People love to ask this question. And I’ve been thinking about my answer.
Uncapping the black sharpie marker, I scribble a price on the neon green garage sale sticker: $4.00. Placing the tag on the light brown maternity dress, grief suddenly tackles me. I don’t know if I can do this…
This dress was the first piece of maternity clothing I ever purchased back when my body barely revealed a bump. In the Target dressing room, I stuffed my bag under the dress to try and imagine what my body might look like with a tiny human curled inside me. It seemed so surreal.
The dress was a staple in my maternity wardrobe through the wilting heat of three summers in six years. I wore it while in labor from Monday to Friday with my son, the week we determined I was a “slow laborer.” And I was wearing it the day I barely made it to the hospital to give birth to my daughter nearly two years later. I had been in labor 48 hours, but had chosen to ignore the squeezing contractions until I couldn’t anymore. “Now.” I demanded to my reluctant husband, who was remembering the long days of labor with my son. “She’s coming now, so we need to go.”
“Let’s check how far along you are,” the midwife said just minutes after we got to the hospital, pulling on her gloves. “Oop! There’s the head! You’re ready!” she said.
“Do you want to change clothes?” the nurse asked. “Your dress might get ruined.” I let her help me into the gigantic green hospital gown just in time to push out a tiny pink stranger just 30 minutes after arriving at the hospital. My sweet daughter was born on a brilliant sunny day in Chicago in July. And this was the dress I wore just minutes before she entered the world.
Folding the dress and placing it on the pile of other maternity clothes I’ve acquired over the years, the sadness hit.
Is this stage of pink lines appearing on a plastic pregnancy test, baby kicks, musical heart-beat checks and sacred, powerful, life-ripping childbirth really over? Are these the final days of having a tiny squishy body curled against me in bed as I nurse at dawn before the rest of the house wakes? Is it the end of magical baby giggles, laughing at the grimaces babies make as they try new foods or clapping like fools when your child experiences all the “firsts”?
Are we really done having children? And how do we know when we’re done?
I’m still not sure. All my reasons for having a third child obviously still apply for a fourth or fifth or any number of children we may want to have. But here’s why I’m thinking we’re done.
Mainly because in spite of my hesitancy to have an odd number of children, I’ve been surprised by how complete the number three feels. Sitting at a restaurant, when I see a family with two children, I find myself thinking “Not enough.” But when I see four, without even realizing it, I think, “Too many.” So I think—for us—three is the Goldilocks amount of children. “Just right.”
But I also feel I don’t have the capacity—physically, mentally or spiritually — for another baby at my age (I’m 38). My last pregnancy spun me into depression and my body has felt like it aged five years with each baby. I fear another pregnancy would break me.
But having “just” three children also leaves wiggle room for other people God may bring to our home. Just as I always want to have a guest room in our house, I know my heart only has so many rooms available, so setting this limit may ensure I’ll have the space to offer a place at our table to anyone who needs a temporary family. I often pray God will give us the capacity to extend our arms around anyone God brings into our life. Perhaps not having a baby in my belly or nursing on my breast will free me to nurture those who are not my own children.
My other two children are enjoying having more of me again. My baby is now eight months old and more interested in exploring the world through his hands, mouth and however far his chubby legs will take him as he crawls from drawer to cabinet, shoving every stray cheerio in his mouth along the way. He is no longer content to sit still.
Not always having a baby on my lap means more of me for the other two. The times when I force myself to stop folding laundry, picking up clutter or organizing toys and simply sit on the floor to be physically and mentally present with my kids, a child always ends up climbing into my lap. They have missed me. I push away the guilt that creeps in, accusing me of neglecting my two and four-year-olds during the past year of being hugely pregnant or nursing around the clock. They have learned to be more independent and are discovering they have a built-in playmate when mommy is busy with the baby. But they are still little and need me.
So for all those who are asking, I’m saying I am 98 percent sure we are done. As stressful, painful, stretching (in so many ways) and difficult as pregnancy, childbirth and the baby stage have been, I have loved it. I really have. There were moments in my twenties and even as I turned thirty and was still very single, when I wondered if I would ever have children. Once I married, I convinced myself I would have fertility problems. I wanted to shield myself from disappointment. So many of my friends had miscarried or had problems getting pregnant that I wanted to be prepared.
But after five months of waiting, on a cold December morning, I woke my husband up, jumping back in bed with a huge grin on my face.
And so I want to celebrate this gift and grieve the passing of such a sacred, special time of life. It has not felt like it “went fast,” but I do wish I could bottle up the magic and open it up every once in a while.
Wouldn’t you love to relive the moment you found out you were pregnant for the first time and you walked around all day with the most amazing secret you’d ever carried? I wish I could encapsulate the feeling of those first butterfly flutters and finally the indignant kicks from a silent being that drew life from my body. Or relive holding my baby for the first time, staring with wonder that there actually was a life inside me all that time. Time suspended and reality spun in those early hours of precious life.
Motherhood is a holy experience. Nothing scrapes the ceiling of the divine like pregnancy and childbirth. Giving birth and being a mother to these three souls has been the honor and joy of my life.
I place the stack of clothes with the brown dress in the large plastic bin, labeling it “maternity” and slide it over to join the pile of baby clothes I’m also pre-grieving the loss of. I walk over to the rug, plop down and grab my first son, wrapping my arms around him and tucking his long legs into my lap. “Do you know how much I love you?” I whisper. He smiles. Yes. He knows.