Motherhood

I’m not pregnant.

The other day while Olive napped I sat down with six cardboard file boxes and some 75% off Valentine’s Day chocolates, and I boxed away all of her baby clothes. I had rotated them out of her dresser on a fairly regular basis as she grew out of them, but the boxes were haphazardly filled and improperly labeled. Organizing, sorting and labelling them was one of those tasks that had been lurking toward the top of my to-do list just waiting for the perfect storm of supplies (boxes, chocolate), a long afternoon nap, and the emotional wherewithal to get the task done. 

I cried. Let’s just get that out of the way first.

Obviously I cried,  it’s cliche for a reason.

The tears came first when I felt the soft fabric of the onesie Adam and I dressed her in in the hospital – the two of us bending her newborn limbs with the terrified delicacy of newly-minted parents.

It was the first item of clothing she ever wore.

They filled my eyes again when I pulled out her bear snowsuit. I was flooded with memories of how excited Adam was when he picked it out, how the sight of our little bear would make people smile so big.


I felt it first, then. As the boxes filled up with neatly folded and sorted onesies, sleepers and socks, Olive’s babyhood comfortably ensconced within six cardboard boxes. I felt a low sort of emptiness. A soft, strong pull.

I have felt it every day since. Friends with babies the same age as O have begun to eagerly announce the arrivals of #2, and I pore over their ultrasounds, their positive tests. I stare at pregnant women in a way that can only be described as borderline inappropriate. I lie awake at night scrolling through pictures and watching my life pass in reverse, Olive slowly morphing back into that tiny dark creature they first placed on my chest that sweet fall morning seventeen months ago, my belly in the pictures growing then shrinking back into nonexistence.

I miss it. Oh god, do I miss that feeling of fullness, of being  – just for a few months – the physical embodiment of a wish fulfilled, a swelling bursting sort of happiness.

In the months after Olive was born, and even up until that rainy day last week, I couldn’t have identified any specific desire for another. I thought it was strange. I’ve always wanted a large family, coming from a rambunctious brood of six kids myself. I have watched Olive take her first steps, laugh so hard she falls over, learn how to blow bubbles; I have sat with these moments and more times than I can count I have thought to myself, This is enough. If this is all I ever have, this will be enough.

It still is. It still would be. But as Olive grows and becomes less and less a baby, and more and more an individual person, I also want more and more for her.

Most of all, I want for her what I had growing up, and what I have now. The crush of siblings who love and hate and amuse and tolerate you in just the right measures. I want her to know that unique, irreplaceable bond made up of shared rooms and tight hugs, overflowing anger, secrets kept and betrayed, reluctant apologies, clothing borrowed and never returned. I want her to know what it feels like to look into someone’s face and see pieces of you reflected back – in the shape of their lips or the colour of their eyes.

I want her to live in a house bursting with people who know her almost better than she knows herself, who love her as fiercely and unrelentingly as we do.

There is nothing like the feeling of wanting a child. It is different from the wanting I have felt for anything else in my life. It’s so deep and so strong that it seems to physically ache at times. It’s a sense of needing to be filled up, expanded, and it is so overwhelming that sometimes it’s all you feel.

It can take you over, if you let it.

It also feels different, this time around. The first time I felt this it was such an abstract desire.

A baby.

I wanted a baby like some people want to win the lottery, or be a bestselling author. I wanted it in a no-brainer sort of way, Of course I want a baby. Who wouldn’t?  But what that meant, a baby, it was so fuzzy. Blurred and distant. I wanted it, and looking back I don’t doubt my wanting, but this time I can capture its meaning so much tighter.

I know what this want feels like, tastes like. I know the heaviness, the fullness. I know the moment of hearing the heartbeat and knowing you are holding another life inside your own. I know meeting your child’s eyes for the first time, that strange dual sense of familiarity and strangeness. Hello, little one.

I know the sleepless nights and the breastfeeding, the feelings of pride and helplessness, success and overwhelming failure. Knowing all of this, this desire feels more authentic somehow. I know what I’m getting into. And I want it even more.

I feel greedy admitting to this want, like I am shoving my way to the front of the line to receive a second helping when some are still patiently waiting for their first. I wonder if it’s a betrayal somehow, if I should feel like one is enough.

This is what I keep turning over and over in my head, these thoughts that have become worn and smooth as stones. I imagine the pregnancy, the birth, the name, the days spent with a newborn against my chest. I imagine watching Olive become accustomed to her new brother or sister, I envision teaching her to how to be gentle, how to manage her hands and her volume and her jealousy.

