What follows is the post I've waited about 33 weeks to write. I sure hope this helps to explain my hiatus. Many thanks to the faithful who have stuck with me through it all.
When Nelson and I were dating, one of the questions I remember discussing was how many children we wanted to have. I always thought four was a nice number because I think even numbers are good, you know, everyone has a buddy kind of thing, and also because I came from a family with four children and I liked it. Nelson answered the question more broadly.
"As many as it takes to have one of each," I remember him saying. That was a bit scary to me but I figured he'd change his mind at some manageable number. When we married, part of our vows included the willingness to accept children lovingly to which we each responded with a resounding, "Yes!"
Because we are both strong Catholics we follow the Church's teaching to the best of our ability. This means we use no means of artificial contraception. Instead we have used Natural Family Planning as a means of "planning" our little family.
Here I'd like to give you the best explanation of this I have ever heard. We all understand that the main purpose of food is nourishment. However, God loves us so much, that He made it very tasty and enjoyable. We all recognize perversions of this. Bulimia, for example, demonstrates someone trying to get the enjoyment out of food without also receiving the nourishment it is meant to provide. This is not healthy mentally or physically. In the same way, the fundamental purpose of sex is procreation. When you have sex and remove the willingness to be open to the life, this is also a perversion. It, in essence, takes God out of the equation. Of course, the Church doesn't expect us to get pregnant with every sexual act, or even to desire to do so. It does however state that the decision to avoid pregnancy must be seriously considered(financial, physical, mental and the like). If you have questions about this feel free to ask me or look it up in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It gives a much better and more in depth explanation than I do here.
Nelson and I both agreed that we wanted children, but we also thought it would be wise to give ourselves a year to get to know each other better and try to get the hang of the whole marriage thing before we brought another person into it. I was a teacher making less money than I care to mention and two months after we married, Nelson lost his job so we also had some financial reasons to wait.
Thanks be to God, he found a job within a month and we were well on our way to paying off his school loans and getting things in order. The greatest thing about Natural Family Planning (from here on out NFP), is that every month it requires a conversation. Are we ready for a baby? Do we have a good reason to avoid pregnancy? It bonds us together and helps our unity tremendously.
And then one day, not long after we celebrated our first anniversary, we revisited the question. For the first time, we had no good reason to wait and suddenly we realized it was time to be open to children. We got pregnant with Mackenzie on our first try and though we were absolutely ecstatic, we also thought, wow, guess we need to be careful about how we plan this little family of ours.
We tried to plan the kids according to our idea of good spacing, but God had a different plan. We tried for a year and a half to get pregnant with Aiden. Along with not using artificial contraceptives, we also agree not to use artificial means of conceiving for the same reasons...mostly that God is in control of creation and it is not our place to take that role away from Him. That year and a half was hard, but we also both agreed that children are a gift from the Lord and we had no right to demand more gifts than God had for us. Mackenzie was sweet, healthy and pretty much perfect so we settled into the fact that God may have a different plan for us than we did.
We had just begun to look into the options available to us to pursue having another child within the teachings of our faith, when low and behold, we discovered Aiden was on the way. We were overjoyed! The fact that he turned out to be a boy was even better. Now we had one of each and felt like the most blessed people on the planet.
Even though this fulfilled Nelson's original statement about family size, we both agreed that we could handle, and wanted more than two children. Aiden was a hard baby though, so we were in no hurry to have another one right away. We decided one month to take a chance. It had taken us so long to conceive Aiden that we agreed it would be better to have children close together than to not have any more children at all. I mean, what were the odds right?
I found out I was pregnant with Dawson when Aiden was a mere six months old. I was very nervous about that pregnancy test. I really didn't want to cry and make this baby feel unloved. Much to my surprise, when that little plus sign appeared, I laughed at God's great sense of humor. Three kids in a span of four years was not at all what I had in mind.
I will not beat around the bush. The first two years of Dawson's life were the hardest of mine so far. Nelson was working 70 to 80 hours a week and I was on my own with those three babies for a lot of the time. I love them and wouldn't trade them or their arrivals for anything but it was exhausting in every way imaginable. I was in no hurry to have another one, and yet, I also knew I wasn't ready to call it quits.
