Sunday, June 17, 2012

Deciding to Have Another Baby

When I was pregnant with my second, and then my third, I was often asked how I knew I wanted another. How did I know I wasn't done? Was I trying for "the girl?" How many kids did I want? How did I know? How did I know when I was ready for another?

The simple truth is, we didn't really know. When we were early in our marriage, we both knew we wanted kids, we both knew we wanted to wait a little while (I was only 20 when we got married, and we wanted to be more financially secure and have an idea where we were headed in life before having kids. It almost happened that way.), and we both knew we wanted two kids. After a while, "two" became "four." Then, when we finally did decide we were ready, and I was about seven months pregnant with NJ, we were visiting potential pediatricians, saw a mother with three young boys, and looked at each other and said, "Two. Far apart." Our original intention was to have two kids with about four years between them.

If you've been keeping up, you probably realized that changed. Dramatically. NJ and SB are only 26 months apart, and SB and GI are just shy of 32 months apart.

To be honest, for a while after NJ was born, I couldn't fathom ever having another child. While my pregnancy itself wasn't terribly difficult, the labor and delivery were traumatic for me. The newborn period was tough. Figuring out work and childcare was challenging. And, finally, PPD toward the end of his first year made the idea of more children almost unimaginable.

But things got easier, my depression eased, and traumatic memory faded, and by the time NJ was 18 months old, we had a delightful toddler who charmed everyone, and we decided that we made such awesome babies that we should go ahead and do it again. By then, I was excited to go for the birth and breastfeeding experience I hadn't gotten with NJ, and I was excited to have two babies close in age so that they could grow up as good buddies, and I really hoped to have a girl.

It had taken me a reasonably long time to become pregnant when we decided to try the first time, so we assumed it would take a while the second time as well. It didn't. It took two months. And, as loyal readers know, the labor, delivery, and breastfeeding experience the second time around created a much happier memory. Sure, the newborn period was still tough, but I had more friends, my mom moved to the same city and was able to help out, I was working from home, so childcare wasn't as big of a problem, and we were excited to have two.

I'm not so sure that we "knew" we were ready, or that we "knew" we wanted more. We kind of just went with the flow. We had decided years before that we'd have more than one, and neither of us really wanted our son to be an only child, and the only way to prevent that was to give him a sibling. Which we did. And they are practically inseparable.

I was so jazzed from how great my VBAC was that I was absolutely ready for a third. I hoped that we could finally produce a girl, for one, and for two, we'd long since become certain that we would have four kids. We knew enough families with four kids at that time to feel that four was an excellent number.

I remember discussing with a friend how in the world I would know I was ready for a third. She said not to think about it financially or about having space in the house or the car. (I famously spent a year worried about getting three car seats in my car!) After all, job situations and financial status can change. You can move. You can buy a new car. What you really need to consider is if you are emotionally capable of caring for a third child. How is it when both kids are at home? Can you handle the squabbles and the differing needs? Can you make time for each? Can you make time for both together? Do you enjoy the time? Can you see adding more time investment and energy to the mix?

I thought this was excellent advice, and, at the time of the discussion, I knew I wasn't ready. I found having both at home quite difficult. I didn't know how to program the day or handle their routines. I didn't have it "down." Indeed, I feel more comfortable now, with all three home, than I did at the time with only two. I learned.

It took us longer this time, both to become ready physically (I had a Mirena IUD and had to wait for an appointment to have it removed, first of all) and emotionally (then, we were in the midst of house-hunting and house-buying, and I think the stress made it more difficult to conceive). But after five months, in the month after finally being settled in our new house, I got the positive result on my home pregnancy test. That was GI, who is now nine months old.

GI's birth and so forth were pretty ideal, and it satiated the drive I had had looking for "the perfect birth." I knew that not everyone gets the birth experience she hopes for, but since I was having more kids anyway, I allowed myself to hope. Once GI's birth went off without a hitch, I felt like I'd finally filled that need. It's not that I had more kids just to fulfill a quest for an inspiring birth experience, but my eagerness to become pregnant again soon was partly because of this desire.

