How do you know when you’re done having kids?
The thought of having kids was never one I entertained much. I wasn’t really maternal towards babies (animals were a different story, however) and I guess I was pretty cavalier about the idea of having a baby when Ryan and I got married. I was 31 then, and we had been dating for about eight years. My job was certainly not a career, but I was happy with our circumstances and loved our life together.
One day, three months after our wedding, over a pitcher of beer and some chicken wings, we clinked glasses and said, “Ok, let’s do it! Let’s have a baby!“. Naively we ventured into this new territory, thinking it could be months (even years) before we welcomed a baby into our lives. At our one-year anniversary dinner, I carried our daughter’s car bucket seat into the restaurant to celebrate with us.
I loved being pregnant. I loved every single moment of the entire process, even the pain of gaining over 70 pounds, collapsing the arches of my feet, going 13 days “overdue” and having a less-than-smooth induction. I loved being a mom, and I immediately loved our daughter so much, I felt my heart could burst. Pride like nothing else rippled through my body daily and there was nothing in the world I wanted more than to just be her mom.
When Story was almost two years old, Ryan and I casually discussed having a second baby. As only children, the idea of adding a sibling to Story’s life was scary, foreign and exciting. Once again, discussions were short and I was soon expecting again. From the start, that second pregnancy felt so different. So not-quite-right. And to make a long story short, it ended about half-way through in a devastating way.
Story was a month shy of turning two when I lost the baby, and chose to name it Marshmallow. This August will mark five years since losing Marshmallow. We’ve always kept the name and speak of that baby often, despite not knowing whether it was a boy or girl.
Six months after losing Marshmallow, I was terrified, depressed, unhealthy, and pregnant again. Where my first pregnancy had been filled with hope, excitement, and love, this one was filled with worry, tears and anxiety. There wasn’t a moment in those nine months that wasn’t filled with fear. Not a day went by when I didn’t replay the events of the day we lost Marshmallow.
Why was I doing this again? I couldn’t live with my last birth experience being a death.
What if something happened to this baby? I would lose myself.
Was it the right decision for our family? We would never really know, I thought.
The baby who became my little dude Mason was far more abstract while I was pregnant. When we found out we were expecting a boy, I cried. I’m not even sure why, but it didn’t feel like happy tears. Even when he was born healthy and strong and they presented him to me, I was hesitant. Would he be ok? Should I get attached to something that’s not guaranteed?
It’s amazing just how twisted and tangled a mind can become after a loss. You never know just how your own brain will react, and I didn’t really recognize myself for years. Whose thoughts were these? Whose life was this? I felt much like a marionnette, unsure of who was controlling my strings. I wanted so badly to flip a switch and feel better, but I just couldn’t seem to overcome the feelings. The thoughts weren’t my own, my actions weren’t mine, and nobody seemed to really understand why I behaved the way I did, especially me.
Looking back I can see that the only way to the light was through that darkness. I look at Mason and can’t imagine life with a different baby. I don’t know who Marshmallow would have been, but I know that if that baby had survived, we wouldn’t have had Mason, and to not have him is unfathomable. My kids are my world.
I often have conversations with my friends about their desires for more children. Or some children. I have many friends who suffer infertility struggles, and it absolutely breaks my heart that they must endure such pain. Similarly, I sympathize with my friends who so badly wish to add to their broods, but for various reasons cannot. That ache is like an unreachable itch, forever eating away at a soul.
But when they pose the question to me: How do you know you’re done? I just know. I know that for us, two children is the right number. Flippantly, I say I know that I don’t want to be outnumbered, that I don’t want to drive a bigger vehicle, that I need that guest bedroom to be for guests only. I say that I don’t want to hamper our travel by having one more plane ticket to buy, that I could never go back to sleepless nights and potty training. I say I’m relieved Mason is off to school full-time in the fall and I am happy my body is my own again.
All those points are true for us, but the deeper truth is that my biggest fear is being pregnant ever again. And when I call it a fear, I think it’s actually something far deeper: a phobia. Nightmare-inducing. Post-traumatic stress disorder-related. There is no doubt in my mind that I could not mentally handle the fear and stress. So when friends ask when number three is coming along, I think to myself that I’ve already done this three times, and a laugh escapes my lips and I say, “Never!“, as my heart crumbles into pieces and I recall the shell of a person I was five years ago.
This is how I knew I was finished having kids, when I was never really ready to have them to begin with.
Sometimes, we just know things.