Jennifer LaRoche Photography

I never had an ideal family size in mind. I had never been a mother — how could I possibly know how many kids I wanted before I even started? My husband and I had talked about kids before we got married, and I knew his answer to the question, “How many kids do you want?” was, “Zero to one.” I knew I wanted a family, and at the time, one child was the only place I could start.

They talk about baby fever after having a baby — the irrational desire to have more children while you are in the throes of early postpartum. Mine showed up when my baby was around six months, and despite barely getting a good night’s sleep, this desire to have more children emerged out of nowhere.

Knowing I could chalk it up to hormones, I asked my husband to set a date two years in the future where we could have a serious conversation about the size of our family.

In those two years, my feelings on our family size ebbed and flowed — a lot. As a full-time employed mom with a job that requires an enormous amount of mental and emotional labor, there were days when the most I could do after my 9-5 was crawl into bed from a raging headache. On those days, I was grateful to have my husband fully tap in to be the primary caretaker between the end of daycare and bedtime without feeling guilty that I was asking too much. On other days, I worried a lot about what it meant to raise an only child — and to be labeled a parent of an only child. I felt I was capable of sharing myself with more than one tiny human.

I sought and was given advice and perspectives, mostly from random strangers on the internet (and sometimes unsolicited), because it was too hard for me to admit to my family and friends that we were possibly headed down the path of choosing to be a triangle family. It was incredibly lonely to process all the inputs I was gathering over those two years.

There is something unique and particularly isolating to live in the gray space between families that confidently know they are one and done before they even start, and families who experience the unimaginable pain of having that choice made for them by secondary infertility or other health concerns. To live in the middle, where it is expressly a choice that you have no confidence in making but are in full control of, feels even worse in its own way.

But there were two important and pivotal pieces of advice I leaned on (and continue to lean on) in the days leading up to our discussion.

First, “If it’s not two yeses, then it’s a no.” This was a phrase I had read in a Reddit thread that repeated over and over as women supported one another in wrestling with the idea that their husbands or partners were not on the same page as them about having more children. This philosophy, while a harsh truth, helped me remain centered on what was important amidst a tornado of worry. Our marriage started on the foundation of never making the other do something they didn’t want to do or believe in. The size of our family would be no different.

Second was “the ghost ship that didn’t carry us,” which I read about in an advice letter from Cheryl Strayed. Through the beautiful imagery of a ship, the author answers a writer’s question about whether to have children. She describes two options as sister ships — a life you will have and one you won’t. As we choose one life, the other life sails off — a ghost ship. “I’ll never know and neither will you of the life you don’t choose. We’ll only know that whatever that sister life was, it was important and beautiful and not ours. It was the ghost ship that didn’t carry us. There’s nothing to do but salute it from the shore.”

My husband, who has always been very self-aware, told me gently that he knew he couldn’t be a good and present father if we had more than one child. I broke apart with grief, both for the future I had sometimes held out hope for and because I knew his truth was also mine. I stood on the shore and watched my ghost ship — a life with a bigger family — disappear into the fog.

I still grieve my ghost ship. I mourn every time I donate clothes and toys our daughter has outgrown. I am simultaneously overwhelmed with joy and sadness whenever a friend announces their second (or third) child is on the way.

But most days, I focus on the ship I am on. The life with many exciting travels ahead. The life where I can say “yes” to my daughter and not split my attention. And the life where I can focus deeply on my relationships with my husband and myself.

I catch myself staring at the family photo that hangs on the wall in our living room, and a feeling of calm washes over me. While the decision to complete our family at three may not have been wholly mine, it was the best decision for our family.

Megan LaBella Photography
Sarah Aspinwall
Sarah grew up in Connecticut, but Massachusetts has always felt like a second home with extended family across the state. With a master's in public health and a lifelong passion for healthcare, Sarah moved to Boston after graduation. She is a fierce advocate for better access and reducing the complexities of the healthcare system. Sarah met her husband covered in sweat and lifting weights at a local CrossFit gym (talk about first impressions!). They adopted a rescue pup from Mississippi and welcomed their daughter in 2021. After nearly a decade of city living, Sarah and her family headed to the Metro West area to start a new adventure in the suburbs. Sarah has volunteered for Community Consulting Teams of Boston (CCT), offering pro bono management consulting to Boston-area nonprofits, and she served a three-year term on the board. She is an alumna member of the Kappa Delta sorority and has served as an advisor to the Northeastern chapter since 2014.


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