Before you get pregnant, it’s easy to think that you get to call the shots on your reproductive future. I’m ready to be a mom, you think. I’ll come off birth control and then I’ll get pregnant! You plan what kind of birth you want to have, what kind of parenting style you’ll subscribe to, and whether or not you’ll go on to have more children (and, if so, when you'll have them), all with a generally-confident sense of being in control of those things. But here’s the thing: you aren't really in control of anything.
From the outside, it often looks like everyone around you is having happy, easy pregnancies, and perfect, healthy babies. But once you’re on the inside, and you aren’t having a happy, easy pregnancy or a perfect, healthy baby, you figure out really quickly that, actually, you’re not an anomaly. Traumatic birth experiences are like the seedy underbelly of pregnancy and childbirth — we generally don’t talk much about them because it’s depressing, and scary, and it’s much nicer to tell yourself that all you have to do is take your prenatal vitamins and think healthy thoughts and drink kale smoothies and everything will be A-OK. But the reality is, motherhood is a much bigger roll of the dice than anyone would probably like to admit.
Like many, many families before us, we came out on the wrong side of the dice roll. We had a bad pregnancy, an extremely premature birth, a long NICU stay, two brain surgeries on our daughter, and many, many sleepless nights. We got incredibly lucky that our two tiny, sick babies somehow came home and grew into beautiful, healthy, amazing children, and as they left babyhood behind, my husband and I found ourselves wondering what we should be doing with all that baby stuff we had amassed along the way.
“Should we pack it away?” I’d ask, neither of us wanting to acknowledge what I was really asking: Will we need to keep this for another baby in the future?
I guess that’s a bit of an intimidating question for all couples to discuss, but for us, it was downright scary. Because it wasn’t just an issue of wanting or not wanting more children. It was an issue of whether or not we wanted to roll the dice again, knowing what could happen if things didn’t go our way.
We ended up keeping some things while giving away others. I kept all the preemie clothes for sentimental reasons, and gave away a few pieces here and there to friends as the twins grew out of stuff, but mostly I kept their clothes ... just in case. We went back and forth and back and forth, and fought and cried and talked long into the night about our hopes and dreams for our family. And then, in the end, we decided we weren’t gamblers. We’d gotten so lucky with our twins — our beautiful family we never knew for sure that we’d get to keep — that trying again seemed too risky. Too unnecessary. We were done. We needed to be done.
After we’d made our decision, the boxes full of Madeleine and Reid’s baby clothes suddenly just seemed to be sitting there, taking up space, glaring at me. So I packed everything up and I gave the clothes away, and when I came home, I cried.
The truth was I wasn’t ready to give the clothes away. I wasn’t really ready to say that I would never again be pregnant, that I would never have any more children. But even though I always thought it would be my choice — that I’d get to decide when I was done — the reality was that it was never really up to me.
Now that some time has passed since I cleared out all of our “just in case” baby stuff, I can see why it was really, really important for me to do it. It made it real, it helped it sink in. And giving everything away made space for our new reality, the one where I could admit that, hey, I don’t really want to be up all night with a newborn again, and hey, the four of us are a pretty awesome family, even if it’s smaller a smaller one than I envisioned. For a long time, I was sure I’d never be able to move on from my dream of getting pregnant again and having more children. But now, I’m starting to feel OK with it.