How are you supposed to know when you’re done having children?

For all of the parenting advice out there, nothing I have come across covers this.

My least favorite of all parenting tasks, besides cleaning up puke, is sorting and packing away clothing that my children have outgrown.

I start with good intentions in the beginning, but then the task descends into emotional hysteria. Then before I know it, I’m texting my husband, asking him how it’s possible that my child has outgrown the shirt with the robot on the front who looks like he is twerking?? How has my middle daughter grown out of the pink dress, her favorite pair of leggings and that sweater with the pink heart on the front???

We endure this cycle once every several months when there are teeny tinies in the house, otherwise it’s usually just with the changing of the seasons. My husband fields as many frantic texts and calls as he can manage, and before long he stops answering my calls altogether. Then I give up and stuff as many articles of clothing into a tote as humanly possible, scribble a label on it and set it aside, ready to be put in the attic.

This time around though, with my third child, the process has become much harder.

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Every time I start it’s almost like the universe is silently begging the question of me, the question I don’t know how to answer yet….Are you going to give those clothes away because you won’t ever need them again, or are you going to put them in the attic to save for the next potential baby??? Is there a potential baby in the pipeline??

Universe to Ashley: are you done having children??!

When it comes to this question I am indecisive at worst and evasive at best.

I don’t know how to answer it.

Nobody tells you how you are supposed to know when you are finished having children. Like, you’re supposed to just know the answer to this question, right?  It’s like knowing what your favorite drink at Starbucks is or your ATM pin number. You are just supposed to know when you’re done having children. It’s an instinct. A spidey sense. 

Am I not tingling when I’m supposed to be? Or maybe it’s actually just a quiet knowing that you’re finished? Maybe the last baby comes out with a label attached to its forehead that says, “I am definitely the last one, LOL” and you can breathe easier because now you definitively know. 

Once you pop out a child, you’re supposed to have plans for the next one. Or you’re supposed to be certain that there isn’t going to be a next one. You’re supposed to be on one side of the fence or another.

Except nobody tells you how to get on either side of the fence. Except where is this stinkin’ imaginary fence that everyone always speaks of and why is it in charge, anyway??

How is anybody ever supposed to just know??? 

I have three children of both sexes, and the world tells me that I have everything I “need” when it comes to making babies. I feel like when people occasionally ask me if I am done having children they are just politely waiting to hear that I decided to close up shop. At least that is the answer they expect it seems. 

I’m supposed to, right?

Three babies are plenty. Three c-sections is three c-sections too many. Do I really want my nipples to be on fire again like they are during the first six weeks of breastfeeding a new baby? Do I really want to go back to sleeping in two-hour increments? 

Ellie asleep

Do I really want to start all over again for the fourth time?

When I announced I was pregnant with number three most folks were hesitant to forthrightly congratulate me. Because these days, having three children is considered having a large family. You say you’re having number three and people are thinking that you have gone full-Duggar.

For some people, saying I was pregnant with number three was almost akin to me saying that my husband and I had decided to sell every personal possession we own, pack up the children and move to South America to raise Llamas. Lots of side-eye included.

Maybe a lot of the scrutiny is in my own head, because I have my own doubts about expanding our family for the fourth time.

The only part of me that is sure I don’t want anymore children is my bladder. I’m actually pretty confident that at this precise moment, my bladder has a petition on change.org pleading its case for me to be done. My bladder says no. But sometimes, my uterus says yes. 

But we know that uteri are tricky, aren’t they?

The truth is, I’m not sure that I am going to ever really know that I’m finished having children. Or maybe I’m uncertain because deep down I really do want more babies.

The thought of having more children right now is hard to fathom. Because there are so many days right now where I feel like I’m barely keeping my head above water around here. Maybe that means it’s not time to make any decisions yet.

Maybe the decision to even have children is one that isn’t grounded in rationale. Children take all of your energy, all of your patience. They take your money. They take your time. They take up your body. They take and take and take. And it’s exhausting, but it’s beautiful.

No one could ever make the case that deciding to have lots of children is a decision rooted in pragmatism. But nobody could ever argue that having children isn’t the most worthwhile expenditure out there. 

I will never say that this is a question that isn’t worth fretting over. I have had six years of pink, chubby cheeks and bed head and morning snuggles in my bed. It’s all been the most beautiful gift. I’m kind of glad that this is a decision that I am slightly strung out over. 

I’m also kind of glad that there is still room in my attic for copious amounts of totes, filled with clothing for little people.

Even if it never gets used. 

Sweet, Discouraged Pregnant Lady: You are not crazy

I never understood the importance of maternity photos.

Until after my first child was born.

The day my husband and I were scheduled to have maternity photos taken, I was unexpectedly admitted to the hospital with preeclampsia and was induced.

I have hardly any proof of him being in my stomach at all, save for random shots of pregnant me taken by friends and family.

I was overjoyed when I found out I was pregnant.

You likely were, too.

Who isn’t, right? Can you fathom the idea of someone who isn’t over the moon, down to her bones excited about everything related to pregnancy and the impending birth and arrival of their baby?

Hey, it happens. 

When the doctor told me she would be admitting me to the hospital, my husband’s face beamed with delight. He seemed to skip over the parts about preeclampsia to the part where we might be having our baby that day.

I couldn’t believe how upset his happy face made me. But it did. I wanted to hit him with a wiffle ball bat. Repeatedly. 

He was excited.

I was something else.

When we got to the hospital, I passed the time by laying on my side while the monitors tracked everything. Baby’s heartbeat. My blood pressure. Contractions.

I laid there with my eyes closed, mentally willing my blood pressure to subside. I wanted to be anywhere other than there. 

