For as long as I’ve been a mother, I’ve always searched for three curly heads inspecting the cookie aisle at the grocery store, for three pairs of tiny feet running towards the swings on the playground, for three chattering mouths discussing whose turn it is to pick the song in my rearview mirror. First there was one and then there were two but since the day the oldest was born, I’ve always counted three.
For many years, I assumed it had to do with the size of my own family. The birth of my youngest brother marked the beginning of my frame of reference when it came to siblings – oldest, middle, and youngest. Two hiding in the toy box while one counts to twenty. Two licking cake beaters while one whines impatiently. Two snapping photos from the periphery while one recites his wedding vows at the altar.
But about six months ago Geoff confessed that he too often finds himself searching for a third pair of our children’s signature hazel eyes.
In our house intuition pays little attention to logic, something we’ve grown to celebrate after two and a half miserable years of trying to shush the former’s prudent voice. It began three months after we brought our oldest home from the hospital. For weeks I’d had the gnawing suspicion that something wasn’t right – that the relentless insomnia and crippling anxiety plaguing my days were more than just new mommy nerves – but like many first-time mothers I chalked it up to exhaustion and hormones.
After a week of lying in bed, I finally typed my symptoms into Google and found that compulsive thoughts, panic attacks, debilitating fear, and inability to sleep were all telltale signs of postpartum anxiety. I was unassuming and uninformed – the perinatal mood disorder’s perfect victim. For months I was terrified of myself until finally, at the urging of my family, I sought help.
Therapy and medication made a world of difference. So much, in fact, that a week after Savannah turned one we found out we were again expecting. This time, I told myself, I knew what to expect. This time would be different.
It’s true that I was less naïve now, that I had an arsenal of experiences and resources I didn’t have the first time, but I soon learned it all meant nothing without patience and self-compassion. Thus it’s no surprise that my plan to fight the anxiety and resist the inevitable eventually proved ineffective. I loved Molly the moment I met her but I was once again unprepared for what followed in the days after her birth.
Now, almost two years later, talk has begun of another baby. References to the invisible third have become more frequent and fervent. No dates have been set, no plans have been made; we’re simply in that peaceful place between dreaming of another family member and making that dream a reality. But we haven’t forgotten what such a decision means for our family.
How many kids to have is a deeply personal choice and I recognize that wanting a baby does not always mean a baby happens. Still, bringing a child into this world generally begins with the decision to do so and for us that decision begs a multitude of others.
I imagine there are those who have their own questions – who disapprove of our decision for one more, citing it as selfish and irresponsible, given our postpartum past. I’d be lying if I said the accusation doesn’t sting a bit, a painful prickle of the paralyzing guilt that consumed me years ago, but I’m at peace with the choice because every night when I tuck my bright, happy, well-adjusted daughters into bed I’m reminded of the truth.
My postpartum days are hell. They scorch and torture and destroy every neuron in my brain until all that’s left to save me are whispers of what used to be. They are dim and treacherous and full of empty lies that I almost always believe. I hate them and they hate me, yet I’m willing to relive them – all of them – for the sake of a child who has yet to exist, just as I would for the two who already do. I’m prepared to endure them a hundred times over if it means bringing another priceless treasure into our home – if it means giving life to our number three.
And nothing about that feels selfish to me.
So. In this space between dreaming and realizing, we don’t question whether three is right for our family – whether another child will throw off the blissful cadence of our current lives. Because we’ve traveled this path twice before, we’re absolutely certain it will.
So instead we ask ourselves this: How do we approach this – this difficult, fragile journey – with the gentle care we now know it deserves?