From our newlywed days, my husband and I both wanted at least five kids. But, now that we have three children, I may never be ready to have another baby again.
“Stop showing me videos of cute babies,” my husband said jokingly. “It makes me depressed.”
“Because we aren’t having any babies right now, and I wish we were.”
That was not a joke. It was the difficult truth about an issue my husband and I had only recently come to an official agreement on. We had talked about it for months, and when the decision was finally made, it was mutual: No more babies right now. Not never, but most definitely not right now.
We already have three sons, ages 7, 4, and 2. One of them was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) last year. We are drowning in therapy appointments, behavior modifications, follow-up doctor’s visits, and late-night conversations about how we’re going to help our son without losing our minds in the process. Plus, there are the aforementioned two other children to love, encourage, and care for. It’s frustrating and draining and overwhelmingly hard to manage.
For the sake of everyone—our existing children, any potential future children, and ourselves—we have decided now is not the time to expand our family.
We’re open to changing our minds, but we are not so foolish to think I will be fertile forever, or that our family demands will dramatically lessen in the coming years. Will we even want to embark on New Parenthood Version 2.0 in two or three or five years, when our sons are moving closer to independence and self-sufficiency (and further away from diapers, tantrums, and booster seats)?
We can’t help but wonder if we’ll have regrets, if some invisible window is closing, and if we shouldn’t do something before it’s shut tight. Still, our decision to postpone another baby remains. The size of our family is, for the moment, a big, fat unknown.
It’s not what we expected. From our earliest newlywed days, my husband and I wanted a large family, with at least five kids. Neither of us could have anticipated running completely out of gas seven years later, with only three of those five imagined children living in our house. But more unexpected for me has been the sheer neutrality I feel now. While my husband walks around with a difficult longing, I’m caught somewhere much grayer, somewhere more indefinite.
I thought I would be heartbroken. The truth is that I’m not.
Am I sad that I’m not pregnant? Yes, a little. Am I relieved that I’m not spending months wallowing in unrelenting nausea, lost in a morning sickness-induced haze? More than a little. Can I imagine myself holding a wriggly, squalling, impossibly tiny new baby in my arms again, pressing my face against its warm, fuzzy head? Absolutely. Can I think of breastfeeding at four in the morning while everyone else is asleep, fighting to hold my head up against the powerful drag of exhaustion, without a sense of pure dread? Not at all.
This is where the difference lies, I believe, between my husband’s disappointment and my lack of anything even resembling disappointment. Of course he has baby fever—he isn’t the one who has the babies!
My prior experiences have left me with a few scars, both physical and emotional. I know the pain of pregnancy-induced sciatica, and how the early weeks of breastfeeding can hurt so badly your toes curl when the baby latches. I recall, with no small amount of detail, how far away normalcy and sanity and uninterrupted sleep seem when your baby is waking every two hours around the clock.
I also remember that these phases are fleeting. Mothers go through hell, but they get heaven in return. I love all three of my boys, and I would endure their pregnancies and labors again—a thousand times over—to bring them into this world. And if I find out tomorrow that I’m pregnant, I go through hell again, and then I will welcome that new life with joy.
But if I have a choice at all, I want to feel the way my husband feels. I want to want another baby. I want to remember all the ways in which pregnancy and childbirth and the newborn stage are undesirable and say, “I don’t care—I want to do it all anyway.”
I don’t know if that will happen to me or not. I don’t know what our family will look like next year, or the year after that. I could change my mind, right now, about having more babies—I could take the chance, assume the risk, and hope for the best.
I just don’t want to. That leaves my husband and me in a strange predicament: though our decision to hold off on more babies was mutual, the grief that came with that decision was not. My husband has to carry it alone, and for a while, that left me feeling guilty and a little resentful. What about my grief and pain? What about those baby-carrying scars that haven’t fully healed? Don’t those matter?
Of course they do. My husband respects them—he always has. He acknowledges and accepts them, even if it makes him uncomfortable or he doesn’t fully understand why they exist. Through him, I have learned that this is the hard work of marriage. Realizing that your spouse walks around every day with his or her own pain, and there might not be any way to fix it. But I won’t hold his grief against him. He’s allowed to have it, even if I don’t share in it.
Maybe one day, I will. Maybe one day I will wake up to find that most of my scars have healed and I want another baby. I refuse to say never. Just not right now.