I was never certain that my third baby would be my last. I'd hoped that I would be presented with some clarity when he was born, but I was certain of nothing but my deep and abiding love for him. As the waves of postpartum emotion washed over me, I oscillated between feeling like our family was complete and being tugged toward the idea of a fourth baby. It was a time of crazy love, and I could never say for sure that I wouldn’t want to do it all over again.
When people ask if we are done having children, I never quite know what to say. While my husband and I have talked on and off about a fourth baby, it doesn’t seem like a logical fit. We're stretched thin as it is with our brood of three. I don’t know how I would handle a fourth baby with my husband’s frequent traveling for work. I don’t know how we would handle it financially. I don’t know how I would split my time and love with yet another person.
Even so, I can’t say "no" with certainty. I look at my baby, and I want to turn back time and experience him all over again. I think about the chance that I may never again have that moment of meeting one of my own for the very first time. Never again holding a squirming new baby to my chest and telling them how loved they are after months of grueling pregnancy. The unparalleled relief and joy and ecstasy of birth ... there is nothing like it.
I think back over these first few months, wondering how on earth they could be over already. The first smiles and coos and laughter. The brief blip of time when he was content to sleep on my chest for hours. I look at the video of the first time all my children met, and the swell of love in my heart is almost too much to handle. “Would it really be so bad to do this all over again?” I think.
I love the infant stage more and more each time I experience it. I know how short and fleeting this season is. Even so, I can’t slow down time enough to enjoy it as much as I want to. I could have baby after baby after baby and I would still never feel done with it. But does that mean I should keep having babies? To save myself from the ordinary pain of watching my children grow up?
I know, deep down, I don’t feel done. But I fear my desire for another baby ignores the family I already have, a family that needs me wholly as is. I already feel as if I am coming up short on time and attention for each of my children and my husband. I see the strain put on my marriage and my relationships with each of my older children. Though I may justify in my mind that a fourth baby would bring more love and that everyone would surely be better off, I don’t know if that's fair. Of course we'd all fall madly in love with another baby, but is that really a card I should play? Or am I being selfish because I want more time in the baby stage?
When my oldest son comes home from school, he's dying for time with me. He waits while I put his younger sister down to nap, while I feed the baby, and as I deal with the million little things that come up while I am trying to do those two things. Sometimes it takes an hour. Sometimes it takes more. He will ask me to play with him over and over and over again before I am able to. Then usually minutes later, something else will come up. Playtime will be interrupted. I feel like our moments are stolen by how busy life is already. Why would I want to add to that? Why would I want to take away more time from him? And from his sister? And his brother? And my marriage?
I wonder when I'll realize I have hit my limit. I wonder if I'll ever have a limit. I already have a life full to the brim with love. I am happy enough with what I have. I am lucky. I know that. I should be grateful, and I am. Then I see them all playing together, loving each other, growing together. I fall asleep to the sweet smell of a baby snuggled against me. And I wonder how I’ll ever survive when these years are gone. Is it a selfish desire to want these small moments to last forever? Yes, it probably is. But will saying no to another baby ever be an easy choice? No. It never will be. Even if I know it's selfish.
Images Courtesy of Gemma Hartley (4)