We almost didn’t have her. I shudder now at the thought.
Shortly after the birth of our third daughter, I remember thinking that I was so done. Even though I am one of those lucky women who has easy pregnancies (if there is such a thing), I was ready to put that phase of life behind me. I didn’t want to get big again. I didn’t think I had it in me to go through childbirth one more time. I just couldn’t take another round of sleepless nights.
And I certainly didn’t think I could handle being responsible for the life of yet one more little person.
This mom was MAXED OUT.
Looking back (when my third daughter was a newborn, and my other girls were ages 4 and 2), that was the hardest stage of my life, hands-down. With a husband who worked crazy hours and traveled incessantly, I was continually alone and yet never alone. The constancy of being needed all at one time by three people (and even the dog) often left me feeling suffocated. It seemed like I spent my days preparing food, feeding my (messy) kids, and then cleaning it up… only to repeat the cycle just as it finished. My daily life had become an exhausting circle of mundane repetition.
But it got easier.
Before I knew it, there were no more diapers to change. Soon they could all dress themselves, and they were becoming more independent all the time. They could help clear the dishes and make their beds. They would buzz around our house as a little unit (the beauty of having all girls perhaps?), and as they busied themselves, I found that I could actually get some things done now while they were even awake! One went off to kindergarten… and then another… I was finding more time for myself, time to catch my breath amidst the chaos of raising a family, and I felt like I was finally coming out of the fog that moms with young kids know all too well.
And then a crazy thing happened.
I began thinking about having another baby.
I couldn’t believe I was considering starting all over again. I mean, I was almost “free” since my third would be in kindergarten soon. What was I thinking?!
Even my husband, who was definitely more “done” than I was, seemed suddenly ready to add another little person to our family. In fact, he’s the one who first brought it up. That’s all it took. Him cracking that door open set my mind racing. (Some of his friends, meanwhile, were telling him to “shut that door! Shut that door quick, Buddy!!”) :)
Being the pragmatist that I am, I started pouring over the Internet, in search of parents describing what life was really like with four kids. I didn’t have much luck there, so I began asking those I knew with four (or more) kids to tell me about their experiences. (Did they feel overwhelmed? Was it impossible to get everyone to where they needed to go all the time?) I also spoke with older friends whose kids were grown and gone… did they ever wish they’d had more children? This was not a decision I (we) wanted to make lightly. Having another baby would change everything. Forever.
For months my thoughts swirled. Would I be able to handle four kids? What if I had twins?! Are we pushing our luck after being blessed with three healthy children? If we had a boy, how would that change our family dynamic? If we had a girl, would that create two “pairs” or would all four girls be close? How would our girls’ relationships change if we gave them another sibling?
But mostly, this thought consumed me: If we had one more baby, would I become a stressed-out, lesser mom to the children I already had? Was that fair to my three daughters? I often felt stretched-thin just among my three kids; how would I be able to give four children everything they need?
Despite my doubts, I kept feeling that pull… I just couldn’t shake the baby bug.
Ultimately, after much back and forth, my husband and I finally decided that if we were talking about another baby this much, perhaps something was left unfinished for our family. And then along came daughter #4.
She turns two this week. Now I can’t believe she was ever a question in our minds.
I feared that her arrival would coincide with me feeling like a failure as a mother. Surprisingly, she has brought me more peace than I ever could have imagined.
Compared to my first three girls where I was determined to be Supermom, I have done everything “wrong” with this one. As a newborn, she basically slept in my arms all night, feeding whenever she felt like it. Whereas I was once the schedule police, my youngest ate and slept at different times every day. When it was time to give her solid foods, I fed her fruits before vegetables (gasp!), and I never waited the recommended 2-3 days to see if she had an allergic reaction (she never did) before moving methodically onto the next food. Now as a toddler, she watches episodes of Dora and Mickey Mouse Clubhouse like it’s her job. And forget taking her to gymnastics or music classes. I only take this one to Target.
In many ways, her first two years have been a free-for-all, but she is a well-adjusted, sweet and happy little girl. And I know that I have never been happier myself; we have never been happier as a family. One daughter said recently, “Mom, I feel like we laugh a lot more since the baby was born.” She’s right – we do.
