Right before September 11, 2001 my husband and I were on a trip overseas. We literally arrived home 2 days before the awful event of 9/11. It was a sales rewards trip for my husband – not nearly as long as I would have liked, but no question the best trip of my life thus far. I saw things that historically wore amazing and things that spiritually were overwhelming. The sights, the sounds, the smells, the tastes…I fell deeply in love with the city of Rome.
We were alone. Very briefly. On the other side of the world. My children were 6 years old, 5 years old, 3 years old, and 1 year old. My mother came to stay at our house with the kids for about 5 days. In that timeframe we flew to London then to Rome. Spent 3 days in Rome and jetted back to London then home again. It was a whirlwind trip.
I have a plethora of memories from that trip alone. Memories that would support my lifetime if I were to never go anywhere else ever again. I have memories of the food, conversations, people, store windows, fountains, monuments, and impressive history but there is one memory from that trip that stands far above the others.
While in Rome, my husband and I were sitting in the bathtub together. He was at one end and I at the other. We were in deep discussion about our future. You see our youngest baby was 16 months old. It was the first time that we had a child that age and I wasn’t either pregnant or already giving birth to the next one. It was a first for us. After we got married we were so busy having children - it was almost cyclical.
The second child was born 18 months after the first. The third child was born 2 years later. Then the fourth was born 20 months later. There were also several miscarriages in there. We were busy. Busy creating our family. One after the other.
When we first married, my husband told me that I could have all the children that I could give birth to before he turned 40. When we married he was 32 –so it all seemed reasonable to me. Our daughter was born in May prior to his 40th birthday in September. It was a celebrated birth that she had made the cutoff after 3 boys. My husband felt greatly relieved and was still true to the words that he had spoken to me shortly after we married. But immediately after I gave birth to our daughter in the hospital, I turned to my husband and said, “We’ve got to do this again. I have finally figured how to do this well.” He shot me a sideways glance and responded with a resounding, “No. I’m done. I told you 40 was it.”
Even though those were the words that he had spoken for 8 years – I just wasn’t buying it. I don’t know why. I just didn’t take it seriously. I assumed that if I wanted another child – we would have another. It never really dawned on me that he would unquestionably put his foot down and unequivocally be finished having children. I took his words with a grain of salt.
So that night in Rome – I approached the subject while sitting in the bathtub with him.
“You know, Daughter is 16 months old. I am usually pregnant by now or getting ready to have another baby. We’ve never gone this long after without having another.”
My husband with his quick wit, “All good things come to an end.”
I laughed. But pushed further, “I’m thinking I’d like to have another one.”
My husband said, “No.”
I didn’t laugh this time. I felt a little miffed. “No? Just like that? It’s not your decision to make alone.”
This broke into a back and forth that cooled that bath water quickly. He wasn’t budging. Not an inch. He was finished and in no way, shape or form was going to give in to my requesting him to consider another child. I remember how angry I got. How upset I was.
I had arrived at a completely foreign point in my life. I had spent 30 years planning my family and all efforts spent on becoming a mother and building a home. But the moment that you realize your family may be complete – it feels different. I had never thought about that moment before. How it would feel. How it would affect me.
I couldn’t imagine that I wouldn’t have another baby. I couldn’t imagine that I had held a baby against my breast for the last time. That I would not swaddle, scoop up and cuddle another baby. I didn’t feel complete. I wasn’t ready to be babyless. That seemed like an entirely new stage of life that honestly had never crossed my mind.
Each time my “baby” grew into toddler hood, I had a replacement on its way. Something to fill that baby void. But now I was facing the void for the first time. I tried to talk about it many times on the trip but my husband explained that as strongly as I may have felt about having another was as strong as he felt about being complete.
He was a 40 year old man with 5 children, the oldest- my stepdaughter who was 14 and the youngest a 16 month old. His mind calculated finances and college savings. He logically considered his age at a certain point in the future. He said, “I will be 60 before Daughter even graduates college.” Funny, I had never thought about those things and frankly I didn’t want to. All I could think was – it’s time for another baby. The time that he was considering seemed light years away.
You know we returned from that trip and were greeted with the tragedy of 9/11. I was grateful to have made it home safely in a timely manner to have been with my family. Time was busy with so many things unfolding that I didn’t really concentrate on the reality. I think I probably even considered that perhaps I would get pregnant – if by mere accident. It was easier to think that way. It was too hard to think of the cold reality that I would not have another baby.
