At first we weren’t sure if we were going to have any. And then I was so scared of motherhood I wouldn’t admit we were trying – we were simply not preventing. But then we were not preventing for nearly a year. Just as I began to wonder, I was overcome by an all-consuming exhaustion and emotional instability that was so unlike anything I’d ever before experienced I drove straight to the store for a pregnancy test. We had our Juliette, and everything was so hard: labor was hard, delivery was hard, recovery was hard, breastfeeding was hard, marriage was hard, having a toddler was hard. Unrelentingly hard, though also wonderful, of course.
So then we thought perhaps one was enough, one was just right, one was what we had the emotional, spiritual, and financial resources to raise. I got myself a shiny new diaphragm. Actually, I don’t know if it was shiny; I never actually got it out of the box, if you must know. Word to the wise: just because it took a year of not preventing the first time doesn’t mean you get any sort of grace period the second time.
But don’t think for a moment that second baby, our Genevieve, was an accident. My subconscious and my uterus were totally in cahoots. After months of mentally writing Craigslist ads for all our baby gear, I was suddenly and inexplicably desperate for a second child. My OB/GYN thought I was loony, I think, when I came into the office happily knocked up not a month after he’d prescribed reasonably effective birth control.
The second time around wasn’t quite so hard. Labor and delivery, yes. But the marriage was better and the breastfeeding was a breeze and before we knew it she became a toddler who manages to be utterly unlike her sister in every possible way. Two daughters was the new enough, the new just right, the new perfect in every way. Whatever would we have done without that second – and to think we almost didn’t have her! The thought actually horrified me.
So here we are again, with a two year old and a decision to stop while we’re ahead, to stop with this present perfect enough. I went to the doctor’s office two weeks ago and signed myself in for my IUD appointment, and as I chatted with the receptionist I caught a glimpse of the baby board. Seeing those newborns set off a chain of events: a physical quiver, a pang in my heart, and finally a flicker of recognition that there is at least some part of me that wants to do anything but stop making babies. I talked myself through the moment with any number of rational arguments. We drive a really small car and have one bathroom and can’t afford another set of prenatal care and hospital bills let alone another college savings fund, and besides, the copper uppercase T that is supposed to magically zap all the sperm away isn’t permanent anyway so if we really change our minds I’ll just come back and shrug and say never mind.
I still had the faintest cramps when, several days later, I broke down and wept at the sight of a baby. This is the thing: now I know that horrified feeling of fiercely loving a child I didn’t plan to conceive. I can easily conjure some future perfect moment in which I am nursing a third child – a daughter? a son? – and I am awash in wonder and gratitude and love. This future version of myself looks up from her child, and glares straight at me with eyes filled with rage and fear. Don’t you dare prevent this child from being conceived, she hisses to me.
I generally think it’s a good thing for women and their partners to be discerning about childbearing. I’m proud that my church-affiliated insurance plan, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, now covers contraception at 100%. Abortion breaks my heart – tears spring to my eyes when I drive past the Roman Catholic church that displays, each fall, four thousand small white crosses to commemorate lives lost when pregnancies are terminated – though I cannot quite be convinced that it wouldn’t be a disastrous thing for women if abortion did not continue to be safe and legal. I’m grateful that the birth control pill prevented me from getting pregnant before I was ready to become a mother.
And yet it is strange that my husband and I have claimed some semblance of control over the size of our family when I sing of a God from whom all blessings flow, when the psalmist testifies that it is God who knit first Juliette and then Genevieve together in the womb, when it is God who breathes the breath of life into our lungs. It is strange, and confounding, and hard, just like pretty much everything having to do with having children.
Or not having children. I officiated a funeral recently about which I will say nothing except that the urn of ashes we interred in the earth was far too light. And as I returned from the Memorial Garden to the church, the hallway was bustling with preschoolers and their mothers on their way home for lunch. My heart aching for the grieving parents and my own womb full of nothing but that copper trick, I passed a woman who has been living through the sheol of infertility treatments, and another one with an infant on her hip, and still another whose belly was full with a baby due any day now. And I passed so many children: each one of them allowed to be conceived, each one of them wanted, each one of them loved by their mamas and papas. Each one of them beloved by God.