.

My pregnancy test was negative.  (I left it on the bathroom counter just to give my husband a heart attack between the moment of realizing what it was and then confirming the negative result. Bad Allyson!)  I felt a rush of relief.  I was almost giddy.  I have taken each child one at a time, but after the birth of each baby there was always the feeling that there was one more. This feeling was especially strong while I was still in the hospital with our third child.  Not so the fourth time around.  All pregnancies are difficult, but I felt especially burdened this last time.  After bringing the baby home, I found myself doing book reports and car pool while simultaneously nursing around the clock on low doses of sleep.  I just couldn’t imagine trying to pull that off again.  (Not unless Alice moved in.)  I always said I wanted to keep having children until I felt maxed, and I felt maxed.  That was the first time I had a negative test result and felt nothing but pure relief.  That’s when I knew for sure I was done.

Psalms 127 reads, “As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth.  Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them.”  (You can probably surmise that a quiver is a container for arrows.) Whenever I think about this verse, I wonder if quivers come in different sizes.  My quiver certainly feels full with four, but I know some women who wouldn’t feel complete unless they had at least six little arrows in their quiver, and others who couldn’t be happier with one.  I wonder if every woman comes wired for a certain number of children they can wrap their heads and hearts around.  As in all aspects of mothering, we should never judge another mother’s value, strength, or ability to love based on the number of children she brings into this world. I think all mothers would agree that their love runs out of bounds with each child, no matter what the number.

QUESTION:  How do you decide when your quiver is full?

CHALLENGE: Strive to be in tune with your body and soul so that you will know how many is enough.

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Comments

  1. says

    Submitted on 9-14-2010 at 09:53am
    Good post. I guess for me my quiver was full when I could no longer have anymore…not that I was trying. The age span is 22 years….like your mother-in-law, my last was at age 45, after a miscarriage at age 42! The span between number 4 and 5 is five years, the span between number 5 and 6 is ten!!!

    I can say for me….who had three miscarriages along the way, I never wanted to say “no” to more children, but I also didn’t want one every nine months.

    Our family is perfect…our quiver is full, because God decided our quiver. Only He knew our future….only He knew that we would need number 6. Our number 6 came when we went through complete financial collapse…so the joy of him has been the glue that held us together…as a family and as a couple. I was pregnant at our first born’s wedding. LOL

    In my own wisdom I would have stopped at number 4 or even number 5!, but God knew better and I can never express the totally joy of those last two children….the first four were all under age 7!

    If I could go back and do it all over again I would welcome even more. I have never heard anyone say they wished they didn’t have the number of kids they had…but I have heard over and over again the regrets for not having more!!!

    Just my story….from a mom of 27 years!
    My Quiver Is

  2. says

    Submitted on 5-14-2010 at 03:41pm
    Allyson – I loved this so much. You give liberty to women in your words. That each is given the right amount of children to “wrap her head and heart around.” I loved that. Having dealt for years with infertility I always admired the women who had a quiver full. It seemed to be their gift. And how lucky they were! Now here I am, with a family – larger than I could have hoped for. Sometimes the world of medicine tells you are done. But those powers were in harmony with the ones above, and my heart as well. Sometimes all the stars align and you just know. Thanks for your joyful words.

  3. says

    Submitted on 5-6-2010 at 01:16pm
    Allyson, thanks so much for sharing this wisdom. This is one of those articles you want the whole world to read. I, unfortunately, stopped at 2 children but have always felt there should have been more Even at 52 I think, well maybe…Probably not gonna happen. I had my first child at 30 and the other 2 years and 3 months later. I won’t explain why (not health) that was it. Now I hope to fill the voids with my grandchildren–first one came 3 months ago!

  4. says

    Submitted on 5-5-2010 at 02:08pm
    I think this is one of the hardest questions to answer in a day and age when many women have a lot of control over that answer. We have the ability to say ‘enough’ and then do something about it. We have six children ranging in age from almost 11 down to 1 year. You’d think with that many I’d be all done. But at the back of my mind is this thought that there is one more. But just one more. But then again, sometimes six is enough.

