When I was a little girl, my grandmother told me how my father and uncle had joined the family: “When your grandpa and I were ready for a baby, we just ordered one up, and your Uncle joined us! Then, when we wanted another baby, we ordered another one up, and we got your Dad!”
I didn’t know a whit about the birds and bees at that point, and this sounded as reasonable to me as any other explanation. We ordered food at restaurants, items from catalogs, even uniforms for school P.E.—so why not order a baby when it was time?
When I got older and learned the truth of how babies really come into the world, I smiled at the explanation my Grandma had offered me: it was so simple, so straightforward. In a family without known fertility issues, I always assumed that having children would be just as effortless as my grandmother had said. It would be like ordering something across the counter at a fast-food joint.
With our daughter, it nearly was that easy; when we were ready, we got pregnant right away. Conception didn’t seem to be the problem for me. But the nine months that followed? They were. Pregnancy was not at all what I expected; instead of glowing and some slight morning sickness, it started with life-altering hyperemesis that required hospital infusions to stay hydrated, progressed to a case of mid-pregnancy shingles, and ended with sciatica so intense that I was given a state-issued disability tag for my car. At the end of it all, the finale of my daughter’s birth was an unexpected C-section after a long labor. It seemed fitting.
My little girl was happy and healthy from the start, and I adored her. But I didn’t realize, until months and months after her earth side appearance, that walking through a difficult pregnancy had marked me in profound ways. While all of my friends (yes, all of them) were ready for baby #2 by the time their first child was starting to walk, I couldn’t imagine getting pregnant again. To be honest, I was terrified.
But as my daughter started to round the corner toward her third birthday, the desire for another child—a sibling for my girl, more laughter, more feet running through the house—eclipsed the fear that I had been carrying for so long. I felt enough courage to try again, hoping and praying that a second pregnancy would be different. Maybe I wouldn’t have hyperemesis this time around. Maybe walking wouldn’t spark horrible, radiating pain. Maybe I could avoid another case of shingles.
I was ready to order up another child, just as my grandmother had done.
Except this time, I couldn’t seem to get the order right.
It took us much longer to conceive, and when we did, time after time, the lives of those precious souls slipped through my body much too soon. Pregnancy after pregnancy ended in miscarriage, and I began to wonder if the fears that surfaced during my daughter’s pregnancy—that my body was too broken or too weak—might be true.
As the months stretched on and we failed to hold a pregnancy, I began to worry about the numerical ordering of our family. I had never planned on having children over four years apart; for some reason, that distance seemed insurmountable to me. Kids that far apart wouldn’t overlap in junior high or high school! Their interests would be lightyears away from one another! One would be reading chapter books while the other wouldn’t even be in pre-school! In my mind, the list of differences went on and on, the negatives outweighing the positives month by month.
I felt that I was failing my daughter, failing my husband, failing myself. My prayers were stilted, desperate. This wasn’t how I had imagined the ordering our lives—this wasn’t anything like what I had hoped.
We didn’t fit the mold of the families around us, with children born at an even two-year pace. People asked us if we “only” had one child, and I struggled to answer. While my friends were having their third babies, and I was still waiting with an empty womb and the nagging fear that our children would be too far apart because they were nowhere near the bell curve of sibling distance.
I was afraid that I had missed my chance for another baby and messed up my daughter’s chance at having a brother or sister to grow up with in a meaningful way. I was afraid that it was all my fault.
After the third miscarriage, we started tests and discovered that I had a blood clotting disorder; I began medication and, miraculously, our fifth pregnancy held. This wasn’t the order I had wanted—five pregnancies and two children. But it was the order we had.
And here, in the middle of another very difficult pregnancy, I can say with trust that this is the order that we need. No, it is not what I ever would have chosen, but it is, I believe, a gift nonetheless. Our children, apparently, need to be well over four years apart. Our marriage needs this space between them. And this child within me needs to be coming into the world just now—no earlier, no later.
These last years, littered with fear and loss, have forced me to remember that I can’t order my family or my experience in the ways that I want. Life doesn’t work this way and has never worked this way, although I like to try and pretend that it does so that I can maintain some façade of control. Instead, this child swimming in my womb has gently revealed to me, once again, that everything we are given is a gift. I cannot order; I can only ask.
And then we can trust that what we are given is exactly what we need.
Guest post written by Ann Swindell. Ann is the author of Still Waiting: Hope for When God Doesn’t Give You What You Want. She loves helping other writers share their stories beautifully and powerfully through her businesses, Writing with Grace and The Writing Mom Course. You can connect with Ann on her website.
Photo by Lottie Caiella.