I do this and I let myself get carried away, I think these thoughts all the way until Olive and #2 are both toddling around holding hands  giggling at some private joke before I remember the most crucial point in this whole matter: I am not pregnant.

Furthermore, I am not trying to become pregnant. I will likely not be pregnant for six months at least, if not later.

I had always imagined having children close in age. I remember our midwife telling me that because of my full placenta previa I would need to wait until January 2014 to get pregnant again in order to try for a VBAC. I remember doing the math, thinking “They will be two years apart. Perfect.”

But it won’t be two years now. It will be three, or three and a half even, and something small inside aches when I think of this gap. None of my siblings and I are more than two years apart. Is it too much? Will they still be close? What gets lost in that extra year? What -if anything – is gained?

Where I always end up, in this circuitous rambling swirling mass of of babies and wanting, is with the realization that children are incredibly effective at teaching you how very little you truly have control of in life.

My pregnancy with Olive taught me that lesson again and again and again until I finally submitted. I finally exhaled, and I lay down everything but my hippie vision board and I just let life happen. I am trying to remember that lesson, and how it felt to exhale.

I am trying to remember how my pregnancy with Olive was everything I didn’t want – the gestational diabetes and the placenta previa and the hospital and the c-section – and yet I still look back on those months as the being the best, the unequivocal, hands-down best days, weeks, months, moments of my life. I would re-live them again and again and again if I could.

So this was not in the plan. The flat stomach and the stack of maternity clothes lying wait in a musty box. The age gap that just keeps getting wider and wider. The creepy pregnant-lady stalking.

But, they say life is what happens when you are busy making other plans, so I am trying to stop. I am trying to let go and sit with these moments, watching Olive climb and run and learn to do butterfly kisses. I am trying to ignore the tears that well up when I look at these pictures, and instead think to myself, “This is enough. If this is all I ever have, it will be enough. ”

Because it might be.

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31 Comments

  • Reply Natasha February 27, 2014 at 12:12 AM

    My girls are 4.5 years apart in age, also not planned. I had planned for a 3 year age gap, and was on track for that, when we lost our second baby girl (Ava) at 35 weeks gestation. She would have been turning five this year. It’s a strange thing to realise you have zero control over anything really, especially when you thought you had control of everything. Life is always teaching us what we need to know. We needed the lessons that came with Ava, and now because we lost her, we have Charlotte, the most gorgeous 3 year old in the world. No regrets. It all happens how it happens, and somehow all ends up being for the best, even if it takes years and a lot of hindsight to realise it. 4.5 years is actually a really great age gap, which I never would have thought. The girls get along like a house on fire most of the time (when they’re not fighting), and I had lots of quality time with Lucy (now 7) before Charlotte was born, and now I have lots of quality time with Charlotte, as Lucy is at school. There are pros and cons of all age gaps – there were more or less three years between each of the siblings in my family and that seemed to work pretty well too. I have friends with 18 month age gaps with their siblings who loved the closeness in age so much growing up that they tried to emulate that in their own families. I guess whatever you get is whatever you make work for you 🙂

    • Reply sweetmadeleine February 27, 2014 at 12:54 AM

      This is one of those times where any words I can think of to say just seem woefully inadequate. I’m so incredibly sorry.
      Losing Ava must have been heartbreaking, and devastating for your family. I’m so glad you are able to find the light that emerged from that situation, and glad, too, that Lucy and Charlotte are close despite the age gap.

      Logically I know that the likelihood of children close in age not getting along is just as great as children with large gaps getting along great- I think it’s just letting go of the idea you have in your mind of what life will look like. You went through that in a really drastic way, and if you could do that and emerge as positive as you are, I should just shut up and take notes 😉

  • Reply Angela February 27, 2014 at 1:14 AM

    I love this so much. I couldn’t stop crying, it was so heartfelt. I want another baby too, and I wonder if I am betraying my daughter, because she is enough. I don’t want her to think that she as never enough, she is. Though I would love for her to have a sibling. I loved being pregnant, the last trimester was amazing, my belly swelling, growing a life inside of me. It was an amazing experience, though her father was very nasty to me. We left very shortly after she was born thank god. I’m still angry at him for spoiling this amazing time for me. I wonder if I want another baby just so I can experience being pregnant again in a healthy environment, so I can fully embrace the ups and downs, so that I can just to be. Thank you for sharing this. I read your posts every week and love them even though this is the first time I am commenting, I love your writing. Funny, hilarious, real, strong, personal. Thank you xx

    • Reply sweetmadeleine February 28, 2014 at 2:20 AM

      I think I’d be angry, too. There are so many expectations of what that time in your life should look like, and instead yours looked much different due to circumstances beyond your control, and a really tough situation.
      Being a single parent is one of the most challenging things I can imagine at this point in my life- you have my utmost admiration. And no matter what the reason behind the wanting, it’s still ok to want. Keep me posted- I want to see where we both end up!
      Xoxo
      P. S. Don’t feel bad for not commenting! I love it when people do, but I’m also the worst for reading blogs for months, YEARS, and never saying a word!