Now, with an elementary-schooler, a preschool-aged kid who's home all day, and a crawling, clever, curious nine-month-old, my eagerness to become pregnant and have another is kind of at a low point. It's hard. Part of what made deciding to have a third fairly easy was that we were at a very good stage in both NJ and SB's development. They were becoming more independent. They were mostly sleeping through the night. I was "getting" it, in terms of routine and balancing "me" time with "them" time and getting work done. Throwing a new baby into the harmony we'd developed has reminded me that having a baby is incredibly fun but also a great challenge, and I'm putting everything I have into trying to maintain that balance with all three, especially now that it's summer and NJ doesn't even have school. One thing that has helped is that very independence that NJ and SB have, though. I can be spending time with GI while his brothers get themselves ready for bed, I can nurse the baby while they find games to play, I can work while the baby sleeps because the older boys can entertain themselves, by and large. If not for that, I'd probably have lost my mind by now.

I know I will want another. Probably by the time GI is a toddler, I'll be pining for the cute baby stage again, especially since I have several friends who are pregnant now and are due right around when GI will be one year old. And since we've already made the decision to have four kids, I'm game to go for it one more time. But I can't see doing more than that. One friend of mine, upon her second son's birth, said she felt totally done. She had her two kids. She did not feel the need for more. She'd filled that need in her head for kids, and she did not want to go through pregnancy, labor, and delivery again. I'm not there yet. I feel like I've got one more good go in me. But I think I'll feel that way after that. We'll see.

In this day and age, where we can almost definitively choose when to have kids, how many to have, and how far apart to have them, we suddenly have many decisions to make. Those who do not use any form of birth control, who don't try to make that decision but rather leave it up to G-d, fate, or luck, don't go through these ruminations. They just go on in their marriage knowing that they will have kids as they come. I know several such families, and it works for them. If you know it's not up to you, then it's not up to you. It's simple.

But if that's not how your marriage operates, then how do you decide how many, when, and how far apart? Well, I don't have a lot of insight, but I can offer a few observations.

How many kids should we have? If you're used to a big family and love it, chances are you won't feel "done" after one or two. On the other hand, if you're overwhelmed by the idea of that many kids, having experienced it growing up, you'll probably be quite sated after one or two! On the other hand, if you are an only child or have only one sibling, you may feel that wasn't enough and that you'd like your children to have a "big family" childhood. Or, you may feel that was the perfect number and would simply like to replicate it. So much depends on your own experience in your own family.

How far apart should they be? So, NJ and SB are reasonably close in age. The advantages are as follows: They're growing up playing together and always having been in each other's lives (NJ didn't get to be the "only" for long enough to remember it); for us as parents, NJ still wasn't independent when SB was born, so we were still used to being needed all the time, so it wasn't a readjustment; having babies close together means that our kids will grow up while we're still young enough to enjoy them growing up, and they'll be grown while we're still young enough to enjoy the empty nest - I really think there's something to be said for that. The disadvantages run basically parallel: You don't get as much time with just the one kid; you don't get a "break" from being needed all the time before jumping back into it; it takes a lot of energy to care for a toddler and a newborn, two toddlers, or a preschooler and a toddler. I know families with kids as close as 13 or 14 months apart and as far as seven years apart. I don't know what's "better." But if I were to imagine five year between my kids, or from NJ to GI without SB in between, I think it would be much harder to have a baby again, knowing how independent NJ has become. On the other hand, NJ is independent enough that I get more time with the baby. But, I so love the closeness between NJ and SB, and what I hope will develop between SB and GI.

Of course, there's always the question of wanting "one of each." With three boys, now, I often get the question, "are you going to try for the girl?" As much control as I have over my own reproduction, that is one aspect I can't control, nor would I choose to. If I'm meant to be a mom of boys, so be it! On the other hand, if I'm meant to have a girl one day, that would be nice. However, I don't see myself continuing to have kids until that happens!

