Tonight at dinner, a woman at a nearby table was admiring Ada in Ed’s arms. Then she said, “And she’s got a good big brother, too!” I just looked at Jackson, who smiled at her goofily, as he does with most strangers. “A boy and a girl. That’s good.” Or maybe she said “perfect” or “just right”—I have no idea, because I’d stopped listening after “a boy and a girl.” I smiled at her half-heartedly and looked away again.
I can’t even tell you the number of times I’ve endured the different permutations of this same conversation over the last few years.
“Is this your first?”
“How many kids do you have?” “How old are they?”
“What are you having?” “And what do you have at home?”
And for some reason, everyone thinks that a boy and a girl is “just perfect.”
And maybe it is for some. But it’s not for me.
Because of course, Ada and Jackson have a big sister, too. We had a girl and a boy (“Oh, perfect!”) when Jackson was born, and now we have two girls and a boy. And it’s not even remotely perfect.
I have entered the deepest period of prolonged sadness over Hudson’s death that I have experienced in a long time. Perhaps it is because the first of her peers celebrated his fifth birthday last month with a trip to Disneyworld. Perhaps it is because her own fifth birthday is approaching in a few weeks. Perhaps it is because I can see her face in her little sister’s face every time I put Ada’s cheek next to mine and look in the mirror.
Mostly though, I think it’s the terrible sense of incompleteness. In everything. We’re supposed to be complete now. We’re supposed to be done.
Although we hadn’t completely decided before Hudson was born, Ed and I both usually talked about having three children. Two seemed too few, four seemed too many. Three seemed a good number. (“Perfect!” “Just right!”)
After Hudson died, I think I became even more convinced that I wanted to three living children. Having lost one child already, having learned how little control I have over the fates of my children, I felt ever more vulnerable to the possibility of losing another. And if that happened, I didn’t want the remaining child to be all alone, with no sibling to share the grief with, with no sibling to help care for aging parents (and we will age earlier in their lives than a lot of other parents will because we were older when we started—and after Hudson died, we were even older when we started again).
But being pregnant at 37 was a much different, and much harder, experience than being pregnant at 32. That third pregnancy was tougher in many ways than the first. And I didn’t plan on going through the really intense newborn and young infant period four times, either—the crying, the constant nursing, the sleep deprivation—all of that is really different at 37 than at 32, too. And if we wait another two years for another baby, it will then be another two or three years after that before all of our kids are finally semi-independent, before we will be in a position to really do lots of adventurous things with our other friends, most of whom are now done having kids. We’ll have almost seven more years of worrying about childcare, rather than three or four. I’ll be almost 40 if and when we have that fourth, which in and of itself is not a big deal, but when I remember that my own mother died of cancer at 56, the calculus changes somewhat.
None of that really matters, of course, in the grand scheme of things. Those difficulties are mostly short-lived, and compared to the lifelong joy that a fourth child, a third living child, would bring us, they can hardly justify a decision not to have one. And yet.
But that’s not the point. The point is that we’re supposed to be done. I’m supposed to be done. I’m supposed to have my perfect three right now. I’m supposed to be gearing up to send a kid to kindergarten next fall. I’m supposed to be busy explaining to my big girl why Disney princesses are not the end-all, be-all of womanhood. I’m supposed to be protecting my two-month-old from two overly enthusiastic siblings, not just one. I’m supposed to already be asking for tables of five. Already booking plane tickets for five.
I’m not supposed to still be thinking about whether to have another child. I’m not supposed to be weighing the pros and cons of enduring another pregnancy, another infancy. I’m not supposed to be thinking about whether I’ll live long enough to get all of my kids at least off to college.
I’m not supposed to be mourning a child.
I’m supposed to be done.
And yet I feel totally undone. Completely, totally, utterly undone.