I almost walked out of PetSmart today with a kitten. Even though my feelings toward my two current cats (who are both 11 years old) range from tolerant to hostile, I suddenly wanted this adorable orange kitten. I had the three kids with me and they were in love with all the kittens in the little glass room. The only thing that saved me was remembering that we are leaving on Friday for Vermont. I was asking the shelter representative what the adoption process would entail, asking the kids what they would name the kitten, thinking about whether the kitten would get along with the other cats. Normally when we go to PetSmart and the shelter rep tries to suck me in, I say something like “No friggin’ way” and keep on walking. I like cats in general, but my two cats make keeping the house clean even more difficult than it already is, the litter box is usually an abomination, and I’ve had two go-rounds with fleas that took me right to the brink of insanity.
I blame this sudden desire to nurture something on the fact that my best friend’s daughters (ages 8 and 10) stayed with us for four days, leaving Sunday afternoon. They’re such sweet girls, and I miss them. And it was fun having a bigger family for a while. The five kids (plus neighbor kids) entertained themselves almost effortlessly (the slide-pool helped). The dinner table and the minivan were pleasantly full. Cooking seemed more efficient, like I was making the same amount but more was getting eaten than usual. I know it was a special situation — I was being the Fun Aunt, the girls were trying to be good guests, and my own kids were in a happy daze. I let certain rules slide, and we did special things like go to the real pool, attend a birthday pool party, and go out to lunch. I wasn’t trying to help five kids with homework or take five kids for flu shots.
And yet. Kittens, thoughts of getting a dog… and yes, thoughts of having one more baby. Just one more. I’ve been having this conversation internally for at least six months now. I really can’t tell if it’s a true desire or just instinctive resistance to getting older and accepting that the baby-making years are virtually over. I can tell you that four was always the ideal number of children in my mind. I don’t know if it’s just the pleasing symmetry (bonus points for two boys and two girls) or the fact that both my parents came from families with four kids. (And special shout-outs to the Maple Avenue and Pheasant Run Drive clans. You know who you are. Four kids including twins! ) It’s just that nagging feeling that our family is not complete.
But in this life, things often remain asymmetrical and incomplete and you have to suck it up. Should I really rock the boat, when we are all healthy and happy, by getting pregnant? Did you know that the risk of dying in childbirth in the U.S. is at a 25-year high? I enjoyed pregnancy, but do I really want to go through the newborn period again — intense sleep deprivation and clogged milk ducts? The agonizing you go through when something is wrong with the baby but he/she can’t tell you what it is? And rewind — what if I can’t get pregnant, or miscarry? Do I really want to go through that heartbreak? (I’ve had two miscarriages in the past.)
From a financial standpoint, I’m not particularly worried. We have the room, the clothes, the equipment. The efficiency factor really starts to kick in. From an emotional standpoint, I do worry that I wouldn’t have the necessary oomph, that my store of loving and caring would get depleted. But I think that I’ve realized the importance of taking care of myself over the years, and I don’t think I’d let myself get as emotionally run down as I was, say, when my younger two (who are 15 months apart) were an infant and toddler.
I had my ladyparts doctor appointment yesterday, and for kicks I asked the doctor what she thought in general about having a baby at age 38. I had heard some stories of women whose OB-GYNs gave them a hard time when they announced such intentions. My doctor was totally supportive. She somewhat dutifully quoted the numbers on birth defects (which of course I already knew), but also said that most women in their late 30’s have no problems and that since I had had three noneventful pregnancies, she considered me a “proven entity.” I kept repeating that phrase in my mind on the way home. It made me feel good, even though my ability to have good pregnancies is simply a combination of genetics and luck, not like getting an A in pre-calc. And as any woman with kids will tell you, every pregnancy can be different.
Some nights I go to sleep thinking about baby names (Eamonn or Francesca). Some nights I think about what kind of career I’m going to have after my daughter starts school, and how exciting that could be. Sometimes I think that maybe an opportunity is going to come along in the future for me to take care of someone, and although I can’t know now who that is or when that will be, I should leave myself available for that moment.
We shall see.
I’ll be leaving this pamphlet on my husband’s pillow in the meantime.
P.S. Sorry to anyone (Aunt Teri) who read the title of this post and thought I was making an announcement. 🙂