Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
Third Baby

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I have been feeling it lately; 38 years old and I want a third baby. I thought I had wrestled my impractical desire to the back burner; I even did a ritual where I passed it out of my hands and into the hands of an imagined verdant mother goddess with dreadlocks. She was stirring pots on the stove and there was my bubbling, burning want in a blue pan on a back burner, simmering and taking care of itself. I'm not sure what happened in that cosmic kitchen. I tried to let it go and, for a while, I did.
I've begun to do things I couldn't when I had a child still crawling around the house: I go to spinning at 6am once a week. I go to Weight Watchers. At a tortoise pace I lose the baby weight. I tolerate working a bit more at my job as a labor and delivery nurse to make a dent in the debt. My three-bedroom house is enough. I don't want a minivan. Practically, I understand that I should really give up the dream of a bigger family and the years of not sleeping. Both my husband, Rob , and I are very tired, but I still want another baby. We have two amazing children, girls aged three and six. They are so alive and marvelous. I want more.

For the past few years I've found myself laughing and saying, "I want one and he doesn't. We'll see what happens." I say it at kid's birthday parties, to the dental hygienist; anywhere it comes up. When I say that, half the women look stricken and exclaim, "Really, I am so done!" but many have told me stories about sneaking in that final baby. In the changing room at work I heard about the missed pill, the secret use of a fertility monitor to find the exact date of highest fertility. At a barbecue I heard confessions about simulating spontaneous passionate sex when ovulating and a frequent, recurrent, "He was fine once he got used to the idea."

Now I wish it had "just happened," maybe with a little lazy birth control, but it didn't. Instead I've told the entire world that I want a baby and he doesn't. Nice. I could have kept my mouth shut. I did learn that probably for millennia, women have been getting the babies they want, whether or not the men in their lives wanted them. This seems tempting, but because I want him to share in earthly chores like sleeplessness and diaper changing, as well as having deep unfettered unconditional love for any child we parent, I figure he better be in on it.

Rob paid me a surprise visit at the hospital the other day. We had a moment to talk, standing against the wall while the world bustled about. It felt like we were leaning against our lockers in high school. I snuck something in about a third baby. (I try to just drop it in conversation hoping he won't put up a fuss and then I can pretend that is he is acquiescing.)

But he stopped and asked, "Could you be a nanny? Maybe watch someone else's kid; would that help?" I couldn't imagine what he meant. Then it dawned on me that he was saying: instead of parenting my own child, I could hold someone else's. I was appalled. I shook my head silently no. But I could see he had been thinking about it and was trying to find a practical way to assuage the URGE I have. I realized that over the years I have turned him into my opposite, my enemy on this front, but, really of course, he wants me to be happy and fulfilled.

I don't think he can fathom the strength of my desire to birth and nurse another child. It's a deep physical urge, brutally persistent, impractical and unstoppable, like the invincible silver robot from those Terminator movies. I don't know if it is a hormonal and biological directive to make babies until I can't make them anymore or if I am meant to birth and cherish one more child in this lifetime. Sometimes I imagine the child, boy or girl doesn't matter, like a sweet patient songbird, waiting confidently on a branch until the right time comes to be born. The thought of them coming makes me feel whole. It won't let me go. It emerges defiantly from the rubble of overwork, poor financial future, and frequent feelings that I would love to be alone and write a book, practice the violin and finally learn the bird calls of New England. But actually, truthfully, when it comes down to it, I don't care about any of that; I want a baby. I want a sweet bald baby to sit wobbly on my lap, a sweet squinty newborn to smell and hold tight against my skin. I am not done.

There is nothing better in the universe to me than my children. Each of them hit my world with the strength of a supernova. The exhaustion, lack of sleep, and pure shining love has transformed me to a more alive person, made me more flexible and accepting of the daily life we lead. I want more of that, more of them. I already mourn the passing of their babyness and all that I have forgotten about their bright lives so far. I check on them sleeping under their bundle of covers: they are like rosy jewels, like warm bowls of milk steaming. Lily with her wild hair and her coveted $4 sequined Old Navy shirt she wears day and night. Georgia in her Dora nightgown holding her sippy cup in her sweet plump hands. How can I not want more of them, more of that impossibly huge delight?

One thing about pregnancy that Rob mentioned during our hallway conversation is that I get sick, really sick, when I'm pregnant, or at least I did with Georgia. Those first few months with her I lost 20 pounds and ended up in the hospital for two weeks. Back from the hospital I lay on my stomach in the dark bedroom with the threat of vomiting at the slightest motion. I hid under the covers. Rob dropped off food and water for me (that I couldn't eat), kept the house running and cared for Lily--all while working full time. The sound of summer life outside my window seemed worlds away from where I lay in bed, silently praying, "Please help me. Please help me," day in and day out. I made appearances, but I was a shell, withdrawn, sick and scared.

In the evening, after lying in bed with Lily while Rob read her stories (even the smell of her sweet breath made me deeply sick) I would lay on my stomach while we watched the darkly compelling show, "Six Feet Under". Now, when I see an actor or scene from the show, it brings me back to that time. At least once, maybe twice during the hour I would have to get up to the bathroom and vomit, the acid burning my nose and throat. I had to puke into a bucket while sitting on the toilet because the force of vomiting made me pee every time. OK it was Hell. I won't even explain the IV backpack I carried around with the tube into the vein near my heart. Or how it got infected and burned like molten lava was spreading in my chest, forcing me onto frightening IV antibiotics in the hospital, again.

Ultimately, I was out of commission for ten weeks. Rob took care of me and Lily, the house, the cooking and all the bills. We watched our tiny savings dwindle until the credit cards had to come out. He was more wrung out and depleted as each week went by. Then slowly I was better, eating an ice cream sundae. I ate so much because I had starved so long, I was like a freed prisoner, blinded by the wonderful light of the fridge, standing there, eating cheese until I was really full. I grew huge and uncomfortable. It was a difficult time, one my husband remembers with many more pixels than me. And one that I would risk repeating in a heartbeat.

Walking Rob to the hospital lobby, we continued a very intense but strangely polite discussion. It was one of the few third-baby conversations where I didn't panic or cry since I was at work surrounded by bustling people, and he wasn't exhausted after a day of work, cooking, laundry and kids. We actually heard each other, but we were at an impasse.

He said, "I want you to be happy, but we can't spend the time we want to with the kids we've got. We can't pay for you to be out of work. We can't pay for childcare for another five years. We can't pay for music lessons or college or travel or all the things we want to do. I want another kid too, Kat but I just don't think we can handle it."

I nodded and heard him, maybe for the first time.

"All you say is true. All you say is true. I just don't know what to do about it."

I kissed him goodbye and rode up in the creaky elevator alone. By the time I reached the third floor what I digested and spat out like a shining bone were the words, "I want a baby, too, Kat." I rolled that between my palms, wondering how to get money, freedom and time to live the life I imagine; while my husband drove home and got dinner ready for the life we actually live.

Katherine Suzanne Harris is a writer living in Massachusetts with her husband and two daughters. She has published essays about being a maternity nurse in two anthologies as well as personal essays in several newspapers. She is looking for a publisher for her book “Stumbling Toward Delivery” which recounts the experience of becoming both a nurse and a mother. Her blog is Becoming Crow Lady.

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