Nelson, however, was totally satisfied. I was not always easy to live with during those days and he was in no hurry to suffer through that again. We had three beautiful, healthy children and he was ready to move on. I got on board with that train of thought until Dawson turned two and for the first time in that many years, I felt as though I caught my breath. I started to appeal for another baby soon after that.
I remember going to dinner with Nelson one New Year's Day and having a serious discussion about the matter. I spelled out all the reasons I thought we should have another baby. We were in a good financial place. We were building a big, beautiful home that needed to be filled. Our kids were all healthy and doing well. We were getting the hang of this whole parenting thing. And besides, four sounded like such a good number. In reality, all the reasons we had for not having another baby were purely selfish. Starting over, sleepless nights, changing diapers, etc. were not really serious reasons to avoid children.
I promised to give him six months to pray about it. In the meantime I agreed to stop pushing. In fact, I committed to not say anything about it until that time was over. He agreed and we went about the business of raising the three kids we had and building this home.
We both lived up to our agreements and six months later, we got pregnant with Max. Of course there were moments during those long weeks of morning sickness when I wondered what in the world I was thinking begging my husband to help me put my body through this again, but mostly I was so very excited to be given yet another blessing from Heaven.
The pregnancy was hard though (feel free to look back through the blog from the summer of 07 through Max's birth in February of 08). It was so hard, in fact, that I said to Nelson, out loud on numerous occasions, "I don't ever want to do this again. If I ever ask you for another baby, please remind me of this." I was in pain and exhausted from the house project and I was a lot older than the first three times.
I was done for real this time. I had my four and I was good. I wasn't getting any younger and six was a good-sized Catholic family. That is until Max was two weeks (yes, two WEEKS) old and we were out for the first time. I was staring at his beautiful face, holding his tiny body in my arms and completely in love. "Isn't he just the sweetest thing?!" I gushed to Nelson. "Don't you want to have another one?"
"Are you completely out of your mind?!" he rightly asked. "Do you remember the last nine months? Do you remember what YOU asked me to remind you?"
Of course I didn't mean I wanted anther one right that minute. I was simply acknowledging the fact that children are a precious gift and that nine months of suffering is nothing compared to the joy they bring into our lives. I let it go.
Max was our easiest, most peaceful child. He was content, sleeping through the night before he was two months old and the joy of all of our lives. Because of that, in the years that followed, I managed to talk Nelson into trying for another one on several occasions, none of which resulted in a pregnancy.
We were peaceful. After all, we had the family we thought we wanted. We were blessed beyond measure. God must be trying to tell us to be happy with what He's given us.
Once I turned 40, we stopped trying. My mom had my baby brother when she was 40 and she almost died. Even though I know medicine has come a long way since then, I have always had this fear in the back of my mind that I simply cannot be pregnant after 40 because I would die. Crazy, I know, but enough to make me feel like I had a valid reason to stop trying. That, and Nelson was convinced we were done. I figured I pushed hard enough for Max. If God wanted us to have another baby, one of two things were going to have to happen - either Nelson would change his mind, or we'd get pregnant without trying.
Two years ago, when we decided it was time to move on, we turned the nursery into a guest room and sold every single baby thing we had. And last year, on the first day of school, I shed a tear just thinking about sending my baby to school this year.
It was shortly there after that Nelson began to lay out his five year financial plan. With all the kids in school, it would be time for me to go back to work. With both of us working, we could get in a place financially that would allow Nelson to retire early and do some things we have been dreaming about. I was not thrilled with the idea of working full time with four kids who still need a lot but I was willing to get on board with his plan. After all, he had allowed me the luxury of staying at home to raise the kids all these years.
So that's where we were when we were sitting in the kitchen in March and Nelson asked the million dollar question. "Isn't it about that time?"
It gave me pause. I was so regular that we didn't have to chart. I could tell you my cycle within a day or two and we were good at NFP. Suddenly, I knew that indeed it should be about that time. And then, I couldn't remember the day of my last cycle...at all.
