My quiver is full

I wrote this post almost two and a half years ago, but these thoughts become even more relevant as time goes by. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below!

I took a pregnancy test tonight. I didn’t really think I could be pregnant, but what else was I to think when my cycle was late and I felt nauseous? As a young girl playing house, I often wondered how many children I would have, but as I got closer to actually becoming a real mother I tried not to “jinx” myself by creating precise plans of how many, which sex and what order. A Brady Bunch-style family seemed nice, but even Supermom Mrs. Brady didn’t give birth to all those children. (And she had Alice! I’ve always wanted an Alice. Maybe that’s why Mrs. Brady was always smiling.) Yes, even the tidy world of the Brady Brunch included the unexpected inheritance of additional children through re-marriage — nothing could be perfectly planned to a tee.

The way some people talk, you would think family planning was as easy as going through the drive-thru at McDonald’s, but choosing how many children to have is a relatively new development in human history.  It was a whole different ball game just 100 years ago. Back then, you were either fertile or you weren’t, and if you were? You just might get 13 children. Today’s parents have much more to think about.

Mothers who find themselves unable to have children on their own have a myriad of options, but the results are still unpredictable. (Kate Gosselin and the Octomom are perfect examples.) There’s always adoption, but even then there are decisions to be made about how many, what age, what race, disabilities or no disabilities, and so on.  Even those who can have children easily find that family planning can be harder than it seems. If you love children and have the resources, should you just keep ‘em coming like the Duggars?  Some argue that the world is overcrowded as it is and that couples should only reproduce themselves —  the politically correct, two child family. (When I had just a daughter and a son, people would often say to me, “You have your boy and your girl!” as if I couldn’t — or shouldn’t — want any more children beyond that.) As a urologist, my husband performs vasectomies on a regular basis. Depending on the age of the patient, he feels obligated to counsel them about the permanence of the procedure so they don’t regret the decision later. And then there are those who “accidentally” get pregnant, mothers who seem to have more than they can handle, or mothers who wished they had more children after it was too late.

So if you can decide, how do you decide? Environmental reasons? Financial, physical, or religious reasons? Or maybe more to the point: How do you know when you are “done”?  I have wondered about all of these things and more each time my husband and I have considered welcoming a new little soul into our family.

My story is fairly uneventful. It took about a year to get pregnant the first time, then there was a miscarriage, and then my body seemed to figure things out.  The miscarriage was a mixed blessing.  When we finally had another child three-and-a-half years after our first, we decided that kind of spacing worked quite nicely, given I was functioning like a single mom during that stage in my husband’s medical training. Throw in a little postpartum depression, and you’ve got another three-and-a-half-year break before baby number three. Baby number three was such a sweet, easy going cherub that I was certain I had figured out this mothering business and should go for at least one more. Three-and-a-half years later, presto! Baby number four.

So here I am half way through my 38th year (how did that happen?) with four healthy, vivacious children that demand more of me than a boot camp sergeant, and I’m feeling pretty maxed. With a 10-year spread between the first and the last, I am trying to do the pre-teen thing while simultaneously doing the toddler thing. It’s a lot of fun for the most part, but certainly a challenge. But does that mean I’m done? As the calendar inches along and my “baby” approaches her third birthday, I can hardly stand the thought of not having an infant in my home ever again. But wanting a cute and squishy baby to love and being willing and able to commit to another 18 years of responsibility for another life are two different things. I can’t just keep having children because I want a perpetual baby to munch on.

Still, it’s not an easy thing to close the door on the child bearing years of life. Knowing when to say when is a tricky thing. My mother-in-law gave birth to her sixth son when she was 46 years old. My husband is her oldest child, and we had our first child just four years after his mother had her last. When she was giving me some of her baby things, she talked about her bittersweet feelings as she closed that door for what she knew was definitely the last time. I can see that. Perhaps the longer you are in that phase, the harder it is to leave behind. The ability to create, bear and nurture life invokes powerful emotions in every woman. Leaving that behind almost feels like leaving home.

My pregnancy test was negative. (I left it on the bathroom counter just to give my husband a heart attack between the moment of realizing what it was and then confirming the negative result. Bad Allyson!)  I felt a rush of relief. I was almost giddy. I have taken each child one at a time, but after the birth of each baby there was always the feeling that there was one more. This feeling was especially strong while I was still in the hospital with our third child.  Not so the fourth time around. All pregnancies are difficult, but I felt especially burdened this last time. After bringing the baby home, I found myself doing book reports and car pool while simultaneously nursing around the clock on low doses of sleep. I just couldn’t imagine trying to pull that off again. (Not unless Alice moved in.) I always said I wanted to keep having children until I felt maxed, and I felt maxed. That was the first time I had a negative test result and felt nothing but pure relief. That’s when I knew for sure I was done.

