Now for those of you whose minds have immediately plunged into the gutter, let me drag you back up by explaining my view on reproduction. I believe that women should be fitted with an easy to find “reproductive button”, which would enable them to switch it on or off when they wanted to have (or not have) babies.

The fact that we’re not equipped with such a handy feature is clearly a design fault, and reaping havoc for families throughout the world. Given the lack of such a button, I would love to know how many parents are able to plan in advance how many children they are going to have, and then actually manage to stick to that plan! It seems to me that more commonly, one of the following scenarios unfolds:

  • You’ve planned to have children, but discover that in fact, due to the vagaries of the human reproductive system you can‘t have any, or end up with fewer than you wanted; or
  • You set out to have a certain number of children, and then find that nature’s cup is overflowing with bounty, and you can’t find the reproductive “off” switch!

In our family we have experienced a strange combination of both scenarios.

When Ian and I first got together, we both agreed that we would like to have two children. I’m sure you’re familiar with the reasoning behind this sort of decision:

  • Two children can play together nicely and be good friends (huh!).
  • Two children can fit into your average family sedan and 3 bedroom home.
  • One parent can manage two children when going out (you have one hand to hang on to each child).
  • Overseas travel is manageable – each parent looks after one child on the airplane, and you can all fit into a standard family room.

Great. That decided, we started “practicing”. And practicing…and practicing some more. Whilst we both agreed that practicing to have babies is an immensely enjoyable process, after a year we were nonetheless getting a little dispirited that we didn’t seem to have got it right yet.

So – out came the books on ovulation; temperatures were taken daily and mucous checked; all with the view of highlighting the best days in the month for making a baby.

Still no luck. Reluctantly we conceded that expert advice was called for, so we went to see a specialist at a Fertility Clinic in Auckland.

For those of you who have been down this track, you’ll know that it’s not a lot of fun. Lots of tests, giving of samples, scans and general embarrassment and discomfort for both parties, whilst trying to identify the problem. Whilst on one hand you want to know what the problem is, on the other hand, you want it to be something that’s easily fixable.

In our case, we fell into that very frustrating bucket of non-specific infertility – which basically means that the specialists couldn’t find anything wrong with us. However, we were very conscious that we were both 36 and the biological clock was ticking, so the specialist suggested we should take action by using a technique called AIH – which stands for artificial insemination by husband (or in Ian’s case, that would be P for partner). AIH involves taking ejaculate from the man, “spinning” out the sperm, and then inserting this directly into the woman’s uterus at the most opportune time of the month.

Luckily for us, we had a 100% success rate on the first attempt! Within 2 weeks, I had sore breasts, felt nauseous, and we discovered that The Little Princess was on the way. Abby was born in October 1999, and we were absolutely delighted.

The specialist had informed us that it was highly unlikely that we would ever be able to fall pregnant naturally and would need to come back to see him if and when we wanted another child. As a result of having this conversation, we did not use any birth control after having Abby.

Which would have been fine, except my ongoing sinus problems had taken me to a lovely naturopath in Auckland. Carol prescribed me some natural medicines, one of which was a product designed to re-balance my endocrine system. Carol made it very clear that the risk with this product was that it also has a balancing effect on the reproductive system and she needed to point out that I would have an increased risk of falling pregnant. I poo-pooed that idea, explaining to her that the fertility specialists had said I would be most unlikely to get pregnant naturally.

Well, I guess you can tell where this is headed! Within 8 months of having Abby we had fallen pregnant with Liam.

Liam duly popped out in March 2001, and our little family was complete (or so we thought). We were very happy that we had a “pigeon pair” as people kept telling us (where does that expression come from?!?). Ian therefore decided he would have a vasectomy when Liam was 12 months old (we wanted to wait until we had got past the highest risk of cot death and other nasties).

Ian had booked in for his vasectomy for early March 2002. However, in January and February I had been feeling tired and rundown. Not surprising, I thought to myself, having had 2 babies in quick succession in my late thirties whilst working full time – anyone would be feeling rundown.

And then my breasts stared getting sore and I felt nauseous ….yes, you guessed it, the Gods of Fertility had their own views on our ideal family size, and in September 2002, Sam the Man was born, leaving us with 3 babies within 3 years (in fact, we had 3 in 2 years 11 months – a speed record I wouldn’t recommend to anyone).

So there we were – stunned. At first we hadn’t been able to find the fertility “on” switch, and now, apparently we couldn’t locate the “off” switch! We had managed to produce a baby at each of 36, 37 and 39, with gaps of 17 and 18 months. This meant that I was pregnant and breastfeeding without respite for 3.5 years. We also narrowly missed having three children in nappies – I was really dreading that one! But luckily Abby became toilet trained and dry at night, just one month before Sam arrived.

So we had 3 children and our carefully laid plans had been blown on a bunch of fronts. Suddenly we needed a bigger car…did you know that you can’t fit two car seats and a baby capsule across the back of a standard family sedan? We had to move up to a people mover to accommodate three littlies and all the gear that goes with them. We also needed a bigger house (to give each child their own room). And we discovered that overseas travel had just become a logistical and expensive nightmare. Not to mention going to the supermarket – I tried it once with all three children under 4, and swore never again!

Despite the logistical and financial implications of all of this, both Ian and I would now agree that the ideal number of children is 3, rather than 2. That’s because Sam has been an absolute delight from day one. Nicknamed Smiley Sam and Double Happy, this is a child who just exudes happiness. He has a very strong personality, but manages to carry this off with immense charm, sparkly eyes and flashing dimples. He brings laughter, love and joy into our lives on a daily basis, and we all love him to pieces.

And as for that elusive “off” switch? Well, we gave up trying to find mine, and with the help of a surgeon, located Ian’s instead!

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Kerry Burridge is mum to three great kids and was Kiwi Families founding Editor.

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