by Teresa Wemhoff
I. HATE. THIS. QUESTION.
It certainly seems innocent enough as part of casual conversation, but little does my patient, coworker, or random parent at the playground know that her question has consumed my mind and heart more days than not since our youngest son was born two years ago. What she means, of course, is “do you want more children?” While my heart wants to scream, “YES, YES, YES!” my body is crying, “NO! Don’t you remember what happened last time?” Last time you felt so miserable and exhausted, not just during the first trimester, but during most of those 39+ weeks, that you swore, “There are no more humans coming out of this body.” Last time you had chronic abdominal pain and developed an intolerance to gluten, dairy, any potentially fermentable food (FODMAP), a peanut allergy, and other sensitivities that took multiple specialists, a year of supplements, and mind-body therapy to (mostly) recover from.
I want that amazing feeling of knowing there’s a life growing inside of me, of feeling him move, of birthing him into the world and watching the miracle unfold before my very eyes. I am incredibly fortunate to have conceived twice without assistance, to have had medically uncomplicated pregnancies, to have birthed two beautiful boys the way I wanted to, and to have breastfed until we both decided it was time to wean. This is a gift I will never take for granted.
I don’t want the daily mental agony of cycle and symptom tracking, of worrying, ‘Does this baby have the right number of chromosomes or did those chips run out’? (This would be, as some interpretations of medical coding go, a ‘geriatric pregnancy’.) I don’t want to lose out on living each daily fully with my two active boys because I feel so lousy trying to grow another sibling for them.
As my husband and I have weighed the pros and cons, and I’ve meditated, practiced yoga, gone to therapy, talked to trusted friends and family members, and gone on about the business of living, I’ve realized that what I think I want isn’t found in some magical formula for the “right” number of children. What I want is a guarantee…
…a guarantee that my kids will be safe when they go to school.
…a guarantee that my husband won’t die young.
…a guarantee that I won’t have another mental health crisis; the soul crushing kind that nearly took my life 11 years ago.
…a guarantee that my kids won’t die in some freak accident in their teens or twenties.
But this is life on planet Earth and we don’t get those kinds of guarantees. What I’ve learned is that what we do get is RIGHT NOW. Right now I blow zerberts on the belly of my two-year-old until he giggles so hard he is out of breath; right now I lay in bed next to my four-year-old, feeling his soft breath on my skin as he falls asleep, his hand resting on my arm in a way that says, ‘We don’t share a body anymore like we did in the beginning but I’m still part of you.’ Right now we have spontaneous kitchen dance parties, breathe through meltdowns, and endure the frequent episodes we refer to as ‘entropy’ when all the bins of toys start getting dumped rapid fire onto the living room floor. Right now I wouldn’t change a thing.
But yes, I do want more. Not because we don’t have enough or that I’m not enough without ‘more.’ I know this the way I knew I wanted a career in medicine; the way I know I have to work with and empower women as part of my work; the way I know how my best friend feels before she says a word. There are groans in our souls much deeper than conscious words or rational thoughts. I’m not willing to potentially sacrifice the well-being of my body; it serves me well and we only get one! My heart, however, is strong and resilient and willing to embark on a different kind of parenting journey. We’ve gotten our feet wet recently learning about adoption through foster care. Perhaps someday, a child in need of a family will choose our home, because she has a want in her soul that aligns with the yearning in mine. For now, I will cherish each right now moment, and remain grateful that Someone or Something sees me fit to continue participating in this wild, beautiful, messy, and unpredictable journey we call life.