Jan 11, 2007

Third on the Way

The first time I was pregnant my gums bled. I was queasy, exhausted, and I slept round the clock. I had to cradle my hot-sand-filled boobs so they wouldn’t throng so much with pain when I went downstairs and I had to shower backwards to protect them from the painful spray of water. Emotionally, though, I was on a grassy field full of wonder and wildflowers. This was Pregnancy!--this was a typical first trimester, and I embraced it as a new member of a desirable club embraces and accepts membership dues along with some friendly hazing. I always knew I’d have a child (if circumstances and my body permitted it), so there was a pretty firm foundation beneath this slightly uneasy pregnant beginning.

My second pregnancy came a bit sooner than I’d thought. Perhaps the rhythm method isn’t the best choice for someone who can’t even remember what day of the week it is. A few weeks after feeling personally insulted by dog poop on the sidewalk, being unable to look at torn earlobe ads on the subway, and eating saltines round the clock I peed on a pregnancy test during a commercial while watching ER and it pinked positive immediately. We knew we’d have another child--but not quite so soon. There was plenty of guilt for my too-soon-to-be-dethroned fourteen month old (known as the most photographed non-royal child in human history) along with the predictable queasy exhaustion. But again, this was an inevitable pregnancy and there was green grass and beautiful solid soil underneath the entire experience.

Now I’m pregnant with my third and I’m a loony toons creature standing on the nothingness off the edge of the cliff. Nothing but pure air and anxiety below. No earthy sure footing underneath the exhaustion and nausea. Nothing to buoy me up and over the blue days. Stunned confusion clouds my face and I can feel the gravity pulling my body down.

This wasn’t exactly an accident. But it wasn’t exactly planned.

A third child? We weren’t sure. We had a boy and a girl and we were told we were done-- as in ‘oh good you can stop now,’ and ‘perfect! a boy and a girl, now you’re finished.’ I hated being told that. But was that enough reason to have another? Probably not.

I loved giving birth and giving names. I loved being treated like I was ultra super special afterwards--an exquisite brand of attention that lasted until the next neighborhood mom popped out a newer baby. Reasons enough to do it all again? Probably not.

I searched for clues everywhere and the world readily offered them to me. At the age of three, my son made a magic marker picture of our family and it included his sister and the ‘baby brother’ he insisted we’d have. For Christmas last year we sent a picture of Batman that my son drew (have a ‘super’ holiday--get it?)--only the bat logo on the shirt of the superhero was mistaken by friends and relatives to be a baby in a belly and people called me with tentative and expectant ‘is there some special news?’ kinds of calls.

A family trip to the Bahamas made us feel like a tiny insignificant family of four. Only four? They’d say as we’d enter one of the fourteen themed restaurants on the grounds of the large large-family friendly resort. Only four, we’d reply as we’d weave through raucous tables of families of five, six, even seven. We’d sit calmly, quietly, all too orderly amidst the masses of other people’s progeny. And I’d think ‘Eureka! we should have another.’

Years ago when we were considering buying a minivan, minivans popped up everywhere on the highway. I noticed them like never before and got to where I could tell the difference before a Caravan and a Town and Country a quarter of a mile away. I was in the market for one and the world became my minivan superstore. It happened when we wanted a new air conditioner (Frigidaire, Fedders, and Friedrich--words I’d never noticed before--fought for my attention from apartment windows and office buildings), it happened when we wanted a new stroller (there’s a Maclaren plaid! there’s a rubber tire! that one turns into a backpack!). And now it was happening with a third child. The joys of the large family! Why I love being a third child! Five families who have five children! These were the articles that popped out at me from newsstands and dentist office magazine racks. I found successful-seeming clusters of three everywhere. I even let myself be persuaded by Arthur--Look! there’s a well-adjusted boy and girl with a tiny baby sister--if that family can do it why can’t we?

Never mind that they were just drawings of aardvarks. Clearly the world was trying to tell me something.

But, my most convincing argument in favor of having a third was that I didn’t have the finished feeling all of my friends seem to have. ‘Whew!--we’re done!’ they say. ‘ Two’s enough!’ ‘One’s enough!’ Without that definitive feeling I worried that I’d always wonder why we didn’t have another. Despite the fact that I’ve never been known for my ability to make a good solid final decision (just watch me deliberate over a menu), I allowed myself to be persuaded by this lack of finality.
If conceiving a child had required several hours of paperwork--sign here, initial there--we might have talked ourselves out of it midway through. But we make babies pretty easily-- at one point even this seemed like a persuasive argument for making more kids--and all it took was one seized opportunity during a ‘but maybe...?’ moment before breakfast one day. We hadn’t reached a final decision; we just had one lazy crazy moment of thinking we should leave it to chance. After optimistically carrying a tampon around with me for two weeks I began to do the math and realized that those several morning minutes had added up to more than a chance.

Boom, I was pregnant.

Whenever I’ve seen a woman pregnant with her third--or her more-than-second for that matter--I’ve assumed that she was mother earth. Solid, confident, sure of herself and of her abilities. I figured that the first pregnancy was a baffling and overwhelming experience for anyone, that the second was an easier and more assured pregnancy, and that any woman making it to three knew exactly what she was doing (otherwise she wouldn’t be doing it, right?). I’d hoped to gain entry into that confidence club with this pregnancy. I didn’t.

