Why I Couldn't Have The Big Family I Always Wanted

Ad failed to load

Before I got pregnant for the first time, I was pretty certain I wanted to have lots of kids. It was long, long before my traumatic birth experience, but it was at that point it was dream, no less. I had one sibling growing up and we were never super close, and yet I knew people from big families and they seemed to be so tight, so loving, so awesome, and supportive of one another. A friend who was the youngest of eight (!) told me that she loved having so many siblings — they never had a lot of stuff because money was tight with so many kids, but they had fun and always looked out for one another. And I once met an elderly lady at a bus stop who’d had 11 kids (!!!), and she told me that even though they were constantly broke and exhausted, she and her husband would go to bed every night and say, “if only everyone could be as lucky as us.” I was pretty sure I didn’t want to have eight or 11 kids, but one or two just didn’t seem like enough.

When we finally did get around to babymaking, my husband and I got a little bit more than we’d bargained for: fraternal twins. And I learned quickly that when you have twins, people naturally seem to assume that you won’t even consider having more. Oh, you’re so lucky, they’d say. Now you never have to get pregnant again! You’ve got your whole family done in one go. And then I’d think, well, wait a second. Two babies may be a lot at once, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to have more!

Ad failed to load

What I didn’t know at that point though was that, sometimes, it doesn’t matter what you want. Sometimes, it just isn’t up to you. At my 20-week ultrasound, we learned that there was a complication — my cervix wasn’t holding up the way it should and I’d almost definitely have the babies prematurely. Doctors swooped in and did everything they could to keep me pregnant as long as possible, but in the end, I only lasted another five weeks. Our twins Madeleine and Reid were born at 25 weeks gestation.

A few hours after the twins were born, once they’d been resuscitated and whisked away in incubators to the NICU where they’d fight for their lives, I turned to my husband said, “never again.” Never again would we endure what had turned out to be a complete and utter nightmare. A pregnancy that was rocky from day one only to end far too soon, not because our children weren’t healthy and happy hanging out inside my body, but because they were rudely evicted, forced out against their will because my cervix just couldn’t handle it. And despite all of everybody’s best efforts, our babies might not live because of it. Never again.

Ad failed to load

But they did live (thank goodness), and they came home and they grew and they started walking and talking and now they are running and telling jokes and having full conversations. And somewhere along the way, my original dream for a big family came back to me. I thought about what it would be like to have another infant in our family, a little sister or brother for Madeleine and Reid, and maybe another one after that. I thought about what it would be like for them to have each other, the four of them, and how one day, eventually, they’d all grow up and leave home and when they’d come back on holidays our dinner table would be full — of people, of stories, of energy, of love. Raising children is a lot of work — exhausting, thankless work — but no matter how tired I got, the vision of our one-day Thanksgiving table made me remember why we'd signed up for this in the first place. We were raising human beings who would one day be adults.

Tom and Keidi Photography

This time though, the family-planning conversation was different. It wasn’t like it was before the twins came, when one day I said, “I think maybe I should come off the pill,” and my husband said, “good idea!” Now it was, “I really want another baby, do you think we could handle maybe doing bed rest and the NICU all over again?”

Ad failed to load

My husband’s answer was no. Absolutely not. Maybe we’d be one of the couples who has preemies and then goes on to have perfectly healthy, full-term children, but maybe we wouldn’t. And he was right — there is no guarantee. But in my head, I thought of all the what-ifs: what if we only had one baby instead of two, wouldn’t that make a difference? What if I got a cerclage right away this time, instead of at 21 weeks? What if I took progesterone? What if I saw a high-risk OB right from the start instead of the midwife I’d gone to when we thought everything would be fine? What if, what if, what if.

We were at an impasse. He was ready to call it a day, to go straight for the vasectomy, do not pass go, do not collect $200. I still packed away all of the twins’ too-small clothes ... just in case. “Maybe we can go see a high-risk specialist together, just to get more information. Then, if they say it’s a bad idea, you can book your vasectomy." Matt placated me. OK, Alana. We’ll go see the specialist.