  5. Lindsay says

    Submitted on 5-4-2010 at 02:10pm
    I was just thinking last night about this very thing. I have three kids ages 5, 3, and 2. It’s crazy around here! This has been the biggest break I’ve had from pregnancy and babies and it was scary to think how fast it has gone. If we were done, and we’re not, we are totally out of the baby phase. Well except for the diapers. Luckily, I know there will be a #4 at some point and who knows after that, but I’m just not ready to close the door on that chapter of life. It makes me crazy, but I think somewhere inside of me I like all those short chubby legs toddeling around my house. I just hope I get that “DONE” feeling when the time is right. Having c-sections, I sometimes fear that my doctor will tell me I’m done before I’m ready, but maybe that will be what helps me close the chapter. Thanks for sharing what so many of us are thinking.

  6. Tracy says

    Submitted on 5-3-2010 at 07:11pm
    Oh Allyson,
    I love your blog! It is bookmarked on my bb. You are so smart and funny and you bring me back to ninth grade and all of the laughter we shared. As I nurse my third child, born one month before my 39th bday, I ponder this question. I think my husband would faint if he knew I was even pondering… My paternal gramma had her 4th at 42. My dad, the oldest, was 21 and I came along 18 months later. My gramma really spaced her kids out. She used to say, “I prayed so hard for a grandchild and the stork brought her to the wrong house!” I think God’s plan always reveals itself. I just know that I want to end on a high note. With each pregnancy, the risks and the blessings become clearer. Keep writing, your words are inspiring.

  7. says

    Submitted on 5-1-2010 at 06:34am
    Allyson I loved this essay (and I would also LOVE an Alice :) In a couple of months i’ll be having my 4th baby and even though ‘logically’ I feel happy and content with that for now (this has been my hardest pregnancy :) my husband and I always talk about how sad it will be when we no longer have a ‘baby’ and how much we think we’ll crave another little one. Due to different health issues all of my children have been carefully planned and we felt and knew it was ‘time’ to have another baby, I just hope that the same guidence and feelings that helped us make the decsion to have children will help us to know when we’re done :)

  8. Melanie Vilburn says

    Submitted on 4-30-2010 at 06:01am
    That’s a really good question! When DOES one know when their quiver is full?

    My parents always agreed that when they found the right name for their babies, a wonderful, edifying experience of sorts would envelope them both to confirm the name being given. They knew without question that it was the right name. I think each person as well must experience something like that when their quiver has reached FULL.

    As for the Brady’s…their “behind the scenes” lives are a bit too anti-family for me. When is there going to be a show made after the Eyre’s Family? Now THAT is one I’d love to see!

  9. Pam Palmer says

    Submitted on 4-28-2010 at 09:57pm
    This too has been on my mind for the last year. We recently found out I am pregnant with our 6th child, and I can’t help but think is this the last child, how will I know? I almost feel like I want permission to feel okay that this is the last child that needs to come to our family. Wonderful article!

  10. Mary Christensen says

    Submitted on 4-28-2010 at 02:11pm
    Thanks so much for this article! It is something I often think about. It would be nice if the answers came so clearly. I really appreciate you sharing your intimate thoughts.

  11. Rebecca Kohler says

    Submitted on 4-28-2010 at 01:09pm
    I am at the tail end of my sixth pregnancy (we are talking DAYS), and just this morning I had a woman ask me if this was “It.” Note: When a woman is nine months pregnant is not the best time to get the word on whether or not she is “done.” I responded, “TODAY I am done, but we will see.”

    My oldest will be 11 in July, and my youngest is 18 months old. Honestly, I approach this birth with a little trepidation because my 18-month old has some pretty needy mornings lately. For the past few months I have been trying to savour as much of her babyhood as possible while continually reminding myself to remember that she is still a baby herself in spite of a new baby coming.

    Yes, this pregnancy was planned as were four of the five others. I didn’t want to have a “trailer” on the end, and seeing as how I am “no spring chicken,” I feel my biological clock ticking.

    My oldest child was born when I was 27, and I must admit there are times I have envied those women who got an earlier start on their families. I have always wanted a big family, but starting when I did the spacing of my first four children ended up a little “cozy.” Then I took a four-year sanity break before having #5. I have moments when I envy people who can feel at peace with two or three children, because that was their plan all along. (I can totally relate to the nursing/carpools/piano lessons commotion, Allyson!)

