I told myself I wouldn’t write about this. Nearly a year ago, I made a pact that I would keep this struggle private, that there was no need for me to share it with an audience. That somehow, by keeping it secret, it remained sacred and more authentic.
But I just can’t do it anymore.
So there—that title looming up at the top of the page—I’ve put it out there to get it out of my brain. I can’t decide if I want to have another baby or not. Maybe by sharing my ambivalence I will find some clarity. I’ve always felt a little ashamed of myself when I can’t keep my mouth shut about things; maybe it’s a “writer thing”— that need to make something real and tangible by putting it on the page, and maybe it’s a “blogger thing”— that need to have witnesses to prove that your words exist. Whatever it is, I’ve always had a hard time keeping tough choices to myself; I crowdsource for opinions, inspiration, insights. And then I beat myself up, wishing I could be more private, more refined.
But who the hell am I kidding? So now it’s out in the open: I have two beautiful little girls—ages 8 (in just a few weeks, that is) and nearly 3—and I’m on the fence about whether I want to experience it all again or quit while I’m ahead.
Here’s the thing: I love being pregnant (despite a very difficult pregnancy with my second child), and I love having babies. Perhaps it’s crazy, but after struggling with an undiagnosed swallowing disorder during my pregnancy, giving birth was an incredibly powerful redemptive experience; minutes after delivery, awash in hormones, adrenaline, and new maternal love, I thought, “I can’t wait to do this again!” It’s true: Giving birth to my daughters was the most incredible thing my body has ever done. After my prolonged illness, a history of bizarre and difficult to diagnose medical conditions, and maybe even a general propensity toward self-doubt and perceived weakness, giving birth felt like one of the few things my body got right.
And I want to do it again. I want to feel those pregnancy kicks, breathe in the newborn smell, to nurse and hold my baby and watch her (or him) grow. But when it comes down to it, I’m not sure it’s a good idea.
For a long time, my husband and I talked casually about “that third baby.” Even when I was still pregnant with our second daughter, there was an unspoken understanding that we’d probably have one more. Her infancy was nearly idyllic, although she didn’t sleep through the night for fifteen long months. When I weaned her at sixteen months, I had mixed emotions, but didn’t believe I had just finished nursing my last baby. Though I was thrilled to be the mother of two girls, there was a vague sense of incompletion just beneath the surface.
Perhaps it was because of that damn tarot reading I had just months after my first daughter was born. The psychic that saw me that day intuited a whole host of things that proved true, so how could I not have faith in her assertion that I would have three children, “including the boy I’d been waiting for?”
As our daughter’s second birthday loomed, we began to have more concrete discussions about that hypothetical third child, whom (thanks to my psychic buddy) I’d begun to imagine as a boy. My husband could’ve cared less—he would be thrilled to be the father of three girls.
We had a few months of willy-nilly birth control paired with intense discussions about retirement savings, child care scheduling, and maternity leave; each month, I found myself disappointed when my period would arrive again. I hadn’t quite sold myself on the idea that we could pull off this family-of-five thing, but at my core, I knew I wanted to become pregnant again. I realized I was subconsciously hoping for an “oops,” as if to absolve myself from any sense of responsibility for expanding our family. You know, in case that third kid turned out to be the worst idea ever, I could shrug my shoulders and say, “It’s not like we were trying- it just happened!” Acknowledging that I was hoping for an accidental pregnancy to spare myself the accountability made me cringe—some family planning technique!
But we didn’t have an “oops,” and it was time to get serious and confront my own ambivalence.
- Could I really handle a third baby?
- How on Earth would I get us out of the door every morning? I sucked enough as it was at meeting the schoolbus on time.
- What if that third kid was the tipping point, and this time I would really never get my body back?
- We had almost reached the light at the end of the tunnel—we were sleeping through the night, had finished potty-training, had more independence—did we really want to start all over again?
- What would happen to my career? I’d worked so hard to establish myself in the writing community- would I have to give up?
I tried to coax myself into having a more optimistic outlook—maybe ours would be the first baby in the history of the world to actually make life easier for a family! Since I’d noticed a distinct trend of getting more confident and mellow with each subsequent child, perhaps #3 would be the one to push me over the edge into actually becoming a “laid-back” person! I also felt buoyed by the fact that one doesn’t often hear the words, “Wow, I sure wish we hadn’t had that last kid!” And really, three isn’t even that many kids these days—5 kids is totally the new 3 kids, am I right?
