A commenter recently asked:
I don’t want this to come across as rude or judgemental, but was it an active choice to have so many children? Have you always wanted a large family or just threw caution to the wind and allowed to happen what would happen? (I know there are many Christian families that believe in the quiverfull idea and therefore strive to create large families in order to serve God but I know that doesn’t apply to you.)
First of all, I don’t take this as rude or judgmental! I’m a pretty open book, and I’d rather people ask me questions than make assumptions. And I’m sure this is a subject quite a few people wonder about.
The short answer is: no, it was not an active choice to have so many children. It’s mostly been a case of carelessness.
And it’s funny that you bring up the Christian angle, Holly, because I’ve suspected for a while that people in my real life world who don’t know me well assume that Michael and I must be super-religious because we have so many kids. Other Christians seem to be genuinely shocked to learn that I don’t even believe in God, nor do I subscribe to any religion or dogma, and that we are raising our children religion-free.
Here’s basically the story of how we built our family:
When Michael and I got married, I already had a child (Kevin) from my first marriage. In my first marriage, believe it or not, there were fertility issues; my first husband and I were married for ten years before we had Kevin, and there were several years of trying to conceive in there, which included exploratory surgery and a few rounds of Clomid. It turned out to be male-factor infertility, but even though that was clinically diagnosed finally, I was so accustomed to trying to get pregnant only to have nothing come of it that I was convinced it would be the same with me and Michael. As it turned out, though, Michael and I are a combustible combination!
So, when we got married, we were both well into our 30s, I had Kevin who was 4 1/2, and Michael and I both wanted kids together. I remember that we talked about having maybe two more kids, making it a total of three. And based on our ages and Kevin’s age, and the fact that I was worried that it would take a while to get pregnant, we started trying within a couple of months after we got married. BOOM! I got pregnant the first month we tried. Surprise, surprise.
That was Joey, and he was born a few weeks shy of our first wedding anniversary. I never went back on the pill after that, for a variety of reasons – I was nursing, I was in my mid-30s already, and I never did like the physical side effects of the pill. So we just started trying to be careful time-wise, if you get my drift. Something loosely based on the rhythm method and NFP.
I’ve always believed that anyone who is truly dead-set against getting pregnant will take whatever measures necessary to make sure they don’t get pregnant. Michael and I knew that this wasn’t a foolproof method of preventing pregnancy, but since we were open to having another baby at some point anyway, we were okay with the chance that I would get pregnant again. It worked for about a year and a half – until we were ready to actively try for another baby.
BOOM! I got pregnant again the first month we tried. This would be baby number 3, and we would probably be done after that. Only somehow we ended up with TWINS! That was a shock. No twins in either of our families (although, contrary to popular belief, the hereditary component in conceiving fraternal twins – which is releasing multiple eggs in a single cycle – is passed down on the mother’s side and has nothing at all to do with the father’s family history; identical twins, on the other hand, which originate from a single egg that splits, is completely random and has no hereditary component), no fertility treatment, just a surprise two-for-one deal.
Four kids – we should have been done, right? Only, neither of us were sure that we felt done – as crazy as that sounds. It was (is!) a lot of work having so many little ones (Joey was only two when the twins were born – I’ve had three in diapers at the same time multiple times in my child-rearing career), but there was a joy in it, too. And I think we had both fallen in love with the idea of our kids having numerous siblings and having their lives enriched in that way.
I still remember, clear as day, sitting in the bedroom with Michael, having a serious heart to heart about what we should do. The twins were about 16 months old. Were we going to have another baby or not? We talked about it for a long time, sitting there that morning – about all the pros and cons, what it would mean for us, for the four kids we already had, to have another baby, or not to. Neither of us could settle on an answer, so we agreed to wait until the twins turned 2 later that year to make a decision, and in the meantime, we’d continue being “careful.”
Only, a couple weeks later, I found out that I was already pregnant. I wasn’t even sure when it had happened, because I had been keeping careful track of my cycles, etc. I can’t even remember exactly what made me start suspecting, but I do remember that I was hosting book club at my house that night and I went to Target to buy martini glasses and a pregnancy test. What a combo. When the test came up positive, I was surprised, and, truthfully, a little upset, only because we hadn’t planned this one, and that was a new experience for me. Michael was totally okay with it from the get-go, and once I got over my surprise, I was thrilled, too.
That was Lilah – baby number 5, and our first home birth. I was honestly thrilled that I would finally get to have a birth on my own turf, my own terms. I had hated my hospital births – especially the twins’ birth – and I wanted for once to have a positive birth experience.
I loved midwifery care – so much different, in so many ways, from OB care – and my midwife and I really bonded (and are friends to this day). Lilah was born at home, nine days after her due date, after a very trying on-again off-again labor that lasted over a week. Her birth – my first drug-free birth – was not what I expected; I think I went into it mentally ill-prepared, and the reality of it was shocking to me, and in some ways, a let-down. I had envisioned this peaceful, serene birth, and instead, I screamed my way through it, convinced I was going to die through part of it.
