I’ve always known—or at least since I knew I wanted to have children—that I wanted to have three. To me, three just seems like the perfect number of kids: neither too few to be considered perfect (perfectly predictable, if you ask me), nor so many that people silently stare at you trying to figure out if you’re Catholic, Mormon, or just good old-fashioned crazy. My husband and I never reached an official agreement on our ideal number of children before we started cranking them out, but since he comes from a long line of families with three or more children, I always considered the matter an open-and-shut case. Recent conversations with my husband, however, have led me to understand that I made a rather grave miscalculation in judgment.
We have been blessed with two wonderful kiddos, the highly coveted girl/boy pair, and my husband is perfectly content to—if not adamant that we should—stop there. On a good day, this difference of opinion is a minor triviality to me, something to be brushed aside and dealt with at a later time. On a bad day, it is devastating, and the looming despair consumes my every waking hour.
There is no doubt in my mind that I have my thunderously ticking biological clock to blame for the pressing urgency I feel to resolve this matter. At almost 38 years old, my window of opportunity is closing faster than Showgirls on opening weekend, and as much as my brain likes to believe that I still have all the hipness and energy of a 21-year-old, my body (and vocabulary—seriously, “hipness”?!?) is constantly reminding me that denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.
And if I’m being honest, the more accustomed I become to life without a newborn—you know, the uninterrupted sleep at night, the absence of having to schedule your life in two-hour increments to accommodate ’round-the-clock feedings (and let’s not forget the devastatingly attractive nursing bras that accompany them), and children who can actually entertain themselves for five-minute intervals at a time—the less appealing diving headfirst back into that season of life, fleeting though it may be, is to me.
Yet remnants of that season of life surround me in my home, and they whisper to me from every corner. When I’m getting dressed in the morning, my hideous maternity clothes (still aspirationally hanging in my closet) cry out that they’d like to see the outside world again. The bottles in the pantry and toys in the bottom of the toy bins tell me that they’re lonely and long for a baby’s hands to hold them. And the baby clothes, neatly folded and labeled in clear storage bins in each child’s closet, beckon to be admired one last time. But my heart cries loudest of all. “I have room!” it shouts. “I can love just one more.” There is no denying it: I have everything I need to begin again. Except my husband’s blessing.
When I survey my friends about my dilemma, I am nothing short of astounded by how many of them have adopted the “better to ask forgiveness than permission” approach to family planning. “Just make it happen,” they advise me with an arched eyebrow. “He’ll get over it… They always do.” All I can think to say in response is that they clearly don’t know my husband. I’m not certain he would ever get over deception at that level, and I don’t think I can endorse it in good conscience either. I mean, we’re not talking about taking the ol’ AmEx on an unscheduled joyride to Target here. We’re talking about adding a human being to the family tree (and planet), and I think that calls for a united front from the beginning.
Maybe if I look at it from the perspective of the lucky women for whom “making it happen” is as easy as initiating a perfectly timed roll in the hay, I can understand where they’re coming from, but for me, it ain’t that simple. For me, it would be a multi-spoked web of deceit involving getting my IUD removed, filling and taking a prescription to help me ovulate, and religiously anointing pee sticks to determine when ovulation was actually taking place so that I could know when to lure my prey into my trap (so to speak). My children were both carefully planned, and though I know God works miracles every day, I’m assuming my third would have to be just as thought out. So to spring a “guess what, honey?—we’re pregnant!” surprise on my unsuspecting and unwilling husband would definitely go over like a ton of lead pink and blue balloons.
But even as I consider his objections to expanding our family—that we have more than enough *ahem* “spirit” in our house, already spend precious little quality husband and wife time alone, and that I’m overwhelmed and unpleasant enough as it is (definitely hearsay)—I can’t help but feel like our family simply isn’t finished growing. I further counter that a few more months of exile in “Baby Land” is a small and temporary price to pay for the lifetime of joy that will come from completing what I see as a lovely but incomplete family.
As dramatic as it sounds, when I look at pictures of our family with our beautiful two children, I feel like one is missing. When I watch them play together, I love bearing witness to the dynamic that’s developing between them, but I feel like one is missing. They have so much fun together as a pair, and I often find myself wondering how their creativity and jubilance would blossom if we could add a third child to the mix. I come from a large family, and I want my children to experience the joy of having multiple siblings as I did. Sure, in the beginning siblings often mean little more to a child than competition for resources like toys, rides to after-school activities, and parents’ attention, but once they are older, I hope that they would find, as I have, that siblings are the best friends and advocates one could ever hope for.
And so I’m left with questions for which I have no answers other than lots of lots of prayer. How is it possible that I, someone who has waited so long and hoped so desperately for both of my children, could have the same number of children as women who seem (at least outwardly) more or less ambivalent about their brood? What happens if this gnawing feeling of incompleteness never goes away? What happens if my husband’s objection to having a third is permanent and not temporary as I so fervently hope? What happens if he reconsiders his objections and then for whatever reason we are not able to have that third child? How am I supposed to get over the feeling that I lost something I never even had in the first place?
Although I know motherhood isn’t a gig that ends once I stop having babies, it certainly wanes from that point forward, as every moment carries me one further from the start of my journey. I’m not ready to wane. I want to rise, to be full again, to experience the joy, the pain, the sacrifice, and everything else about new motherhood one more time. I want to rock my new baby at all hours of the day and night fully aware that each sleep brings me one step closer to the end of this treasured chapter of my life. I want to breastfeed and know full well at the last feeding that I will never again have the chance to share that sacred moment with another child. I want to look at a picture of my family of three wild and wonderful children and smile with the contented joy of a soul who knows that her work here is done. Yes, I am getting older and can’t always rise as quickly from sitting to standing as I once could, and yes, our sweet little family is demanding and crazy, and some days I admit I want to run away and never look back, but most days I can’t help but feel like I’m just not finished yet. I know I have more to give. I want to experience motherhood one last time.