Tom and Keidi Photography
Ad failed to load

But we never saw the specialist. Instead, a friend of mine got pregnant — a fellow preemie mom who’d given birth at 24 weeks but who did not get as lucky as we did and lost her beautiful, perfect little boy eight weeks after he was born. She’d lost one child, but now was pregnant again, with her rainbow baby. We all held our breath and crossed every finger and toe in sight. We prayed to every deity in existence that this time would be different, that she’d have the amazing, easy, full-term pregnancy every woman should be able to have. But just like mine, her cervix failed. And unbelievably, terribly, horrifically, her second son passed away, a week after he was born.

I read the news on my phone in my kitchen, and collapsed almost instantly into a pool of heavy, sobbing tears. Crying for my friend, crying for her babies, crying for all of the people who knew exactly how she felt because they’d lost babies too. I cried on the floor until my head throbbed, until there was nothing left. And then I looked at my husband, who was also crushed, and said: never again.

“You have to listen to what I’m saying and take it seriously because I know that there will be times when I forget how I am feeling right now, and I’ll think that we should have a baby and that it’ll be worth the risk,” I told him. “It is not worth the risk. We should never try again. And if I try to tell you that we should, you need to remind me of exactly how I’m feeling right now.”

Ad failed to load

The next day, I started clearing out all the baby stuff I’d been holding on to. I gave away clothes, old toys, crib sheets, receiving blankets — anything I could find. I had to do it, had to get rid of everything we’d kept thinking we might use it again eventually, because that stuff represented what I really needed to let go of: the dream for a big family. The kids and the chaos and the exhaustion and the love. The crowded Thanksgiving dinner table. I thought it was up to me, but it turns out that it wasn’t at all. It was up to my body, and my body was saying no way.

Elly Photography

Some days, I still dream about what it would be like to get pregnant again and have it be everything I want it to be. Some days I think about how wonderful it would be to have another little baby now that the twins have left that stage behind. Some days I think that it's still technically entirely possible that we could have a healthy, full-term pregnancy, because lots of people go on to have healthy, full-term pregnancies after premature births. But then I look at my children, my beautiful, thriving, healthy children who beat all of the odds, and I know it’s not worth the risk.

Ad failed to load

So I guess, in a way, everyone who’d assumed our twin pregnancy would be our last was right. We had our family in one shot, just like they said, and it’s enough. It will have to be enough.

Elly Photography

Images: Elly Photography, Tom and Keidi Photography, Giphy (2)

Ad failed to load
Must Reads

14 Awesome '90s Movies To Watch On Father's Day With The Best Father-Daughter Duos

Father's Day is right around the corner and I can think of no better way to celebrate the holiday than actually spending some time with my dad, preferably relaxing and watching one of our favorite father-daughter movies. Since I grew up in the '90s, …
By Irina Gonzalez

It's OK To Let Babies Cry — In Fact, It's Very Important

Before my daughter was born, I taught preschool for eight years. In talking to parents about their goals for their children, aside from the lofty academic visions of honing 3-year-old geniuses, pretty much every parent would tell me, "I just want my …
By Beth Loster

An Open Letter To My Kids' Teachers, Now That The School Year Is Over

Dear Teachers Who Teach My Kids, How can I ever properly express my gratitude for all you do every single day? How can I possibly thank you enough? I know there isn't much I can actually do to show you just how thankful I am. I do want you to know, h…
By Dina Leygerman

15 Celestial Baby Names That Blow All Others Out Of The Galaxy

Doesn't it seem like naming kids is more difficult now than in decades past? It has to be popular, but not too popular, unique but not too wacky. But you'll also want it to sound right with your last name and you can't really have a friend whose kid …
By Emily Westbrooks

I'm Feeling Mom Burnout, & Here's How I Deal With It As A Type-A Parent

The other day, I put my daughter down for her nap, poured the now-cold coffee that I had reheated about 10 times and still didn’t have a second to drink, refilled it with the tiny little bit of red wine that was left in the bottle I found in the back…
By Allison Cooper

If You Don't Know Whether You're In Labor Or Not, Your Dog Might Be Able To Tell You

Many dog owners swear their pets have a sixth sense. From sensing impending danger to knowing when their human is sick before they do, tales abound involving seemingly psychic canines saving the day. But while there's no question that dogs are incred…
By Jacqueline Burt Cote

12 Partners Describe What It's Like To Be In the Delivery Room For The First Time

Television and movies lead us believe in a very particular birth narrative. Labor starts instantly (after the mom's water breaks, of course), and everyone comedically or dramatically rushes to the hospital whereupon pushing begins immediately. More o…
By Jamie Kenney

