Growing up, I was never the young woman who longed for babies of her own. As the oldest of four children born in quick succession, I was not quite five when my youngest brother was born. I have very few memories of growing up with a baby in the home. As a teenager, I babysat, but I always felt vaguely relieved when the parents came home to take charge of their children. And as a young adult, I wasn’t always sure I would marry.
But the experience of having my own children has been something else entirely. Frustrating, tiring, yes–but also fulfilling and even transcendent. Turns out, I’m even one of those odd women who enjoys being pregnant–this despite having to give myself twice daily shots for the duration of the pregnancy. I suppose some of this stems from a lifetime of insecurity about my body: pregnancy pulls me out of all that, giving me and my physical body a clear purpose, at once powerful and deeply creative.
Now, as my youngest approaches two, my husband and I have begun grappling with that weighted question: are we done? To be fair, I grapple with this more than my husband, who grew up in a family of three and thinks that our three are just about perfect.
I’m not so sure.
I realize that being in a position to ask, “are we done?” makes me one of the lucky ones, as many people are constrained by health concerns, infertility, monetary issues, any number of things. But this still isn’t an easy question for me–my decisions cycle through as many variations as there are days of the week and I still have yet to settle on something that feels right for me, for our family.
On the one hand, my children are getting delightfully independent and I can finally see through the fog of early childhood to a future where I might get to reclaim some of my own independence. Also, I don’t function well on little sleep (and with a toddler who has successfully slept through the night less than half a dozen times, well, that’s a big consideration). Then there’s my age: I had to mark the “advanced maternal age” indicator last time (though I had just hit my 35th birthday)–how much more difficult would things be this time around? Add to that the fact that my last delivery was an 11 week early emergency c-section, and there are health considerations to factor in as well. (In fact, my mother-in-law seems convinced that another pregnancy might risk almost certain death, this despite the fact that a maternal-fetal expert told me there’s a relatively low risk of that particular condition repeating). There’s also no certainty that a pregnancy would result in a baby: right now we’re batting about 50%.
But somehow, the thought that I might ever feel that delightful anticipation of delivery, might not ever inhale the newborn smell of my own baby, makes my whole body tighten. I’m not sure I’m ready to make peace with the ache, as blogger Sarah Bessey so eloquently describes. Maybe I’m still coming to terms with the fact that I feel cheated out of my last pregnancy (I missed virtually the entire last trimester, and the natural delivery I’d planned for ended with a delivery in which I wasn’t even conscious and wasn’t sure, when I first woke up, if my baby had even survived). Or maybe I’m really not done.
I don’t know.
I have good friend who was certain after her third that she was finished–knew with a bone-deep, joyful certainty that these were her three children to cherish. I have other friends who simply didn’t want more after a certain point. I wish I had that certainty. In ten years, or twenty years, I don’t want to live with a decision I regret. But I also don’t want to introduce a new child into our family if it’s going to overtax already limited emotional and physical resources. Whatever we choose to do, I want to know it’s right.
I realize this isn’t a decision I can just turn over to the Segullah hive mind, no matter how wise and gracious you are (and you are!). Ultimately it’s between me, my husband, and God. So far, God seems content to wait for now, letting me work through the question in my own time.
But sometimes I think we share stories because we find ourselves in them–or we find our way a little clearer or a little lighter. So I’m asking–if you’re willing–for your stories. How did you know you were done? And how do you make peace with that decision when it doesn’t come lightly (if it ever comes lightly)?