A few months ago, among the quaint shops along the grid-like downtown streets of a coastal Mendocino town, a toy shop called the Spunky Skunk lured us in with it’s cheerful sign and brightly colored window display. Following my wide-eyed children from one aisle to the next, I found myself pausing in the newborn section, gently running my finger along the edge of a smooth silicone teething toy. My eyes slowly scanned over the plush baby blankets, various baby carrier options, the star, sun, and moon crib mobile, and the display bassinets in the corner, and I remembered the tiny human dancing inside me. Between keeping an eye on Gabe and making sure Abby wasn’t pulling all of the plastic tops and bouncy balls out of their conveniently placed containers on the bottom shelf a few feet away, I was struck with a sudden dose of reality. I am preparing to do this all over again: Third trimester aches and pains, labor, delivery, trying to get the swaddle just right, nighttime feedings, teething, baby poop, spit up, all of it.
Am I ready? Can I do this again?
We weren’t really trying for this third baby. But we weren’t trying to prevent it either. I hadn’t found a contraceptive that worked for my body and figured that between breastfeeding and two toddlers who always ended up in our bed, it would be birth control enough. We knew we wanted a third eventually, but with our youngest just over a year old, this almost felt a bit too soon. I suppose Miguel and I were doing what we always seem to do: wing it.
So here we are, folding tiny onesies and washing bottle nipples again.
It’s eight o’clock on an average Tuesday night, and both children are laughing hysterically as they run down the hall, Gabe stopping momentarily to switch on all the lights. Again. It’s time for bed and they know it. They’ve been running from me all evening, putting up a fight at every step of bedtime. Tonight is the last of my husband’s four-in-a-row night shift work schedule and my last shift of solo parenting for this week, and my energy, patience, and creative parenting reserves are running dangerously low. My children’s gleeful squeals and giggles are cute for all of 10 seconds, after which it all begins to sound like high-pitched noises of rebellion, making my skin crawl. I speak through gritted teeth to keep myself from screaming or using the profanity that has suddenly surfaced from the recesses of my long term memory.
I’m tired of chasing them so I let them run for a minute while I zone out and stare at a spot on the carpet. Suddenly, Abby decides she’s had enough running and roughhousing with her brother, and begins her ear-piercing, headache-inducing scream-cry. It’s funny to run away from mom, not listening to anything I say no matter how I try rephrasing, coaxing, or scolding, until it’s not funny anymore. Finally succumbing to the fatigue I can see on both their faces, they crash into an emotional, clingy, screaming heap at my feet. I lose it.
“GO TO YOUR ROOM. BOTH OF YOU. NOW!!!!” I roar. They run to their bedroom, fear and hurt in their eyes, while I follow, still yelling, “YOU CAN JUST SIT IN YOUR BEDS AND CRY ALL NIGHT FOR ALL I CARE!!!”
Escaping to the farthest corner of my room, I listen to them cry, my insides still a churning, boiling, fuming mess.
I correct my son when he yells, acting out in anger at his sister. I tell him it’s ok to feel angry, but it’s not ok to take it out on his sister, but when it’s my turn, I struggle with the same thing he does. “Take a deep breath when you feel angry,” I tell him. “If you don’t know what else to do, call mom and ask for help.”
This is the second time today I’ve had to apologize to my children for losing my temper, responding more like a child still learning how to control my emotions than the adult parent I am supposed to be. I try to take deep breaths, the way I tell my son to, whispering a prayer for strength and wisdom. Then I will myself to rise, give hugs, and apologize. Again.
“I’m so sorry. I did not use kind words. Will you forgive me?”
“Sure, mom. I’m sorry too.” my three-year-old says, his own tears starting to fall again. We cry together.
Broken, emptied, exhausted, and feeling completely inadequate, the life inside me stirs, poking as if making her presence known. This baby’s arrival is rapidly approaching and I try to imagine adding an infant to all of this. A third child, a newborn needing my full attention. A third human to teach and shepherd, complete with her own strengths and weaknesses, personality and will.
I love you Little One, but I’m not sure that I deserve you. I can barely handle the two that I have. I’ve collapsed inside, suffocating under the refrain dominating my thoughts – I’m not enough. Wrapping my arms around my swollen belly, kneeling between stray cars, books, and plastic apple slices, I weep in the darkness.
A couple weeks later, I am at a weekend women’s church retreat with about 20 women, most of whom have lived more than twice my years. I clearly stand out as the youngest woman in the room, and I am also clearly pregnant, making me even more conspicuous. As one might expect, my pregnant belly is the primary topic of conversation. Oh honey, you are going to have your hands full. Good luck! Do you know if it’s a boy or a girl? Enjoy every minute! They grow up so fast.
One woman, with shuffling steps and a slight tremble in her hands, grasps my arm with surprising strength. White curls frame her face, etched with the wrinkles that time inevitably bestows. I’ve met her briefly before and see her at church most Sundays.
“How are you doing?” she asks.
“I’m well!” I cheerily respond. She doesn’t move, firmly gripping my arm until the silence starts to feel awkward, staring at me as if she knows that behind my smile and two-word answer, tears sting my eyes. There is a letting down of your guard, an opening of the doorway into vulnerability that is triggered when someone cares enough to sincerely ask how you are, then is willing to wait for whatever the response may be.
“I’m just not sure how I’m going to handle three,” I say, my voice breaking.
“If there’s room in your heart, there’s room in your home.”
I’ve heard this phrase before and dismissed it as cliche, but it doesn’t sound cliche coming from this woman. She says it in a matter-of-fact way, her voice filled with the genuine conviction that comes from having lived out the truth of a statement.
“How many children do you have?” I ask.
“Five,” she says, smiling, her eyes sparkling, vibrant and full of life. One of her eyes is a wandering eye and I’m not quite sure if she is looking at me or staring into the past at a flash of beautiful, treasured memories. In that moment, I see her as a young mom, her own belly taut and round, with a baby on her hip and three small children trailing behind her. She is strong, confident, smiling down at her precious brood with those same vibrant blue eyes. Our age difference becomes irrelevant as we see each other, mother to mother. This woman has walked through the mountain tops and valleys of motherhood and come out the other side still standing strong.
She lets go of my arm, and gives it a loving pat before she walks away. I can’t help but believe her.
We are in the home stretch now with just a few short weeks to go, and we have been doing what we can to prepare – talking to the kids about welcoming a new sibling and encouraging gentle play with baby dolls, pulling out the bassinet from the garage, rearranging bedrooms, sorting through baby clothes, and filling our Amazon cart with baby items that need to be replaced. But at the end of the day, we are still winging it, trusting in love to make a way. And when I run into those tough moments where the thought of having three children feels impossible and overwhelming, I have a new refrain.
There’s space in my body. There’s room in my heart. That is enough.