    Why do I feel a need now to reassure you that I love each of my children? I chose to have them, and even amidst the commotion and exhaustion I wouldn’t send them back. At the end of the day, I love being their mother and I know the commotion and exhaustion will come to an end–as will the sticky kisses, the smiles, and the noise.

  12. Alisha says

    Submitted on 4-28-2010 at 12:49pm
    This is something I think about ALL THE TIME. I have no answers, but I’m glad to know I’m not the only one.

  13. saren says

    Submitted on 4-28-2010 at 10:17am
    It’s sort of nice when you get a pretty clear message that you’re “done” – like in my case when we decided to go for a “4th and final child” and ended up with twins after a scary hard pregnancy and emergency c-section. That grand finale helped us feel totally and peacefully “done.” But most of the women I know never get such clear “message.” My sister pines away for another baby every day even though she has 5 and one of them has special needs – she just loves newborns so much and even though her mind tells her she’s done, her heart can’t quite accept that. My other sister keeps having miscarriages and it’s heartbreaking. Family size is complicated and I love how you help us remember not to judge each other.

  14. says

    Submitted on 4-28-2010 at 07:22am
    I would LOVE an Alice too…

    Fabulous essay Allyson. The point you made about not judging another mother’s value or strength on the number of her children is so vital. We don’t know reasons behind most mother’s (and hopefully father’s) decisions, as they are so personal and individual. My ‘quiver is full’, and though there are moments it is a bittersweet feeling, ultimately, I am truly blessed. Thanks

  15. Heather says

    When I had my fourth, I remember getting a “you’re done for now” feeling or impression. No matter how I tried to push for a more definitive answer either way, I could never feel anything beyond that. For five years. My heart was always ready but I’m guessing the rest of my life just wasn’t. So I focused on my other kids and moved on from the baby stage. Finally all of me (and my husband ;)) was ready to welcome another–she arrived two months ago– and it has been so so wonderful. And although I adore newborns, I know that this will be it for us. The definitive “it”. I have four other growing children in grade school who all need my time and energy. And I am not a supermom, I realize I can’t do newborn plus toddler plus adolescents– let alone another pregnancy– I ain’t exactly 25 anymore! I have an obligation to them to continue to mother them through their different stages. I have come to terms with the fact that I will always want another baby and that’s okay. I also realize that even having a choice in our family planning, although stressful and emotional, is a gift that I am grateful to have had.

  16. says

    I agree quivers come in all different sizes, sometimes due to circumstance, some due to choice. But family size is an absolutely personal decision. My quiver is full at 5, but if I was younger (41 here) and my doctor had not threatened me with death (not at his hands but due to complications) if I had another I would keep going. I always wanted a large family and I have one but would have loved a couple of more. I think at some point we have to close the door and enjoy raising the ones we have been blessed with.

  17. Melissa says

    Thank you Allyson for encouraging women to feel comfortable with their family planning choices. Both my husband and I came from fairly large families and decided even before we were married that two was the number for us. Time passed and it seemed as though even one was going to be a challenge when God blessed me with a daughter. Then before I was ready God blessed us with a son. One of each, perfect!

    There were other factors too, I will be 40 in five days and each pregnancy was getting harder. My husband works full time for a church and while God regularly blesses us; his days are long, time off is scarce and financially we have to be very careful.

    I some times get a little sad when friends and family around me are bringing new life into the world because they are such miracles. However, then I watch my kiddos learning letters, starting to write, examining a new bug and I get excited at all the wonderful adventures we are going to have together.

  18. Marilyn says

    Lots of great thoughts. I don’t have the answer for when you know your “quiver is full” because mine is still not full. We had four children pretty quick and then we thought that one more would be great–or that one more was all that I could handle. We have a video of me in the hospital in labor having baby #5 my husband saying, “this is our last baby”. Well, since then, “someone was missing”–we now have 8 children and still feel like there is “one more”. I really struggled with post-partum depression after #7 and #8, but through counseling and a lot of personal prayer and growth I am doing great. I am SO glad that we have had all of our children. I feel strongly that this is a personal decision and I feel blessed to have been able to have a large family. There are some days that are overwhelming, but I always think about my brother-in-laws comment, “You guys will have the best family reunions!”