Because of that, I wanted a do-over. I know very well how crazy and silly and selfish and irresponsible that sounds, but it was the truth. I wanted one more – just one more – so I could do it right. It makes me kind of sad now that that’s how I felt, like I had done Lilah’s birth wrong, that I had failed somehow, and that I needed to prove to myself (and to Michael and Sue, my midwife – neither of whom felt in any way that I had failed) that I could do it better, the right way.
There was also a part of me that just didn’t want to close that chapter of my life – childbearing. It’s always been a gargantuan thing to me, childbearing. My therapist has said that she thinks I’ve subconsciously set out on a mission to build the family I never had, and I absolutely think there is truth to that. A house full of people who love each other, not hate each other. A house full of people who share experiences and care for one another. It’s all about wanting to love and to be loved, isn’t it?
So once again, there Michael and I sat in our bedroom having a serious heart-to-heart about the possibility of having another baby. By this time, I had just turned 40 and Lilah was not quite a year old. I wanted another baby – just one more, for good reasons or bad – and Michael was ready to close that chapter of our life. His was obviously the more practical position. Five kids is a whole lotta kids, we weren’t getting any younger, and wasn’t it time to move on, to move past the always taking care of babies phase and onto all the possibilities life held with kids who were a little older and not quite so dependent? So I acquiesced, though my heart wasn’t in it. And I felt a loss. No more babies. That was it.
Well, I can’t say that I was exactly careful at that point about making sure it didn’t happen again. I kind of felt like, he’s the one who doesn’t want anymore kids, so let him make sure it doesn’t happen. And of course, he didn’t. And I kind of figured, well, he knows full well that he’s playing with fire here.
About a month later, I was pregnant again. I can’t say I was surprised. I was scared, though, about how Michael would feel about it. I took a pregnancy test when he was at work, and when it came up positive, I texted the news to him – I couldn’t even bring myself to call him or wait until he got home to tell him face to face.
And you know what? He laughed. He was happy. Because Michael loves being a dad, he really does. What was one more when we already had a house full?
That was Finn, born 21 months after Lilah, and also born at home. This time I was better prepared for what to expect with a natural birth, and although I’m pretty sure I was just as loud, I knew I wasn’t going to die, and I didn’t come away feeling like I had failed.
But Finn came with a big surprise: Down syndrome. And not only that, he ended up in the hospital having major surgery when he was a day old to correct an intestinal atresia he was born with. He spent two weeks in the NICU, and the whole experience absolutely yanked the rug out from under me. The aftermath of his birth was a very sad, dark time for me, and I found myself once again wanting a do-over.
In time, that feeling passed, though. I recognized it for what it was – part of the process of grieving upon the arrival of a child who was very different from what I had expected – and I made peace with it as Finn grew older and burrowed his way deeper and deeper into my heart. And in time, we were finally able to start enjoying things as a family that were too difficult to do when I was constantly pregnant, nursing, and caring for infants.
And then, when Finn was only 7 months old, Michael was diagnosed with stage 3 colorectal cancer. The rug was yanked out from under us yet again. It was a horrific experience, for a long time not knowing if he was going to live or die, watching him go through a grueling, year-long treatment process of chemo, radiation, and multiple surgeries. His illness really gave me pause to consider how absolutely, horrendously difficult it would be to raise six children on my own should the worst happen to Michael. And maybe for the first time, I realized how irresponsible it was to have more kids than one could take care of on her own should it come to that. It scared the crap out of me – it still does.
Michael’s cancer treatment left us with the impression that having anymore kids was off the table. As part of his treatment, he underwent 6 weeks of daily pelvic radiation, and although no doctor ever said, “This will make you sterile,” they did ask Michael if we wanted to have more kids, and mentioned the possibility of banking sperm for those people undergoing this type of treatment who did wish to have children in the future. No, we were done. And this took the decision out of our hands, anyway, or so we thought.
And so, when in October of 2011 I discovered at the age of 44 that I was pregnant again, it was on the short list of Most Shocking Events Of My Life. We hadn’t been doing anything to prevent it because we just didn’t think it was even a possibility. And because I wasn’t keeping track of anything anymore, I couldn’t, for the life of me, even figure out when it had happened, and it wasn’t until I had my first ultrasound that I found out I was about three months along.
That was Scarlett, baby number 7.
It’s funny . . . I remember after Kevin was born, how much I missed being pregnant, and I thought to myself, “I want to have TEN kids!” Never dreaming how close to that number I would actually come. I remember enjoying every one of my pregnancies so much that I joked, “I’ll just keep getting pregnant until I’m in menopause,” never imagining how close I would actually come to doing just that.
No, never in my wildest dreams did I believe I would have this many kids, and no, we didn’t exactly set out to have this many kids. But here we are, and I wouldn’t change it. It’s not lost on either one of us how different, and in many ways easier, our life would be if we had stopped several kids ago. But it’s useless to think about that for too long, because here they all are, and the beauty of it usually far outweighs the could-have-beens.
No matter what I do in my life, I think I will always feel that growing life and giving birth, and yes, frustrating and taxing as it is, raising children, will have been the most profound experiences of my life. Maybe partly because initially it took me so long to get pregnant in the first place – I spent years feeling like a part of me was missing, so deep was my longing to have a baby. And then when I finally did get pregnant, I savored it and mourned it when it was over, and longed for it again . . . and again.