I had all but convinced myself that two was enough.
Two boys just 19 months apart. Same interests, a shared friendship. So neat. So conventional. So very manageable.
There would never be need for a bigger car. Knowing we were done would be my invitation to purge all the baby stuff I’d hoarded away in the attic for later. Stuff we had purchased with every intention to pass down to more siblings and more siblings. Bins of tiny clothes for every age from newborn to five meticulously organized and stacked high, and myriad piles of plastic bags lumpy with toys—their return on investment yet to be realized.
With the passing of just a few more seasons, I imagined these intensely physical years of mothering as the backbone on which I’d lovingly carry the salty milk-stained bittersweetness of what the days had meant to me—the sense of purpose I felt, the tender love and emotion that overflowed, the demands that screamed for me to reach and grow, my disappointment and my deepest joy of joys—I’d gather it all up with a fierce adoration, press our best memories to my heart, and we’d jet steadfast into the next phase of our life together with construction of our home on the brink and international travel penciled into the future—plane tickets are cheaper for a family of four, than five or six, didn’t you know?
With our youngest born when I was 28 we would remain forever young, parents with an empty nest at 44. Our shared fantasies of having kids out of diapers, and of sleeping through an entire night uninterrupted, had started to feel not only entirely possible but oh so very close.
The blossoming freedom we’d recently found as our boys grew to be four and five, we wanted more of that. In our marriage, which had fluctuated with great happiness and responsibility over the years, we’d learned to adapt and to thrive, and the elusive promise of a time when we would again have proper energy to give to each other and to ourselves had finally arrived.
We established equilibrium with greater wisdom for what we needed as people who also happen to be parents.
A vasectomy was discussed—although neither of us made an effort to find out more—and we tabled the conversation for later because somehow the decision to declare an end to childbearing felt as big and weighty as had been our initial decision to begin in the first place.
To make a decision so final felt like a painful responsibility. More bearable was to let time take the burden for us until one day I would understand for good that the opportunity had passed, and by then our life would surely have melded into whatever it was meant to be and the expected sting of a closed chapter would be lessened in hindsight.
We did nothing and time passed as we knew it would. At 32, my endocrinologist emphasized that if I valued my future fertility I should consider freezing my eggs—if she were me that’s what she’d do—as early ovarian failure runs in my family history and I already have one autoimmune disease.
The stakes ratcheted higher. Fertility is not forever.
Perhaps just waiting to see if and when our emotional tides turned wasn’t the best plan after all. If we could save ourselves from the disappointment and expense of waiting too long then the smart thing was to choose a path, knowing that every year could make a difference.
But oh a passive wait seemed so much easier than committing because I wasn’t feeling like myself—still carrying baby weight from my pregnancy with Merritt, suspended in a body that wasn’t really me—and mothering my two wild boys day to day, homeschooling, life in general, it was all I felt I could handle.
Then there was Andy, adamant since shortly after Merritt’s birth that he was two and through. To make it all work in my mind—to meld my husband’s desires with my own perceived limitations—I built a convincing case that two could be enough for me.
Certainly Roscoe and Merritt were enough. I had to believe it. How could they not be?
I looked for signs to push in one direction or the other. The scenarios of every day life under a microscope to glean what I could, longing to know if I was cut out for more.
As my friends became pregnant with their third and fourth kids the radiance of pregnancy was lost on me, and even in the face of the sweetest parts of newborn baby life I was relieved to feel completely unruffled. Even the prettiest sleep-filled babies and peaceful mamas didn’t spark the wanting flame inside me, and it began to feel as if the passing of time really would soothe all.
Yet, in the back of my mind I knew that none of it mattered as much as I owed it to myself to wait to make a decision until I could find my way back to my pre-pregnancy self, because it wouldn’t be a fair call otherwise.
Staying fat had made it possible to tuck all the fear and questions away for another day, and avoid trying to solve the puzzle altogether. Ambivalence for wanting another baby, and doubt in my ability to maintain my own standard of mothering in the face of it all added another layer but the fat held all the power because I knew as long as I carried it with me I wouldn’t put my body through another pregnancy.
For reasons beyond having another baby, for good reasons like I was just ready and I had the time and energy to make it happen, I started to let go. The weight that I carried with me into the NICU and well into Merritt’s preschool years, the image of myself that I had grown to know and even like, I was ready to say goodbye—a final triumph to rail against all that my second pregnancy and birth had brought to my mothering experience. I had held on long enough.
The season turned and Spring brought us back in tune after a long Winter. When we emerged all seemed possible and the wanting for another child, a wanting that I had just buried somewhere deep because the timing was all wrong, it resurfaced just as the daffodils and periwinkle were blooming.
To feel the wanting again brings me peace, just as it makes me feel like my world is closing in on me. I won’t pretend I’m unafraid. I won’t pretend that the reality of another premature birth isn’t occupying space in my mind, or that the ugly frightening aspects of NICU life and postpartum anxiety don’t intimidate me. I can’t pretend not to wonder how the waning of my patience and a waxing need for sleep in the first trimester will impact my temperament to mother the boys during that time. I can’t hide that it feels damn good to be me again, or pretend that vanity and body image mean nothing.
I know what mothering in the first five years looks like for me and my memory of the details make this decision one for my bold heart and not for my logic.
The unfolding of the journey is the very stuff that life is made of and I think I’m willing to take a chance without knowing how the story will end.