My husband wants another baby and I am not so sure about this idea. I feel fairly certain that if there is a third kid to care for in this house, I might unravel altogether. I don’t know when, or exactly why; I just know that as is stands with two, I feel like there are days when I’m working at my full capacity just to keep it together, to survive.

It wasn’t so hard at first. In the beginning, when it was only that first snuggly newborn, I was kind of on a honeymoon with him. I had been absolutely miserable at my job just prior to giving birth, and anything that meant I wasn’t sleeping with a phone under my pillow in hopes of closing a sale at midnight or 5am felt like a ray of light to me. Yes, even a newborn.

That whole first year of motherhood was the best surprise of my life, really. As is my nature, I had expected the worst and had prepared for it accordingly. “It will be hard work!” I admonished my happy-go-lucky husband. “We will be tired and trapped, and we’ll have to make a ton of sacrifices.” As is his nature, he mostly ignored my admonitions. Bless his heart.

And you know what? I grossly miscalculated the situation. I hadn’t factored in the love. The crazy, selfless, obsessive, grow-your-heart-by-two-sizes kind of love that a newborn just accidentally brings to the situation. And for me, that love was so much bigger than all of the work and all of the sacrifices (which were many), and it caught me by such surprise, that the whole newborn experience was like a honeymoon to me.

Then he started walking. And climbing. Climbing everything! Chipped his two front teeth at 17 months old. And he started talking. Always talking! Always wanting my attention! I began to tire of the sound of my own voice telling him not to do whatever it was that he was doing, and it seemed that all he ever wanted to do was what he wasn’t supposed to do.

The honeymoon was over.

I saw a craft idea on Pinterest one day where someone had written a daily to-do list (“Make Bed,” “Laundry,” “Make Dinner,” “Homework,” etc) on pretty paper and placed it in a picture frame, and the idea was that you crossed off the items in dry erase marker each day so that at the end of the day you could wipe off your marks of completion and be left with (drum roll, please) the same effing list to do all over again the next day. This sweet little craft felt like a sick joke to me, its’ very premise mocking my innate desire for accomplishment. I was suddenly aware of how claustrophobic I felt in my own life. I was not meant to do this, these same tasks over and over again, all day, every day.  

I missed my career. I missed feeling like I was good at something. Because this keeping a toddler happy thing? I wasn’t very good at it.

A lot has changed since then – most notably that we had another baby and I went back to work – but I often still feel like motherhood just doesn’t come easily for me.

I am good at keeping my kids alive. I am good at logistics. Well-balanced meals, bedtime routines, all the necessary appointments with all the necessary doctors, preschool waitlists, back-up pacifiers and clean lovies, remembering to pack a peanut butter sandwich just in case we stay out longer – I’m great at that stuff. When my kids really need something, they know I’ve got them covered.

Too often, though, it feels like their very essence is in direct conflict with so much of what I value. I like a plan I can count on, a clean house, logic and reason, seeing a task through to completion before starting another one, feeling heard and appreciated, going to the bathroom alone. These things are like fuel in my tank. These things make the world around me feel like a place where I can be my best self, where I can thrive.

My kids do not like these things. They like to change their shoes 87 times before leaving the house. When they are done playing with any given toy, including but not limited to everything in all reachable cabinets and drawers in the kitchen and bathroom, they prefer to let it fall to the ground wherever they happen to be at the very moment that they lose interest, and to never speak of it again. They prefer to ask me the very same question every minute on the minute for at least one hour per day just to see what will happen. They like to know what exactly is going on in there when I use the bathroom, and does it hurt when they touch this bruise on my knee while I’m sitting there.

I am exhausted. I wish I embraced it more, that I could read the uplifting mommy blogs and make some “busy bags” and take to heart that “they grow up so fast,” but a lot of days I still feel like we’re mostly working against each other.

And on those days, sometimes I feel like I’m on the brink of really unraveling. When I’m cautioning them to set their cup of milk farther away from the edge of the table as they ignore me and knock it to the ground. When they ransack a pile of freshly folded laundry just for the fun of it. When they squirm wildly while I help them get dressed and they accidentally head-butt me in that mysterious way that is excruciating for an adult but barely noticeable for a child. 

I cannot control them. I know that, yet when the reality of it smacks me in the face, I often start to lose control of myself a little bit. I raise my voice even though I know better. I smack my hand on the kitchen counter to get their attention even though I know it scares them a little. I look at the clock and count down the hours until bedtime, wishing away this time that I know one day I will pine for.

On those days, when I feel like I’m out of control, it’s like I don’t totally know who I am anymore. I feel like I want to escape, to be alone, even though I know I love these people more than anything on earth. I feel full of contradictions, my thoughts and feelings all pulled in a million directions, until the very fibers of my being start to give way. I start to unravel.

When my husband talks about having another baby, he talks about multiplying the joy that our kids currently bring us. I am awestruck and befuddled by this point of view. Of course my kids bring me tremendous joy, but when I consider having another one I can’t help but imagine one more tiny hand tugging at the strings of my already threadbare sanity. One more direction to be pulled in, one more set of contradictions to reconcile. I can’t help but fear that I would unravel past repair; that I would lose myself entirely.

There are rarely easy answers in parenting, and this decision is no exception. So we continue to do the hard, loving work of being a family. We weigh what is best for us as individuals and as a unit. We share our hopes and our fears and we do our very best to listen to each other without judgment or rebuttal. We acknowledge that there are no wrong answers – or right ones, for that matter – but that all we can ever do is make the best decision possible with the information that is currently available. And in the meantime, when no best decision is yet evident, we simply continue to weave our family’s story, day by day and thread by thread, unraveling and mending as we go. There is no pattern to follow and we’re not quite sure what the final outcome will be, but it will be ours and it will be beautiful.  

Written by Anna Quinlan. Photo by Kate De La Rosa