An Only Child

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little-boy-eating-noodles Image via Shutterstock

My family has not taken the shape I expected it would, back when I was first expecting.

Eight years ago when I started dating Joel, a divorced father of three small children, I had been galavanting around New York City for over a decade, unsure if I would ever meet my future husband. On the one month anniversary of our first date, I confronted him with my deal breaker question:

“Do you want to have more kids?” I asked, prepared for my whirlwind romance to end.

“I’d have one or two,” he said.  I heard “two,” and dared to be hopeful that Joel was “the one.”

Six weeks after our wedding, I became pregnant with Sam, at the “advanced maternal age” of 36. In my mind, that left plenty of time to have another before I reached the super-advanced maternal age of 40. But, we agreed to not even talk about it until Sam was one year old. I turned my attention to my beautiful baby boy, and put the conversation away for a year.

But when Sam turned one, Joel tensed up and avoided my eyes when I brought up number two. I knew that he was feeling the emotional and financial pressure of supporting two families. I decided not to push it too hard, afraid it might drive us apart, as my maternal age kept galloping along.

“I just want Sam to have siblings,” I’d reason.

“Sam already has siblings,” he reminded me.

It is worth mentioning that Joel’s kids are outstanding. At ages 12, 14, and 15, they love Sam completely, and include him much more than I remember including my own younger sister in my social life. Sam has no idea what a “half” sibling is and even when he learns, it won’t matter to him. If you ask him, he will proudly tell you he has two “brudders” and a sister, who write him letters from sleep away camp and cave in to endless demands for “Too Many Monkeys.”

But we only get to see them on alternate weekends, and I wanted for Sam what I had with my own sister: a daily companion with whom to ride bikes before dinner, whisper late at night, or roll eyes when Mom is being totally embarrassing.

My friends’ families were starting to multiply. When they would share the joyful news that they were expecting Baby #2, I cringed and smiled.

“That’s the best news!” I’d say, my voice unnaturally high and shaky.  I was happy for them, but unhappy for me. I felt my family was incomplete.

To boot, we moved into a community where dozens of families have multiple kids. At one of my first events at Sam’s preschool, a small woman covered from head to toe in black, a basketball of a belly protruding from her tiny frame, greeted me warmly, asking if Sam had any siblings. As usual, I felt like I had to make an excuse for having just one child.

“He has three half-siblings, so sometimes we have a pretty full house,” I explained, maybe just a wee bit patronizingly.  “Is this your first?”

“My ninth,” she responded.

Poof. Smugness evaporated. She had a full-time Little League team to my part-time four square.

As I turned 37, 38, 39, I started to worry about my waning window of fertility. But then, just a few weeks before my 40th birthday, I was surprised and thrilled when I peed on a stick and two short lines appeared, a veritable “equals” sign that rendered me equal to my fellow moms with two kids.

My anxieties about having an only child suddenly became irrelevant, and I began making important plans in my head, like how to transform the guest bedroom into a baby’s room and how to cleverly announce my pregnancy on Facebook. But seven weeks into it, on a balmy night at my parents’ house in Florida, an unwanted splotch punctuated a heartbreaking end to those plans.

After that, it became clear to me that a second child was unlikely. My body clearly wasn’t into it and my heart began to follow suit.

At first, I rationalized that it was much more manageable to watch one kid in the pool and to pack just one nut-free, well-balanced lunch. It was easier to send just one child to the private school that we fell in love with or to Summer camp for a full eight weeks. It was simpler to bathe one child and brush one set of teeth after a long, exhausting day of work.

I wouldn’t have minded reading an extra bedtime story or two. Though probably not nine.

So I arrange lots of playdates, plan vacations with other families, and make sure that we spend as much time as possible with Sam’s cousins, “brudders,” and sister. I try to surround him with people who love him, always. I have come to realize that family isn’t a number.

And the only thing I count are my blessings.

Related post: What’s your number?

Blaming Myself for My Miscarriage

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My nerves were shot as I headed to the doctor’s office. For reasons I couldn’t comprehend, I was nervous and worried about seeing Dr. Quinn, my ob/gyn. My fourth such visit in the last five years; a follow-up appointment for my recent miscarriage. The second time I had seen her after a D&C.

I hoped that when I arrived my nerves would settle. I tried deep breathing and positive thoughts, but none of that helped. Fear and worry crept up on me. I might find out what caused this latest loss once I saw the doctor.

Why was I scared? Why did I have such apprehension about this appointment? Simple. I knew it was my fault. I blamed myself. Seeing the doctor would confirm my greatest horror; that I caused our baby to die.

Only six weeks before this appointment, my husband and I headed for our 12-week ultrasound. Just four weeks earlier, we had seen our baby and its strong heartbeat. We knew that today would confirm that our baby was still growing and we would get to see its little face.

Instead, we discovered that the baby stopped growing at 10 weeks. The baby had died. We had lost our fourth angel.