  19. says

    I seem to have a problem opposite to most people I know – I wanted a large family, but since my son was born 2.5 years ago, I feel like I don’t want any more than one!
    Am I done? Will I regret it when I’m 50? Who knows…There are times I’m regretting having a child at all, amazing as he is. I feel an inadequate mother worker, wife, person. Like motherhood forces me to be everything at once. And anytime my little guy is unwell, I just can’t picture going through it with multiple kids about. Maybe it’s just me – a mom of one. But it is hard to switch your thinking after years of thinking that I will have a large family..

    • Merry says

      EVS, I am pregnant with our first, and I have always wanted a big family. But as I get closer to my due date, I feel more fear and inadequacy. If I am unable to overcome these feelings, I think I might also end up with fewer kids that I have always wanted.

      But I think that this is also okay. I know that my feelings of fear and inadequacy are things that I need to work on. It’s not just in this area of my life that they affect me. And if having fewer children allows me to develop in other needed ways (like taking care of myself emotionally), then I think that that is what’s right for me.

      • says

        Thank you for your kind reply, Merry, and hope that you have a great pregnancy and birth. Who knows, maybe you’re one of those people who will take to motherhood like duck to water once the baby is actually born :)

        What surprised me the most about motherhood (so far! I’m sure I will keep getting surprised) is that how much growing of ME needs to happen. I thought it’s all about raising the baby right. But no, turns out there’s so much work on myself I still need to do, I can barely fit raising baby and a job and a relationship in.. Another baby? Maybe when I grow enough, my heart will expand and welcome another baby…but I just need to accept that this time is not now, and might not happen..This is an unexpected aspect of DELIBERATE mothering for me – it is also turned out to be about deliberately becoming a mother. If I can’t bring myself to be deliberate about baby number 2, maybe it is just not the time and I should stop beating myself up about it and grow together with my child who is already here.

        • Ellen says

          I so relate to that inadequacy feeling. I was afraid to be pregnant the first several years of marriage, coming from a somewhat volatile home without good models to lean on. And then we had an infertility crisis. Now I’m 44, mother to 4 beautiful and challenging children ages 2-14.

          I’m not perfect and never will be – but my kids need to be prepared for the imperfect world out there, and one of the biggest parenting successes I’ve had is to be open (somewhat) about my own mistakes – I can say sorry, I can improve, my kids can question and speak up. It’s tricky to be open yet maintain authority, but it’s great.

          And every year has no shortage of “projects” – issues kids need my support on. This year my 8 year old is grumpy over everything and gets discouraged too easily, thinks he’s a failure in school because he won’t get 100’s so doesn’t put effort into getting an 80. We’re working on it – I try not to get anxious and remember almost all of these situations aren’t emergencies (unlike when my baby chewed on the Advil he found loose in my purse) and we can work on them over time – and they will improve.

          You are so right that parenting is a growth process. It’s G-d’s gift to us – it’s such a powerful growth process, and the privilege to add glory to the world along the way.

          Good luck!

      • Cheryl says

        I just want you fellow mommys to know that the feelings of inadequacy and being overwhelmed are completely normal! You CAN do this and you will be amazing! I have 5 children and felt these feelings each time I had another child. But what was miraculous to me is tha love multiplies, not divides and also God increased my abilities to do what seemed nex to impossible! Have confidence in yourself and watch new gifts and ability to do hard things increase by leaps and bounds!

  20. Kassie Welch says

    When I was growing up I knew at some point I would have kids but since I didn’t particularly like kids didn’t want many. Thankfully my Father in Heaven allowed me time to grow and learn. I am now a very blessed mother of nine. I know I have learned what I’ve needed to learn through having so many children. As to the question of being done. I never had a feeling or inclination. In fact I quit asking because the answer usually came in the form of a positive pregnancy test! I often thought it would be nice to have a medical reason to tell me I’m done. That wish was granted in Sept of this year. I was pregnant with our 10th and had bilateral pulmonary embolism. Fortunately, I survived but unfortunately the pregnancy did not. I finally feel as if I can say,’Our family is complete.’ It’s a strange place I find myself. It’s very bittersweet. No more babies, so sad. No more feeding infants in the night, so exciting. No more babies, so sad. No more diapers, so wonderful. Thankfully and hopefully we will have many grandchildren to love and cherish. God’s gift for surviving parenthood, I believe.

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