What to Expect – When You Didn’t Expect to be Expecting

Half of all pregnancies are unplanned, according to CNN. But I’ll bet you fifty bucks that many respondents in the “planned” half are big fat liars. Actually, I’ll see my fifty and raise myself another fifty. (Hm. That’s not how betting works, is it? Whatever, just go with me here.) ONE HUNDRED BONES says that many poll respondents lied to the stranger who phoned them at 4:48pm on a weekday, asking if the precious darling coloring at the kitchen table was initially an “oops.” How many moms want to fess up to that!? “Yes, stranger whose name I don’t know. The child overhearing this polling call, the one who I am currently making dinner for, the one I would give my life for? Total accident at the time of conception. Have a great day.” Nah, man. Half of poll respondents were honest enough to admit that their pregnancies were not planned.

My kids are ages 7, 6, 4, 2. We spawned four kids in 5.8 years. Every pregnancy after the first inevitably brought the same awkward question from close friends, acquaintances and strangers alike: “Did you plan this?” One time I was in the bathroom at church where half a dozen women buzzed in and out. An acquaintance looked at my protruding middle and the line of little ducklings following me. Her curiosity betrayed her sense of etiquette when she loudly exclaimed, “Wow! Did you plan this?!” Oops. A few other women glanced at me. I smiled, and instead answered a question she did not ask, “I’ve always wanted four kids!” Having them in rapid succession, however, that is proving itself to be a special blessing disguised as a few blurry years of mess and mayhem.

I told my husband that the next time someone asked me if a pregnancy was planned, I would reply, “Yes! One day we looked around at all the chaos and tears and said, “You know what we really need here? Another baby.” Then I’d ask them, “How about you? Did you plan all of your children or were some of them surprises? Were you a surprise? How about your parents? Were they surprises?” I wondered if maybe you needed to be on the receiving end of the question for the awkwardness to fully land. Bless my sweet husband for encouraging me to hold my tongue in my pregnant rage, and instead to smile and respond with something kind.

Pregnancies that happen outside of our own “perfect” planning are tightly kept secrets shared only in the tear-filled whispers of sisters and close girlfriends – if we are fortunate enough to have them. If you’ve ever enjoyed the privilege of a friendship close enough to share these intimate life events and the swirls of complicated emotions around them, you know how sacred the ground. And you also know that human gestation has evidently been designed to be just long enough to move a mother’s emotions from shock, fear, and panic – to  joy, hope, and even elation for the precious baby inside her.

After two pink lines informed me I was pregnant with one of my precious blessings, shock and despair set in. I could not speak for one full hour as my brain grappled with what the next year would hold: gaining 40 pounds, repetitive untimely vomiting, needing a new wardrobe that I couldn’t afford, insecurity about my appearance, countless doctor’s appointments, shots, stretch marks, back pain, sleepless nights, culminating with my plump, puffy body being torn, ripped, cut. All this, followed by: sleepless nights with a crying newborn, painful recovery, insecurity about my appearance, losing 40 pounds, mom guilt for not having enough energy to parent my other children. Who knew that two barely decipherable pink lines wielded the power to open a flood gate of mourning the next two years of the life you planned for yourself? This is not the sweet stuff they show you on the EPT commercials.

And, yet…

Waiting on the other side of those fears – is joy immeasurable. We love each individual baby in exactly equal, all-consuming ways, planned or not. When they rejoice, we rejoice. When they hurt, we hurt. When they laugh, we laugh. When they rebel, we are grieved. We care desperately, intimately, wholly. We think about them all day. We cherish these loveable little messy humans beyond words; a shadow of the way our own Father cherishes us. It takes effort now to even remember which of our kids were planned.

We like to think we deserve the right to decide every baby “when” and “how” and “how many.” But ask any experienced parent how much control parents actually have over the timing and events surrounding how their children came to be. If they’re honest, many will give you an experienced smile and humble head-shake. Not much.

Human planning, in many contexts, can be important, helpful and good. But let’s not forget that if the poll is accurate, then chances are high that either your mom or your dad was an “oops;” either you or your husband was an “oops.” Look around you. Half of your coworkers; half of the moms at play group, half of all Hollywood celebrities were ‘accidental’ by their parents’ standards. Could it be that while our lives may not have been planned in the human realm, that each and every one of us was unequivocally created on purpose? Half of all births may be “unplanned,” but one hundred percent of them are on purpose.

The most epically unplanned pregnancy of all time happened to an unwed teenage virgin about 2000 years ago. It’s no wonder Gabriel told Mary she was “highly favored.” Upon learning of this impossible pregnancy, she initially responded, “How?!” but then, with a heart remarkably submissive to God’s plan above her own, she said, “I’m the Lord’s servant. Let it be with me just as you say.”