      • Reply Angela March 6, 2014 at 10:53 PM

        Thank you Sweet Madeleine for your beautiful words. I will keep you posted. With love xx

  • Reply Rhiannon February 27, 2014 at 4:18 AM

    Thank you for writing this, thank you for saying the words I am thinking but cannot say. My son just turned two and I am sad and happy at the same time. Sad for the loss of my baby and happy to watch him explore, learn and grow into a little person. I had three miscarriages before he was born and have had two since. There is still the desire in my heart for another baby, but I know he is enough if he is all I ever have.

    • Reply sweetmadeleine February 28, 2014 at 2:14 AM

      Rhiannon, I’m so sorry for your heartbreak. I wish I could hug you, but instead I’m sending my best hippie vibes for a successful pregnancy, but I admire so much your outlook in case that isn’t in the cards for you. Sometimes the choice isn’t ours. Xoxo, go hug your little mister.

  • Reply Christina February 27, 2014 at 6:22 AM

    You spoke the word of my heart.

  • Reply Kelly February 27, 2014 at 6:23 AM

    This is beautiful.

  • Reply enchantedground February 27, 2014 at 7:02 AM

    I love this post. Beautifully written. And I appreciate your reasoning on the importance of siblings and completely agree. 🙂

  • Reply barrowsfamilyblog February 27, 2014 at 7:13 AM

    Maddie, let me tell you that 3 years apart is AWESOME! And the bond already between my two boys is incredible and I don’t think any less special than if they were closer. The way it worked for us was great and I know if I have another I will make sure they are 3 years apart again. The best part of the age difference was that James was very independent when Jordan arrived which made the newborn stages way easier than if he had been 2. He was full potty trained, could eat, sleep and dress himself. Made life so much easier. I was closer in age to my siblings too and I thought I wouldn’t like this difference but in reality I LOVE it!

  • Reply enchantedground February 27, 2014 at 7:20 AM

    P.S. This one should definitely go in the book.

    • Reply sweetmadeleine February 28, 2014 at 2:09 AM

      The book is at the printers as we speak- ADFH NKYFS XBLLYF! But maybe if it’s not terrible I’ll be asked to do another 😉

  • Reply laurahugo February 27, 2014 at 9:04 AM

    Madeleine, I think we should be best friends. Seriously, I wake up some mornings and have these thoughts, then your posts show up in my email and I think to myself, “Did she just read my mind?” Like you, I also feel that I’m blessed to have my one child, and that if he is the only child we ever have the good fortune of raising, he will be enough. However, as soon as his first birthday crept up on us (he turns one in early March), I felt this pull to get pregnant and start all over again. Keep in mind that the two of us have yet to sleep through the night even once. Am I insane? Possibly. I just feel like throughout my entire pregnancy with him and the first year of raising him, I took for granted that he could be the only one. There were times I wished a stage by quickly (mostly during pregnancy), and now I feel sadness and regret for doing so. Why did I assume that there would be another opportunity to savor every moment as my last?

    My only sibling and I are 21 months apart, and I loved that age gap, but as months come and go with lactational amenorrhea lingering, I see that my plans for the next baby are laughable and that if/when we do conceive Landon’s younger sibling, it will be on anyone’s timeline but mine. It helps to know that there are others out there who feel the same way and cry while packing up perfectly tiny clothes with the hope of someday…

    P.S. Has anyone ever told you that you look just like a much prettier, healthier version of Ellen Pompeo? Because you do.

    • Reply sweetmadeleine February 28, 2014 at 2:07 AM

      We should definitely be best friends! I feel I should issue a disclaimer first that I never answer my phone/return voicemails/participate in virtually any of the essential tasks that actually make up a friendship. Soooo, yeah.
      I’m great that way. And I used to get the Meredith comparison a lot! Good luck with your baby craving, I thought writing about it might lessen mine…no dice.

  • Reply lilymama February 27, 2014 at 1:33 PM

    if this is any comfort…my sister and I are 3.5 years apart and super-close. <3

    • Reply sweetmadeleine February 28, 2014 at 2:01 AM

      That is very comforting indeed! So many people have told me about their 3yr + age gaps and close children, I’m starting to feel a bit foolish for thinking that a few months could make/break a sibling relationship! Funny how our mind attaches to things somehow.

