This morning as I was dressing the kids for school, Evangeline asked me, since Duncan is turning more into a little boy and less of a baby, if I could give her another baby brother.
“Just a brother. Maybe a lot of baby brothers. NO SISTERS,” she emphasized. Since Sam and I have taken measures to control our family planning and will not be having anymore children, I focused the conversation on how much fun Duncan is becoming – how this spring she’ll be able to teach him to run and slide and swing at the park, how they’ll be able to watch movies together, build forts together and play games together. Evangeline agreed that this would probably be more fun than having another baby around because last year, our park trips and exploring were somewhat limited while we focused on Duncan’s newborn needs.
When she asked the question, I felt the predictable conflicting emotions I always experience when this subject comes up. On the one hand, I am so, so glad our family is complete. Celebrating Duncan’s first birthday felt like a true milestone for us – moving toward raising a toddler and an older child and away from babies. My body is changing and improving and I feel great about that, and frankly I don’t think we can afford more than two children – our budget is stretched, with little room for error, while we pay for the cost of two daycares.
There is very little that is rational about wanting another baby, though, so I spend a lot of time rubbing my cheeks against Duncan’s chubby ones, smelling his hair, letting him run trains up and down my arms just to keep him on my lap longer. The truth of the matter is if I was younger and richer I would probably have aimed to have four children, I enjoy mine so much, and since they don’t have any cousins there would have been something great about a nice big family under my roof. When I was younger I don’t think I understood how one person could house such contradictory emotions at the same time but the desire to have and not have one last baby sit next to one another within me, taking up equal space.
I actually spend several of my working days each week at the hospital where I delivered Duncan and Evangeline and it is there I feel the strongest pull to have another child. Even with each child’s attendant (minor) complications when they were born, and how taken to task my own body felt, the birth and subsequent early days of bringing each baby home are gold-shimmering memories for me, a time when our house became reverent – as close to holy as my home as ever felt. It’s so easy to forget, as I walk the halls of the hospital, the smell of antiseptic mingling with the wood-fired pizza from the cafeteria, the difficulties – the long late walks trying to soothe a baby who couldn’t tell day from night, the seemingly endless nursing in the early months, the sleep-deprived toddler who had to learn how to sleep with a baby in the house, waking up with me in the early morning hours to join us while I nursed – I swear, the only thing I ate for three months was toaster waffles with nutella and rasberries.
The whole business of making babies – who can and who can’t – who wants to, who doesn’t – is such a weird crapshoot, really. Those of you who followed me here from my old blog might recall the time a physician’s assistant in Detroit told me I would probably never have children, and the toll it took on me. As it turned out I was simply in the hands of a particularly poor PA at the time, but I remember how suddenly it seemed as though babies were turning up everywhere, and how painful it was.
I find it endlessly interesting, I admit, to watch the faces of the women who are about to be mothers come in and out of the hospital. Some seem so hopelessly young, others, with greying hair and lined faces, oddly old. Some have four or even five kids in tow behind them while others – I know – are desperately trying to hold on to the one they are carrying. I find it weird, I guess, to still technically be able to have children and make the choice not to, after so much of my life was defined first by trying to avoid getting pregnant and then by trying to have babies.
I’m not sure when or how you ever know, barring biology, if your family is complete. For me, the decision is a combination of finances, my age (carrying a baby at 36 was more difficult than it was at 33), and the understanding that having a third child would be more about me than it would be about my family. A friend of mine has written eloquently in the past about how her children’s birthdays are a time of meditation for her, and I understand what she means: both of my kids have February birthdays and I’m watching Evangeline fall down the beautiful worm holes of youth, obsessed with everything from ballet to basketball, while Duncan runs away from me as often as he does to me, and I can feel myself emerging, just the tiniest bit, and wondering what’s next – not in any kind of greedy, desperate way – but quietly, curiously – what comes next for the momma who has birthed and nursed and literally gotten these children to their feet? My babes are young and there is no hurry – most of what comes next is continued time with them, guiding their interests, keeping them safe, making sure they know they are loved – but still, the question is out there. I’m not having any more children, and so many of my friends and colleagues are moving on professionally and creatively, and I’m feeling the need to do the same.
I have friends and acquaintances who seem oddly relegated, in a way, to the idea that early middle age is a time for sticking with what they know, a time to pay down the mortgage, save for their kids’ college tuitions and dream of retirement, and I am doing all of those things as well. But since having children, I feel more creative, more ready for the next creative and professional move – more prepared than I’ve ever felt before. Also, I still feel an innate restlessness – a sense that what I am doing is not ALL I am supposed to be doing – and possibility shimmers ahead of me, not quite close enough to grasp just yet.