As the shock wore off, I found myself doing the math; trying to figure out when the baby died. Had I done something to cause this loss?

At 10-weeks pregnant, I had gone on a girls’ weekend with my sister and mother to New York City. Did I do something in NYC that caused me to lose this baby?

Was it the soft mozzarella I ate at that Italian restaurant in the Theater district? It was tasty, but maybe it wasn’t pasteurized.

Was it because I walked, on average, 6 miles a day? My body wasn’t used to that.

Could it be that sip of wine my sister encouraged me to try? I should have known better.

Was it flying? I have issues with circulation, to the point that I have to take baby aspirin while pregnant. Did flying cut off the oxygen necessary for my baby to grow?

Had I been drinking too much caffeine? I tried to limit it to 200 mg, but maybe I did my math wrong.

I knew, in my heart, that losing the baby was my fault. It had to be.

A fourth loss was devastating. I had fooled myself by thinking I wouldn’t lose any more babies after having my two little girls, Ginny and Grace, after my first three losses. Apparently, I was wrong. Just by getting pregnant, I felt like I was playing Russian Roulette with a baby’s life.

I waited in the reception area a brief time before being called back by my doctor’s nurse, Michelle. She talked to me, expressing her sorrow at my loss. Then, she took my blood pressure. 148/98. My blood pressure normally runs 110/70. Not good. I needed to calm down.

As I waited for the doctor, I took deep breaths and tried to convince myself it wasn’t my fault. I would be held blameless for my baby’s death. I reminded myself that many things can go wrong in the first trimester and that miscarriage happens often. The miracle is when a baby does make it to term.

Then, I realized that no matter what the cause, I couldn’t do anything to change the result now. All I could do was wait to hear what my doctor had to say.

After several minutes, my doctor entered the room and gave me a hug. She has been with me through every loss, and has always remained optimistic. Then, she sat down, looked at me, and let me know that the results had come back from genetic testing on the fetus.

“Your baby was a girl.”

I laughed. I was astounded to learn that my instincts had been right. I had called the baby a girl since I was 5 weeks pregnant.

“It appears there were some extra chromosomes. It is difficult to know if those extra chromosomes were part of the baby or the placenta. However, there were other markers that suggest it was likely the baby. In particular, the baby had an extra chromosome 21, an indicator of Down’s Syndrome.”

Relief seeped over me. I could stop blaming myself. There was something wrong with the baby from the beginning.

The doctor then reassured me that the odds of this happening again were low, despite my age. I let her know that my husband and I planned to try for another baby. She smiled and told me to call her the moment I get another positive pregnancy test.

Part of me still worries that I will suffer another loss if I do get pregnant again. At 42, the odds are that I will lose another baby. But all I can do is hope that I will not deal with the heartbreak again. And, in until I know if another baby is in our future, I will love my husband and my darling girls.

Related post: The Unexpected Hatred

Things I Never Thought I’d Say

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Before I had kids, I had such idealistic views of what motherhood really was. During those years of fertility treatments and acupuncture, I imagined quiet snuggles with my baby in the hours before the sun rose.  I pictured serene scenes on Saturday morning watching cartoons, followed by soccer games and playing in the pool. I dreamed of school plays, back to school shopping, and having a little friend to go to the movies with.

Then it happened…I had not one but two miracle babies. They were sweet little friends until our littlest turned two, and then the battles began. The hair pulling, toy stealing, rolling on the floor wrestling days where just finding three minutes of peaceful playtime are next to impossible. Sure they love each other, but my days as “just a mom” have ceased to exist. My resume now includes the job title referee, and the days are filled with me saying things I never imagined possible.

Things like…

“Don’t lick your sister! “– Seriously? Licking each other? Ick. I feel like vomiting in my mouth each time I see their tongue reach over to the other one…it’s like super slow motion when Emmitt sees Wild Style in the Lego Movie.

“Please stop eating the sunscreen.” –Who invented the foam that resembles whip cream? Note to self, buy the spray.

“Let go of my boob!”– Our two year old stopped nursing over a year ago, but she’s still obsessed with boobs. When we are in new environments she clings to me, and inevitably pulls my shirt down near my breast. Nine times out of ten she exposes my bra, and once my entire boob. I’ve learned to wear high neck t-shirts, no tank tops or v-necks.

“Stop putting boogers on your nightstand!” – I mean, not just a couple. Like an entire side of her nightstand is a shrine to booger-ville. I guess it’s good that she doesn’t eat them right?

“Poop is not a food group.” – It’s the Summer of potty talk. Every day. What do you want for lunch? “Poop!” What type of muffins should we make? “Poopy muffins!” Let’s make a birthday cake for daddy, what type of frosting will he like? “Poop”. Cue the giggles.

“No, I will not cook your butt and eat it.” – And of course when I tell them they cannot say poop at the dinner table, they tell me they’d like to eat their butts, after we cook them. Is butt really that funny? I don’t get it.

