“Is Ashlee pregnant?” my mom asks my husband, a visible twinkle in her eye.
Amused, my husband holds back a smirk, “What? No. Why would you think that?”
“Everett told me ...” she says slowly, “He said there was a baby in mommy’s tummy, and that it was a girl.”
She looks suspicious, certain she’s uncovered classified information, but my husband doesn’t budge. “Ashlee is not pregnant,” he confirms again.
I learn of this story over dinner a few hours later, which is all the more comical considering one of my friends asked the same question via text message earlier that day. Apparently Everett told a few of his preschool friends I had a baby in my tummy as well. Apparently he was telling everyone.
To his credit, we have been talking about babies in tummies. Two of his friends recently received baby siblings, both third babies born to two of my close friends. We’ve been talking about those babies a lot, and also asking our kids if they too would like one more baby sibling.
“Do you think we should have one more baby?” I casually ask while building peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at the kitchen counter.
Everett, 4.5, always answers with an ecstatic, “Yes!”
Carson, 2.5, always answers with an apathetic, “No.”
“Do you think the baby will be a boy or a girl?” I ask as a follow-up.
Everett yells, “A girl!”
Carson repeats, “No.”
I place the strawberry jelly back in the fridge and close the door, where the family calendar stares back at me. Everett turns five in a few weeks. A small sigh catches in my throat.
Last summer two of my close friends announced their third pregnancies back to back like falling dominos. One was carefully plotted and planned; the other a total surprise. The how didn’t matter as much; both babies, boys, would be celebrated and loved beyond measure. And of course, they’d be the best of friends.
My initial excitement for my friends, while genuine and true, coexisted with a nagging feeling I was almost too embarrassed to name. But these were my friends, my real friends, so I decided to call myself out, somewhat in jest.
“I feel like I’m being left behind,” I texted each of them. I added a laughing face emoji so they’d know I was half-kidding.
But the other half of me was dead serious.
I later confided in my friend Lesley, attempting to explain to her that I was 95% happy for my friends and 5% sad for myself. And that I felt dumb and lame for admitting that out loud, but it was the truth. My friends were moving into three-kid world without me. They’d be pregnant together. They’d have their third babies together, almost equally spaced from their firsts and seconds. Not only was I being left behind, but my kids were, too.
I knew it wasn’t the right time for us to have another baby. There was the book, for starters, and pregnancy hormones combined with that level of stress would surely be a catastrophe. (I was already crying a lot.) And secondly, we had just come out of the fog of adjusting to life with two kids. Everyone was sleeping through the night. I stopped carrying a diaper bag. My velcro baby was walking and talking and could finally function off my hip.
Didn’t we owe it to ourselves to stay there a while? I needed to regroup. I needed to catch my breath. I needed to finish the book. I didn’t want to be left behind, but I also needed … time. Just a little bit more time.
I remember the day the clock started ticking. I was at the movie theater with a handful of close girlfriends, all of whom were mothers except me. I can’t remember what we saw that night—a stupid chick flick, I’m sure. One of our friends had left her baby for the first time, and I remember her complaining about her boobs. They hurt? Or maybe they were leaking? We walked outside in front of the movie theater and a 20-minute conversation commenced about breastfeeding. I remember standing there, silent, looking at my feet with nothing to offer or contribute. I remember driving home, angry, as if the conversation had anything to do with intentionally excluding me and not everything to do with the fact that several of my friends had just gone through a monumental, life-changing transition.
I remember complaining to my husband when I got home, and literally saying the words, “I need new friends,” like a dramatic teenager.
But that wasn't true. I didn’t want new friends. I just wanted to have what they had. I wanted to be in their club. I was 23 and not yet ready to be a mom, but I didn’t want to be left behind either.
My husband and I never had a problem getting pregnant, and I realize what an immense privilege and blessing that is.
We were not casual about the “when” but we were not extremely calculated either. I have friends who meticulously planned their pregnancies to coordinate with the seasons, their career goals, a desired spacing between siblings. I have other friends who got pregnant on accident, and yet other friends who tried to get pregnant for years. In that sense, I suppose we fall somewhere in the middle of the grid—our plans to get pregnant were neither over-analyzed nor under-analyzed, neither accidental nor stressful. I seem to remember both conversations going something like this:
“Are we ready?”
"As ready as we’ll ever be.”
And now here we are, parenting two sweet boys spaced 2.5 years apart, perfect companions. If we had continued along this pattern, I’d already have a newborn in my arms right now, just like my two friends.
But my boys are running wild and free, my arms are empty, and I am still faithfully taking that tiny turquoise pill each night at 10pm. I feel time running out, not in the same way I would if I were ten years older, but these boys are growing up and the gap is getting wider and if not now, when?
Here is the truth: I desperately want to have another baby. We both do.
Here is the other truth: Even though I’ve done this twice before, I somehow do not feel ready.
In fact, I sort of feel the least amount of ready, which makes no sense. I’ve got all the stuff—the maternity clothes and rocking chair and sound machine and tiny baby pajamas. I’ve done the scheduled c-section and the surprise unmedicated VBAC; I know how to pack a hospital bag for both. I know all about fenugreek and lactation cookies, and that dieting while breastfeeding is impossible because I’m hungry all the time. I know the women from MOPS will bring the best meals. I know fevers can be treated with Tylenol and that babies will sleep through the night when they’re ready.
Five years ago, my lack of knowledge made me feel unprepared to have a baby. But today? It’s knowing the full scope of what’s to come that makes me feel not ready.
I mean, are we crazy to do this again? Can our marriage survive another baby? Can we afford a bigger car? How will our youngest adjust to becoming the middle child? Will I ever sleep again? How long will it take me to get three kids out the door? How will a new baby affect the already-not-enough childcare I have? What do babysitters even charge for three kids anyway?!
I worry I will miscarry, because I haven’t yet and it’s probably my turn. I worry I won’t savor this last pregnancy as much as I want to, because I have two kids and a job I love, and none of those will cease needing my attention if and when a new heartbeat appears inside of me.
I keep looking at the calendar trying to decide the “right time” to start trying, but all I see are dates and trips and occasions for which I do not wish to be pregnant. June: girl’s weekend in San Diego. July: 10-year wedding anniversary getaway. August: work conference in LA. There is no nine-month window where I can consume Cheetos from the couch in stretchy pants while I feel tiny limbs dance in my belly for the first time of what will most likely be the last time.
I just see … chaos. I see children to care for and work deadlines to meet and a marriage to tend to and stacks of mail to sort, and I suppose if we wait for the “right time” to complete our family, we could be waiting forever.
Come to think of it, we could be waiting until it’s too late.
On the other hand, were we ready the first time? We checked a number of items off the pre-baby bucket list, but I can assure you: none of that mattered the day we drove home from the hospital holding our breath over every speed bump. Were we ready the second time, when I went into labor a month before the scheduled c-section? There wasn't even a carseat in the car when we pulled into the birth center parking lot at 1am, surprised and clueless.
Maybe I've got this all wrong.
Perhaps there is no “right time” to have a baby. Perhaps time has a funny way of working itself out like that, whether it’s our first or third or sixth. Perhaps at some point, once the dust settles and everyone is sleeping and you have enough room to breathe, you’ll look around at the beautiful life you’ve created—the faces around your kitchen table, the names carved in the oak tree in your backyard, the legacy of love in stories and photographs—and perhaps you’ll think to yourself: I can’t imagine this family any other way.
Perhaps we didn’t feel ready.
Perhaps we’ll never feel ready.
Perhaps it was total chaos.
... perhaps that really was the perfect time.