We live in a world where producing offspring is expected once you reach a certain age. Where marriage is quickly followed by questions of when’s the baby coming? Where struggles with infertility, pregnancy loss, hardship, and (gasp) the desire to live child-free are considered scandalous, disappointing, and a shame to the family’s heritage. 

So, when the time comes and the first baby announcement is whispered (shouted) through the family phone lines and hours are put into crafting the perfect social media announcement post, the world seems right. The first pregnancy is celebrated with lavish showers, hospital visits, “oohs” and “ahhs.” Bows and booties, knitted blankets, and tiny hats with pom-poms are mailed, hand-delivered, and passed along to the new parents. 

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Then, as the dust settles and hearts grow a little bit more, a second child is welcomed. Closer to the standard 2.5 child quotaall is well. Bonus points if you end up with one boy and one girl. Better stop there. 

But seeing how it’s impossible to stop right at 2.5once that line from two to three is crossed, it seems you’ve gone too far. 

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Somehow, after three children, the universal response to your exciting, heart-bursting news of an upcoming family addition becomes, “You know what causes that, right?” 

Strangers comment when they hear you talk about your large family, when they see you struggle with a rounded belly at the grocery store, or as you unload kiddos at the doctor’s office. 

Coworkers express their jealousy over your workplace accommodations and upcoming vacation (also known as a maternity leave where you recover from creating a human being, no big deal). 

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Well-meaning family members share their concerns over how stressed you already are, how tight finances seem to be, how your car won’t fit that many car seats.  

Maternity nurses, as you are in active labor, suggest giving your uterus a breakhasn’t it already worked so hard? Don’t you think this is enough? 

Yes, I know what causes that, and I chose to expand my heart and my home, and welcomed all the tiny humans. 

I didn’t have multiple children for negative attention, to be labeled as “a breeder,” attacked on Facebook, judged in the checkout lane, or held back in my professional career. I want to fill my home with the pitter-patter of little feet, gentle hands and soft kisses, and a full-blown support network of sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, mother and father. I want to have full schedules, full hands, and full laundry basketsbecause those come along with full hearts, full lives, and full purpose. 

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Children, adopted or fostered, first or sixth in birth order, are the future. They should be respected and loved. Their parents, young or old, rich or poor, working or staying at home, should be free of judgment, poorly worded comments, and shame. 

The “extra mouth to feed” could be the doctor who heals you, the farmer who feeds you, the teacher who changes you.  

The “tax write off” will fill our family’s hearts, warm our bones, and heal our souls. 

 The “oops” could smile and ask “Are you alright?” on your worst day. 

So, as I announce our fourth, fifth, or twentieth child, if you don’t have congratulations at the tip of your tongue, go ahead and practice it now. 

Here’s the thing. I know what causes that. And it’s love. Love for my children, love for my husband, and love for the life we can provide our growing family.

Katelyn Stoll

Katelyn Stoll is a mother to three young boys and lives on a farm in rural NY. She navigates the rough waters of postpartum mood disorders using humor, support from her family, and chocolate. Lots of chocolate.