I wasn't worried. We had taken no chances. I was busy directing plays and doing the Glory Run and it was my memory that was faulty, not my cycle. I told Nelson not to worry. It would be soon and very soon.
Except that it wasn't. And before the next few days passed, I was worried. What was Nelson going to do? If I was indeed pregnant, his whole financial plan would be ruined. What's more, what was I going to do? Being a young mother was always a part of the plan. Being pregnant at 41 was definitely not part of the equation.
I was in one of these unjustified fearful moments when I got a text from the man I love reminding me why I married him and how blessed I am to have him. He wanted me to know that if I was indeed pregnant, we would be fine. We would love this baby like all of our children and that we'd come up with a different plan. I felt a gigantic weight was lifted from me. To know that we were in this together brought me such peace.
A day later, we were on the way home from somewhere and I finally thought I was ready to pick up the test. It was still early, but the suspense was killing me. I hoped to sneak in the drug store, not alerting anyone to my presence, buy the thing and get the heck out of dodge. Did you know that they keep pregnancy tests under lock and key now? Having someone paged to that section while you stand there does not lend itself to inconspicuousness...at all. Thank God no one I knew was in the place.
I got it home and decided to wait until morning. I bought the one with the earliest test day but it said that a morning test would be more accurate. I went to bed hoping for the best, which I thought would be a negative test result.
It was a Sunday morning and Nelson woke me up and went upstairs to rouse the kids. The time had come. I took the test into the bathroom, read the directions as if I had never done this before, and proceeded. The test was positive before I finished. There I sat in total disbelief. There was no reason the result should be what it was. We had taken no chances. We had moved on. We had a plan.
I was standing in the bedroom when Nelson walked back in. I'm not proud to say that the moment I saw him, I lost it. It was not the reaction I ever wanted to have upon receiving the news that our family was growing, but I had no control over it. I didn't just cry, I sobbed. I sobbed and fell into the arms of the one person who knew that this was just an initial reaction and not my true heart. He held me and reassured me that it would be okay. He reminded me that this was good news. He said his plans could change. Then he asked me if a false positive was possible.
I think I laughed. I think it broke the tension. We all know that home pregnancy tests give false negatives - false positives, not so much. We hugged again and got ready for church. I spent that mass on the verge of tears, begging God to explain himself to me.
By the time we settled into our booth at Waffle House, with the kids in the one behind us, we were talking about how the rooms will be assigned, who the godparents might be and when this baby might arrive. In the matter of a couple of hours, we had begun to adjust our plans to be more in line with God's.
I didn't sleep at all that week. Regardless of the joy a child brings, it's kind of earth-shattering to have your whole world change in an instant. I'm a bit of a planner and when those are ripped out from under me, apparently it takes me awhile to adjust.
We decided not to share the news right away for several reasons. First and foremost, I didn't want to tell anyone until I had had some time to adjust my attitude. We are pro-life and love children and that's the message I wanted to convey, not that I am selfish, afraid, and dealing with the fact that I'm going to be 42 when I have this kid. Also, my brother and his wife had just had their first baby and we wanted to give them a little more time to be in the spotlight. Piper's baptism was quickly approaching and we wanted to make sure that was the primary focus for everyone. Finally, we wanted a chance to make it to the doctor and make sure everything was alright.
The doctor didn't want to see me until I was 8 weeks along. By that time, the morning...rather, all day sickness had settled in and I had no doubt that I was definitely pregnant. The test at the office confirmed this and then we met this sweet little soul via a sonogram. There he or she was, heart already beating strong. We, of course, were already certain but it was nice to see the reason for all the physical suffering.
At the end of the appointment, we sat in the doctor's office and were given the news that this was considered a more risky pregnancy due to my, ahem, advanced age (of course, I was also advanced age when I had Max at 36). After 40 however, the risk of every genetic disorder under the sun increases exponentially. My husband, being a numbers kind of guy, asked the question, "How much more of a risk?" As my doctor informed us of the numbers, my eyes welled up with tears. I was scared, very, very scared.