Sometimes I picture my house in 10 years or so, when NJ and SB are teenagers, and GI and a theoretical younger sibling are tweens, and I tremble with fear. But then I look farther forward, 20, 30 years down the line, to when all of our kids, G-d willing, are having kids of their own, and it will be amazing to see our family continue to grow. And I try very hard not to think about the in-between years, of potentially a decade or more of college tuition. And that's a consideration, too!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Going to a Concert with Baby

I had an interesting experience yesterday. I was invited to a concert of a friend of mine, a classically-trained soprano. I had not had the pleasure of hearing her perform, and it was going to be a special treat for me to attend a concert at all. Since having kids, it's a rare thing to do something "adult," and even rarer something so...sophisticated! The concert was for women only, which was just as well, because my kids were invited to a birthday party at the same time. My husband took the two older boys to the party, and I asked my friend if it was all right to bring the baby to the concert. I wasn't sure how formal a setting it was, or how many people would be there. I was also under the impression that, given that it was a concert primarily for Jewish women, there would be other mothers there, possibly with babies.

She told me it should be fine to have him there, and that she was very happy that I could come. When I got there, I quickly saw that I was one of the few attendees under 50. There were a few other girls and women that I knew, but no one else had a baby with them. (Frankly, most of them were probably grandmothers anyway!) GI was well rested, having awoken from an hour-long afternoon nap just as I arrived at the concert venue (a beautiful house near the beach). In fact, he was amazingly well behaved, quiet, clapping with everyone, and charming the people around me. I made sure to sit in the back, and whenever he got too noisy, I moved farther away, into another room if possible, so as not to bother the singer or the audience.

I enjoyed the concert immensely. My friend has an amazing voice, and I felt privileged to have been personally invited. After the concert, which was about an hour, we moved from the living room to the kitchen for tea, cakes, and fruit. Many, many of the other women came up to me to compliment GI on how well he behaved, on how cute he is, how quiet, and how lovely. One woman wanted to hold him. Another to tickle him. It was so nice to feel accepted, and to see that my baby was bringing joy to all these grandmothers. One woman mentioned that her daughter is expecting, and she's so excited to have another baby in the family soon.

At a moment when I was not near any of the few other attendees I knew, a woman came up to me and said, very sternly, "I can't believe you'd bring a baby here. A concert is no place for a baby!" Because of the otherwise warm reception I had received, I really thought she was joking with me, and I waited for the punch line. Only, the next line was, "You've spoiled the concert for me!" No punch line, only scolding. Oh. "I'm... sorry..." I managed, feeling stunned. I had no idea what to do or say, but she stalked off, presumably to complain to others about the baby spoiling the concert for her. I was put off kilter, but I managed to enjoy mingling a bit more, had some cake and fruit, and made my way out of the house and to my car. GI was going to be hungry soon, and I wanted to get home.

Of course, as one does, on the drive home I thought of all the things I could have or should have said to her besides stammering a lame apology. First of all, I didn't really feel I had anything to apologize for, but I didn't want to start an argument or make a fool of myself. I'm naturally non-confrontational, so it wouldn't have occurred to me to go up to her and start something or make a big deal about it. However, it did get me thinking of what I would have liked her to understand.

GI is my third child. My oldest is just over 5-1/2. This means that I have not been without a toddler or infant since NJ was born, 5-1/2 years ago. In all that time, I have given up a lot of chances to do something interesting or fun because I couldn't afford or find a baby-sitter, because I couldn't leave a breast-fed baby for more than a couple hours, or because money that I would have spent on plane fare or hotel rooms or baby-sitters was instead going to diapers, rent, cars, and food because I work from home in order to be there for my children and therefore do not make a full-time living. (I happen to like my job, too, but that's not the point.)

