Tuesday, October 25, 2011

enough.

Today I want to write about babies.  And deciding how many to have.  This is such a personal thing, and I think there's a fair chance that in writing about my own feelings and experiences on the matter, I will inadvertently badmouth someone else's decisions.  I won't do it on purpose, but I'm just giving fair warning, I might accidentally offend someone.  Please forgive me, if so.

Mostly what I want to do is tell you a story.  I want to document what I went through and to explore, to some degree, the complex thoughts and emotions that swirl around this issue.  It will be far too long and probably maddeningly disorganized.  Sludge through it as best you can.  Or don't!  I'm writing it mostly for myself, to work through it all.

When S was born, I thought he would be my only baby.  I wasn't ready to be a mom at all, so I couldn't consider having another child.  At least not at first.  A couple years later, I decided S needed a sibling.  I still wasn't keen on the idea of birthing another child, after my traumatic hospital birth.  So we looked into adoption.  But, boy, that costs a lot of money.  And we didn't have it.  And I didn't have the patience to wait until we did.  Enter T.

After I had T, I thought for sure I would never want any more.  I had my two beautiful boys, I had one terrible birth experience and one euphoric,  I thought I was golden.  This state of contentment lasted about a year.  At which point I casually suggested to Nate that we have another baby.

At the time I think I was half-way joking.  But something about saying the words out loud, and possibly Nate's intense reaction against the idea of a third baby, planted a seed in my mind.  And that seed started growing like nobody's business.

You know how they say guys think about sex every seven seconds?  Well, that's how I was, only with babies.  Growing a baby, birthing a baby, holding a little baby, smelling my newborn's baby smell, etc.  All of it was on my mind ALL THE TIME.  I'll say it, I was obsessed.  And I made myself absolutely miserable over it. I thought if I kept showing Nate little glimpses of my obsession and desire for baby 3, he would eventually give in to my request.  But I was wrong.  As strongly as I felt about growing our family, Nate felt just as strongly about leaving it where it was.  We had different visions for the future of our family.  Mine involved a fuller house and a longer season of staying home with small children.  His involved financial stability and traveling with two growing boys.

I've thought a lot about why I got so obsessed with the idea of another baby.  There were many contributing factors.  One of the most straightforward reason for the discrepancy between Nate and my ideas of family size, I believe, is that we grew up in different size families.   My family had three kids and I thought three would be perfect.  Nate's family had two kids and he thought two was just right.  Nothing surprising there.  The size you grow up with is what seems normal to you, right?

I do think part of it was wanting what I could not have.  There is no way to know this, but if the shoe had been on the other foot, and Nate had been the one pressuring me to go for a third, I probably would have resisted.  I could see that happening.  As it was, I felt like someone was ripping my dreams away from me.  And of course I am not privy to other couples' conversations on the subject, and I realize this is a gross over-simplification, but I had the impression that my female friends were the ones making the call.  Like, their husbands asked them if they "felt done," and they had to then decide whether they "felt done" and they went from there.  I guess I felt entitled to that too. 

I don't think living where we live helped me in this situation.  I don't know the stats but I would bet that families in this town are bigger than the national average.  It was like salt in my wound to see all the families of three, four, and more in town and in my sons' schools.  I think being here really normalized bigger families for me, whereas if we had still been in the city, two would have seemed perfectly normal and reasonable.  Also, somehow, being here in this community where many people embrace the idea of big families, I started to equate having more kids with loving kids more.  Like, oh those people must really love kids because they just keep having kids.  And I wanted to be seen as someone who loves kids.  Because, my gosh, do I ever love my kids.  But of course that doesn't necessarily mean I should have more.  Nor does stopping at two mean I love my kids any less than these parents of three, four, and seven kids love their kids.  I guess, though, I was struggling with the title "mother of two" and what that said about me.  And I was afraid it said I didn't love kids enough to keep having them.  I know that is messed up.  It wasn't a fully formed conscious thought at the time, rather something under the surface that I was only able to identify later.

Also at work in my brain / heart was a longing for a giant do-over.  The boys are growing up so, so fast.  It's unbelievable to look at S and think that he was my little old-man turtle-baby a short 8 years ago.  Part of me wants another chance, to be gentler, kinder, more patient every day.  To do projects that I never took the time to do with the boys, to take more walks in the woods, to focus in and be more present.  I'm sure these type of regrets are a normal part of parenting and I would feel all these same things when hypothetical child #3 started to grow up.  But I couldn't see it so clearly during my obsessive baby-craze.  I just desperately wanted to do it all again.

Then, on the flip side of that somewhat dark coin, I wanted more of the joy of parenthood, and more of the amazing human beings that Nate and I seem able to produce together.  As hard as it can be, being a mom is an enormous source of pride and happiness and has brought me all of the most magical moments in my life thus far.  I suppose I wanted more of all that good stuff.

