I paused as I considered my next box to pack. Our move date was fast approaching; within a couple of short weeks we would relocate our young family from Missouri to our new home in Colorado. Most of the house was already stuffed and taped into cardboard boxes. But there was still that pile of clothes and a few garments hanging in the closet, the ones with elastic waist bands and stretched out mid-sections.
I could no longer avoid the decision. Do I pack these, or list them on Craigslist? It was crux of the crossroad we couldn’t move beyond. To do so we would have to answer that question us parents seem to encounter around every conversation with a new friend, or a stranger at the library. You know the one—the, “So, are you done?” question.
I find it ironic that even with the question hovering around our conversations, we’re not actually talking about it. We offer a short, “Oh we’re not sure yet,” or “I think so, but maybe not”. Yet these short, trite answers speak nothing of our heart’s agony over this decision.
We’re not talking about how emotional and heart-wrenching this decision is. We’re not talking about the finality of it that haunts us, freezing us in our tracks.
I listed those clothes. Laid them out piece by piece on our bed, a flood of memories washing over me with each fold. I could picture my hand rubbing the red knit sweater over my belly swollen with our third boy. The electronic shutter of our camera sounded, wiping the memories from my mind as I pulled out the camera card and slipped it into my laptop.
In the coming weeks, I’d receive a few emails of interest, but no bites. In the rush of last minute packing, I shoved the clothes into a plastic bin and loaded them into our moving trailer. It would be a month later when I would think about that bin of clothes again, and why they had made their way across the vast expanse of Kansas and into our new homeland of the mountains. With a faint second line and a burst of shock and hope, I found the purpose for holding onto that bin of clothing.
We were going to need them again.
I wondered if that was the plan all along, why the interested emails never turned into a sale. Some divine intervention sparing us from having to purchase a whole new maternity wear wardrobe.
But then two days passed. That faint line grew fainter, and with it my hope. When the blood appeared, I knew that those clothes were not going to get unpacked with the dishes and photo frames. They would remain in their bin. I began to wonder why, again, they had made this trip with us.
Our miscarriage brought everything back into question. All those conversations where we had circled around and around and around again, with no conclusive answer. “Are we done?” We had been, I thought. We were, I thought. But carrying another baby, if only for a couple of weeks, unraveled any previous reasoning.
And now I don’t know. Do any of us, really? I hear of parents who know for certain when they are done. No questions asked. But I have to wonder, did doubts or questions or uncertainties cloud their decision, if only but for a moment? Was there ever that uncertainty of, “What if we change our minds?”
If there is one thing about parenthood that has completely shocked me it is this: the decision of when to “be done” having babies is far, far more difficult than I ever anticipated. It’s a question we circle around and around and around again, unwilling to stop at a certain conclusion. Because, “What if?”
The one thing I do know is this: We’re not talking about it enough. Just as I discovered with our miscarriage, this is a difficult area of parenthood that many of us are suffocating under the weight of, without leaning on one another.
I’m not saying let’s bring up all of our family planning woes and intimacies at the next church potluck. I am only suggesting that if you’re struggling under the weight of this question, that it’s likely that one of your close friends are, too. And perhaps they just need a hug and a “Hey, me too.”
Maybe all they need today is a conversation over coffee, and to hear that they’re not the only one who could just keep on having babies, while not knowing if you can handle more kids. Maybe they need to hear that they’re not crazy, and that it’s ok to be in a place where you just can’t make that choice. Not yet. And really-that’s ok.
I don’t have an answer to this one. There’s no equation for determining when to “be done”. But one thing I am certain of is that in the midst of these most difficult and emotional decisions, we need to know that we are neither desolate nor deserted in our struggle.
So if this is you tonight, hemming and hawing and avoiding and discussing and praying and standing paralyzed in your uncertainty—I’m there too. You’re not alone. Neither am I. And often the greatest comfort is found in the realization that you’re not alone.