I’m at this stage in my life where pregnancy announcements literally pain me. Even worse are the newborn babies who pop up in my Facebook feed: fresh-faced, squishy, squinty at the world so new around them. I hate the bumps photos, the baby shower invitations. I pretend they never arrived in the mail. I envy the pregnant women I see around town. I want to take them all aside and say, “Look. You don’t know how precious this is. Savor every single second.”
Because our third baby is 3 years old, and we can’t have another.
Oh, there are reasons. Good reasons, sound, medically based reasons that mean our biological family is finished. I said to my husband, as I settled our youngest into our bed for the first time: “Promise me this isn’t the last one.” He promised. And now we find ourselves done — with a family we never considered finished.
And I love my older children. I love that my 7-year-old can read, and study the Revolutionary War, and begin to understand injustice. I love my 5-year-old, an affable soul who plays with both brothers alike, who still wants to cuddle in the deep dark of the night. And I love my 3-year-old, my baby, who still insists loudly, “Me tiny!” and wants nothing more than Play-Doh — and my boobs, because he still nurses to sleep at night. Why not? There’s no sibling coming along behind to push him away. I adore my kids. They’re all fun and funny in their own ways, a wonder to grow with.
And we can leave them regularly now, long enough to grab a great dinner and a movie, to attend an art museum gala, to go to a friend’s poetry reading. We may leave them overnight for our anniversary. I can drive for three hours without worrying that someone will weep uncontrollably.
They are manageable. They all eat real food. I’ve long folded all the cloth diapers and tucked them away.
This freedom, it’s nice. I enjoy it. But it’s nothing compared to the smell of a baby’s neck. When ours were tiny, we would just wrap them up on us and go wherever we wanted. And all those things about babies that we typically find inconvenient, I find myself missing.
I miss nursing all the time: pulling my shirt up, rearranging the baby in the wrap so he could reach my nipple. I miss the quiet nursing sessions on the couch, those endless sessions that take you out of real life and into baby time. I miss the cute cloth diapers. I really miss the baby carriers. My stacks of woven wraps sit dusty, waiting for a baby who will probably never come. Sure, I put my 3-year-old up sometimes. But it’s not for long. And it’s not the same.
I get angry sometimes. I hear people are having another baby, and I think, Lord, why them and not me? It makes me mad that we’re forced to be finished. It makes me angry that we made this decision, that this decision is the best one for me and for our family. I deserve that baby more than she does, I think darkly. I’m more this, or more that. Or really, deep down, I simply think I’d love it more. That I want it more. And that somehow, the depth of want should be enough to assure me another child.
I recognize voicing these inner thoughts may offend some, may make others give me the side-eye of judgment, but it’s not that I truly believe that I’m the only one equipped to care for a child. I know I’m not the only mom out there yearning for a baby, but the heart wants what the heart wants, and when we can’t have it, sometimes our mind takes us to that place.
You carry, in your head, a vision for your family. Some people think of two kids, a boy and a girl. Some are wedded to three babies, or just one and done. But I always imagined five or six kids. My husband and I agreed on five or six kids — because we love kids, and we love noise, and we knew we’re the type of people who could handle it. That vision is in pieces now. Imagine your vision for your family, and imagine it finished. Imagine that nagging loose end, that what-if, that deep sadness. That’s where I live.
We’ve decided to pursue adoption. But it’s not the same surety as a baby in the belly. Of course, nothing in this world is certain, least of all a child in the womb, but it’s more tangible than the paperwork they hand us. They ask for family income, for our children’s medical assessments, for our dog’s vaccinations. Every answer is a chance to slip up, to prove we’re not good enough. The adoption process is an exam with no answer key.
Maybe it will happen. Maybe a baby will come along. But I won’t believe in it until the nursery’s full. Until then, I carry this hurt, this want, this dull ache that flares when I see your pregnancy and birth announcements, your baby pictures, your round bellies. Someone’s going to tell me to be grateful for the boys I have (I am). Someone’s going to quote the Rolling Stones (yes, you can’t always get what you want). But in the end, those things just invalidate my feelings. No one can tell me what my family should look like but me.
And my family should have at least one more baby.