Experts urge women to limit the number of kids they have to two or less, citing the economic, personal, professional and environmental toll of child-rearing.
As a mother of four, I can only smile at these warnings.
In early 2010, we decided to have a third child. Nine months later, our two sons were blessed with a beautiful sister – and a handsome brother.
Although we have excellent jobs – my husband is a communications engineer with the Canadian Forces, and I am a teacher – our monthly daycare costs would have exceeded my paycheque. So after my Employment Insurance benefits ended in September, I became a stay-at-home mother.
I had considered going back to work to contribute to my pension and advance my career, but that idea was soon squashed. In July, 2010, mid-pregnancy, our military family was posted from Ottawa to Edmonton when my husband accepted a two-year command position. Our parents and extended families live in Ontario and New Brunswick. So, this Ontario girl and her Maritime husband headed west with half the income, double the kids and no support.
When the twins arrived in the fall, we spent thousands of dollars just to cope. We bought a minivan. We purchased a new crib, playpen and highchair. Our RESP investment doubled. We bought a triple stroller for our twins and young toddler to ride in. It takes a lot of shoving to fit this monster stroller in our van, and its enormous size commands attention.
As a shy person, I was horrified by that attention. I am often photographed by tourists and approached by strangers.
People asked, "Did you do fertility treatments?" When I said no, one person responded with, "So, this was on purpose?" Another man educated me on my carbon footprint: "Your overactive uterus is causing overpopulation."
A dear few commended me and offered "your babies are beautiful" comments. I also heard harmless jokes, like the one from a man entering Victoria's Secret at the same time as me: "With four kids already, aren't you playing with fire by shopping here?" But for the most part, the negativity and judgment trumped the pleasantries.
Our oldest started half-day kindergarten shortly after we moved to Edmonton. Each day, he had to be accompanied inside. I could not carry two infant car seats and manage a rambunctious toddler, so the stroller became a necessity. And walking one kilometre to school was better than packing, unpacking and packing the kids and the stroller into and out of the van.
Last winter saw record snowfalls and many cold days. Our new subdivision did not have sidewalks. Our road was rarely plowed. Before twins, I was a stylish mama who loathed cold-weather gear. But I traded my high-heeled shoes for oversized snow boots and even donned snow pants and my husband's balaclava. My afternoons consisted of bundling, frigid walk, unbundling, double breastfeeding, bundling, frigid walk, unbundling.
With four children, everything is more complicated. At family restaurants, staff exaggerate the wait times to discourage us. "It's a two-hour wait," snapped one hostess as we gazed into the empty restaurant. We have also witnessed two waitresses fighting over who had to serve us.
At the grocery store, I whip around with two shopping carts, one full of kids and one full of groceries. "Why don't you get your husband to do the shopping?" asked one man. As I tried to explain that my husband is in the military and often away, the man snarled, "Or are you a single mother?"
Initially, I felt sorry for myself. I sobbed at the mere mention of a business trip for hubby. I desperately missed my teaching career. As an overwhelmed stay-at-home mom, I longed for personal and professional fulfilment.
So I did what any woman in my shoes would do – I turned to chocolate. I gained 25 pounds. In three months, I weighed more than I had at the height of my twin pregnancy.
When I went home to my parents' place last Christmas, I read a 2009 Maclean's article called, "The case against having kids." In it, a proponent of remaining childless said that women with children often give up on their own goals and dreams. Was I giving up? Did I subscribe to this belief that only childless women could have it all?
As part of my 2011 New Year's resolution, I committed to change.
In January, at 192 pounds, I dusted off the treadmill in our basement. After a three-minute jog, I collapsed on the floor like a heap of sludge. But I kept trying.
I timed myself to see how fast I could walk to school, and started to extend the walks. In March, I signed up for a 10-kilometre race in Calgary. On my 33rd birthday a couple of months later, I ran it at a slow time of 1 hour and 27 minutes. I signed up for a run in Banff in September. I trained daily, and finished the 10-kilometre mountain race in 1 hour and 11 minutes.
A year later, I am 45 pounds lighter, and a half-marathon is next on the bucket list. Those walks to school don't seem so difficult any more, and I have an abundance of energy for playtime.
I have turned negative comments from strangers into a funny blog, and recaptured my love of writing.
I will commit to another new year's resolution for 2012: I will work on my professional goals. With four kids, a troubled economy and a military posting to Toronto on the horizon in the coming year, it will be a challenge to make progress. But I dare you to bet against me.
Robin Small lives in Edmonton.