I can remember the exact moment when I decided I didn't want any more children, and I can remember the moment when I realized I did.
Much like other Early Mamas, my first wasn't planned. I was fresh out of college, had just moved to a new state, and was in the early stages of dating my (now) husband. We had more disposable income and free time than we knew what to do with, when unexpectedly I became pregnant at 22. My husband was 29, but no more ready than I. We got married right away and it was a tumultuous first year of marriage, but we survived to have our son in March of 2010.
Those first few weeks of parenthood were happy but hazy. The trouble really didn't start until later. I chose to stay home with my son since I wasn't working at the time. I am grateful that I never had to experience that guilt and sadness of leaving my six-week-old in the care of someone else — but at the same time, I think being a stay-at-home parent contributed to my postpartum depression. I felt lost, terrified, and crippled with anxiety. I began crying for no reason — huge sobs that felt like the world was ending, and on top of it, I still had to take care of this squirming little person. I imagined driving off the Causeway Bridge into the water, just floating away in the air, anything to stop the pain and guilt. I felt guilty that I wasn't fully present for my son. That I was too consumed with depression to snuggle with him, and spent a large portion of my day hoping he would nap so that I could sleep.
Those feelings lasted a long time. And then, just when I thought things were getting better, I hit my lowest point. This was the moment I knew I didn't want to have any more kids. My husband had been working long hours and was rarely home. I had found a few mom friends to spend the days with, but my entire mood depended on the structure of our day. I had to know when my scheduled "breaks" were from parenting — naps, usually — or I would just lose it from exhaustion and frustration. Charley had just started walking and that gave me immense anxiety. One night he just wouldn't fall asleep. He had been a great sleeper from early on, my saving grace. But that night he just screamed and screamed. I went in there, tried to comfort him; it didn't work. I made sure he wasn't hungry or wet and then tried to hold strong. But the screaming lasted two hours — he was just miserable and I didn't know why.
Finally I called my husband at his office, in tears, and told him to come home. There I collapsed in a heap on the cold kitchen floor. Begging, pleading, with myself and him, that this be our only child. I can't do this anymore, I whispered through the tears. I don't want to go through this again. He agreed and we stood and hugged and finally, finally, Charley fell asleep.
It was roughly a year later when I decided that perhaps I was wrong.
It was only a year, but it felt like a lifetime. So much had happened. We became more settled in our marriage, our house was coming together nicely, and most important of all, I clawed my way out of a depression. It wasn't an overnight change. It wasn't a happiness switch that I suddenly turned on inside myself. Rather it was a slow and steady climb uphill that started with yoga and exercise, and ended with an internship and blogging. My self-worth grew and I started to feel good about my body again. I even bought a bikini (a high-waisted one) and wore it to the beach. It felt liberating. One day I was at the beach with my friend and her daughter, who was only four months older than Charley. The sky was perfectly blue and there was a rare inlet of water perfect for the kids to splash in. (Usually taking Charley to the Atlantic Ocean invokes major anxiety on my part. The waves are several feet tall and the water is murky and dark. But that day, it was clear and still.)
The kids splashed and sat in the inlet with little red buckets while my friend and I had a long adult conversation. We talked about kids. We talked about marriage. We marveled at how big our kids were getting, at how weird it felt to be able to stand there and talk and not be holding one of them or getting something for them.
I thought, I'm finally out of it.
In that moment, I felt beautiful and strong.
That was when I knew that I had been wrong.
It took several months until I became pregnant — in fact, by the time it happened, we were considering a big cross-country move, and this pregnancy was perhaps an even bigger surprise than our first. As my due date nears (Feb. 2013!), I'm wondering whether three years is really big enough age difference — but I know that I will get through it. That one day again soon I'll be sitting on the beach with TWO little boys, and maybe I'll even be reading a magazine. One can hope.
Shannon Oertle blogs from her house by the ocean in Florida. She lives with her nerdy husband, toddler son and crazy dog. When she's not writing you can find her biking to the beach and reading shelter magazines in her (small) amounts of spare time. She became an early mama at 22 and can't imagine being anyone else. You can read her personal blog at www.shannonoertle.com.