Psalms 127 reads, “As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth.  Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them.” (You can probably surmise that a quiver is a container for arrows.) Whenever I think about this verse, I wonder if quivers come in different sizes. My quiver certainly feels full with four, but I know some women who wouldn’t feel complete unless they had at least six little arrows in their quiver, and others who couldn’t be happier with one. I wonder if every woman comes wired for a certain number of children they can wrap their heads and hearts around. As in all aspects of mothering, we should never judge another mother’s value, strength or ability to love based on the number of children she brings into this world. I think all mothers would agree that their love runs out of bounds with each child, no matter what the number.

QUESTION: How do you decide when your quiver is full?

CHALLENGE: Strive to be in tune with your body and soul so that you will know how many is enough.


  1. Cat

    I have 6 kids 15 years from first to last. My youngest just started Kindergarten and my two oldest have graduated High School. I didn’t really plan any of the pregnancies. They just seemed to happen. When #5 came I felt very positive that I was done having children. He would be my last one. I was very OK with that. I was 37 years old at the time and it had been a difficult pregnancy with the baby coming 5 weeks early. Postpartum depression set in and I was a mess for awhile. However, just after #5 turned 1 and I had started giving some of my baby things to my sister (18 years younger than me so she was just starting) I had an odd set of thought come to my mind. I thought about how I would feel about taking a child that wasn’t originally supposed to come to my family. I sort of dismissed the thought as silly. I was 38 years old. I would be nearly 40 and having another child. Besides we were done. We had all that we were supposed to. Again the thought came, How would I feel about it. I thought to myself, I guess we would welcome the child into our home and we would have 6 kids. Of course the next thought I had was, It would have to be a surprise as my husband would never agree to it. Within a few months I was pregnant again. Another difficult pregnancy followed by a difficult birth and some complications. We were definitely done. I often feel sorry for the family that did get to have my youngest son but I feel blessed that he (along with all my other children) came to us. Although there are days that I wonder why I was supposed to have any of them. They drive me a bit crazy at time.

  2. Brooke

    I really appreciate your thoughts. My husband and I have been struggling for over a year to determine if our family is complete or if we should return to diapers and swaddling. I have yearned for some type of “feeling” or confirmation either way, but each month slips by with the same question in our minds. You have given me a lot to think about — “Is my quiver full?” or “Am I maxed out?” Thank you for timely insights.

  3. Trisha

    I appreciate your thoughts and story as well! My husband and I have just begun our family (I’m an old first time in Utah at 30) but have discovered this one baby may be our only blood baby. So our decision is on how many adopted children we can afford and what age to stop adopting! So thank you for your opinion.

  4. eve

    I have 4 children. I am turning 48 years old this month. My youngest is my only son and is going on his mission in February to Australia. As we prepare him to leave on his mission I often think of when we knew there was one more left for us. I felt strongly about this one and felt he should be my last, (4 cesarean section deliveries is enough), but aside from that I felt “done”. As I approach the end of my mothering phase of life I am a little melancholy but also thankful to my Father that he’s allowed me this experience. My 3 daughters are married and all 3 of them are having difficulties becoming pregnant. All I had to do was look at my husband and I got pregnant! So their infertility problems are foreign to me. I lost a baby at 5 months along,(between baby 3 and 4), but I wouldn’t trade my mothering experiences in for anything else. It is quite a commitment to bring a child up, and quite a blessing, no matter how big the quiver turns out to be.

  5. Valerie Buckman

    Keep going it is so worth it. I am a grandma now and each one is so precious. Have all you can…have faith…it will come through for you.

  6. Laurie

    I think this is a very personal decision made with a spouse AND with Heavenly Father. I remember near the delivery of my 5th child I felt like my plate was full. I talked with my husband about having my tubes tied and prayed to know what to do. I remember crying alot when the answer was “no.” To be honest I was even a little angry but I wanted to do what God wanted me to do even it if didn’t make me too happy at the time. I had all the right reasons why I shouldn’t have any more. I’m so glad I didn’t do what I wanted to do at the time. When our 5th child was a month old we discovered she had a very rare disease and we lost her a little over two months later. God saw the bigger picture that I couldn’t see. I had two more children after that (last one at 39 years old) and looking back I’m so thankful that I included God in the decision. When I had my 7th child I could almost feel Heavenly Father say “Thanks for trusting me. You’re done now.” Yes, motherhood is hard and trying to juggle all the demands is difficult but just remember that we are never alone – God will help you every step of the way, give you guidance, and lighten our burdens. We are doing the greatest work that can be done. Some have left home now but when they all get together and I watch them interact with each other and love each other I feel inexpressable joy. I hate to think about what my life would have been like if I had done only what I wanted and not what God wanted.

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