The nurse saw the angst written all over my face. She cocked her head to the side and met my eyes with hers. “Are you okay?” she gently asked. 

I nodded. But I’m sure it was written all over my face. This same loud, repetitive thought that was clanging about in my head: I’m not ready. 

ellie bump

“I’m not ready for this. I’m exhausted. I was supposed to have two more weeks. I was supposed to go home on bed rest and enjoy the rest of my swollen pregnancy eating popsicles with my feet propped up and the television blaring in the background.  I don’t have a diaper bag packed. I don’t have a finished nursery. I don’t know how to give birth. I don’t WANT to give birth. I don’t know how to nurse a baby. I don’t know why babies cry. I don’t know what I’m doing. I wasn’t cut out for this.”

Sound familiar?

Despite the excitement I had, I carried something else along with me during those long, arduous months of pregnancy: fear. 

I was but one in a flock of expecting mothers when I had my first child. It was my church’s great baby boom of 2009.

If you couldn’t already tell, I did not always feel warm and fuzzy about my pregnancy. I felt bloated and exhausted. I didn’t spring into action with planning a nursery. I didn’t read up on various birthing methods.

I didn’t devour book after book about child development. I didn’t always want to talk about or know what to say when people would point out my burgeoning belly. I assumed the baby would grow, then the baby would come and it would all be well and good, so can we just do this without all the fuss, please?

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The other ladies around me seemed BORN (no pun intended) to be pregnant. They seemed like they had waited all their lives for this blessed event.

Me? I cast those romantic notions out of my head when I dropped 10 pounds during my first trimester because I couldn’t eat anything. 

I had no idea what I had gotten myself into.

I was afraid of my life not looking the same again. I was afraid of what having a baby, and giving birth would do to me. I was afraid of so many things. I was most afraid I wasn’t cut out to be a mother. 

I let fear stop me. I let it control me. And it took some of my joy away. 

My second and third pregnancies were better in this regard. By then I knew I could do it. I knew I could deliver a baby. I knew I could nurse a baby. I knew I could take care of a baby. After all, the doctors let me take the first baby home, right? And they would never have let me do that if they didn’t think I could do it. 

But I could do that my first pregnancy, too. Whether I realized or felt it or not.

The person I am now wishes she could go back and give that first-time mom me a pep talk. I’d shake her shoulders as I laid out the truth: nothing magical happens to you when you have your baby. Except everything magical happens to you when you have a baby.

ellie bump4

A Mother is not some magical being that drifts down from heaven and embodies us. Yet motherhood is at this crossroads of the most ethereal kind of love that says you were always destined to be here, and this grounded feeling of knowing that there is nothing better out there and nowhere you’d rather be than right here. 

what makes you a mom is not some magic trick. 

Mothers are the take it one day at a time people. Mothers are the “I won’t know until I try” people. Mothers are the “I have gone for six months sleeping in two-hour increments, I’m not afraid of some little old stomach bug” people. Mothers are “the let’s see what we get” people. Mothers are the doing dishes at 9 p.m. on a Saturday, folding ungodly amounts of laundry and pulling sticky fingers out of her hair because we have to get it all done people. 

ellie bump 2

A mother is not some celestial being immune to fear and dismay and frustration and discontentment. Mothers are the people who love on their babies anyway and then try again the next day.

There is no cookie cutter mold for motherhood.

Yet it’s all pretty sweet. 

Motherhood is the one step at a time motto against the backdrop of everything is different for the rest of forever. But it’s the best kind of different. 

You’ll get there. Just you wait. Just you wait until it gets really good. 

Super fast quick update on stuff

Tomorrow is the big day!

Tomorrow is our appointment at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore; our initial consultation with their obstetrics team up there. 

I’m a little excited. I have heard wonderful things about the Fetal Medicine team up there, and my OB thinks very highly of the lead OB physician there – which is good enough for me, since I think pretty highly of my OB here on the shore. 

I’m not sure what we will be discussing tomorrow. They’re probably going to be way more chill about it than I am, but that’s okay. Ideally, what they’ll tell me is that it’s absolutely possible to VBAC, that they are more than equipped to help moms VBAC, that they are more than equipped for any medical emergency and that they will give me a fighting chance to deliver the way that I want to. Here is hoping, right?!

I had a phone consultation with a nurse today so that she could gather my medical history. It saved me from having to take TWO trips to Baltimore in two days time. She was awesome. And the questions for those things are always fun, even though it’s my third time in. 

“Have you ever done any street or recreational drugs?”  “Well, could you define recreational for me….”

“Are you and your husband in a mutually monogamous relationship?” “We certainly had better be!”

“Do you get the chance to nap at all or rest during the day? “I’m sorry, what?”

“Have you been using tobacco or drinking alcohol since your last period?” “Only on the days that I don’t get a nap.”

 

I know that they have to ask this kind of stuff, and thankfully, for me, I am fortunate enough that we breeze right through the medical history and all of the fun prior sex-life questions because I am as boring as a piece of white toast when it comes to that kind of stuff. I fell asleep on my couch after 2 Smirnoff Ice’s for my 21st birthday. Wearing a Burger King crown. This is a true story.

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Told you so….

Betcha didn’t think you’d see anything like that when you agreed to read this post, huh?

So anyway, cross your fingers and your toes that tomorrow goes great. I am currently 33 weeks pregnant, so we are definitely getting close. I know this not just because of the calendar but because all of my joints tell me so. Ouch ouch ouch. Sore knee, back and hips. I also know this because I’m dead tired every day but then I get in bed at night and can’t sleep without waking up 34 times within seven hours. Because that’s how we preggo’s do. 

Have a great Wednesday, everyone!