During my most baby obsessed period, I felt desperate to get what I wanted.  I did things I am not proud of now.  I tried to recruit the boys to my side, tried to get them to convince their dad they needed another brother or sister.  They weren't very dependable allies, I have to say.  They were always wavering between wanting another brother (a sister would be unacceptable) and not wanting to smell dirty diapers in the house.  I would sometimes bring up the third baby around friends and family hoping the social pressure would sway Nate.  If anyone ever expressed even the slightest doubt in my plan, I was crushed and offended.  I just couldn't understand how someone, Nate or anyone else, wouldn't want me to have another little one.  I was single minded.  I was miserable.  I didn't know how I would ever move on.  I thought I would be70 years old and still wanting a baby, full of regret and resentment.

Nate and I can and do talk about everything.  But there came a point when talking about this was not productive.  We were at a standstill, with neither of us willing to budge.  I needed to talk about it, though, and here is where my friend Janna came in.  I lost count of how many emails we exchanged on the subject.  She let me rail on to my heart's content and never made me feel silly or crazy or petulant.  She gently helped me see things in a new light, and I slowly, slowly was able to change my mind and let go of the only thing I had wanted for four years running.

Before my turning point, I wanted to change my mind.  Or at least I wanted to want to.  I wanted to be free of the obsession and shake off the mounting tension in my marriage.  And I could think of plenty of reasons not to have a baby, but they were all negative or scary.  Something could be wrong with the baby.  Something could happen to me during the pregnancy or birth (other than gaining a boatload of weight). The boys could react badly and not be close to this sibling like they are to each other.  The financial pressure of adding to our family could be too much for us to handle.  By the time child 3 grew up the world would be out of water and there could be war throughout the earth.  I thought of all these things, but they were totally emotionally unsatisfying. I didn't want to make this decision out of fear.

Janna helped me see all the good things about having a small family.  With just two of my own to look after I can be a more doting aunt and someday, maybe, grandmother, able to spend more time and money on all the other special children in my life.  Sticking with two means we are freer to move about, freer to travel and have adventures.  I want all this.  I was willing to wait a while, but now that I realize we can have that now, I like the idea a lot.  Our first big family trip will be to NYC this summer, if everything works out.

She also suggested that maybe I would always want another baby, but that didn't necessarily mean I should have one.  Maybe it was just one of those under- talked aspects of womanhood, like the difficulty of breastfeeding.  After all, I am an animal.  That need in me might never go away.  But I am also a thinking animal.  And I can choose to redirect my brain in order to make the need less acute.  Accepting this idea was hugely helpful for me

So, I guess that was that.  I needed a friend to listen to me, validate me, and then point me in another direction.  Of course I should have been able to see these things for myself, but I couldn't at the time.  I had tunnel vision.  Baby vision.  It was serious business.  I'm glad it has gotten less serious.  There are still some days I want another baby.  Especially days when we spend time with other little ones and I see how sweet my boys can be toward them.  But it's no longer a constant ache in my heart, the way it was for those four years.

I feel like I've done a lot of growing up around this whole issue.  For one thing, it's pretty childish to think in terms of, "I want this and I will not be happy until I get it."  And that's essentially what I was doing.  For another, it took a lot of growing up for me to be able to acknowledge that Nate's vision for our family and future was just as valid as mine.  I definitely thought I had the moral upper ground here.  I wanted another beautiful human.  I wanted more love.  He wanted to save money.  And protect what we already had.  It was my romantic stance vs. his pragmatic one, and I guess I must value a romantic view of life because I really thought I was RIGHT and he was WRONG.  But I can see now there was no right or wrong.  Only two different people with two different ideas.  It was a big step for me to accept that what he wanted was just as legitimate as what I wanted.  From there it was an easier step to realizing I could be the one to compromise.

To sum up in a grandly oversimplified way, Nate is a very practical person and saw this issue as such.  Three children = too much time, stress, and money spent.  For him the equation didn't add up.  I, on the other hand, perceive the world mostly in terms of emotion and aesthetics.  I liked the idea of a fuller house and the round shape of the number 3.  I thought 2 was absolutely too small a number and represented too empty a house.  However, now that I have made a good faith effort to accept it, 2 is growing on me.  Actually, 4 is growing on me.  Four is good, it's tidy and manageable.  It's tight knit, intimate.  Four is symmetrical.  Four is good.  I am learning to see in a better light every day.  Four is enough.

ALL of that being said (and it was a lot, wasn't it?), I reserve the right to change my mind again at any time.  *wink, wink*

3 comments:

kelly ann said...

i loved reading this. eric and i are already talking about how perfect 2 might be for us (for so many reasons), but we also toy with having more. it's an evolving conversation. i'm glad you're making peace with it.

of course, i would love to see you make a million babies, but you have produced the two kindest, smartest and most creative children i have ever met. you're the best mama i know.

TaylorStreet said...

Laura, I enjoyed this post a lot. You are very heartfelt and honest, and that is part of why you are a great person, parent, and friend. Way to be.

Janna Hawkins said...

This made me cry tears of lady friendship. You're a compelling writer and so thoughtful. This post put some of my own thoughts into perspective (for one, more kids = being more maternal and a better mother). I hadn't realized I'm struggling with that too.

Big love to your family. What will be will be, but it's wonderful if we can enjoy what IS too. Here's to the scary journey of parenting older kids. It's insane. I think the babies are easier in a way.