“Who put the remote control in the toilet?” – Does your toddler do this? Mine loves the remote control more than anything in the world. And the fake Fisher Price one is not real enough apparently. I’ve found ours in the toybox, in the hat boxes in her sister’s room, and last week in the toilet.

“You may not dance naked. Get back to the dinner table.” – I was hoping I would never have to worry about them dancing on a pole (aka her four poster bed)…well ever. But we are in a clothes shedding, booty shaking phase. At least she asked me if she could dance naked though. This is a phase, right? I sure hope so.

“You can poop in your pants if you want…just please go!” – Our toddler doesn’t like to go #2…at all. Holds it for days. Anyone else have this problem?

“Your vagina is not a toy!” – Yeah, this is my favorite. I couldn’t believe I had to say it either. It was a bath time thing, body exploration…enough said.

Ahhh… the sweet sounds of parenthood.

Being a Good Mom is Making me a Bad Wife

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tired-mom

“I’m losing my mind.  I’m trying to make dinner and they won’t stop demanding things and there are THREE of them and only ONE of me and I can’t get the fucking LIGHTBULB into the RIDICULOUS bathroom LIGHT!”

That’s how I greeted my husband when he came through the door last night.  No hello.  No smile.  Certainly no kiss, but I hadn’t showered that day anyway, so he probably dodged a bullet there.  Just rage and profanity and some nonsense about lightbulbs.  It was me at my worst and that’s what he was met with the second he got home.  He’s witnessed my meltdowns plenty of times before, but right as he walked in the door?  It was a new low.

Things calmed down after everyone was finally fed.  I was cleaning up the kitchen when he came in, gave me a hug, and said, “I’m sorry you had such a rough day.”

And at that moment I felt really terrible because the thing is that it wasn’t a rough day.  It was a pretty normal day.  There were good moments and difficult moments, but nothing all that stressful had happened for most of the day.  The girls drew pictures and then we used their colorful creations to decorate their cardboard tunnel.  They loved their lunch because it involved applesauce and cheese.  And although the twins didn’t nap, the baby slept for almost three hours.  So as a whole, the day could have been much worse.

It’s just that everything came down on top of me all at once.

I was sautéing mushrooms and stirring beans and microwaving rice.

The twins “needed” me to commune with them while they sat on their potties and insisted that I replace the bulb in our obnoxious old-house bathroom light fixture because it was apparently “too dark to pee.”

The baby ripped apart the pictures that everyone had so carefully colored and I had so carefully taped to their tunnel.  And then screeched about it.  So her sisters started screeching about it too.

The dog puked on the floor and that smell mingled with the smell of beans and spices burning to the bottom of a pan.

So of course all of that was going on at exactly the time that my husband was walking through the door.

He came home to a sweaty, angry wife and assumed that it had been a rough day.  Once I had a second to think, I felt terrible because I realized something huge:

My husband never sees me at my best.

At my best, I’m witty, creative, and enthusiastic.  At my worst, I’m short-tempered, grouchy, and cold.  I can usually be found somewhere between those two, and although my kids often get my best, and my writing sometimes does, my husband just doesn’t.

I worry that this is how marriages fall apart.

I worry that he thinks I’m always stressed out and yelling when I’m home alone with the kids.  Because I’m not.  He doesn’t see me on a good day at about 10 a.m. when I’ve had coffee and the morning rush is over.  Sometimes I’ve managed to clean the kitchen, brush my teeth, and maybe even sneak in a shower by then.  That’s when we snuggle and have a book-reading marathon.  Or we dance.  Or I decide it’s a good idea to take out some pipe cleaners and glue and make a “craft.”  That’s when I have fun with my kids and they get my best self.

But my husband?  He sees me first thing in the morning when I’m groggy and up to my eyeballs in cups of milk and custom orders for toast.  Then he sees me at the end of the day, when I’m just plain worn out.

There are weekends sure, but weekends with little kids aren’t very weekend-y.  We get out for dates every once in a while, but not nearly enough.

I love that I can be myself with my husband.  He honestly doesn’t care if I’m wearing makeup or anything like that.  I know that he loves me.  I know that he loves how we’ve created a family together.  We’re partners and we signed up for this life together.

But I want to be fun and interesting and sexy when I’m with him, at least sometimes.  I want him to know that I’m more than just a frazzled nutcase in an applesauce-covered Target t-shirt.  And I’m sure he does know that, in a sense, but how long is he going to believe it without any evidence to the contrary?  How do I give him my best?  How do other stay-at-home-moms do it?  Does he worry about any of these things too?

Maybe this is just a by-product of the baby-and-little-kid years of parenting.  Maybe once I get some time to myself for things like reading, writing, thinking, and exercising, I’ll have enough energy to be my best when my husband is actually around.  Maybe then I can stop yelling about lightbulbs and put on a clean t-shirt once in a while.

We both deserve that.  We really do.

Related post: The 5 Stages of Parents’ Sex Life