Some of you may remember a couple of years ago when I was part of the Real Talk with Real Mom series along with a bunch of my favorite ladies in the blogging community where each month we would share our personal experiences related to motherhood and parenting. After a long hiatus, the series is back and I’m so excited to dig into some of the really tricky topics we all think about so often as mothers and parents. Today we’re dishing on growing families – going from one kid to two or more or, in our case, an unexpected addition to your cub pack.
Before I jump into it, be sure to check in with these other awesome moms, too!
I know most of the moms sharing on this topic today will have much different perspectives than mine. That is a huge reason why I love this series so much! No family is exactly the same and the same decisions won’t work across the board for everyone. Deciding when, how and if to grow a family is a deeply personal decision. In our case, we never planned to have a baby. From the time I shared I was pregnant, I was very transparent about that fact and I later wrote about it at length. In a nutshell, Bob was married and became a dad for the first time when he was quite young, and he had no desire to be an “old dad” after spending most of his 20s raising kiddos long before most of his friends were settled down. It made sense to me. It worked for me. We checked that box and moved on.
Then along came the flu complicated by an upper respiratory infection and a course of Z-Pak that rendered my birth control pills useless. This was at a time when Bob would be gone for work for two weeks at a time (versus his one week at a time these days) and so by the time he was home I’d long since been off the antibiotics and had been feeling better for days. After sixteen straight years on the pill, without a single missed cycle, it somehow honestly just slipped my mind that that super charged five day course of antibiotics would have screwed things up for the month. So I ended up pregnant. Turns out, it’s science, friends!
The decision to grow our family ended up being one that was ultimately made for us by some mix of fate, biology and modern medicine. When I realized I was pregnant I had a really really hard time wrapping my head around the idea of a baby joining the ranks. Financially we were at a point where it seemed like it would be impossible to add to our family. I also knew immediately that I would be facing life as a solo parent fairly indefinitely. A lot of people feel great joy when they find out they’re pregnant. I felt grief and endless anxiety. And then, naturally, I carried around an immense sense of guilt that weighed on me. I know how many people struggle to have babies and here I was, easily pregnant and traumatized over that fact. I wasn’t in a very good place for a while, if I’m being completely real with you.
After a few weeks I started to adjust to the idea of being pregnant, but it would take a couple of months before I felt anything close to real excitement. There were just so many things happening, both with my body and in our lives, in order to prepare for this little human. The type A side of my brain couldn’t handle the lack of control. I didn’t plan for this, therefore I fought it for a long, long time. I cried, friends. Oh how I cried.
As I began to let go of initial shock and terror and find peace about the little one joining our midst, it was time to talk with our bigs and loop them in. I was eight or nine weeks along before I knew I was pregnant so much of the first trimester had already passed by this point. Things seemed to move rapidly from there, especially considering we had to find a new place to live since our rental at the time wasn’t going to work once a baby joined. So I spent that spring crying, then freaking out over where to live, then packing an entire three bedroom house by myself in the heat of July while pregnant. Oh, and all the while I was keeping our teenagers’ schedules coordinated and making sure not to miss a single junior varsity baseball game.
On the day Emerson was born, her teenage brothers were 13 and just shy of 15 years old. When her oldest brother graduates high school this year (and her second oldest next year), she’ll be 3 and 4 years old respectively. We often joke that when Noah is 30, Em will basically have just hit the age he was when she was born. Right now at this moment in our life, we are standing at a crossroads, where one foot is grasping for a foothold, teetering at the end of their childhood while the other foot is fully entrenched in hers. I’ve cried, frequently, over the fact that she’ll never remember those few years where their childhoods crossed and connected. In some ways, we are living in two separate lifetimes. It is beautiful, but it is bitter bittersweet.
Planning for, making decisions for and taking our entire family’s diverse needs into consideration is something that is always at the top of our minds. It’s a unique juggle that comes with having a family where your kids are spread 15 years apart. A family where your oldest kids will have graduated high school long before your last baby has even started kindergarten. In this way, communication and honesty is the grease that keeps our collective wheels moving, something we had to commit to as soon as we knew we were pregnant.
Noah, who is 18 years old now, was the first one we sat down to share the news. He had actually been asking us to have a baby for a few years, but we had firmly informed him again and again that it was never happening. Ever. When we told him he burst into tears (of happiness) and he embraced the role of big brother right away. We were open with our teenagers that we hadn’t intentionally changed our minds (there’s a conversation there for another day about how we talk with our older kids about sex) and we invited them to share their feelings with us and ask us whatever questions they might have. We also let them know that if their feelings changed along the way their emotions were real and valid and that together we’d all make it through such a huge transition.
We’ve made that open door policy a priority and a promise from day one. It’s something that binds us all together, because no topics are off limits. It’s part of what allows us to navigate the waters in a landscape where we have kids with very different needs and interests. Those waters don’t always run smooth. We’ve had disagreements and misunderstandings. We’ve had hurt feelings when plans get foiled because someone hasn’t been napping well or the same tiny human spikes a fever when we’re supposed to be leaving on a big kids only excursion. Splitting our time, giving everyone what they need when they need it, anticipating emotional reactions to all of those things, and trying not to feel crazy at the end of the day can be a serious feat.
But when your three year old waxes poetic about much she loves her brothers (and their BFF Anthony who is often in our midst), it all feels a bit magical. When the boys pull in the driveway and pile loudly into the house asking what’s for dinner and if we can play Monopoly together later, they do it with a passing kiss for me and a beeline for their tiny sister. She follows them around the house and they’ll dutifully play with her dollhouse or play endless rounds of hide and seek for as long as she wants. She is the apple of both their eyes, and I have no doubt they’ll be her biggest cheerleaders, her greatest advocates and her best friends for her whole life.
While she won’t remember these fleeting moments when her brothers aren’t quite fully grown up, she will be immensely lucky to grow up with the incredible gift of two more loving adults to hold her hand through her life’s journey. To help mold her heart, to help her discover the things that feed her soul, to show her by example how to be as kind and loving as they are. That, my friends, is the real magic. The magic for which I’ll always be grateful to that one month when I ovulated unexpectedly and the trajectory of life was changed forever.