Ok, Mary handedly wins Best Response To An Unplanned Pregnancy Award. Girlfriend was “highly favored” for a reason. And it’s not like she was living in a 2017 Western culture, where out-of-wedlock babies were standard. No way, man. An out-of-wedlock pregnancy in her day was sure to end in cultural suicide: a broken engagement, a permanent single mother with no financial or spousal support. Mary knew this. And she trusted God completely anyway. She did not wail and weep and protest at what may have felt like the imminent demise of her future. Instead, she verbally declared herself the Lord’s servant, trusting Him with whatever circumstances may arise.

Seriously? The faith of this teenager puts us all to shame. I’d like to nominate Mary of Nazareth for Prom Queen, PTA President and Mayor.

Where does this leave those surprised, terrified and shaken by the news of an unexpected looming birth? Certainly faith like Mary’s is something we can all hope, pray and strive for.

Maybe you just found out you’re pregnant. Maybe you’re terrified, shocked, anxious. Maybe you’re single, maybe you’re married. Maybe your husband doesn’t want another child. Maybe you can’t afford another mouth to feed. Here’s what I hope you hear, from one mama to another. If I could teleport my present self into my bathroom years ago, blankly staring at two pink lines, here is what I would say:

Self! I get it. I know that this wasn’t your timing. But you know what? I PROMISE you, as sure as the sun rises, in an amount of time that will feel like a BLINK, you are going to find yourself hooked by the tiniest heartbeat; besotted over an itty bitty pink newborn; enamored with the little voice calling you “mama.” Your life will never be the same. Yes it will be hard, of course! But every tear, struggle and pain will pale in comparison to the immeasurable gift in your tummy. The child inside you was planned in advance by a God who makes no mistakes. This tiny person’s appointed time begins now. Take heart! The God who said he is with you always; the God who raises people from the dead; He has the power and tender love to equip you to live out your calling in this. Strap on your boots and make some popcorn and watch how He will lovingly provide for every need along the way.

And my old self, through her mascara-stained tears, might have said, “Whatever, man. You don’t know my life.” But I do.

And so mama, in the throes of surprise pregnancy news, I say this to you:

If you need someone who has been there to give you a little pep-talk of encouragement, please feel free to email me.  Because girl, in the words of the ever-loved Mary Tyler Moore Show theme song, “You’re gonna make it after all.”

 

 

 

 

 

Photo Credit: thejbird, Creative Commons

What it’s like to have four kids

photo credit: Creative Commons: anyjazz65

I’ve grown in several areas over these past six and a half years: 1.) Physically: I’ve gained and lost a total of 140lbs. Thirty-five-ish per pregnancy, give or take, as some pregnancies required more chocolate/nachos than others. 2.) Vanity: I ditched any remaining shred of coolness when we bought a minivan, which I had vowed to never do because only nerds drive minivans. 3. Control: I largely stopped dressing my children in coordinated outfits. Ain’t nobody got time for that. 4.) McGuyver-ability quotient: I have grown entirely more adaptable in situations previously deemed too hard or totally despair-worthy, ie: broken legs (we’ve had three so far), newborn baby colds (stopped counting at a dozen), forgetting to bring a pack n play on an overnight trip. NBD, man. Life will go on.

Here is what to expect when you have FOUR KIDS, if you are considering doing such a thing. You crazy lunatic, you.