If You Hate Buying Maternity Clothes, Rent Them From One Of These Cool Sites

If spending money on maternity clothes makes you feel like you're tossing cash out the window, you're not alone. Pregnancy is so temporary, it's not like you can get away with convincing yourself that you're making an investment purchase. And yet, th…
By Jacqueline Burt Cote

9 Surprising & Totally Adorable Facts About Princess Charlotte

There are few kids in the world who kinda/sorta make me want another baby, probably because I had four already so that feels like enough. But little Princess Charlotte is one of those kids. I don't know if it's the little twinkle in her eye, her ador…
By Jen McGuire

The Mid-Range Jeans That Saved Me Postpartum

Let’s be very, very honest about this — pregnancy and childbirth change your body. Regardless of what tabloid headlines about celebrities’ post-baby bodies and Instagram #fitspo posts might tell you, the reality is that your body’s going to look and …
By Beth Loster

Rent The Runway Just Launched A Maternity Line & The Selection Is Mind-Blowing

Spending money on maternity clothes can feel like a huge waste, considering you're only going to wear them for a few months. Sure, you can always pack them away for Baby #2 (or #3), but there's no guarantee you'll be the same degree of pregnant durin…
By Jacqueline Burt Cote

15 Baby Names With Unique Nicknames, So Your Family Has Options

I love a good diminutive name, also known as a nickname. I believe I’m partial to them because of my own name, Abigale, but I go by Abi. And since they’re both uniquely spelled, everyone thinks my name is pronounced Ah-bee for some reason — but even …
By Abi Berwager Schreier

The Entire Family Can Enjoy These Movies & Shows Coming To Netflix In June

It's just one of those sad facts of life: every month, shows and movies vanish from Netflix, their varied excitements no longer at your fingertips. But luckily the streaming service is always prepared to fill that content void with lots of new things…
By Megan Walsh

The Reason Why Babies Smile At You Will Seriously Make You Smile

Whether you're currently the recipient of your own baby's sweet smiles or you just seem to be a magnet for baby grins in general, you might find yourself wondering why babies are always smiling at you. Sure, you could be a 'smile whisperer' but scien…
By Kate Miller

8 Ways Your Baby Is Trying To Say That, Yes, You Are Their Favorite

For a baby to show a preference for a specific person is not only normal, but an essential part of their development. Babies need to form strong attachments to their caregivers for their emotional, social, and physical wellbeing. Usually, but not alw…
By Kimmie Fink

10 Reasons Why I Won't Apologize For Giving My Toddler A Pacifier

My first child had no interest in a pacifier. I tried a couple times to get him to take one, but he always spat them out and gave me an incredulous, judgmental look. But my second? It was love at first suckle. And after a while, the incredulous, judg…
By Jamie Kenney

20 Of The Most Popular Unisex Names Of All Time, That You'll Be Hearing More Of For Sure

You might think of unisex names as a fairly recent trend, but the truth is these versatile monikers have been commonly used throughout history (well, some more commonly than others). That's why the team over at Names.org recently compiled a list of t…
By Jacqueline Burt Cote

How To Have A Date Night With No Babysitter, Because It's Easier Than You Think

After having children, many couples feel that their love lives immediately go out the window, but it's so important to make your romantic life a priority so both you and your partner can be the best versions of yourselves you can be. As we all know, …
By Abi Berwager Schreier

9 Ways Baby No. 3 Made My Family Feel Complete

My husband and I decided to have another baby right after we got married and, well, we had no idea what we were getting into. I got pregnant right away, endured a high-risk pregnancy, and, before I knew it, my third baby had arrived. Together, we emb…
By Steph Montgomery

8 Differences Between Being Pregnant In Your 20s Vs 30s, According To Science

Whether you're planning a pregnancy, or just thinking about your future family, it's typical to think about things like child-spacing, how many kids you want, and when to start trying to conceive. When making your pro/con list, you might also conside…
By Steph Montgomery

My Dog Knew I Was Pregnant Before My Family Did

Growing up, I was 100 percent sure I'd be a mom one day. To a dog, that is. My baby plans came later. And once my husband and I were sure we wanted both a dog and a baby, we'd add to our joint dog-and-baby name list over Sunday brunch or on date nigh…
By Melissa Mills