Having one last baby (after a 5-year gap) has actually calmed me as a mother, not the other way around, as I’d feared and expected. Even though there is obviously more to do and one more person to worry about (although the older kids are a huge help with their baby sister!), just about everything rolls off my back now. As a new mom, on the other hand, I’d been such a control freak that even the smallest mishap could rattle me. It’s so much easier to find the humor in the mess-making, food-throwing, and even the tantrums this time around. I know none of it will last forever; my older girls have shown me that. (When did my 11-year-old get so grown up anyhow?) I’ve learned to see past the exasperation and zero in on the entertainment of it all. I used to find myself so frustrated by the constant lack of cooperation (you can’t reason with a toddler!), but now it really doesn’t even take much effort to just shrug my shoulders at whatever catastrophe she’s bringing about.
Since my fourth daughter arrived, I no longer feel like I’m trying to prove to the world (or to myself) that I’m going to be one superstar mom. There is no Supermom, I now know. There are only women who are doing their best to raise good people. Perhaps that realization has come simply with age and maturity (and not because I had another baby), but either way, I feel like I have turned a corner on that front. I’m much more forgiving of myself as a parent these days. I once was paranoid about doing everything “right”, but I can see now that even when you do most everything “wrong” (as I have with #4), your children can still thrive. In fact, allowing them to see you make mistakes and not taking life too seriously is beneficial in its own right. There is more than one way to do everything.
Since my older daughters now pull me in so many directions with school and activities and life, it’s easy to feel like it’s all passing us by without a second thought. We often get so caught up in the hustle and bustle of daily life that we forget to really live in the moment. Having a baby around again has changed that for me (and for all of us). The enjoyment she gets from the simple things is contagious. Her sweet request to play pulls me from the dishes in an instant. The laundry can wait if it means having her scoot backwards into my lap so we can snuggle and read a book. I will set anything aside to have her run, giggling, back and forth between my husband and me, as she dives into our arms on each end.
As a result, her innocence has also helped me to feel more in tune with my older girls. I make an effort to pause more to really enjoy some quality moments with them, even if that’s just having an extended conversation at bedtime. I feel like I have more patience with them these days, as their baby sister reminds me that they were tiny and helpless not so long ago themselves. I try not to expect quite so much; after all, they’re still kids, too.
Our last baby girl has truly been a gift in every way. I had been so worried about the stress and the responsibility she would bring that I had forgotten how fun it is to have a baby around. She has helped me refocus at this stage of my life. It’s almost like she jarred me awake (both literally and figuratively!), and I feel like she’s given me a new awareness of life’s most precious moments.
Getting the chance to experience it all once more in this lifetime – to feel her moving inside me, to hug her tight before laying her down in her crib, to watch her as her young eyes find wonder in everything she sees– it brings me joy that’s hard to describe. I find myself appreciating things like this in a way that I didn’t before. I feel like she was sent to me – to all of us – for a reason.
If you, too, are thinking about having one more baby, obviously your experience may be drastically different than mine. There are no parallel lives. When my daughter was born, her sisters were 9, 7, and nearly 5. (Perhaps this post might be very different if they had been 5, 3, and 1!) I can’t say enough about how helpful and happily involved my older girls have been, and I’m sure that’s partially why my experience has been so positive as I went from a mom of three to a mom of four.
With that said, there are certainly moments when I do, in fact, feel completely overwhelmed. The kitchen is rarely clean, and the amount of laundry this family of six accumulates is indeed impressive. We eat more takeout than ever before. I have yet to find a way to be two places at once or to grow another set of hands. My belly is even softer now after being stretched out and back yet one more time. But I don’t let these things bother me like I used to. They are the small things. One small thing herself reminded me of that.
Our decision to have one more baby really has changed everything for our family – for the better.
As a mother, I’ve never felt more content.
I’ve never known this kind of joy.
And I’ve certainly never felt more love.
Read more of my “from the heart” posts here:
If you struggled with this same decision: what did you decide and why? What’s your experience been like? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section below. I’m sure so many readers would benefit from hearing what you have to say!