Three Is My Lucky Number

Fireplace panel, Italy

I live in the country with the lowest birth rate in the EU – and with one of the lowest worldwide: Italy. So perhaps the feedback I got from the people around me when I started to explore the idea of having a third child, about two and a half years ago, won’t be very surprising. “But aren’t two kids already a LOT of work?!” “For me that would mean not working for a while. I can’t risk losing my job: you never know what’s going to happen with marriage.” “Kids are SO expensive.” “You already have a boy and a girl..!” “If you have another child, it will push you back 10 years” (… whatever that means, still haven’t really figured this one out) “Who NEEDS more than two children?”

I’ve been married 12 years to a hard-working man who is passionately devoted to his family, our first two children are objectively sane and well-mannered and I enjoy various happy circumstances in life. For example, I live in a large house in the countryside, until recently had a paid job only in the mornings that I could carry out from home, and have two very helpful in-laws who live 10 minutes away from us. However, all of this didn’t seem to be a valid incentive for a more optimistic outlook on the part of the people whom I sounded out on the third baby question.

I have pictured myself with three children ever since I became aware that I wanted to have kids – that is, about a couple months after first meeting my future husband. I actually sent him a text message stating that it would be great for us to have three children.  At such an early stage in our relationship, it was certainly a bit naive of me – but given how things turned out, it showed that I instinctively knew right from the start what would make us feel truly fulfilled in life. Some things we just know from the beginning, by some form of divine inspiration, even though we might have doubts about them later. I feel very lucky to be one of three siblings myself: my brother and sister are my best friends.  It feels like we’re all part of a little community with the same exact background. I wanted to offer my children the opportunity to enjoy the same kind of experience. Also, having as many children as my husband and I felt we could manage seemed the best way to celebrate our marriage, our love for each other and our passion for life.

For a while I remained undecided – that is, confused about what was truly important to me. I was mainly weary of my shortcomings as a mother and wife. I tackled them at some level every day. But what if lack of sleep, less time to dedicate to my husband and the two children I already have, together with everything else going on in my life, would just make my weaknesses worse? I wasn’t convinced that I’d rise up to the challenge. I furnished this lack of confidence in myself with a whole series of foolish excuses for not being brave enough to be truly honest with myself and embrace the challenges that my decision would necessarily entail. The people at work wouldn’t like me taking time off.  If I didn’t  take time off from work to look after a newborn, I can earn more. The four of us can enjoy more material things. I can have more time to do what I want to do whenever I feel like it. In short, I’d brought into my thinking a lot of ideas from the wrong side of feminism – and they clung to me like gooey paste, despite the fact that I’d been getting plenty of encouragement from my husband to go ahead with our third baby, if that’s what I really wanted. He’d always reassured me that he’d compensate for whatever I couldn’t earn with his own efforts. But the influence that modern society has had on me throughout my lifetime was very pervasive. No one had ever bothered to tell me that, as a woman, I might relate to having a paid job a little differently than a man – that maybe it wouldn’t or even shouldn’t matter that much to me, at least compared to the privilege of raising other human beings with the power to make this world a better place. I think this sentence from one of my former bosses – who is objectively a very nice person – sums up pretty well how motherhood is viewed nowadays in the western world: “Well, now that your children are grown up, we’d like to offer to increase your workload from four to eight hours a day.” Yeah, sure, my kids, aged five and eight, are “grown up.” What on earth do they need a mother for anymore? It’s normal for a mother to work all day long. I can just pay someone, I guess, to spend time with and talk to my children when they’re not exhausted at the end of the day.  Someone else can  help them with their homework, and  take them to sports – in short, raise them for me. 

This was a no-brainer: I not only refused to increase my workload, I actually had it decreased as I let out a sigh of relief. My longing for another child remained stubbornly persistent. It was always there, right beneath the lid I tried to put on it. Any time I stopped to think a second, I could feel it wanting to get out. As it turns out, stifling one’s conscience is pretty darn hard – luckily. The real turning point came after a conversation I had about this with my younger sister. She matter-of-factly told me at one point: “You know, who knows what will happen with your job. You might still have it in a year, you might not. I don’t think you should base your decision on whether or not to have a child on something so volatile.” That was it. It really was that simple. It hit me all of a sudden how terribly wrong it had been of me to make such an important existential decision based on things that were so vague and really quite insignificant. Deep down, I knew I wasn’t living up to my potential with just two children. I knew I had more to give, more love, more energy, and, most importantly, I knew having another child would make me a better person. I also knew – both at a conscious and a subconscious level – that, at 32, I was running out of time. There are a lot of people out there nowadays who want women to ignore the fact that their fertility starts plummeting after they turn 35. Personally, I couldn’t ignore it as my body and I have a pretty honest, upfront relationship, and these days I can feel it telling me that it’s getting old-ish and that there are some things that it just can’t do as well as it used to. During the months it took for me and my husband to conceive our third baby, I kept dreaming of finding myself crawling down a tunnel that kept getting tighter and tighter, until there was no more room for me to move or breathe. Women’s biological clock is no myth: I could feel it ticking pretty much every second, despite the fact that I’d already had two children.

“.. Let there be Dora!”

The light our third baby – our second daughter – has brought to our lives, the lives of all four of us, is something my husband and I marvel at every single day. Without a doubt, there is more harmony and love in my family than there was before her arrival. Just like I knew would happen before we even started searching for her, my husband and I are better people, better parents and better spouses. So the four of us are all happier. Of course it’s challenging to have some extra noise in the house, to lose some sleep again, to have to manage three small people, each with their own important needs. But I don’t believe any human being can accomplish anything significant without some form of sacrifice. My husband and I are rising up to the challenge, step by step. Of course, we make our mistakes every now and then, but they’re definitely less frequent and have less of an impact. We’re more experienced at this point and better grounded in our knowledge of how important it is for us to manage our family as well as possible, so that our children may be a source of joy and good to this world. Our youngest daughter is providing us with that extra inspiration, and we are deeply, humbly grateful for her.

Illustration by Gustavo Doré