Well, it turned out I was not pregnant after all, though it took a considerably long time to establish the fact. The odd thing was, so invested had I become in being prepared for the possibility, that when all was made absolutely and finally clear, there was, I had to admit to myself, a little regret mixed in with the relief.
As one part of me kept listing all the many reasons a third child would be a disruption to an already syncopated family rhythm, another grew excited at the prospect of feeling again the flush of new life and all the promise it holds. The possibility of beginning again, reveling – perhaps even hiding – in the uncomplicated newness of an infant, the simple care of love, feed, hold, nourish.
So much of my life now is governed by uncertainty and worry, there is an appeal in retreating to the safety of that warm, post-partum bubble. My many now-pregnant-with-their-second-baby friends would guffaw (if it didn’t put them in danger of vomiting) at my romanticizing life with a newborn, and while I understand it’s not all sweetness and light (particularly with older children still carrying on demanding things), and that things like colic and reflux and sleep deprivation can really rip a hole in one’s sanity, I still think of those early days as beautifully simple.
My oldest is entering the tween years, and my youngest is dealing with a mental disorder. As exhausting and uncertain as their early childhood was, it all seems even more so now. And perhaps all of parenting feels this way, to everyone, no matter their situation: always new and difficult and slightly opaque. Always the questions of what to do, how to navigate challenges, how to help your children grow and learn and love and be healthy, happy, independent people. From here, the diapers and the sleepless nights and the breastfeeding saga, even at their worst, look so manageable. But I have to remember that I was operating far out of my comfort zone then, just as I am now. It felt then there was just as much at stake as it does now.
The difference is, the further along the path you get, the farther your future’s endless possibility recedes. The lens narrows, the children take shape, your faults helping to form them as well as your better aspects. I don’t feel that I have failed my children, but I do see now that I could have done better. If only I could have carried that protective envelope of love forward, that their lives didn’t need to become burdened with such pain and confusion. Naive, perhaps, but isn’t it human?
In wishing, however faintly, for that third baby, I think I was really wishing for a chance to try again with the two I already have. When it became clear there wouldn’t be one, it also became clear that the only steps I can take with them are forward. We are where we are. It’s the curse of the path not taken – you don’t even see it until you have missed the turn.