  • Reply Sam Pereira February 27, 2014 at 2:45 PM

    Beautifully written. x

  • Reply Patti miller February 27, 2014 at 6:37 PM

    Beautiful … I’ve just spent the last few minutes reading this and total enjoyed the time reflexing about the paths that life leads us on. All different and all very special. Thank you.

  • Reply Helen February 27, 2014 at 11:19 PM

    Took the wordless thoughts right out of my mind. Thank you. That wanting, so intense. That waiting, even though not really intentionally trying. That slight disappointment, not this month. That was my day today. I’m not pregnant.

    • Reply sweetmadeleine February 28, 2014 at 12:51 AM

      I think we should celebrate/mourn together with sushi and deli meat and fine liqueurs 😉

  • Reply mamainprogress February 28, 2014 at 8:48 AM

    Oh, Madeleine, thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing this. So many of your words speak directly to my heart.

    Though my little one is only 8 months old, he’s crawling around and every day becoming more his own little person. And, of course, this fills me with so much joy. But there’s also a vague nostalgia that I can’t quite put into words, and, too, find myself pouring over pictures from his first days of life.

    At times it fills me with guilt — of course he’s the only baby I’ll ever need. And yet… So I empathize with your feelings of betrayal.

    The photo of you and Olive at the end of your post — it must within the first day or so of her life? — reminds me so much of my most cherished picture from my son’s first day. The same exhausted, elated glow on my face. I’d only ever seen it on my own face, but it must be common for new mamas.

    Please keep writing.

  • Reply Amber February 28, 2014 at 2:41 PM

    Wow, beautiful, just beautiful! I cried through most of it. Only a mom can understand the emotions and yearnings that you are describing. There is no perfect time to have a baby. My perfect time was three years apart. Yet, life had other plans for me. I miscarried twice and now my two girls are five years apart…This seemed so momentous of a gap to me, which I was very disappointed with. However, I believe things happen for a reason. My oldest was able to understand and be patient (as much as she can be) when I nurse her baby sister. She can run and give me a diaper or wipe or burp cloth. Yet the best thing is, what she is teaching her. My baby (now 8 months) get just as excited to see her big sister when we pick her up from kindergarten as she does to see me when I pick her up at daycare. My oldest reads to her, taught her how to clap and sings to her. I feel very blessed to have them for each other. And guess what? I think it is perfect! 😉 You will have another one, when it is meant to be.

  • Reply Deadbeatmom February 28, 2014 at 6:21 PM

    Great post! What you need to know is that once you are pregnant (and edging closer to delivery) you may feel an odd, overpowering guilt about having the second. The bond of a first born is powerful stuff. And though you know you’ll love your second, you mourn the loss of that “specialness” of the first–something I never thought possible until I was in it. It does pass of course and, if you’re lucky enough for a second and third like me, you realize the bond between kids (hopefully) offers a much richer experience for the kids and creates a way healthier dynamic between parent a child.
    Btw though first two kids are 23 months apart, my seven-year-old son is smitten with his one-year-old brother!
    Love your writing!

  • Reply SallyLynn Kerstetter March 3, 2014 at 10:07 AM

    I feel the exact same thing right now. My Emma Grace is a year and half and everyone is announcing that they are pregnant with kid number two or *Gasp* kid three. I look at Emma and yearn for more moment like when she was younger. I too have stalked all my friends on facebook that are pregnant. I have ooooo and ahhhh over each and every ultrasound they have posted and commented kindly. But what I really want to say is why is it them and not me. It is not like we are not trying. God know we are but some things take time and I also know that too. It is just hard at times to congratulate someone on being pregnant when it is not you.

    • Reply sweetmadeleine March 3, 2014 at 10:36 AM

      Totally hear you on this one. Sending good luck your way, SallyLynn!

  • Reply Anna January 26, 2016 at 1:52 AM

    So, a little backstory…
    I first started reading your blog when I was pregnant with my son, after coming across that infant sleep post. I loved it and have been reading ever since. He’ll be two next month. One day I was scrolling through old posts to see what I’d missed, and looked up the day he was born, and this was the post. I remember he was seventeen months old at the time I found it, just like Olive was when you wrote it. This was just exactly how I was feeling at the time. This is the long way to tell the story, but I just wanted to say thank you. You have put my heart into words time and time again. My son’s father and I split just over a year ago, and while I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy, reading your perspective on the same situation has been encouragement when I needed it the most. I’ve never commented before, but it’s almost 4 am and I’m back at this post again so I figured it was time you knew I appreciated it 🙂 thank you for being transparent and hilarious, and for baking soda shampoo, too 😉

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