Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood


Someone's giving away puppies just outside of Starbucks. It's just about too much to take. The puppies have flopsy ears they could almost trip on, round bellies as soft as peach fuzz, and tiny warm tongues that, in no time, cover my ears in kisses as I hold them, one over each shoulder. One wriggles and wags its stumpy tail, while the other nuzzles softly—a cuddler, for sure.

''Oh, my goodness, I want one,'' I tell my husband, Marc, out loud, right in front of my three-year-old.

''Ohhhh, I want one too!'' she says. ''That one!'' Her dimpled hand points to the roundest little chunk of brown-and-white fur I've ever seen. He curls up in the corner with one paw over his nose. His feet are huge: He's going to be a big, big dog one day.

''No,'' Marc says, as firmly and unequivocally as he can. What he means is, ''Beth, how dare you entertain the possibility in our daughter's mind that we are going to get a big dog, when truly, we don't even have time to care for a goldfish right now?''

He has a good point. My youngest finally started sleeping through the night last week; I'm not about to start waking up to let a dog out. Not to mention the walking, the poop-scooping, the feeding and petting, the attention, and the vet visits, which reminds me of one more complication: How in the world would we pay for a dog, anyway?

But just looking at those squishy piles of chub curled up in blue blankets, my heart aches a bit. I can't help it; I want one.

It takes a pretty good mustering of self-control to put the puppy down, but when I glance at my watch, I realize I've already wasted ten precious minutes of my coffee shop writing time. These are precious, stolen hours on rare Saturdays when Marc drops me off and then takes the kids to the park. So I usher them back to the car and tell my older daughter, ''Maybe one day.''

"Like when you leave for college," I think.

I might have a little touch of the fever. It's not just the puppies. Inside Starbucks, there's a three-month-old baby gurgling inside her car seat while her mother waits in line. I squat down to say hi and melt just a little when I get her to smile at me. I want another baby.

Wait, no. I do the mental equivalent of shaking myself by the shoulders. "No," I sharply tell myself, "I don't."

What I want is a writing career. The reason I'm at Starbucks is to get away from the kids, who nap-strike, ask for endless snacks, stub their toes, want me to get the princess puzzles down, and strategically poop whenever I'm trying to get into the flow of writing. At the coffee shop, I sit in a squishy chair by the window, pull out my laptop, and try to ignore the baby, cooing and blowing bubbles on the other side of the room.

I want my next baby to have about 300 pages and rave reviews. So I shut out distractions and begin again to chip away at my pet project: a Dust Bowl era novel exploring marriage—its secrets and surprises, the transitory nature of its various intimacies. I started writing it years ago, but in the throes of young motherhood, I felt I just didn't have the capacity to tackle a project as enormous as a novel. With my youngest now solidly a toddler (and solidly sleeping through the night), I've finally found the energy to return to the characters that compelled me all these years.

With my own two children, I'm somehow able to finagle about 45 minutes a day to write. When I add a third child—a friend's baby that I watch once a week—I can't find a single moment to sit down at the keyboard. Having another child might mean extending my dream job—mother—for a few more years, but it also means postponing my other dream job—writer.

Yes, yes, it's time to stop.

Marc and I seem to agree that we're done, which is something, considering that at the beginning of our marriage, we had dreamed about four or five kids. We now realize that we may not have the energy for another pregnancy, which, for me, entails a full nine months of daily vomiting so extreme that last time around, my weight dropped several times in the third trimester. Pregnancy left me so wiped out that Marc wound up picking up a lot of the parenting and household slack.

That's not to mention the financial strain of a third or, most importantly, the time and energy to devote to a whole additional person. Marc agrees so wholeheartedly on the quitting issue that last year, he offered to have a procedure that we jokingly refer to as ''the snip-snap.''

When he brought it up, the word ''NO'' flew out of my mouth so fast that Marc practically had to duck. ''Absolutely not!'' I added, and wouldn't hear another word on the subject.

I can't make sense of my reaction. Thinking about birth control is a pain, and I just read a decently scary infographic on the New York Times about various failure rates of birth control methods over the course of ten years. For our chosen method, assuming we use it perfectly for 10 years, we have about an 18 percent chance of conceiving another kid before ours hit high school. (After 10 years of ''typical'' use, though, we've got an 86 percent chance of accidental pregnancy.)

The snip-snap is an elegant solution: a one-and-done procedure that isn't really that invasive, and that—geez—my husband volunteered for. But when I think about making the decision final, like a door slamming shut behind me, I actually feel nauseous. Does that mean that deep down I really want more kids? If I really feel our family is complete, why am I unable to stomach making that official?

There's a teensy part of me that is actually excited by the Times infographic. Even using what Marc and I refer to as ''constant vigilance'' about birth control, there's a one-in-five chance that I could accidentally have another. My heart races a little, considering this. In such a scenario, it's easy to wax sentimental about babyhood—the chubby cheeks, sweet-smelling skin, gurgling coos and—best of all—the emergence of a whole new personality. Even writing about it here makes me feel mushy, and oddly amnesiac about the difficulties of pregnancy and baby-dom. So what if pregnancy is a personal hell for me and a huge tribulation for my family? At the end of it, you get a person.

Maybe it's my fate to have one more person, one more squishy-soft baby to curl up and fall asleep on my chest. Who am I to stand in the way of fate? I'll use ''constant vigilance,'' sure, but sticking with the current birth control also means accepting a ''c'est la vie'' attitude about a possible whoopsie-baby.

In a way, this is the scariest thought of all, that my feelings are so torn on the subject that I want, essentially, to turn the steering wheel of my life over to chance. Slim chance—but chance. Why, why, why can't I just weigh the options and make a decision?

I suppose the entire issue boils down to this: I am afraid of reaching a point of no return, looking back, and feeling regret. I am afraid having another child would make me regret further delaying my career. I am afraid not having another child would make me regret sticking to two, when in the first place I'd hoped for more. I'm stuck between a hope and a hard place—and I'm not sure which is which.

In a way, the indecision is its own decision. I can't commit to the snip-snap, and Marc won't do it without my support. I tell him we'll do the snip-snap when I hit 45 and am absolutely certain I don't want any more.

As soon as he recovers, I think, we're getting a puppy.

Beth Malone writes about the entanglements of culture, spirituality, social issues, and motherhood. Her work has been featured in Brain, Child and Drunken Boat, among other publications. She lives in Colorado with her husband and two daughters.

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Get a puppy! Or better yet, a hardy plant :) I really do understand where you're coming from, since my second child, now 3, was a whoopsie baby of sorts. As in whoops we forgot to use birth control, ha. As much as I do love babies (though not the sleep deprivation since neither of my kids is an awesome sleeper) I'm just not able to let go of anymore potential writing time. I've waited for years and I feel like now is the time (also has to do with my age among other factors). Good luck with whatever you decide! You clearly have a soft spot for those squishy cheeks :)
Love this! It sounds so much like my life.
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