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!


Meredith said...

Wow. You express it so well. I too, don't know how I'll stop having babies. Whenever anyone asks how many I want, I answer, "A houseful." I always imagine family dinners and holidays years from now when the table will be brimming with children and eventually grandhcildren.

I only have one so far, but I look forward to several more.

Laurie Rodak said...

Thanks for this wonderful and honest post.

I'm on my way to check out your new blogging gig right now!

Heather of the EO said...

I found myself rubbing my belly while reading this. I love this post. Not everyone feels this pull for more babies, but some part of me always does. Even if I'm saying "NO WAY" with my mind and mouth, I'm saying "MOOOORE" with my heart.

And I love imagining years to come, a house full at Christmas and lots of calls from my grown-up children. Because that will happen in a heart beat.


Astarte said...

Is your husband older than you are? I ask because DH is eight years older than I am, and he was done before I really was. Then, by the time I convinced him to try, I had polyps and couldn't get pregnant again, anyway. Sometimes it makes me sad, especially when I feel little gas bubbles that feel so much like a baby kicking, but most of the time I am happy. Patrick just started K, and I am enjoying being able to go into the schools whenever I want, and do big kid things.

Kate said...

Yes-- eight years older, to be exact! I keep telling myself that once everyone hits school-age, I'll be happy for the time I get to spend in the classroom (without an infant on my hip) and happy, too, for the just-mama time that will bring. But boy, it is still hard to swallow at the moment. Sigh.

Kathryn said...

I know, I know. I really get it. I don't know if I will ever be able to say "done" on the kid front. It is just the finality of it all. I know the next phase of my life will be equally wonderful and at the same time will anything I ever do in this life compare? I don't think so.
My hubby is finally convinced on a 4th but I can't honestly say I'll be done at 4. Poor hubby goes mad just at the mention of keeping options open after 4.

emily said...

Oh, the joy of childbirth -- to me, those hours (whether a 32 hour process like my first or a 3 hour 45 minute process like my second) make the entire pregnancy worth it, and truly, are the hours I have a hard time thinking I'll never again experience.

*tiffany* said...

You are such a fantastic writer! I am 23 and in the "When will it be my turn?!?" stage, and this made me feel better about not rushing it...because even that will be over too soon... :)

McEwens said...

Well said. Snip or not to snip is a big question. Maybe you can put it off a year just to be sure??

What a great dad he is!!

megan said...

Another beautiful post. Your vulnerability is so refreshing and lovely.
I don't know, Kate, I have to say, although, I do not know you personally, I have heard your heart pour out through your words so many times that I feel I know you a bit. And I think, if anyone were to have more children, to add to the population in a positive, remarkable, way, it should be you. I used to work in a public school system with elementary kids. So many people seem to have kids, endless amounts of kids, and they just don't know or don't care what to do with them, how to really nurture them, and grow them up to be physically, and more importantly, mentally, strong and full of integrity.
But you are the real deal. The kind of mom that any kid would be lucky to have. And your husband seems like an amazing father. So if you two decide to add to your family, and on a larger scale, to the population count, I say, Hurray!!!
And I will definitely check out the Up North posts. How cool....literally! Ha!

daydreamymama said...

Emotionally speaking, for lots of women, there's no such thing as "done." I had my first one late, and tried to have more, and couldn't. And in response to my grief, my mother (who had four) said to me, "Even if you had more, you would still be sad when you were done having them." Which helped a little -- the idea that I wouldn't be satisfied with just one more, as I had thought. (Actually, I had thought I would be satisfied with one -- fool that I was.) But people often seem to respond to the emotions with practical issues - practical concerns, financial concerns, population control. But it's all beside the point, because, as you say, it's an emotional thing. And emotions don't care about money, or practicality, or anything else. All you can do with emotions is to feel them, and cry, and talk about them. It doesn't mean you need to have another baby, or even that your husband shouldn't go for the snip, just that you should get to feel as sad about it as you need to.

Me plus 3 Hecks said...

I was enthralled by this post! And I want to know who ALL your family and friends are that you couldn't find ONE sympathetic woman to your plight! I feel EXACTLY the same way, only we are at a standstill over the question of 3 not 4. My husband was basically an only child, so he thinks 2 is already monumental. And some days, well, lots of days, I feel like that too. But the thought of being done, really's too final. We know 2 couples who have reversed vasectomies later in life when Life became something different than they thought it was going to be. So I say make sure you BOTH are 100% because even if you are 99% it could leave you feeling biologically frustrated somewhere down the road, which is why we have agreed to put off the big V, maybe indefinitely, and go for other options. Because, what if?

raehan said...

I think it makes it all the more melancholy to have an older child, who is losing all signs of littleness, at the same time you have a baby. It all seems so quick, and of course, it is. My seven year old is such an real personl now. I love it, but it makes me sad, too.

I do get sad. But right now, with my 5-month baby not quite sleeping through the night, I do feel done. At least this week. : )

patsyrose said...

After each of my 3 births I felt an overwhelming emptiness that took months to disappear. When I had a tubal ligation at the ripe old age of 31 (all my children were born before I was 24)I felt I'd made a huge mistake.

It wasn't until I welcomed my first grandchild that I could relax and enjoy being a part-time mother again. It was and is a beautiful, wonderful time of life.

The mothering instinct is so strong but there are lots of things in this world that need mothering so your talents will never be wasted.

Enjoy your babies now and don't overburden yourself and your husband. Remember that the future holds one of life's greatest treasures...grandchildren.

Zip n Tizzy said...