So, on this rarest of opportunities to do something different and interesting and fun, and having been personally invited by the singer, I had to make a choice: 1) Don't go. 2) Send GI to the birthday party with daddy and NJ and SB and hope that he's okay without me for several hours. 3) Take him and hope he behaves. While I have every confidence that my husband can handle all three children on his own, we both felt more comfortable having GI stay with me. What if he needed to nurse? What if NJ and SB needed attention at the party that my husband couldn't give because he was tending GI? What if, what if. It only made sense to keep GI with me. In a few months to a year, when GI is a toddler, certainly I could have gone alone. But the concert was now. So, my choices were not to go or to bring him and hope it was okay. I made my choice and took him along, with the permission of the performer.

Now, having GI there with me meant that I spent a great deal of time trying to keep him entertained, walking around, letting him crawl around in the back, and so forth, so that he wouldn't fuss or make too much noise. This meant that I didn't get to put my full attention on the concert, as I would have liked. So though I made the choice to attend the concert with him, I did not get to enjoy the concert as much as I would have if he hadn't been with me. I made that compromise in order to be there at all.

What I would like this woman to understand is, I don't make it a habit to take GI to otherwise inappropriate places. We don't take him with us to the occasional movie we go to, except kids' movies where noise and fussing is pretty much par for the course. I have respect for the money people pay for their tickets, and I want to enjoy the movie, not tend the baby. The two times we've gone to the theater as a family since he was born, to see "The Lion King" re-release and "The Lorax," he pretty much slept through them anyway. When we went to see "The Avengers," we hired a baby-sitter. The last time I was at a play or concert or anything was when I was pregnant with NJ, when we saw "The Lion King" musical for my birthday. I don't get to sit and pray in synagogue because I have to be there to tend the kids. We've been on one vacation since NJ was born, and that was our recent drive to Las Vegas, a very rare treat. I haven't been on a plane since we moved to California from Pennsylvania when NJ was four months old.

The point is, I make a lot of choices in the other direction. There are a lot of things I don't do or haven't done because I have a baby or small child or two or three. So, just this once, this one time, I decided I should get to do something for myself, that I should get to go see my friend sing. I sang in a choir for a long time and have a healthy appreciation for singing, singers, and the concert venue, and I know that in most cases, it would not be appropriate to have a baby along. But, just this once, I chose to go with my instinct that GI would be good (and he was) and make the effort to be there. And I was not disappointed. I'm sorry that she was. I really am. I am sorry if I "spoiled" the whole concert for her because I had the audacity to bring my baby into the house. But given the otherwise positive response I received, I tend to think she was the odd one out.

I firmly believe that mothers have the obligation to their babies to be with them. They need us. It is totally normal, in terms of human nature, for a baby to be with his mother almost all the time for at least the first year or two of life. Granted, I make the exception for working mothers and the occasional night away, but I don't think it's so odd to bring the baby with me pretty much everywhere I go. If that means there are places I can't go, then I know that at some point in the future, my children will be old enough to not be with me, and I'll get to do grownup things again, and I'll appreciate it all the more for having been denied those chances when my children were young.

I don't call these choices "sacrifices," but they are compromises. In an effort to help my children grow up healthy and secure, it is my job to be with them. This means that sometimes I have to make the compromise to choose family-friendly activities for the weekend, even if I would rather do something more "adult." It's not so often that the two are mutually exclusive. My tastes do not run to the sophisticated, typically.

So, to that woman, who I am sure is not reading a parenting blog, I'm sorry if you were distracted by my baby and were unable to completely enjoy the concert. I understand how that is. I am not a selfish person, and I am not a stupid person, and I respect that other members of the audience may have found the presence of a baby slightly irritating. I hope that you'll understand that it was a special day for me to get to enjoy this concert, and I hope you'll respect, in turn, that I did my best to keep him from disturbing the singers and the rest of the audience. I'm sure we'll never see each other again or be in the same audience again, and I hope there is absolutely nothing to annoy you at any future concerts that you attend.

And, to my friend who I so enjoyed hearing yesterday, bravo!