Thursday, October 9, 2008

To snip or not to snip, that is the question

Earlier this month, I was lying on my back, taking the deep, cleansing inhale/exhale combos that come only once a week at the tail end of my yoga class, and I let my mind wander from breaths to baby for maybe a millisecond. Yet there it was-- the immediate tingle, the wet shirt—eight months after I first nursed Lizzie, I still end up leaking milk like a loose udder. If you are going to have your boobs spring a leak in public, however, there is no better place than yoga, I suppose.

It was more the mere fact that even though I have my youngest physically attached to me all day, every day, save this one hour-and-a-half per week, I still can’t seem to get a moment to myself. Shoving my yoga mat back into my bag, I joked about this with my friend Alison as we walked to our cars.

“It’s kind of pathetic,” I offered up, knowing that Alison would come through with her supportive smile and that whole it-just-shows-you-are-a-dedicated-mom shtick. Of course, Alison’s youngest child is in fourth grade. She’s gotten through the abyss of newborns and has moved on to the realm of having all school-age children. So it helped, but only a little.

I’m not writing this to simply rant on the tiring, life-sucking, mind warp that is having a baby (although there certainly is plenty to be said on the subject, especially after a long day with a very emotional toddler and suddenly sassy fourth grader). I’m writing it, I guess, because it was the first image that popped into my mind when Justin looked at me, all nonchalant the other day, and said “I made the appointment for the big V.”

Suddenly, my memory of the leaky nursies seemed sweet, like a superhero badge that says “Giver of Life Found Here.” And Lizzie immediately seemed less attached, because she’s all into things like doing the army crawl over to the ottoman and pulling herself up—the view change alone makes her forget I exist for five full minutes.

I just looked at my husband—the same man I joked could saddle up next to me in the delivery room and have a vasectomy performed the minute our third born arrived—and burst into tears.

He looked at me, and then quickly looked around. I love this about husbands, the way an obviously irrational splay of tears always makes them seek back up, even if it is in the form a nine year-old who is stealthily sliding out of the room.

“You can’t seriously be thinking you want a fourth baby.”

“No, no. Um, you—I—I guess I was not expecting to hear that,” I said looking out the bay window in our kitchen. It was raining and cold outside, little rivers of water running down the glass.

“Babe, look at me,” Justin said. He was leaning against the sink, with Lizzie playing at his feet between us. “We agreed this was it, right? I’m thinking three and done is still our motto. I’d have a heart attack if we added any more.”
I felt like the fog rising from the ground outside was surrounding me. I couldn’t answer my husband. I couldn’t carry on a conversation about the topic. I just shrugged it off, wiped my tears, and changed the subject.

But the truth is, I am thinking about a fourth baby.

Or more accurately, I am thinking about the ability to have a fourth baby. The notion that I will never be pregnant again, that I will never go through the pain and ecstasy of delivering new life into this world, will never nurse another baby…It seems huge, especially when I feel like we have just hit our stride as parents. I mean, look at how sweet my husband is with these children.

I love how he loves them. I love how he—the uber athlete-- falls to mush and sheds tears with his friends over the way his daughter was so small and still and lovely hours after her birth. How can this part of life be over so soon?

I lament this to a good friend whose husband had the big snip three years ago, expecting sympathy, expecting to hear her say “you are still so young. Maybe he should wait.”

Instead I heard, “Are you crazy? You do not want to any more children. You do not need any more children. I mean, let’s talk population control, here. Or the fact that you give all your energy to the three babies you already have, and I can’t imagine it being healthy to add more to that load. And it isn’t like you are empty nesting, for goodness sake. You have a nine year-old! And a three year-old! And hello, an eight month old to boot!”

She went on and on, noting that we all have to go through “the sadness tunnel” of realizing we are done with our “birthing years.” She pointed out a friend who, at just shy of 50, added her fifth child to her brood, because she has yet to acknowledge said tunnel.

So I tried to approach my mom on the subject—after all, don’t all grandmas want more babies? Apparently not. I went to another friend. And another. Everyone who has made it out of planet baby seems to be on the same page here: get the snip, and get it now.

And I get it. I do. Like the stereotypical spinster with a thousand cats, I could easily become one of those nutty folks with 19 children, simply because I am a newborn baby junkie. Every time I get my hands on a warm bundle of just-birthed life, my whole body screams “I want one!” That feeling will probably never fade. But I think there is more to this than wanting another baby (although part of me does hear my OB’s voice echoing “four is simply the best”). There is something biological happening here, something primal that is railing against the notion of “never again.”

Noah seems remarkably old these days. He has excellent comedic timing, his jokes getting more grown up, his dinner table conversations becoming true glimpses of the man he will grow to be. Max, too, with his pre-school persona “we must fold our hands in our laps and say ‘thank you friends’ before each meal mama,” is suddenly moving into the next phase of life.

There are plenty of moments when I am ready for this change, this new chapter. When I hear Max padding down the stairs in the middle of the night to wake Justin with tales of a bad dream after I’ve just nursed Lizzie to sleep for the sixth time and Noah comes down soon after, confessing that his past-bedtime night-light-under-the-covers reading choice freaked him out; these are the times when I am ready for everyone to need less and be more, well, grown up. And yet, 20 minutes later, when the rhythm of my family’s breathing has slowed into a cadence of sleep, arms and legs tangled together; there is a richness to the sound, to the darkness, to the deep ties of mother and father and the lives they created together.

Max looked at me as I was typing this earlier today. Noah was at school and Lizzie was napping. He had been sitting on the floor stacking wooden blocks into a tall tower only to allow some Bionicle Lego creation to “seek and destroy.”

“When did your outtie turn into an innie again?”

I looked at my belly button, exposed because my shirt never made it all the way down after I put Lizzie to sleep.

“Well, after your sister came out, I guess,” I said with a giggle, shoving my t-shirt back in place.

“I kinda miss the outie. It was cool,” Max said. He turned back to his block tower, and just before the evil plastic Lego creation came swooping in to make it tumble, he added, “maybe, just maybe, I’ll get to see it that way again.”

And maybe, just maybe, that possibility is enough.

By the way, I'm now also blogging twice a week for the fantastic website, which is dedicated to Up North living. I'll be writing parenting posts there, and as they have just added blogging to the site, I'd sure appreciate if you would click here and hereto read, subscribe (and comment, pretty please) so the folks in charge see this is indeed a worthy effort. Thanks so much!