Anna Carey had always planned to have two children, and in early 2020 she was about to start trying to have one. Ms. Carey and her husband were living in Toronto where her daughter had just turned 2 years old.

We all know what happened next.

Ms. Carey had to quit her marketing job in August 2020 to care for her daughter because there were no safe child care options. It was almost certain a few months ago, but now it was unthinkable.

She said that they couldn't imagine going through another pregnancy, birth and newborn phase with so few options for support.

She and her husband, Graham, had always considered a cutoff for genetic health reasons, and she still held out hope that the situation would improve before her 35th birthday this July.

The lack of structural support for families was revealed by the Pandemic. The new realization of how little society values kids and parents was a major deterrent to Ms. Carey's decision.

Many people have had babies. Alec and Hilaria Baldwin, whose child care concerns are presumably different from most people, will soon have three of them. For some older millennials who already had one or more children heading into the Pandemic, the real stakes of parenting through some of the worst times to be a parent in recent history have proved to be a potent form of birth control.

It has had a similar feeling to post-partum life, but without the silver lining of an adorable newborn. Is it possible to add an actual newborn to the mix? Say some, at least for now, and probably forever. There has been a gap between the number of children Americans say they want and the number they end up having.

waning fertility is one of the more straightforward aspects of birth control. While many aspects of life have felt like they were on hold for two years, time did continue to pass, a meaningful consideration for people who had the tail end of their 30s drain down as they gained dubious new skills. What may have seemed like an exciting possibility to some, at 38, seems to be more like a daunting set of fiscal and physical hurdles for women.

The changes made by the Pandemic helped clarify their limitations, in ways that were painful even as they brought them something akin to wisdom.

Sarah Balcomb, a writer who has a 9-year-old daughter and lives in Virginia, realized that she was done with reproduction the way Hemingway once described going broke: gradually, and then all at once.

In early 2020, Ms. Balcomb was considering a round of I.V.F., which her insurance would cover, because she had been trying various fertility treatments for years. She and her husband adopted a puppy in late March, and the nighttime trips from crate to yard and back gave her a bad taste in her mouth.

She said that the sleep deprivation made a revelation on the second night. The weight of all of it came crashing down on her, she said, listing the reasons.

She said that she has some regrets about her daughter not having a sibling, but that there is nothing she can do to change her mind. If the planet was fixed and there was no more war, we would be wealthy.

There are divorces that are not normal. Rates went up across the country after the first year of the Pandemic, though it's difficult to say if it was related to the epidemic or not. The prospect of having more children in the future is less likely for the parents of young children who didn't make it through the Pandemic with their relationships intact.

This was the case for Tully Mills, 40, a former chef and illustrator who lives in Colorado with his daughter.

After the first year of Covid, the reality of not having a second kid set in.

There is still a shadow epidemic of burnout among parents who lived through 2020 and 2021. The parents who are still reeling from taking on unexpected duties with no recognition or social support are more likely to be turned off by the prospect of doubling down on babies.

In the spring and early summer of 2020, most playground in North America were closed, along with schools and day cares for all but essential workers, because of the relative safety of outdoor activities. In urban areas, children could play in public parks and on the sidewalk, but were mostly trapped in small living spaces with their parents and siblings for months on end. The impact of those months is still being felt by parents.

Demographers have known for years that the birthrate in America is going nowhere but down, with causes that range from the extremely obvious to the speculative.

In December 2020, births declined by 8 percent, the largest decline of any month in the last nine months, because of the Pandemic.

It won't be quantifiable for a few more years whether the instability and lack of child care has affected fertility in families.

ImageThe only thing that could make Ms. Balcomb reconsider her decision? “If the planet was miraculously fixed and there was no more war and we were wealthy, well, then. …”
The only thing that could make Ms. Balcomb reconsider her decision? “If the planet was miraculously fixed and there was no more war and we were wealthy, well, then. …”Credit...Matt Eich for The New York Times
The only thing that could make Ms. Balcomb reconsider her decision? “If the planet was miraculously fixed and there was no more war and we were wealthy, well, then. …”

If the past few years had played out differently, it would be easy to find people who would have thought about having more children.

I am a part of that group. As I prepared for the publication of a second novel, I was hoping to possibly become pregnant with a third child, and I was also hoping for a career breakthrough. I had my I.U.D. removed.

When I contemplated my secret dream of having a third child, I still mourned the feeling of possibility and hope, but I have come to terms with the reality of the situation.

I'm going to get another cat.