As a midwife, I take care of women of all ages. My clients’ ages range is from nine to ninety-three. (No worries: neither the nine-year old nor the ninety-three year old were pregnant.)

As a midwife with a planned home birth practice in UpState New York, I also take care of families, families of all sizes. My clients’ family sizes ranges from two (single mom having a baby on her own) to 15 (two parents, 12 siblings and one on the way).

Over the years of being a midwife, I have heard a lot more comments about large families than small ones and most of those comments are derogatory: “Don’t they know how that happens?” “That poor woman!” “I cannot believe anyone would be that irresponsible in this day and age.” Whenever I hear comments like these, I think that such remarks are likely born of ignorance, prejudice and inexperience. And, I think how very lucky I am to spend time in the loving bosom of large families.

What I have learned from large families:

A good schedule is essential.

Good sleep is crucial.

Everyone is part of the family, even the newest member.

Every family member is responsible for the whole family’s happiness.

Chores are important for family members of all sizes and abilities.

Getting your chores done is even more important.

Everyone is special. No one is more special than anyone else (at least not for more than a few days at a time).

Meal time is to be shared.

Resources are to be managed carefully and prudently.

Books are a great resource and a great refuge.

Cleanliness is more important than neatest. (People don’t get food poisoning from clutter in the bedroom, but they might from crumbs on the table.

Mother needs a nap everyday. She needs a nap twice a day if she is pregnant.

In talking with mothers, I have noticed that someplace around having three to five children there is a breaking point. The breaking point usually has three major components:

Mom is really loosing it! She is not sleeping well, takes no time for her own interests, never has a moment to herself. Tears (or screams) are always just below the surface.

The parents no longer make time for themselves as individuals or as a couple. They are so busy with everyday life that they have lost track of the love and passion that got them in this position.

The kids are simultaneously ruling the roost and having their fundamental needs unmet.

In the large families I know, when they hit the breaking point and still decide to go forward as a family, they make changes.

They get a schedule (refining as needed).

They make Mother part of the schedule. Literally! Mom’s nap, planning time, time out of the house, Book Club, whatever, is on the schedule.

The parents recommit themselves to their primary relationship -each other.  (And they make that part of the schedule: planning meetings, date nights, weekends away..)

Chore lists are made and chores are done (refining as needed).

Family meals happen daily (without a TV blaring or cell phones next to the plate).

Individuals are celebrated as well as the family as a whole -birthdays and graduations, Sunday dinners and reunions are all important.

Since there are a lot of gifts to give and receive, gifts tend to be planned well in advance. Gifts are often monetarily inexpensive while energy (and emotion) intensive.

This is not to say that there are not struggles for the individuals and the family as a whole -there are plenty! Nor I am suggesting that everyone should just have a large family and the world will be a better place. Nope, that is not my point. Personally, I had three children and that seems just perfect, perfect for me.

My point is just this, I have learned a lot from spending time with large families, and some of these lessons might serve us all well. As a midwife, I get to be an intimate part of the family. For me, getting to work intimately with large, loving families has been inspiring. It is my hope that some of that inspiration will rub off on you. Take look at the lists above. See if any of the times resonate for you.

Here is a short example of something learned from a large family:

A while back, I attended a woman’s tenth (or was it her eleventh?) birth. All went well (as expected). The new baby was greeted as a precious miracle by parents, siblings and midwives. As usual, there was paperwork and laundry to do before we took our leave.

Heading to out our cars, my assistant shared this story. Before we left, when she went to change the laundry, an eight year old boy hopped off the couch. “I’ll do that” he said, following her into the laundry room. He then proceeded to take the clothes out of the dryer and put them on the folding table, put the wet stuff in the dryer, added a new load into the washer, started the machines and began folding the fresh, clean clothes. My

friend was shaking her head with both disbelief and a dawning realization: “I’ve never taught my eight year old to work the washing machine,” she said. “You know what,  I think I will!”


May all babies be born into loving hands