For months I vacillated between half-assed birth control attempts, some actual “trying,” disappointment when my period would arrive, and then, later, profound relief when I didn’t become pregnant. It was a headf*ck, to say the least. I had been such an overachieving fertility expert with my previous pregnancies, and I wanted to spare myself that all-consuming obsession with conceiving.
I felt as though I couldn’t see what was in my heart, that my head was too clouded with fear, pros and cons, and what-ifs. I had never felt so indecisive in all my life. My fears were difficult to look in the face, but I tried:
- What if I regret it?
- What if we don’t have enough love and time for all three?
- Will our two daughters feel neglected and resentful?
- What if I am too selfish? I don’t want to give up on my body, my dreams, my career.
- Our youngest daughter won’t be the baby anymore.
It was the last one that got me. In my mind, I could see two clear paths: on one, we remained a family of four. Our youngest daughter was the baby forever, and we cherished the dynamic of watching the “two sisters” play together and be a team. On the other path, we had another baby. Maybe it was a boy, maybe not. There was room for everyone—the girls still remained close, and we got to witness both of them becoming big sisters to our new baby.
Which path was better? There is no way to tell, and no wrong answers, as far as I’m concerned. Just different choices. Many of our challenging life transitions aren’t black and white; have you ever switched jobs or moved out of state, knowing that it was the right thing to do? It’s okay to ponder, or even mourn, the life you left behind, and wonder what would have happened if you’d stayed. Choosing to have another child, or choosing not to, isn’t innately good or bad. It just is. It is deciding to turn your back on one road, and walk down another.
And after months and months of playing out those two scenarios in my mind, of considering questions like, “Can we afford another baby?” and “What if I just can’t get pregnant anymore?” and “How will it change our lives?” I had another realization. What if me wanting to have a third child had less to do with adding to our family and more to do with my reluctance to admit that the baby-making stage of life was over for me? Would I ever be able to accept that—even if I had another baby, or 2, or 3?
Maybe it’s the part of me that has a hard time moving on. The part of me that obsesses over and glorifies the past. The part of me that mourns every single tiny little loss that comprises parenthood: weaning, starting preschool, not needing to be rocked before bedtime… It gave me pause: getting pregnant, giving birth, and raising another child shouldn’t be chosen just simply out of sadness or grief that life is moving forward, or out of a desire to “do it all again.”
I decided to “try on” the choice that our family is complete. I tried to stop daydreaming about having another baby and just appreciate our two daughters—without hypothesizing about that phantom third child. I relaxed. I realized how good we had it: our daily routine is getting easier, travel is more fun, my stress level is manageable, and my career is thriving. Why shake things up? I began to embrace the late-night bottles of wine with friends and neighbors, without worrying if I might be pregnant and shouldn’t be drinking. I started working out again, celebrating the possibility that my body might finally get slimmer and stronger again, rather than thinking, “Pfft- who cares? I’m just going to get pregnant again!”
I think there are mothers who do amazingly well jugging three, four, or even five kids while also working at full or part-time jobs. They thrive, they do it with grace. But deep in my heart, I think that I am probably not one of those women. I am too sensitive, I become overstimulated too easily, and I already struggle with staying balanced. But I wish envy those women, just as I envy the mothers who have always known they would only have two children in their family, women who don’t have to worry about changing their mind or second-guessing their plan.
I’ll be honest—I still have no idea what will happen. Despite my new philosophy of accepting our family as it is, I still tear up sometimes when I see pregnant women or newborn babies. At night I sometimes dream that I am pregnant, always experiencing a thrill when, in my dream state, I realize I get to “do it again.” Perhaps we’ll make a choice—to try again—and we won’t get pregnant. Or perhaps we’ll decide that our family is complete—and then we’ll have an “oops.” The part of me that wants to hide from this monumental decision wants to make room for the possibility that The Universe will just decide for me. More likely, I need to continue my soul-searching to clarify what it is that I really want, and more importantly- why I want it.
I could get to experience that magic of watching my belly grow, of falling in love with a child again, of watching my youngest child become a big sister. I could make it work.
I could follow my friends whose children are older, whose vacations are becoming less shitty each year, whose daily lives are becoming easier, into the light. I could watch my career grow, my routines become less stressful, my body become fitter.
I could… I could…
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