A couple of months ago, I was making a salad at the salad bar in the cafeteria at work when an outgoing woman began a conversation with me by acknowledging my pregnant state. The conversation started casually enough in that she mentioned that I must be "ready" to have the baby. Now, of course, I was still about three months away from my due date and mentioned that. And she went on to tell me that her baby was 14 weeks old and how much fun it was, along with the work. I acknowledged with a nod, smile and limited words that I could empathize.
Then she asked: "So, is it your first?"
How many times have I been asked that question? It's a great question. It's a natural question when you don't know the person to whom you're speaking. And especially for someone who just had her first, it was an opening question. It was a question to find out if we have this quality in common. She asked it, possibly wondering if she might find a kindred spirit in her same workplace about to embark on the journey she had just begun. I definitely don't begrudge her the question.
And then...I answered, "Oh, no. Not my first." And I added a little chuckle. I didn't answer that way to be a smarty-pants, but to answer her without necessarily divulging all, in case she wasn't interested in all that. Something I've learned over the years is that coming right out and claiming my 5th (or 4th when that was the case, or 3rd...) often invited a reaction that I haven't always been ready to receive.
But she continued. "Oh, so your second then." She was hopeful...perhaps she could find someone who was going to a place she would someday be: A professional mom, with two kids - maybe a boy and a girl - "having it all" and such.
Well, I thought, this could continue longer than anticipated...I will just be up front. After all, perhaps she's from a large family herself and would enjoy knowing people still do that sort of thing...
And I answered her. "Well, actually this is my 5th." I looked her in the eye, I smiled my most friendly, welcoming and happy smile.
The reaction, while predictable, was still...well, it still disappointed me. Her face dropped completely - from her raised, inquisitive eyebrows and welcoming cheekbones with her upturned smile --- to concerned eyes, with a furrowed brow and an "O" of a mouth that belied her shock. Her speech faltered. She was caught off guard and clearly didn't know what to say. To her credit, the word "crazy" didn't come out her of mouth and she thought enough before she spoke again that her next comment was easy on my stomach.
She simply said, "Well, we think one is plenty enough for us!" It wasn't a sarcastic or slight comment. I could tell that it came from that deep, worrisome place in a new mom. It came from that place that remembers all to keenly what a struggle the last 14 weeks have been with the enormous struggle of caring for a newborn for the first time. It came from a place that most likely was still experiencing nights of interrupted sleep. It came from that place that felt bedraggled inside but was put together on the outside to be presentable for work.
I just smiled and said, "You know, after our first, we felt that way for quite a while, too."
That was the end of the conversation, as my salad was complete and it was time to check out and go with my friend for lunch. But I thought about that conversation a lot in the following days. I'm glad I had the experience.
I think it's good for me to remember that opening our lives--our family--to another blessing in the form of a baby has never been something I was ready to do on a whim.
I think it's good for me to remember that in the weeks following the terrorist attacks in September 2001, I couldn't imagine bringing another soul into this terrible, frightening, cold world.
I think it's good for me to remember those first three weeks after Sarah was born - the tears, the helplessness, the overwhelming feeling that I would never be a good mom - I couldn't even breastfeed my baby!
Even better...it's good for me to remember that as I came out of the newborn/post-partum fog of Sarah's life, I realized that we COULD do it again. It's good for me to remember how much I grew to love my husband, how I began to realize what true self-sacrifice meant, how I experienced true joy in the everyday rituals of raising my daughter.
I haven't stopped there, though.
In the weeks since that conversation, I've been able to reflect on the aftermath of the additions to our family and how the struggles have all been different. Where Sarah's life marked the end of the era of couplehood, it ushered in this new understanding of what our marriage was and where it could go and what it was for.
When Danielle joined the family, it ended our ability to dote endlessly on our one and only daughter, and taught us how to make room for a new blessed little soul. Having two daughters brought about the understanding that the same two parents could help to bring about two entirely different beings with completely different personalities but who love each other so tenderly.
When Helen came along, sharing took on a new meaning: No longer could I take one kid and Craig take one kid. A parent was going to be shared among more than one child and with our opposite work schedules, it often worked out that a parent was shared among all three.
With Dominic, I suffered true post-partum depression for the first time. But yet, our experience made the transition to a larger family so smooth. Even though we had the regular adjustments with all the kids, it was quite possibly the easiest transition ever.
I am happy that God blessed me with the opportunity to empathize with the reaction from the lady at work.
How can I truly appreciate where I am now without a glimpse of the past to remind me where I've been?