Fourteen years ago my husband and I had a child. I wanted her more than anything in the world and was consumed with getting pregnant. After my daughter was born my husband and I felt filled, completed by the three of us and so we didn’t have any more kids.

Early on a few of my friends after hearing my motherhood horror stories decided the reason I wanted only one child was because I had postpartum depression, because I didn’t love being a stay at home mom despite being grateful that I had the choice in the first place, because my labor and delivery was long and off the charts painful, but that next time, they said – things would be different.

But hoping for different doesn’t feel like the best reason to have a child, does it?

The Duggar Family: What size is the right size?

When I think about the controversy with the Duggar family, (“19 and Counting”) I wonder, beyond the obvious issue of overpopulation why people feel so strongly about how many kids is the right amount?

Most people agree that bringing little ones into the world if parents can’t love and care for them to the highest level isn’t in a child’s best interest — but barring that, how many kids should someone have?

Is there some exact recipe like if you don’t add enough salt to your soup it’s missing something, add too much and you’ve ruined the whole batch?

When my daughter was around three, the age when people begin to ask when number two is coming, the questions about why we weren’t growing our family were for the most part few and far between. People nowadays generally assume a singleton family stays that way because a couple can’t have more kids — not because they choose to.

Women who have one child by choice don’t readily admit it although I have many times because it’s just simply part of who I am.  I think it’s hard for some people to wrap their head around the idea that having one child can be just as motherly and nurturing and fulfilling as having two. Maybe it looks like we’ve left some unfinished business or that we’ve thumbed our noses at our biological imperative women have.

But with deeper inspection behind the argument that bringing more and more kids into a stable loving home is the mark of selflessness, I feel compelled to point out that having kids, biologically or adopting for the right reason is what gets my selfless vote, that is – having kids because you have an unquenchable desire to add the love of a child to your already stable and loving relationship.

Michelle Duggar keeps having kids, I’m happy with one.

Our extremes defy the norm for what some people think is best for kids which is seems like at least one sibling but not too many.

People assume an only child misses out on what only a sibling can give (it’s true they do) and that each subsequent Duggar is exponentially less likely to receive the same amount of parental attention (that’s true too).

But kids can get love and attention from the “village” that surrounds them whether they’re short on siblings or short on parent time.

I won’t debate why the Duggars shun birth control and insist on having so many kids, I understand it’s for religious reasons.  Despite our very, very different points of view on who should orchestrate reproduction, the Duggar’s seem remarkably happy. Either they fake it well or the show’s editor is masterful at depicting a balanced family.

Admittedly the Duggars get proceeds from the show, and exploitation is a fair argument against having reality shows with kids, but from my sense this group is no more dysfunctional than the average family, and some might say, they seem even happier. 

I prefer, which is not to say I’m right, having kids be mostly well thought-out, but I’d never suggest “surprise” kids aren’t loved as deeply as planned ones.

But what we mostly ignore when we say want want only the best for kids as a whole is that the best is first an issue of intention. 

Intention is best for kids.

It’s the purpose behind having twenty children, one or none that honors kids. Do we have kids to fill ourselves, to mend a marriage to heal an emotional void? Or do we have kids to add exponential beauty to what is already healthy in our lives?

We’re still new at sorting out what having children means in this country. Our identity as women is still largely informed by our biological ability to have kids, to have one or to have six. Making babies has been hard-wired into our human survival so I understand it might take another half century or so to evolve to the point where we won’t feel our species is threatened if a percentage of the female population opts out entirely, or has one child.

But I have to think there’s no set formula for what makes a woman maternal enough. Women who want kids get their fill with different amounts of mothering— but there is a clear and painfully obvious formula for what makes an entirely bad mother.

One child or twenty 

My husband and I started our family when I turned 31. I  knew when I was 19 I’d need some form of infertility intervention, diagnosed at the time with a benign pituitary disorder called Empty Sella Syndrome. This meant Mother Nature would need a little kick in the pants (or in my case injections in the butt) with super hormones if I wanted to have kids. Not one to hail from the school of “if kids ares meant to be they will be” I decided, my child WOULD be — no matter what.

Carl and I went to my long time endocrinologist and after hormone injections and regular monitoring I got pregnant the first month — record time by infertility standards.  In our first consultation I asked the doctor what my chances were of conceiving if I wanted one or two kids and he said it was as high or nearly as high as any woman’s on any given month.

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Because I was adopted and never met my biological parents my craving to have a child of my own flesh was primal and ferocious. Whatever it took, for however long, for whatever amount of money in whatever country, I would do anything legal to have my own, and given my mindset at the time I probably would have skated on the legal fringes if it came down to it.

Failing wasn’t an option — while I totally supported adoption for other people, there was no plan B. There’s a kind of blind madness behind maternal drive, and yet women who don’t have this in my opinion, aren’t mad. Our conviction to opt out of having kids, to have one or twenty is equally irrepressible, equally non-negotiable.

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Michelle Duggar and I: Two different moms, same love

The first time I watched the Duggars on their reality show “17 and Counting” (at the time) I remember wondering beyond the obvious head-scratcher why a woman would ever want to go through childbirth seventeen times and raise that many kids. I self-righteously assumed such an enormous group of kids from parents who clearly bred offspring like puppies had to be really messed up.

But to assume a family as big as the Duggars is seething with emotionally neglected kids and middle-child syndromes is as prejudicial as believing a family with one child is missing something.

Extreme family sizes make us want to re-calibrate to the middle, to adjust the dimensions of another parent’s life to come closer to ours, and so reinforce what we think to be right.

Years back a friend of mine was grocery shopping and saw a frantic mother trying to get her three kids who were running between the aisles to settle down.  My friend remarked that she totally understood because she had three of her own at home, the woman said, “Yeah, it’s like those moms with one child aren’t really parents.”

Is it because of the discomfort of our mixed emotions, that squirrely motherhood ambivalence — that we adore our kids but hate the grind, that we sling arrows at a family that doesn’t match ours?

The number of children Michelle Duggar and I have are driven by the same intention — because of what defines us, because of what we feel kids deserve, both of us immune to the parameters society sets.

I’d guess Michelle and I both feel kids spring from a powerful power — mine from a spiritual place within that’s been quenched by my daughter, hers from a force above that perhaps wants more.

At first I was drawn to the Duggar family because I was fascinated with their bizarre world, and then because I liked watching them.  What goes on in their lives when the camera’s aren’t watching, what level of function or dysfunction sits in their family compared to mine is impossible to say, but small family or enormous — the intention is the love that fills the household.

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