I am currently pregnant with, duhn duhn duhn.... number four. And it was completely unplanned.
Take a moment to inhale deeply and shake your head. Gasp if you need to. Go ahead Judgy McJudgers I get it, or at least I used to.
We have 5 year old boy/girl twins and an 18 month old. After finally being settled in our new town I was ready to join the multiples group I had heard so many great things about. I went to my first meeting the other day and there was another first timer there as well. She is pregnant with triplets. I smiled and said "how wonderful" but on the inside I instantly took pity on her. Twins were not easy; yes they are a blessing, but it is a crash course in parenting and it is insane caring for two infants. I could cry thinking about having to do it again let alone triplets! But as a mother of multiples I've learned that the new mom deserves for me to keep my big mouth shut. I don't offer unsolicited advice, tell battle stories, or show my inner feelings on the subject. I know what it feels like. People come out of the woodwork to tell you horrible stories related to multiples and it is damaging and completely unhealthy for the mother to be. But I digress. So we are at this meeting and they introduce us. She was up first -- announcing her triplet blessing. Coos and awes radiate around the room. It is a very special thing, but it's also partly out of nostalgia and partly because that's all we wanted to hear when it was us, so in turn that's what we do. Then she introduces me and my stats -- b/g twins are 5, another little girl who's 18 months and am pregnant with my fourth. A unified inhale and gasp of horror echo through the room. Having four kids is somehow such a crazy and feared endeavor that these mothers who are trained to smile and coo at the mention of three newborns can't fathom the idea or pull it together to smile at a woman who is only having one even if it is her fourth?!
Right then my attitude shifted. No longer did I feel sorry for myself or wonder how we are going to handle it. I put my armor on and am gearing up for battle. Against all the judgers out there ready to offer their condolences, save it. This mama is ready and is very excited.
Here is my story and how I came to look at number four as my fourth miracle. And be excited for him.
I spent some of my twenties panicked I would never have kids and the rest of the time rebelling against the disease that could take my chances away. I was diagnosed with Endometriosis at 15 and told I probably would never have children; certainly not on my own and never after 30. Talk about shaping your perception of life and your trajectory forward. I moved to NYC at 18 and pursued a career as a dancer. Although artists give so much of themselves to the stage, the audience and their art; dancing at its very core is a very selfish profession -- hours of training, rehearsals, dropping life for an audition, dropping jobs for a gig. Sacrifices are numerous but in the moment worth it because all I had to think about was myself. I was happy being an aunt and one day, if I could accept an alternative it would maybe be -- I'd get lucky with IVF once, if not I would adopt -- that was my plan and it was on the back burner.
I LOVE to travel and do so at every chance I get. In 2004 I was in South Africa with a kindred spirit traveling her country and immersing myself in the culture that was so exotic and at times dangerous and a world that was so incredibly different than my own. I awoke early here and would sit and watch the sun rise over the cascading hills and it hit me all at once. It was time to move on. For many reasons it was time for me to explore who I was without dance in it. Six months later I had left New York and was moving to Chicago. City girl at heart, Chicago was closer to my family and where I knew the next chapter of my life would begin. From there my life really turned into a whirl wind. Over the next few years I fell in love, married, and started fertility treatments. After rounds of failed attempts, we finally found success in IVF and our beautiful twins were born healthy and strong; my first two miracles.
Motherhood was a hard transition for me. I stopped working and became a stay at home mom. For a strong independent feminist this was not an easy role for me to embrace. There was a lot of soul searching, questioning of my past decisions, and resentment to come to terms with. Having the twins first, I now see as a blessing, I didn't know any different. It throws you into a new parenting level immediately that is different than the joys and trials of first time parents of a singleton or even parents with two children at different but close ages. There's really no explaining the difficulties that parents of multiples face.
When the twins were about three I had worked out a lot of my personal sahm issues and was really embracing being there, teaching them, living life with these two amazing kids. And although every new phase brings new challenges with them, there are also things that get easier. About this time we started talking about having another baby. We felt our family was incomplete and wanted the experience of one. And although the common jokes with twins, especially boy/girl twins, is; one stop shop - 2 for the price of 1 - only one pregnancy how perfect - instant family just add water; we weren't done. I wanted to be pregnant. We wanted one more to love. So we started out trying the fun way; never imagining it would work and planned on seeing a fertility specialist a few months down the road. I was 33, way past my dooms day cut off given to me at 15. No getting our hopes up, no stress about it. If it was meant to be it would be. Deep down I can admit I would have been devastated, but at the time I was so focused on not thinking worst case that I didn't let it surface, ever. Well, our miracle child was conceived that first month! We couldn't believe it had really happened; I still have it pinch myself sometimes. It was so different caring for one infant; kind of easy after two. She is our love child and she is an amazing little girl filled with humor and personality. People will hate me for saying it but everything is so much easier with only one baby. I mean seriously easy. I could cuddle her without rushing to feed another one so that they were on the same schedule, sleep training went smoothly dealing with one as opposed to syncing two babies, getting dressed and out of the house, the list goes on -- for a while. I still got a lot of comments about why I would add another when I got my boy and girl, but I would shrug it off, smile and say how could life be complete without this one in the world? That would usually shut them up.
I embraced her pregnancy and the changes to my body, relished in it. Knowing that my life, my body would be mine again one day soon. I saw the light and knew that I was moving steadily and perfectly towards it. Took stock of the last times I felt her kick, the last time I swaddled her, and last time I nursed her. She was my baby and unlike the twins where I was rushing to the next milestone praying life would get easier, with her I enjoyed it fully in the moment; thinking strongly it could be my last and perfectly at peace with that.