Perhaps there are women who feel complete at some point. They know they are finished having children and have no longing for another. I never arrived at that place. I had younger friends at church that were still having babies and it was hard. It was hard to know that was not my stage in life anymore. It was hard to move on from it. So I think I chose to ignore it. To ignore my husband’s refusal. It was easier to live in some world of denial that some night my wile ways would get the best of him and there would be another baby in our future.
But one day there was another birthday. A birthday in which my daughter turned 3 years old. I had not yet had another baby and had survived the longest period of time without a new one on the way. There had been no diapers, nursing or bottles for some time. Everyone was in regular beds, the crib disassembled and stored in the basement. I grew further removed from that time period…and I learned something – the farther away we sailed away from that time – the harder it was to imagine tacking the sails and heading back.
Little by little life changed. Things were easier. We were more mobile. We could go more places and do more things. We didn’t need to take the kitchen sink with us when we packed up to go somewhere. The storage closet and the attic grew more crowded with playpens, swings, and baby gates. While I began to feel more like who I remembered I was from a while ago. My body began to return to a younger version of myself from B.C. – before children.
I think the grandest years were the years when the youngest was 5 and the oldest was 12 – my step daughter was off at college and we realized that we had been successful in raising one at least. Perhaps we might be able to see the rest through. They were old enough to be self-sufficient for so much but young enough to still be innocent to love us unconditionally and follow rules just because we asked. It was a brilliant time. Though I still remember thinking – if I found out I was pregnant and had another baby – it would not be devastating – different yes, but not the end of the world.
Now the step daughter is 25. Our oldest is turning 17 shortly and my youngest will be 11 in a couple of short weeks. Now? The thought of a baby terrifies me. For the first time I think of my husband’s age. There is a big difference between 40 and 50. He is now in a position to possibly be a grandfather should his daughter find Mr. Right and settle down. It’s quite unbelievable to me actually. I don’t recall ever deciding that I was finished. Well not like my husband did. For me, it just sort of happened. One day I was busy having babies and not opposed to more and then one day my kids were grown and the thought of a baby terrified me.
Now that we have all tween/teens – I realize how much we have on our plate. When they were little it was easy to keep having them. If you have one in diapers you may as well have two. If one is up at night – why night be up with a newborn? As long as you are living in the constant chaos – you don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. But what I didn’t know was how HARD it would be when they were older.
I generally believed that when the kids were all young and in diapers, nursing, preschool, car seats and all that good stuff – that would be the hardest time. I believed that as they grew, life would get easier for me. They would be less dependent – I would have more time – things would improve. I was ever so mistaken. Having all of those kids grow into teens and tweens at the same time is the hardest time ever. Some days I pray myself through and I am certain that nothing more than that prayer gave me survival.
Today I took Son #3 and Daughter out to lunch. Driving home Daughter wanted to stop at the SPCA. She always wants to stop there. But I said no. I started thinking about how cute puppies and kittens are – you always want to bring one home.
That is how I have ended up with the zoo in my house now. It is like having kids – babies are precious and they are most certainly what keep us going back for more. Moms especially seem to feel it. Each of those babies grows up. I am seeing firsthand what happens when they do. I am constantly reminding myself right now that I wanted each one of those kids – each one was planned and purposefully conceived – I did this intentionally every single time. Just like the kittens and puppies – eventually they grow up and you need to find a good kennel for them so you can go on vacation.
The other day the husband and I were talking. It happened to be a particularly difficult day with the teenagers. A great deal of arguing and hostility. I was feeling emotionally spent. I said to my husband, “I don’t even know what I’m doing anymore. I can’t take it.”
He reminded me. “You wanted MORE! If you had had it your way – there would be MORE of them coming along!”
He’s right. I am grateful to him for having the insight at a time that I was blinded by the emotions of “baby fever”. I am grateful that he stood firm and didn’t buckle under the pressure and ultimatums I placed before him.
This is also the man that now has declared there will be no more pets. I’ve come into our home with 4 dogs, 2 cats, 2 guinea pigs and 1 rabbit in the past 20 years. With the latest addition of the kitten just 6 months ago…he can take no more.
So, to my husband, I say thank you. Thank you for putting an end to the madness. Thank you for being the logical retort to my emotional plea.
I don’t say it often, but on this particular subject I will give you this…
…you were right.
And if I could go back to the night in Rome- you know, in that bathtub – I wouldn’t spend that time arguing with you about having babies. <Wink, Wink>
“Raising children is like making biscuits: it is as easy to raise a big batch as one, while you have your hands in the dough.”
-- E.W. Howe