My nails kept time on the arm of the chaise to the ticking of the wall clock. I looked at her blankly, no answer to her question.
She repeated it. “Do you want another baby more than the life you have with your husband?”
No one had asked me this question before. It didn’t seem possible that such a question could exist.
I sighed, shifted positions so I could look at him. My husband, the person I had pledged to love forever and ever, Amen, was quiet. Waiting to hear what I wasn’t ready to voice. An answer that I didn’t have in me. All that was in me was an absence of life that I couldn’t create on my own. I mean, I technically and theoretically could. Science is amazing. But in the context of our life, solitary decision-making was not part of our agreement. We were Team Smith.
Silence continued to caress the air, its softness a strong undercurrent cut only by the tick and tock of our therapist’s fancy wall clock. Our session was ending. “Next time,” she said, “we come back to this question.”
We thanked her for her time and collected our things to head out. We stood in the parking lot, the sun’s waning warmth illuminating more than the pavement around us. “Which kiddo do you want to pick up?” he asked me.
We have two girls. Smart, beautiful, little girls who smell of joy and cocoa butter. The oldest had just started second grade. The youngest was in a preschool offered on-site at my job. I weighed whatever remaining energy I had for the barrage of conversation to follow upon pick up. Children can chat endlessly about anything and nothing. Hidden within the flow of words lie questions they want answers to. I don’t like my kids to think I’m not listening or paying attention, but seriously, it is easy to get lost in their stream of consciousness on my best days.
After a long day of work and a session with Dr. L., I knew I was not at my best. My emotional and mental reserves were hurting. As was my heart. To ease the latter, I needed to love on both of my girls.
“How ‘bout I pick them both up and you walk the dog when you get home?” I replied.
“You sure?” He knew I hated driving in traffic at this hour, especially as the winter evening darkened quicker than it’s springtime sister.
“Yeah,” I said.
He leaned in for a hug goodbye, I clung to the security of his scent. We lingered there for a moment. He took a deep breath, and as he let it out he said, “I’m scared about your answer.”
I laughed in agreement, “You and me both.” Laughing is one of my coping mechanisms. My laugh can be many things: anger, hurt, sorrow, guilt, embarrassment, flirtation, happiness. Right now it was both an acknowledgment of his fear and a declaration of mine. We got into our cars and headed out of the cramped parking lot. Within 20 minutes, I was through the security door of the daycare with a quick hello for the people at the front desk. As I rounded the corner into the large open playroom, I caught sight of my youngest. Her soft curls framed gray eyes so focused on the blocks in front of her she was unaware of my presence. I was not to go unnoticed for long.
Within moments, she was flying toward me, “Momma!” Of all the names I am called, this is my favorite. I lifted her, my arms cradling her so she could lean back and begin her day’s recap. We walked like this, me nodding and smiling, her talking and talking, to collect her things and head out.
Another 20 minutes later, I unbuckle her and we skip hand in hand to the mission styled elementary school housing my oldest. It is dark outside now and the rush of light and noise as we open the door to chaos is quite welcome. I scan the lunchroom full of children busy at play, but my little one is quicker than me. Seeing her big sister she starts to run toward her.
The two collide, dance in a circle, and fall to the floor in a tangle of limbs. Their giggles follow me as I sign her out and grab her backpack. My girls run toward me, I swear kids don’t know how to walk, and my oldest starts talking. Deep brown chocolatey eyes demand my full attention as we clamber out the door with all of her belongings. Now, both girls buckled in safe, we head home. In the rearview mirror, I glimpse them. They bicker, they laugh, and their curly heads lean in as they share sisterly secrets.
At home, we go through our routine. Dinner time, reading time, bath time, playtime, bedtime. They are asleep and it’s now talking time. My spouse and I sit at our dining table, laying our hands upon wood worn through from meals, homework, bill paying, and game nights. He waits. He knows I need time to process. My thoughts churn and collide, falling into places familiar, taking root.
“My answer is no.”
His eyes, bright with relief and more questions, remain steady, giving me space to talk it through.
“I hear you and your concern for my health. Despite two miscarriages, I still want another child. But not if it means without you.” Tension eases from his shoulders as I continue, “There’s still something gnawing at me that I can’t name, but on this I am certain.”
We agree to leave it, feeling we have overcome a hurdle that once felt insurmountable. In that lightness, we high five each other and clean the kitchen.
Two weeks later
Dr. L speaks, “So you’ve made some progress?”
We’re in our next session and we’ve just recapped my answer to her last question, his response to my answer, how we all feel about it. She asks if we see another piece to this progress we’d like to focus on next. He responds with wanting to explore how to be content with our family size the way it is.
“And what about you, Jeannette? What else do you want to explore in this?”
I hesitate a moment, grab his hand, and look at her.
“He chose to get a vasectomy when Savvy was barely three months old, and Cass barely a toddler. I was at my most vulnerable. This was a decision that should have waited till I was past post-partum, ‘til we were passed the sleepless nights of infancy, ‘til we were passed all the hard stuff and in a place where we could both be fully in the decision. That’s what I’m pissed off about. That’s where I want to go next.”
My breathing is hard, my pulse is up, and a small bubble of laughter is lodged in my throat, waiting to explode into rage.
Because solitary decision-making was not part of our agreement.
Dr. L. looks to Matt, who nods, accepting this takes priority.
“Good, let’s go.”
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