On a recent December afternoon, the “big kids” (age 2 and 4) went to grandma’s house and I got to spend a couple hours with just my baby girl (7 months). She took a cat nap in her crib and then promptly woke and I sat on the couch next to our twinkling Christmas tree and nursed her. She typically doesn’t fall asleep while nursing anymore, but this time she did. Her precious little body relaxed and she dropped off to sleep on my lap. Her little chubby fingers were tangled in her brown, wavy hair she had been twirling. Her long, dark eyelashes brushed her round cheeks. And I was just spellbound watching her sleep.
Due to horrible morning sickness during my last pregnancy, we’re using Marquette method NFP to space out our next pregnancy for a few months. I’m doing everything I can with supplements and nutrition to prevent having such severe morning sickness in the future, because on many days during my last pregnancy it was impossible for me to care for the other children on my own. The vomiting, the 24/7 nausea, and the light-headedness kept us cooped up at home for weeks. Bob the Builder became a much more familiar resident of our days than I was comfortable with. And all those preschool homeschooling activities I had planned were tossed out the window. It was tough. And when I remember those months, I see myself in bed in fetal position sipping on ginger ale and feeling sorry for myself.
But when I see this little girl, my beautiful baby girl, I don’t feel sorry for myself one bit. The dimple she has on her right cheek. The way her ridiculously long dark-brown hair flips out above her shoulders. The way she holds onto my shirt when I pick her up. She is worth every SECOND of pregnancy misery. I would do it all again in a heartbeat and as I’ve watched many dear friends lose babies this year through miscarriage or stillbirth, I am filled with gratefulness for the gift I could never hope to deserve: my healthy baby girl.
But one thing I’ve still struggled with when I think of the possibility of a new pregnancy is how it would affect my other kids. Now that the baby is only waking twice a night and I’m not completely sleep-deprived, the kids are moving back toward a screen-free life. We still watch an episode of this or that a couple times a week or have a family movie night, but it’s not a daily feature in our lives. We’re eating up library books, the four-year-old is starting to read, and we’re always out and about with friends at playdates or at the museum. Looking back to the weeks I was in bed with just enough energy to press the remote to turn on another episode of Dinosaur Train, I feel badly for robbing my kids of their energetic mom.
But when I was looking at my baby girl while she slept on my lap, all of that changed.
I thought about what my preschooler had said that day: “Mama, you’re my favorite person. Can I only have one favorite, though? Because Baby Gwen is my favorite, too. I love her SOOO MUCH.” And he does. He loves his sisters with all his heart and is such an amazing big brother.
When my toddler decided a few weeks ago that it was fun to smack her baby sister and see what reaction she got, I was shocked. Because Benjamin, my oldest, wouldn’t have DREAMED of hitting the baby when he became a big brother. He was too busy protecting her and loving her. He rules at this big brother thing and tells me all the time how much he loves having little sisters. Should I feel guilty for having brought them into his life? No. My big brother is still one of my very dearest friends. Imagining growing up in a world without him is inconceivable and knowing that my kids get to share in that love is amazing.
And then I think about my oldest daughter, Lucy. So, yes, she occasionally smacks her baby sister. But most of the time she’s a champion big sis. The way she scrunches up her eyes and smiles when she says, “Hi, Gwen! Hi, Gwenny Gwen Gwen!” And when I don’t have Baby Gwen in my arms she says in a concerned voice with furrowed brow, “where’s Gwen?!” as if I might have accidentally forgotten her baby sister at the gas station and she needs to keep me in line. She loves her sister.
And while I watched my baby sleep, illumined by the sparkling Christmas tree, I thought about all the Christmases my girls will share together. All the squabbles they will have and the grace they’ll need to offer each other. All the nights they will stay up late talking. The days they might be bridesmaids in each other’s weddings. The days, long after I’m gone, when they will flip through photo albums and see pictures of their mother when she was young and exhausted caring for little ones, with love for them sparkling through the dark circles around her eyes. And each can squeeze the other’s hand and know exactly what’s in her sister’s heart. They can do all the sisterly things I will never experience, because I never had a sister.
And at that moment, any guilt I had over my less-than-stellar mothering during my last pregnancy melted away. Because now I understand that I wasn’t robbing my children of their mother for nine months, I was blessed to offer them the best gift I can imagine: a sister who will love them and be loved by them. And I just sat there with my sleeping daughter in my lap and cried. I cried because I was full of joy. I cried because I felt relief after feely guilty. I cried because the mother’s love that God has placed in me is too big for my heart. It is all so hard and so good.
And so what now? Well, we will probably keep trying to avoid a pregnancy for six more months through NFP. But then again, we might not. I’ve said before that I’m not a huge fan of having to practice NFP. I’d rather just practice what we call Awesome Family Planning, AFP, which is basically no family planning: we just get pregnant whenever (last time this was 10 months post partum.) Letting go of the planning is very freeing for me, and right now I’m agonizing over whether there’s a little person that’s supposed to join our family that we’re not meeting because of trying to avoid…(which with post-partum cycle craziness means lots of abstinence, which isn’t anyone’s favorite thing.)
But regardless, I’m not scared of another pregnancy anymore. The debilitating nausea, the Netflix marathons, the housekeeping failures that come along with those nine months, they will return if we’re blessed with another pregnancy. And it will be hard and I will be tired and I will curse the morning sickness with my cheek on the cold tile floor after being sick again and again and again. But it will be worth it a thousand times over just like this little girl is worth it. And the gift to our family will be so much greater than any sacrifice I will be making.