We got onto the elevator with the sonogram pictures in hand and instead of getting that giggly, anticipatory feeling, I sank into a bit of despair. What had we gotten ourselves into? How would I deal with a child with multiple disabilities? How would the kids handle it? What would people think? I couldn't let it go.
That was the hormonal, emotional side of me taking over. The rational, mature side of me was comforted by one thing - this was God's plan for us. That's the thing about following our church's teachings and remaining true to our vow to be willing to accept children lovingly from God, when you don't take things into your own hands, God can still have His way with you.
One thing I knew for sure was that this baby, in this time, is God's plan for us. More than any of the other kids, who were all planned for the most part, this baby was given to us by God. We did not plan for this. We did not go looking for it. Instead, because He loves us and knows what's best for us, He made a decision that trumped all our plans. What's more is the realization that this is not God's plan for us since March, but His plan for us from the beginning of time. He has always known our family size and it's spacing. He knew He was going to rock our world, but He also knew we'd be ready for it.
After we got to talking, both Nelson and I had had our hearts softened to another baby without even realizing it. For him it was the realization that four kids is not such a big family after all. He wasn't looking to change it, but God was and so He put that thought in his head. For me it was being at the hospital as my niece was born and a few weeks later visiting another friend and her first baby. I left being very thankful that that wasn't me heading into those sleepless nights. And yet, there was a memory of how very sweet that time is. There was also the realization that my baby is no longer a baby and that made me a teeny bit sad. I had no desire to be pregnant, but you can see how the Lord begins His work.
When we finally got around to telling the kids the news, we were totally blown away by their reactions. They literally jumped up from the dinner table and ran out into the backyard shouting at the top of their lungs, "My mama is going to have a baby!" They were and remain over the moon excited about our latest addition. Experiencing their unbridled excitement along with their sweet concern for me and their newest sibling, was absolutely the encouragement I needed. Watching their faces light up as they felt the first kicks and watched my belly contort is so very sweet. Not a day goes by that at least one of them stops to hug my belly or speak to the baby.
We know that there is no guarantee that this baby will be "normal". We also know that God knows what we can handle. Regardless of the outcome, the baby is still a baby, a gift, that we will accept and love just like we've done with the first four.
We are surrounded by people in our life who have been so very encouraging to us in this journey; people who have larger families than we do, who have had "unplanned" babies, who have been even older than us when they had them. We have people who tell us that late in life babies are the very best. They keep you young. They get to experience parents who are more peaceful and wise. They are nothing but a blessing.
I've wanted to say this since we made our news public. But then I was so very sick for so very long. Truthfully, I have not had one good day in 33 weeks. Not to say that good things haven't happened, just that I haven't felt good or slept well in all that time. I get winded walking up the stairs and doing the laundry. I have been nauseated the entire time. I have been unable to drink much at all. I have been so focused on making it through each day that I've almost forgotten that there is something very, very good waiting for me at the end of this tunnel. And so I chose not to write so as not to spend the entire time complaining...about everything.
I have told the Lord "never" about three things in my life. 1) I will NEVER marry a younger man. Nelson is a few years younger than me and also the best thing I have going for me. I wouldn't trade him or our marriage for anything. God knew better than me. 2) I will NEVER be pregnant after 40. I had no desire to die that young. Of course there are no guarantees, but my doctor has assured me that what happened to my mom is not going to happen to me and he has no intention of letting me die. Nor does he see any risk...at all of this happening. I think God is giggling at me as I write this. "Crazy girl," He's laughing. 3) I will NEVER have a baby in December. My brother and my dad both have birthdays in December and then there's the whole over-the-top business of the Christmas season. My due date? December 8th. Of course, I have a tendency to deliver a week or two early so we may still avoid this one. All the same, I feel God is slapping His knee, rolling on the floor laughing at me. "Never, you say? Ha!"
Lesson learned God. Have your way with me.
So here I sit, computer on my quickly decreasing lap, arms spread a bit wider on the keyboard because of my round belly with 6 weeks and half a day (according to said due date) to go. We chose not to do any genetic screening. We did not find out the gender of this baby. This baby is who God intended for him or her to be (I'm totally putting my money down on another boy) and will come when God desires and will be exactly what our little family needs.
We can't wait!