I became a mother for the first time at 25. Billy and I married at 23, and thirty seconds later, kind strangers at the grocery store began asking when we planned to start our family.
I thought things would be different after I married Gabe. We were well into our thirties, with three children each. Established in our careers and fixtures on the soccer sidelines, I thought it was abundantly clear that our hands and hearts were full.
The baby conversation began before we walked down the aisle.
“Your kid is going to be huge,” commented Gabe’s best friend, upon meeting me, 5’10” and in heels, for the first time.
“Whatever you do, don’t have another baby,” pleaded my father, remembering my high-risk pregnancy with Lottie.
“Will you guys have a baby?” was one of the first questions our pre-teens asked when we announced our engagement.
The truth is, Gabe and I have talked about having a baby often. First, we talked about it in the dreamy someday way we talked about beach houses and chicken coops. As time went on, we talked about it more seriously, aware of the mounting pressure of my age and the gap between our Littles and our potential new addition.
By the time our friends and family joined the conversation, we’d already made our decision.
We chose not to have a child together for very practical reasons.
Seven seems like an unreasonable amount of children. Logistically, we wouldn’t fit in standard SUVs or vans. We wouldn’t fit in two taxis or two rows on most airplanes. That wouldn’t really matter though, because we couldn’t afford to travel with seven. We couldn’t even fathom weekend activities with seven, running from soccer fields to ballet studios to study groups all over town.
We were concerned about the gap in age between our children. I am nine years older than my brother, and while we’re close now, we grew up separately. We wondered about how the new baby would fit in with our existing six, and whether we were really prepared to parent for nearly thirty years straight. Going back to baby buckets and stroller systems and pureed butternut squash and diapers (good God, diapers) overwhelmed us.
We worried about displacing our six children. This, perhaps, was the reason that most guided our decision. We didn’t want a baby we created together to feel like the shiny new model, and our six current sweethearts to feel like left overs from a life that didn’t work out quite as planned.
We made our decision early, and our reasons are solid. Our answers to “Are you going to have a baby together?” roll off our tongues, well-rehearsed and nearly identical in delivery.
And still, I wonder.
I watch Gabe with his head bent over Caden’s, helping with homework and wonder what it would be like to be a part of a family that doesn’t include divided time and parents with a prefix. I listen to Gabe tell Amy the story of her birth and feel the sting of a miracle he will forever share with someone else. Late at night, I think about our family legacy and wonder what we’re really building together, and whether it will last without a child of our own. I think of the partner I am to this man I love madly, and the caring and attentive husband he is to me, and wish we had a child who could openly accept and revel in that security.
Sometimes, the wondering ends as quickly as it begins. I watch a mom in Target struggle with her tantrumming toddler, or a dad wheeling an enormous travel stroller into the family bathroom and sigh with relief. That’s not us. That will never be us.
Sometimes I am struck with relief in the middle of some other, more grown-up activity on the weekends we don’t have the children. “Imagine what it would be like to be wearing a baby carrier at the vineyard in this heat,” I think smugly. We could never lounge around under the covers late into a Sunday morning with a three year-old Calliou fan bouncing on the bed.
But sometimes the regret lingers. Last week I read a note from a stepmom who had just found out she was pregnant. Their beloved “ours baby” was a reality. The tears hit my cheeks before I finished reading her post.
I won’t know Gabe as the father to my children. I won’t share that miracle with him. We won’t rush to the hospital together or exchange video of a baby sleeping peacefully or teeter-tottering down the hall. We won’t be the oldest parents at the Kindergarten orientation together, or watch our children teach the baby the ins and outs of being a child in this blended, boisterous bunch.
I am grateful for the many miracles we will share together, and grateful for the terrific step-pops (as Caden calls him) that Gabe is to my children, but I can see the limit on our horizon. A baby isn’t part of our story.
Gabe is much more pragmatic.
I waver and he is steadfast. He rolls his eyes at diaper prices and reminds me that 3 a.m. wake up calls are brutal. He reminds me of our reasons and redirects my attention to the six miracles we have in front of us.
Last week, shortly after I found myself crying at my laptop, Gabe and his buddy (the one with height-envy) went out for a much-deserved guys night.
“How was your night?” I asked sleepily when he slipped into bed next to me.
“Great,” he responded. “We almost got tattoos.”
I was awake now.
“What? What were you going to get?” I asked.
“I was thinking about a vintage V8 symbol. It pairs my love of old cars and our family and the guy had a cool option.”
“I love that idea. What stopped you?” I asked into the dark.
“What if we’re not always eight?”
And there it is, the both-and that is ever present in our blended family life.
We are both endlessly grateful to not have a little lump-lump waking us up in the middle of the night, and also mourning that space. We are both cognizant of the risk of displacing our six love bugs and wonder how an ours baby might bring our whole family closer. We are both so sure of our reasons and confident in our decision that we can recite the “why no baby” speech in our sleep and also not ready to completely close the door on the possibility of growing our family in the future.
Our decision is the right one for our family right now. It is certainly not the right one for all blended families. It may not be our right decision for always. But for now, there is no baby carriage coming after our love and marriage. And that is both sometimes sad and exactly right for us today.