It happened to me when my third child was two months old. My husband was on a remote tour in South Korea. We were lucky because his mid-tour leave lined up perfectly, so he was home for the birth of our baby. However, he returned to South Korea when our baby was three weeks old to finish the last six months of his assignment.
I was at the YMCA one frigid morning in early March feeling proud of myself. I had gotten both of my big kids to swimming lessons on time and properly attired. I had put real pants on. The baby was happily cooing in my arms. I felt like I was getting the hang of juggling three kids.
An older woman got out of the lap lane at the pool and strolled over to me while drying herself off. I thought she’d want to talk about the baby, and she did, I suppose. But not like I thought.
She stood in front of me and said, “You know you CAN say no to your husband sometimes. I noticed that you have three children. You DO know how you got those babies, don’t you? Were these babies all planned?”
My mouth fell open. I only have three kids! I am not even close to getting my own reality television show! I managed a smile and a “yes” in reply.
Yes, I know how babies are made.
Yes, they were planned.
Yes. Yes. Yes. They are well cared for. They are loved. They are wanted.
What she doesn’t see is the struggle we’ve been through to add these children to our family. She doesn’t see the hundreds of miles I have driven to fertility specialists. She doesn’t see the scars across my stomach from the surgery I had to increase my probability of conceiving children. She doesn’t see the countless times I’ve hidden in the bathroom and cried when my period started yet another month. She doesn’t see the vicious cycle of infertility. Each month I would get more and more hopeful that we would finally conceive, and each month I was disappointed. Heartbroken. And yet for years we could find no answers.
She doesn’t see the millions of moving parts that need to work perfectly together to create new life. The idea that all of these things could work together in perfect synchronization so that new life can be created in absolutely miraculous.
Pregnancy is in itself a scandalous miracle. It defies the odds of probability in my case. It is a welcome, but not always expected, surprise. And I cherish each child.
My children are all over four years apart in age. I’ll never have two kids in high school at the same time. I wanted my children to be born close together so that they could grow up sharing experiences and friends, but now each of my children is in their own stage of life. This is not because of any decision I have made about spacing, but it is the work of my body.
So, for the sake of women everywhere longing to be mothers, I suggest we stop saying things to women about their reproductive choices. No more, “Did you mean to have all of these children?”
No more, “I sure hope you aren’t planning on having any more children.”
No more, “Are all of these children yours?”
Somewhere not far away there are women sitting through their friends’ baby showers with smiles plastered on their faces while they try to be happy for the blessings of others. There are hopeful women taking pregnancy tests five days before they expect a new cycle to start and waiting on the results with bated breath. Somewhere there are women crying after another month of disappointment.
When we see a woman with multiple children, let’s not assume she has made some terrible mistake. Let’s not assume she regrets her life. Instead, let’s practice extending grace. Let’s practice changing our perspective so that we see what we assume is an unwanted burden as an unfathomable blessing.
As for the knowledgeable lady giving me advice at the YMCA, I am happy to say I came up with a witty response despite my shock.
I replied, “I know! I only wanted two children, but now I have three. I am trying to decide which one I like least so I can return him, but so far I just want to keep them all!”