I was 7 months pregnant with her when my mom was diagnosed with stage 4 brain cancer. Sydney was my saving grace. I would never have been strong enough to handle the sudden diagnosis and course change for all our lives, the loss of so much of my mother in an instant, and her fight ahead against a losing battle. Had it not been for that pregnancy I'm not sure how I would have handled it all. The old me would been self destructive and fallen to the dramatics of it. But I was different. I was a mother not only to two little ones but one I was growing from scratch. I had to be calm. Had to keep it together not only for the baby, the twins, my dad, my siblings, my incredible husband who held me up; but for my mother who needed us to be strong, needed us to fight for her as she would for us. The timing of my miracle child couldn't have been better, and as if by plan my husband and I were now living in Cleveland with one of the top brain cancer departments in the country. Sydney was born two days before my mom started radiation and having such a joyous arrival in the midst of devastation gave us all a reason to smile and a much needed distraction. They were cuddle buddies from day one. Syd a newborn sleeping most of the time and my mom resting from treatment, one of the best gifts I could ever imagine coming into our lives. It was incredibly healing and therapeutic; exactly what we all needed.
Since then my husband went to culinary school, left a lucrative and somewhat stable (for the moment) career to pursue a passion and dream of owning his own restaurant. After years of hard work, he has done it! To see the open sign light up, our name illuminating at night, and customers raving about the food fills my heart with so much joy it feels like it will burst at any second. We are in the crucial first year and so much is riding on this we are sick with anxiety at most moments of the day and night, but so excited to finally have arrived at this moment.
Although we hadn't shut the door on #4 it was certainly not in our plans during quite possibly the most stressful year of our lives. Starting a small business, 3 kids under 5 and watching my mother fight a losing battle in my home. Plus I was starting to get a piece of my former self back and that felt good amidst the chaos.
I love book work, I know, a little weird but there is something about spreadsheets and organization that just make sense to me. Running the books for the restaurant has given me a new sense of worth and excitement. Finally we as family are at a point where I can enjoy something for myself a little bit where every second is not devoted to someone else's needs. For anyone who has put their own needs on the back burner for others, getting a little bit back of your former self is an incredible feeling. It's also been a labor of love but one that has taken more time, energy, and focus than I could ever have imagined.
My belly was finally starting to flatten a bit to where I at least didn't look pregnant enough for people to ignorantly ask when I was due. I had started training for a 5k and found an amazing yoga class and teacher. I had wheel and crow back in my practice and I wanted that headstand back. I'd love to say I embraced my post twin/baby body but I can't. I haven't recognized myself in years, I hate looking pregnant when I'm not (you can't hide it with fashionable distractions) and I have never been more consumed with the way I look. When you spend 29 years of your life one way and then dramatically change; well it's a difficult adjustment. And just like that, here we go again, another two years before I am even close to where I was pre-pregnancy. That is a daunting number. I never planned on being pregnant and nursing for most of the last six years let alone another two. At times it feels like I'm stuck in the mud; everyone else moving forward. I watch as they get farther away.
Telling my mom the news was wonderful. She lit up like I haven't seen in a long time. I catch her once in a while staring at my belly and I wonder what she's feeling. Is she happy, angry, sad? A conversation we will never get to have. Randomly, she will reach out and hold her hand on my belly and smile. I love that. I love that I can bring her any joy at this moment in her life on any level. The woman lives for her family and nothing makes her happier than her grandchildren. But the anger and sadness over what this disease has already stolen from her is overwhelming and the tears fall uncontrollably when I allow myself the thought; knowing that she most likely will never hold this one.
I worry that he/she will be ok because I'm not sure I can handle more loss right now. I worry this pregnancy won't go smoothly. So many depend on me right now and deserve me at my best, but I'm not my best when I'm pregnant. I struggle to move, my hips are in constant pain, and I fight through the fatigue. Is it really fair to those around me who need me too? If I fall what will happen to them? It torments me. Can we financially afford this? Then there's the fact that this little beautiful being growing inside me is dependent on me every second of every day no matter my stress level, sadness or anger, or anxiety from the overwhelming amount placed on my plate right now. He/she deserves my best too. More often than not I feel like I am failing everyone.
I wonder how far the stick will bend before it breaks. A friend, after having her first baby, once asked me how I did it with twins. My honest answer was 5 minutes at a time. And it was true, sometimes looking at the whole day was too much, so what needed to be done in the next five minutes was as far as I could look. It's how I survived the first nine months caring for newborn twins. I'm down to 30 seconds at a time at this point. The big picture is just too much to process.
Then I feel this little person flutter around and I can't help but be in love already. I imagine life with him in our family and all the reasons this is not the perfect timing melt away. But maybe the timing is perfect. Maybe I needed him to be strong in the face of loss; for myself, and for my kids who have become accustomed to having Mimi and Papa around all the time, for my husband who has gone so far out of his comfort zone in opening his home at the same time as jumping head first into his own business. I cannot fall apart now. This fourth miracle is here exactly when it was his time to be. It's time I say enough guilt for feeling anything but joy, enough of the guilt for adding to the world population crisis, enough guilt for not planning this. Why is this miracle something to shudder at when his life, regardless of his placement in the family lineage, is just as amazing as any other one is? My doctor first asked, unplanned? Uh, yea was my answer. But accepted? she added. Absolutely Doc, more than accepted -- embraced.
All these reasons to judge and you see I've already done it to myself. Next time you hear news that doesn't align with your beliefs, or path in life, or desires; try to push it down, smile and say 'how wonderful.' Because your "honest" opinion, and inability to see a life worth celebrating in its own right; is not wanted, necessary, or healthy. And despite the many reasons to gasp in horror and say, "Four, You are so brave!” there are just as many reasons to rejoice. So choose joy.