  1. When you take your whole tribe around town, people act kind of weird, like you have seven heads. I took the kids to the doctor’s for a checkup the other day, and within an hour, FOUR different people stopped me to ask if all four kids belonged to me. One lady even stopped her car and rolled down her window to ask. Yes, you sweet bystander. This freakshow is all mine. Here is a sampling of unsolicited comments I regularly hear (like multiple times a day) while running errands: “Whoa, that’s a lot of kids!””Are they all yours?” “You have your hands full!” “Did you plan this?” “Better you than me!”
  2. Your day-to-day becomes a real life version of the movie Memento. Do you remember that movie? It’s about a guy who can only remember fifteen minute increments before he forgets everything that happened leading up to it. Super suspenseful and stressful, but I don’t really remember much else about it because, like I said, wait – what was I just saying? No, but seriously. I’m the Steph Curry of forgetfulness. The reason is basically that  your brain is like an internet browser (this is a real science fact that I pulled from my vast knowledge of sciencey things). Moms of four children have approximately 462 browser tabs open at any given time. Did I pay the phone bill? Is today Wednesday? Wednesday is early pickup. When did the baby nurse last? On which side? We need solar panels. Why does child #2 have his outfit on entirely backwards? Why do I not care? Has child #3 consumed any vegetables today…yesterday…the last three days? Meanwhile, four of the tabs (the children) are talking to you like those video pop up ads that come out of NOWHERE, yelling about who the heck knows what. So, for reasons you can imagine, some things are just forgotten: jackets, backpacks, sending your mom the Mothers Day card that has been sitting on your desk for a MONTH, texting people back, dropping off the dry cleaning, ordering Nespresso pod refills.
  3. Getting out of the house every morning is basically like living in the movie Jumanji. I’ve been doing this four kids thang every day for the last nine months, so the chaos has become my “normal.” A few weeks ago I had a doctor’s appointment in the morning, so David had to get all of the kids ready, fed and out the door by 8:30. David is very hands-on when it comes to the dad-stuff. Diapers, feeding, dressing, you name it, he seriously does it all. But until this day, he hadn’t done a full morning with all four kids on his own. He met up with me to switch cars at 8:45. All the children were fed, dressed and even had shoes on. When I asked him how it went, he calmly responded, “Yeah, that was insane.” I guess it is. It’s the baby crying because the three year old is sitting on her while you try to brush the eldest’s tangled hair into a ponytail; it’s the five year old, unable to decipher the English words you are speaking when you tell him for the eleventieth time to PUT ON THE SHOES, ONTO THE FEET THAT ARE YOURS, THAT BELONG TO YOUR LEGS, AT THE BOTTOM OF THE LEGS, JUST BEYOND THE ANKLES, EACH FOOT GETS ONE SHOE AND PLEASE PUT THEM ON NOW BEFORE MY HEAD EXPLODES. NOW. NOW. NOW. NOW. And then you get a miffed response, “OK!” Like, “Sheesh!” Like, “Omigosh, mom you need to calm down.” Yes, because clearly I am the unreasonable one.
  4. After you take a shower and clip your nails, and then clip your kids’ nails, by the time you are done, you have just clipped one hundred nails. ONE HUNDRED NAILS. (Also I just realized that could be a great name for the band I will start with my children. We will figure out how to play instruments at some point after we have mastered the putting on of the shoes. First things first.)
  5. Speaking of showers, any tiny moment of privacy is now long gone. I took literally 3 minutes to shower off the stickiness from making breakfast the other morning. All the while, one little darling stood outside asking if I was done yet because they needed to show me a trick. “How about now? Are you done now?” “I will be done in two minutes, you precious angel from my womb!” (I said either that or something like that…-ish) “Ok…” (seven seconds later:) “How about now? Has it been two minutes?” So I just canceled the tiny remaining shower I thought I was entitled to. I was rushed through my drying-off process and over to the “trick,” which turned out to be a child who had spread a small blanket on the floor…and then jumped over it.
  6. One fun thing about having four kids is the opportunity to cook for multiple picky eaters at once. When cooking for four tiny food critics, you are pretty much guaranteed to never make a meal that every person will enjoy or even say positive things about. This is why I am working on training up my children in the way they should go. And here that means don’t critique mom’s meal choice and hard work, lest you skip dinner and have to wait for breakfast. I’m trying to implement a rule that when they ask what’s for dinner and I describe a lovely, nutritious meal, they may respond in one of two ways: a.) “Yay! Thanks, mom!” OR b.) “Ok!”  If I did not ask for your opinion on the meal, then you can just keep those words in your head, mmkay?
  7. You will probably bathe your four children less often than you bathed your kids when you had one or two. Not necessarily saying that I do this, but I’ve heard some totally reasonable moms of four kids say that they will go multiple days between kid baths. If I did know a mom who said that, I’d be like, “Hey, you seem like a pretty cool lady with great taste in music and Netflix shows. I trust your discretion when it comes to your kids’ bath frequency.”  A hypothetical mom might space baths a few days apart when it’s necessary for her sanity; like when she needs bedtime to happen NOW, and not like in 45 minutes after lathering, rinsing and repeating on FOUR separate bodies. But that’s just what I’ve heard. For some people. Sometimes. Or maybe a lot of times. (You don’t know my life.)
  8. Even though strangers regularly comment on your reproductive schedule and gawk at you like you’re straight-up cray; and even though the day is bursting at the seams with chaos and unreasonable behavior and dishes and crumbs and dirty cars; and even though walking through a buffet line with a nine month old in an Ergo is like wearing an octopus; and even though the laundry situation is so dire that you have considered starting a nudist colony; and even though, wait…what was I saying? Oh, yeah. Ok, even though all of these things make life hard and complicated and sometimes your head almost explodes, each time you bring home yet another baby, you are blown away that you can love something as individually and tenderly as all the other babies, who you thought took up every last morsel of your love capacity. And at the end of the day, when all the precious angels are asleep, and you are enjoying a glass of Sauv Blanc and a bag of Orville Redenbacher, Netflix binging alongside your husband, you marvel at your lives together and the babies entrusted to you. You wouldn’t have planned it any other way. (Except maybe if the other way meant you could have a free maid and chef, then yes, definitely I would have planned it that way.)

 

Image Credit: Creative Commons, anyjazz65