Truly beautiful post. I get everything you're saying, but I too have to say, the big V, when all is said and done, is pretty cool.
That being said, while I claim I could raise dozens of children, I make no such claim about carrying and birthing them. I know from the word on the street that you are not alone.
Congratulations on the column. I will be visiting there next!

Anonymous said...

Girl, your writing speaks right to my heart. I have three at home, and two in heaven. We had one home birth and desired many more children, but after losing our daughter Angel, I had to slow down and re-evaluate my motives.
I have come to terms with my addiction to newborns. ;-)
The sweet smell of their tiny heads, the velvety pink skin, the sweet breath. There's simply nothing like a newborn baby.
I also have come to understand that babies are expensive. I don't mean monetarily. I mean...emotionally, mentally, etc. We all reach our limits in one way or another.

Beautiful writing here.

MamaGeek @ Works For Us said...

Being an infertile mertile, I would definitely say step back from the snip. :)

littlehouse said...

I know. My head says 'stop' but my heart (uterus??) says maybe one more.... Bu for me the head needs to win out and I'll just let the rest be sad for a while. Maybe it never completely passes, and thats the secret sadness of motherhood....

Robyn said...

Congrats on your MyNorth blog. Just checked it out, and it's lovely.

And thanks for continuing to stop by my place. My in-laws went to U of M. Josh's first pair of crocs were Go Blue crocs they picked up at the Rose Bowl a couple years ago, and he always has a sweatshirt or something in his wardrobe promoting the Wolverines.

Janet said...

We did the snip after little E. I know, I know, "we" didn't actually go through the procedure. But if "we" could get pregnant and "we" could have a baby (three times!), I think I am well within my rights to say "we" on that one. ;)

It is tough, the finality of it all. The older kids asked last night if we could have another baby. 'It's unlikely,' said I, not without regret. 'I think our family is complete.' Yet I continue to have extreme baby lust every time I see a newborn. I can't keep going through the excruciatingly exhausting process of carrying and nurturing babies just to get my newborn fix, though. I know this intellectually. I just wish my emotions would get with the program.

Anonymous said...

We have four. For me three felt incomplete and although DH had already started talking about having the snip (that announcement went like a knife to my heart) Mother Nature must have heard me screaming with panic inside and did her little bit! DH made sure he was snipped soon after the birth of DD4 and at the time I was (rather selfishly) beside myself about the prospect of no more babies. Six months after DD4 was born our relationship went through what can only be described as complete hell. DH took a new job away from home and had an affair which triggered my nervous breakdown and almost blew us apart (sometimes I wish it had). Even as we were going through all that I was still mourning the loss of that part of my life and secretly wondering if I could have babies with a new partner if things didn't work out. I carried on thinking like that until recently and now I think I've had enough! Yes the thought of being pregnant again and those precious moments after birth make me cry like a baby knowing all I have are rapidly fading memories but when I think about the reality of adding anymore to the brood I know it would just put enormous strain on us all, especially DH. I have had to accept that I will never have anymore babies but even as I write this the tears are welling up and that primal instinct in me (I am only 33 after all) is saying "there could still be a way, you've got at least another 10years of fertility left"!
It's natural to want babies forever!

Sus said...

Kate, I've been missing you, and you always remind me why! Ditto Meredith and Heather of the EO, I have delusions of grandeur with the best of them: one kid in the front door, the other out the back, another peering in the fridge, and another couple hollering "mom!" And that scene looks to me like elementary school kids, college age kids, and grown-ups. I want that big family so badly. We've postponed #3 for now... better for an offline conversation ... but who knows, maybe 3 and 4 can be their own little unit in a few years time. YOU, my friend, can reproduce all you want as far as I'm concerned. The world will thank you for dispersing your genes liberally.

And what is this Up North gig? Will check it out right now. Are you going professional on me? So proud of you.

Astarte said...

Hey again - I just tagged you over at my place! :)

Debi Kelly Van Cleave said...

A few hours after I gave birth, my husband started talking about having another one. I said, "Are you INSANE?" When he got the big snip, I started singing, "Oh happy day!" He thanks me now, lol. But we're all different. There are those people on TV with 19 kids and my daughter, 25-years-old, says she's not having any kids, and I have two... I did enjoy being pregnant though and breastfeeding. That was such a peaceful, special time in my life. I have to admit I don't want to think about never experiencing that again. (I gave birth both times in a birthing home with midwives. I attribute my wonderful experience to that mostly.)

Gorgeous children you have.

I wanted to thank you for commenting on my blog. Now I'll go check out your other blog and see what's up. I'm curious because I'm from the north but I live in the south now. A whole different world.

abbyjess said...

Seriously, I never commented on this post? I think I gave it some linky love on Twitter and then failed to come back and comment. Oops.

Anyway... This is a beautiful post. I think you (and all moms) will always feel the tug for more. The pregnancy part of our lives is over so quickly yet it is so intense that we can't imagine never feeling it again.

No matter what you both decide, your family will be perfect whether with 5, 6, or 100. Ok, maybe not a 100. :)

Damselfly said...

A newborn baby junkie! That's exactly it -- that's what I think I am. Now you have given me a name for it. :) Babies just don't last, sigh....

womaninawindow said...

Everybody's tunnel is a different length, a different width and lays just a different distance off into the horizon.

Or, there's mine, and I'm plodding along in it. It's dark in here. There are lots of spooky echos and spiders. My head knows it was a good choice but my heart aches every time I see a baby. I want to smell them so deeply I own them.

In the end this is your choice, yours and your husband's. He'll understand. It's the possibility of life - hard to relinquish.