The Pain of Not Being Able to Decide If You've Had Your Last Baby

I've been waffling for a long time about having a third and final baby. Even as I write this, my mind moves simultaneously through two different futures, and I get anxious trying to map out which one is right. In truth, they are more like future tenses: the one that will happen and the one that could have.

That's because, no matter how much my heart aches at the thought of it, I'm done having kids. I've decided it, and my husband wholeheartedly agrees. That window is shut. But, every so often, I feel this tinge deep inside and think, "Oh, if I could have just one more baby."

In that moment, my logic blurs and all my sound judgment cracks, and I feel stuck in this emotional limbo of wanting something I can't have. Or rather, could have. Because I could have another baby. I was incredibly lucky and got pregnant quickly both times, so there'd be a good chance conception would be swift.

I could once again take that pregnancy test and feel my skin prickle with anticipation. I could go about my day with momentary blips of realization that life was literally growing inside me. I could go to doctor appointments, feel that cool gel on my stomach, and listen as a fetal doppler played the musical notes of my baby's steady heartbeat. I could feel the pulsing kicks from within my engorged stomach, a sensation that stuck around for weeks after my two births but is now a distant memory I can't replicate yet miss tremendously.

I could go into labor. I could bear down as my husband looked on gobsmacked at the courageous mother of his children. I could push a miracle out of my body and experience for the third time in my life a euphoria stronger than any drug. I could feel the waves of adrenaline slowly taper off as I reveled in what my body was able to create.

I could nurse this minutes-old baby. I could feel my milk coming in, the warmth of let-down and the full-body exhale that comes with that first good latch. I could revel in the joy of breastfeeding, which for me was the greatest bonding experience I've ever had with my babies.

However . . .

But that's not enough to make up for what I'd lose.

I could sway dramatically on the pendulum of joy and sadness, of glee and rage, of "I got this" confidence and debilitating anxiety. I could look in the mirror and not recognize the reflection. I could try my best to see past the dark circles under my sleepless eyes, the postpartum acne riddling my chin, and the extra 20 pounds on top of the 20 pounds I was still trying to lose after my second pregnancy. I could desperately hope for my old body back while knowing it could be anywhere from two years until never before those physical changes normalized.

I could sink farther away from myself. I could give up the few "just for me" interests I've salvaged through the years, I could debate leaving a career I love in deference to the complexities of childcare. I could put my personal goals and dreams on hold indefinitely.

I could put my marriage at risk. I could fight with my husband — not just bickering over dirty dishes or bedtime routines, but painful arguments that we don't have the time or energy to resolve so they just build up, one on top of the other like scar tissue.

I could lose patience, and I could lose my ability to keep my own control issues — my temper and my Type A tendencies — in check. With two kids, I'm already struggling to be present and to provide the childhood I'd envisioned for them. I've managed, but adding another child could turn me into a mother I never wanted to be.

And then, once my daydream shifts toward nightmare territory, my mind jolts back into action, reminding me of my decision — my decision that I should not go down that path again.

Yes, I desperately want just one more pregnancy, just one more empowering childbirth experience, just one more opportunity to bond with a newborn baby who needs nothing from this world aside from me. But that's not enough to make up for what I'd lose.

I also know, deep down, that if I had that third baby, those same feelings of nostalgia, those same desires for a future tense that I didn't account for, would be there. In all likelihood, I'd be juggling three kids, a crumbling marriage, and a broken sense of self, and still wondering about having just one more once again.

There's nothing like becoming a mother, something I believe you become anew with every baby. It's life-changing and soul-affirming. And despite knowing in your gut that your family is complete, that you can't stretch your particular strings any thinner without a snap, there's nothing quite so painful as accepting that you won't ever "become a mother" again.

I'm certain as the years go by, and this window of opportunity — one that I've already closed — slowly locks shut, I'll accept my future. But for now, I'll take some comfort in knowing I can still push aside the curtains and take a peek.