This is the ‘what the hell were we thinking?’ pregnancy. This is the ‘how are we going to manage?’ pregnancy. Turns out, I knew exactly what I was doing the first time around and was similarly strong with the second. This is the wacky uncertain one. People who say to me ‘three’s too much,’ ‘I could never have that many,’ ‘how will you do it?’ or, and I love this one, ‘are you insane?’ think they are talking to someone who can handle those comments. It’s almost like a sport for people--like bouncing rubber balls against a concrete wall. But I’m not concrete this time, I’m nerf, and I’m absorbing the full weight of each blow. I’m feeling off-balance and betrayed. Why did it take becoming pregnant for me to have sudden ‘two’s PERFECT’ clarity?

Suddenly the world only offers views of perfect twos, of messed-up third children, of miserable middle kids. My aunt, the third child in my mom’s family, is single-handedly messing up inheritance issues surrounding family property, several families I know, heretofore untouched by tragedy, have been rocked to the core by the onset of medical problems in their third children, and lately my husband’s older brother and younger sister seem to be fostering a relationship that can feel uncomfortably exclusive--something that couldn’t be happening if his parents had stopped at two. I’m disoriented and dismayed. The superstore I’ve been shopping in just changed all of its happy family of five displays to those featuring families of four.

My Ohio friends --the ones with the moms down the road and the sprawling green lawns insist ‘you’ll LOVE it!” but they’re the kinds of people who can fit happy and chaos into the same sentence and so I don’t really trust them.

My Brooklyn friends are saying generous things like “you’re so BRAVE,” as they pack up their entirely mobile, diaperless kid/s for yet another cool family adventure. I am aware that someday my family will be mobile and diaperless but I do feel bad that my five year old son, whose summer to-do list includes ‘make butter, make paper, and go to Africa,’ will have to wait even longer for his loftier dreams to come true.

Boom, I’m pregnant. What have we done?

I have been crankier than has been necessary--unfairly directing all of my ambivalence and uncertainty into my extra-utero family members. You know the scene in the movie where the woman lashes out at her husband in the delivery room--payback for knocking her up in the first place? I never had that delivery room anger with the first two babies, but I’ve got it already with this one--and I’m six months away from the hospital. The sound of my husband peeing first thing in the morning makes me want to scream.

Surely these are the hormones. Surely I’ve not achieved, through this pregnancy, some crystal clear sense of how unforgivable my husband is. I’m not really meant to leave him because he tinkles loudly, am I? Am I?

So this is what I’m inviting a new baby into. A once perfect family of four with a newly resentful and groundless mom and a urine-filled father. I’ve been asked by franker friends if I’d considered terminating and, while I’d love to report that my answer was an unqualified ‘No,’ the truth is my answer was more like ‘No--because I wouldn’t trust myself to act on any of my wishy-washy thoughts’--again let me reiterate I’d be LEAVING JOE because of his morning pee if I were acting on my emotions these days.

Terrified? Yes. Anxious? Yes. Doubtful? Yes. Excited? Yes. This is clearly the most long-term decision (or nondecision?, you decide) I’ve ever made. I don’t plant gardens because, historically, I’ve never been able to see several years into the future. Plant this seed and next year you’ll have a flower/in several years you’ll have a bush/in ten years you’ll have a tree. Whatever. It’s a good thing I’m not a landscape gardener or an urban planner. I watched those guys plant saplings along the West Side Highway a few years ago and thought yeah, right, dig away you hopeless Sisyphussians. Of course now it’s a lush green and lovely stretch--thank God someone else was making those decisions.

I’m hoping that this is my garden. I am hoping that this planted seed (indeed!) will eventually fill our family with joy and oxygen and fruit and shade. I am not excited about the pruning and the weeding and the watering--all the sleepless watering--that will be necessary to get through the next couple of years. I worry about how the existing plants will handle the changes in the soil and in the gardener’s attention to them. On the other hand, this might work out alright. I’ve done the math and it looks like someday I’ll have a ten year old and an eight year old and a five year old and I like the way that sounds. Someday I’ll have a whole slew of children (you can’t say whole slew if you only have two) who will be fascinating young adults. Someday, it’s possible, I’ll be on my deathbed surrounded by three (count ‘em three!) adoring geriatric children. Or maybe I’ll just have two resentful older children and an impossibly troubled and sickly younger child who I will have raised by myself after having given their perfectly fine father the boot in a fit of irrational rage. Who knows? There isn’t much I’m sure of these days but my guess is that I should just focus on what I can control. I should take this one step at a time, I should try to remain open to what the world has to offer, and if I can’t get my husband to cut down on his fluids, I should work on getting a bathroom door that will prevent me from having to hear them .

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

this is one of the most enlightening stories i have ever read. i am a 21 year old father of one. since the first child i have been trying to convince my wife to consider having three. i have used the leave it up to chance argument and am still undecided on what to do or say. your story has put me more into the mind of what could be going through her head. she is 27 and wants to stop having kids before 30, with a 2 year interval. I still hope that she puts more thought into it than she has. I love her more than anything and would never force her to anything, but i would like a fair chance.

i am sure you and your family will do great and love your next little one more than you ever could have thought you would. regret is not imminent. if may linger but your love for that little baby will definitely outweigh that. good luck. enjoy the ride