When we found out I was pregnant with our third child, my husband and I both became depressed. The pregnancy was unplanned and unexpected, to say the least. After failed infertility treatments six years ago, we had adopted our two daughters, Roma and Beatrice, now 6 and 4. As selfish as it sounds, another child -- biological or not -- wasn't what we wanted.
Rethinking the Future
The news came at a time when we had just turned a corner in parenthood, enjoying a bit of freedom as the girls had become more independent. The prospect of having a life outside of home again -- one that included nights out, gym time, uninterrupted bathroom trips -- seemed possible. I could actually fantasize about a 10th anniversary trip to Japan abroad without kids and believe it could happen.
Compounding our depression was the fact that Roma and Bea were adopted from China at 11 months, so we'd never dealt with the "infant thing," as we called the first year. The thought of having to wake up several times a night with a yelping baby (and with our luck a colicky one) in addition to our current rounds of middle-of-the-night scary dreams or water requests was downright daunting.
There was never any question that we would have two children. Even while I was in the throes of infertility treatments I always imagined having two kids. As soon as we got Roma home from China, we started the paperwork to go back and get her a sister. Once we had Beatrice, our family felt complete. Two was a bit of a stretch -- logistically, financially, emotionally -- but it felt right. Surely a third would send us over the edge.
And the Baby Makes Five
Fast-forward one year. Frances, our third daughter, is healthy and not the least bit colicky and, here's the big shocker: I feel happier than I ever have in my life. Okay, so I'm breastfeeding and there's a natural "feel good" hormonal boost happening. I'm up three to four times a night -- even after five months -- but I don't care. I haven't been to a movie in months, and I really don't miss it.
Life actually seems easier since Frances was born. I remember when I made the decision to quit trying to get pregnant and adopt a baby, I felt this tremendous relief. Finally letting go of the "traditional way" of making a family felt liberating and exciting. I hadn't realized how much I was invested in a preconceived "map" of my life -- marriage, pregnancy, two biological kids. Only after I gave it up did I understand that I had held fast to an image of what was "right," not thinking that it could be more fun to go another, equally "right" way.
So here I am again. Frances has reminded me of the freedom that comes with letting go of expectations, and of the idea that there's only one "right" way. A year ago, if I wore wrinkly or dirty clothes to work on occasion, it would really bug me. "Why can't I get out of bed earlier and figure out an outfit that doesn't involve a ripped belt loop or deodorant rings?" I thought. This afternooon, when I went to clean breast milk off my shirt, I noticed that my skirt was inside out and I thought, oh well.
Frances has lowered my expectations and given me a reprieve. It's not just that if you're a working mom of three, people think you're a freak of nature if you're still standing, let alone dressed. I just don't care as much. A belt loop is a belt loop. But a 4-month-old's laugh or a 3-year-old's description of gymnastics class ("We jumped in the marshmallow pit!") is more than the sum of its parts.
I never thought I would be the type to say "embrace the insanity," but a third child adds to the chaos of family life and chaos is actually kind of fun. There is usually one naked person in the house. And when they are dressed, my kids have never looked weirder now that I don't have time to monitor what they put on. (Roma wears an old necktie to school -- cut short to fit her size -- and Bea wears socks with sandals in October.)
A Busy -- and Happy -- Life
Our sheets have a gray cast now that my husband does the laundry and refuses to separate it. Thank-you notes don't always get written. The floors are sticky. Dry cleaning never goes out. But the stuff that needs to get done, gets done. Homework. Heart-to-hearts. Bike riding. We still eat dinner together every night, and I still manage to watch a bit of late-night TV. My priorities have shifted, as they say. Even my marriage seems brighter. My husband and I are blessed with a strong bond, but there's nothing like a third child to make you appreciate a hands-on spouse. The additional work makes me look at all that he does do, rather than what he doesn't, which hasn't always been the case.
Don't get me wrong. There are days when I'd give my right arm to come home from work to an empty house. There are days when I'm so tired I drink coffee until my stomach hurts (and I'm still brain-dead). There are times that I feel it's impossible to be connected to all three girls at once -- that the best I can hope for is that the love for each of them evens out over time. And every single day I wish I had a clean house.
I've come to relish what I most feared before Frances was born: the morning weekday crunch. "How will I ever get out the door?" I wondered. Yell. A lot. But laugh a lot, too. This morning Bea ate a breakfast of cold leftover macaroni and cheese while Roma jumped up and down (in the pirate costume she slept in), making Frances crack up. The baby hadn't been changed since the night before, and the cat threw up (but I wasn't sure where). Somehow the scene was more comic than tragic. "It doesn't get better than this," I thought. True, a small misstep -- a missing school form, shoe, toothbrush -- and everything seems to fall apart. But that will always be the case. I never had "control" over these things before. Now I just admit it.
Babytalk art director Nancy Brooke Smith lives in New York City.